What does it mean when your husband wants to separate and have space? How you respond to this message can make all the difference in saving your marriage.
Let’s say your husband moved out or wants to. He told you that he needs time or space to figure out what he wants.
What you need to know is that by the time your husband says this to you, he has already done his thinking. He already knows what he wants to do.
What is your husband really saying when he says he wants space?
By the time a man wants to move out, he has already decided what he wants to do. His thinking has already been done. When he says that he needs “time to figure out what he wants,” it actually means, “I want to move out and I don’t want to tell you the real reasons. I’m not sure my plan will actually work, so I am not ready to cut all ties with you.”
If he is not moving out, but says he needs time to figure out what he wants, it means, “I am planning to move out, but I am not ready yet. I am going to keep emotionally distant until I do, because I don’t want to mess up my plans.”
In either case, his wanting space is never about improving your marriage. Men who actually want to improve their marriage seek closeness, not space. The space he desires is to transition away from your marriage to something else.
Why his statement works
Because women often do need space to think, they consistently believe men when they say this, not understanding that there is a gender difference here. Men decide what they want and then take action. They do not take action and then decide what they want.
If your husband was really unsure about what he wanted, he would not be moving out. Indeed, he may have been thinking about what he wants (or doesn’t want) for a long time. Now that he is ready to move out, or working on it, he has already decided.
More gender differences in decision making
Men are hunters. They decide what they want to hunt and then they hunt for it. When a man dates a woman for the first time, he has already decided he is interested in her, while the woman may not know whether she is interested in the man until after she dates him.
Women use their emotional reactions to guide their decision making. Men use their decision making to guide their emotional reactions.
When wives move out of their relationships, their husbands try to convince them to change their minds. For them, moving out is a rational process based on logic and decision making. They fail in this approach because it does not change the way that their wives feel about them.
My work with men is always in helping them to stop working on their wives’ thinking and instead to help their wife to feel in love with them again. It is a difficult transition for men because it is not the way that men think.
When men decide to leave a relationship, women try to connect with them so that the men will feel more attraction and want to stay. The women usually find, to their dismay, that the men enjoy the changes that they make, but still are insistent on leaving. No matter how good they make their husband feel, he still wants out.
Women have to learn to deal with their husband’s rationalizations and resist the temptation to just emotionally throw themselves at their husbands. This is not the way that women think, and it is a difficult transition for them.
Reconciling with a man involves boundaries, respect building, and strategy, while reconciling with a woman involves loving without pressure.
What should you do when your husband says he needs to figure out what he wants?
So, what do you do when your husband says that he wants space, or he needs to move out in order to think about whether he wants to stay in your relationship? Or, what do you do when he is staying in your home, staying emotionally distant, but saying that he is trying to figure out whether he wants to continue his relationship with you?
You need to throw a monkey wrench into his plan to keep you as a backup in case his other plans don’t work out. Regardless of how angry it makes him, he does not get an option to have a month or two off from your marriage so he can experience what it is like to be single again and decide if he likes it. You can tell him something like this:
You can leave, if you want to, but first understand that once you leave, you will not be coming back unless and until our marriage is rebuilt. And, I will not wait long for you to do that. I love you and I want to make this a good marriage for both of us, but you will lose me, your home, and your family if you are unfaithful to me.
This message allows him time to go “think,” but it greatly increases the risk to him of losing you. Most men will be angry about your saying this. They want to have their cake and eat it too. But, basically you are saying that you can have your freedom or me, but not both. Do not argue with him. Just stick to this boundary.
Be sure not to agree to a fixed amount of time that he gets to go have space. Just like when you are single, continuing with your husband depends on the relationship building. If it does not, then you will end it. As long as you are behaving in a desirable way, your message and follow through will build attraction, respect, and commitment.
One of the worst things to say to a man
In my opinion, one of the worst things that you can tell a man is:
I love you and always will, no matter what you do. I will always be here for you and I will never give up on our marriage.
While that sounds romantic, it sends the wrong message to your spouse. Your spouse should know that you love him and will be by his side and support him as long as he remains a faithful, loving husband, but that that will all come to a crashing end if he mistreats you or is unfaithful to you.
The fear of bad consequences helps us to get along with others, keep our jobs, obey the law, stay physically safe, have a relationship with God, and maintain our marriages. Helping your husband to have that healthy fear from the very beginning of your relationship is one of the most loving things you can do.
