‘Silent divorce’ – when you are together still, but you have drifted apart
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Teresa Mulvena, CBT Cert, MA Counselling, MBACP (senior accredited)
5th March, 20140 Comments
Arguments and conflict aren’t the only cause of the break-up of a relationship. Drifting apart so that you become indifferent to each other and lose that spark leads to loneliness, and is just as destructive in the end. It might not feel as obviously bad to you or anyone else as fighting does, but it can leave people feeling like they are sharing a house but are not really together in any meaningful or intimate way.
My heart sinks when I see a couple in a restaurant sitting silently with nothing to say to each other, sometimes both on their phones. Does it get to the stage in every relationship when there is nothing left to say to each other? While being comfortable with silence between you can be a sign of intimacy, when you have nothing to say to each other for long periods it may indicate you have grown apart.
The term ‘silent divorce’ refers to a state where there isn’t obvious conflict, but nor is there much of anything else going on.
It is not sustainable in the long term. Little by little you lose a sense of togetherness. And you may not even realise it is happening; the busy-ness of life very easily gets in the way of being a couple if you don’t prioritise your relationship.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your partner a priority when it comes to spending your time? Or do you take them for granted?
- When was the last time you sat down together and really talked about how you both are feeling - not about what happened with other people at work, or practical things about the house, but really connecting with each other and talking about what is going inside you - your thoughts, your worries?
- Does your partner know what things are concerning you right now, and do you know what these things are for your partner?
- Do you look forward to seeing your partner at the end of the day?
- Looking back over the last fortnight, how much time have you spent with your partner enjoying yourselves (don’t include watching TV or films or video games)?
Spend more time. More time together. More time talking. More time having fun. More time supporting each other.
And if you don’t know what to say to get the ball rolling, there are two simple approaches:
- Ask them about themselves - how they are doing, what they think, what they want from life, what is most important to them - anything. Be curious.
- Tell them about you - what you are thinking and feeling, your hopes, your worries etc.
It is said that couples who have been together a long time don’t know each other as well as couples who have only been together a short while. The theory is that when you have been in a relationship for a longer period you don’t try as hard because you don’t feel anxious about losing them (perhaps to competitors), and you assume you know what the other person thinks because you know them.
If you find that you or your partner are reluctant to spend time together and talk or find excuses, it is time to see someone.
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