Sometimes, when your husband wants a separation and you don’t, you get to a point where you have a pretty awful and hurtful realization: If you want to have any relationship at all with him, you’re going to have to change the relationship that you currently have. Many husbands insist that they need “time” and often, this means that they don’t want for you to keep tabs on them, worry about them, and participate in your usual marriage with them.
This can be extremely difficult to wrap your brain around. After all, you’ve probably been with this man for a very long time. Your relationship probably feels so necessary to your day to day routine that you can not imagine your life without it. But, after a while, it can become clear that you are going to need to redefine the relationship if you are to have any relationship at all. And this is what usually brings up the topic of “friendship.”
A wife might say: “my own husband is telling me that he needs some time away from me and wants to pursue a separation. He’s careful to say that he is not divorcing me right now, but he’s also insisting that I give him time and not nag him. He’s basically telling me that he needs ‘a friend’ instead of a wife. He insists that he is not looking to date any one else. He says he just wants to have some space and it’s going to be hard to do that if I have expectations of him. So he says that we can talk and see each other – but only if it is friendly and not romantic with my questioning and pressuring him. Of course, this does not sound great to me. I can’t believe that it has come to this. But I would rather be his friend instead of being nothing to him. I can’t imagine having no contact at all. So if I have to be his friend to keep in contact, then so be it. The problem is that I have no idea how to be his friend. When we met, we were not friends first. We had an instant attraction and we were romantically involved right away. We were never friends. We were lovers and then spouses. How do I stop acting like a wife and start acting like a friend when we are still married?”
I know that this is confusing and that it hurts. But when I was going through this, I found it best to try really hard not to focus on the perceived loss and instead to focus on the fact that if you carry this out correctly, it should actually improve your marriage.
Being a supportive listener and being invested in your spouse without any romantic motivations is a wonderful skill to have. Some of the most solid and fulfilling marriages that I have had the privilege of learning from are comprised of two people who are truly best friends.
Here is something else that is very important to understand. When your spouse is telling you that he needs you to be a friend to him, sometimes what he is really saying is that he doesn’t feel heard or understood by you. Instead, he feels that you have some expectation or agenda that is keeping you from really understanding him or listening to him. This is important because it is giving you a solid clue about the motivations for the separation.
As far as how to be friend to your husband, start by looking at how you’re a friend to everyone else. Think of your best friends. When you are around them, you’re probably just there without any agenda. You are there because you like spending time with them and because they know you well and are fun to be around. You generally don’t expect as much from your friends as you do with your spouse. The time spent with them is often laid back and without pressure. This may well be what your husband is asking for – time together where the pressure is greatly dialed down.
Also, when you’re with your friends, you don’t always talk about the difficult topics. You just want to enjoy your time together and things are rarely tense or heavy. This is the mood that you want to maintain with your husband.
People often tell me “it is going to be impossible to be my husband’s friend. I see him as my husband not as a friend.” I think it’s fine to still see him as your husband as long as you can do this while stepping back and changing the tone of your time together.
You can have dinner with him without quizzing him on his mindset, his intention, and his feelings. You can talk about current events or other things for a while. You can enjoy spending time together without worrying so much about what it all means – because no one does this with their friends.
I understand that he is asking a lot from you. But I think that what he really means could be that he just wants you to back off on the pressure. He wants your time together to be a bit easier and casual – like an easy relationship. He doesn’t want to be questioned about everything right away.
If the “friend” directive bothers you, then try to think about it another way. What your husband is really asking for is that you not make huge wifely demands of him while separated. He might just need you to listen instead of question for a while. He may be asking for support without a lot of expectations at first.
I think it’s a good strategy to just tell yourself that you will try to keep things light and casual and adjust as you see his reaction. I know that it is difficult, but it is better than the alternative – to push so hard that he starts to avoid you or limit his time with you.