The Bible tells us, Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). There are consequences if we reject Him. There should be consequences for your husband if he rejects you. Maybe it would be good to say, fear of your wife is the beginning of wisdom in marriage.
A lack of laws, law enforcement, moral code, or personal boundaries will always lead toward chaos and destruction. Our natural tendencies are to be selfish. That is our sin nature. We have to be motivated and disciplined to love selflessly.
Fear is the emotion that helps us not to do dangerous and stupid things. Many more men are faithful out of fear of losing their wives than they are out of a loving concern for their wives’ feelings. As long as you are a good wife, your husband will never want to lose you. And, if you have good boundaries, it will help him not to do things that would cause him to lose you.
Loving behavior + Good boundaries –> Loving, faithful, committed relationship
Affairs, separation, and divorce happen when men have no fear of losing their wives
It is really important to be a valuable woman for your husband. If you have many needy behaviors (e.g., criticizing, arguing, complaining, etc.), your husband will stop valuing you. We don’t fear losing what we don’t value.
Most men still believe that their wives would never leave them no matter how much they neglect their wives. In this age, this is simply not true. The double standard for affairs and divorce in marriage has mostly disappeared.
We have to be worthy of our spouses for them to want to keep us, whether we are a man or a woman.
Personally, I think that is a good thing.
Having good boundaries is part of being a loving spouse
Be loving, but have good boundaries. The same is true for your kids, by the way. Your kids should know that you love them and are on their side. But, they should also fear that if they really mess up and do stupid things, that there are going to be serious consequences.
That helps your children to do better while still feeling loved.
Children should never think that they can do whatever they like because you will just tolerate it. Parents who tolerate anything from their children raise kids who will not be good partners for anyone. Having boundaries–lines that cannot be crossed without us taking action, not only protects ourselves, it protects those we love.
You are not to blame even when he says you are
Although he will blame you for his moving out or being distant, that is just his way to avoid responsibility for his selfish desires. There are several reasons why men blame and it’s important not to take what he says at face value. No man says “I’m tired of being married and just want to go be single for a while.”
Instead, they give reasons why it is too emotionally difficult for them to stay with such awful wives. That is why your changing those things he doesn’t like about you won’t make a dent in his decisions. They are not the real reasons. If you change something, he will just come up with other reasons to justify his behavior.
Also, don’t torture yourself night after night, wondering if he is going to decide to stay with you or not. He has already decided not to. However, you can change that.
The biggest factor in whether he has renewed interest in you is whether his plan works out or not. For men who value their wives or family time, the only way their plans work out is if their wives help them to have their cake and eat it, too.
Single people want to be married, and married people want to be single. There are reasons for this. Most men who separate have lost touch with why they got married in the first place. Your boundaries can help them want that again.
“But, my husband really is undecided”
A man who really can’t decide needs to work with his wife and a counselor to make a decision. If your husband refuses to do these things, then he has already decided. Ask your husband if he is willing to go to counseling and then watch to see if he follows through.
If he says he will, but then makes little or no effort, he is clearly following his plan to get out of your relationship even if he is attending counseling. Counseling is not effective unless both people truly want to build their relationship. Many times counseling just reassures a man that his wife isn’t going anywhere.
We can’t decide if we like something or not by spending months avoiding it.
“What do I do to get him back if he does leave?”
First, you keep your boundaries so that he can’t have his cake and eat it too. This means not spending the night with you, not having sex with you, not dating you, not participating in family activities, and not being able to come and go as he pleases from your home.
The only time not to have these boundaries during a separation is if you have a therapeutic separation where the purpose is to work on rebuilding your marriage. In other cases, the lack of boundaries will promote affairs, indefinite separation, or divorce.
When you do interact with him, you need to be pleasant and secure. Needy women have the hardest time reconciling because they don’t have good boundaries, behave in damaging ways, and their husbands don’t fear losing them.
If you can keep your boundaries, you will help him begin to feel like the grass may be greener at home after all.
“Is this method guaranteed to make him want to come back to me?”
Not at all. It just works much more often than begging him to come back, arguing with him to come back, or just giving him as much time and space as he wants to experiment on his own.
Reconciling is never an opportunity with a guarantee. But, it is a risk worth taking.
Being secure, loving, desirable, and using good connection skills will always give you the best chance to have a lasting, close relationship with your husband. If you would like help working on these skills, I would be happy to work with you.