We still live in the same house, ride to church in the same car, attend our children’s school and sports events together, but I feel as though I’m all alone. This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve just got to shake this off.
I first had those thoughts ten years ago, she thought. So, when will this end? We were so loving, kind and thoughtful when we first met. He would pick me up for a date after racing home from getting off of work just so he could be around me.
On special occasions and sometimes just because it wasn’t one, he would bring me flowers or have them sent to my job. My co-workers were always jealous. They said things like, “Hmmm, my man used to do that too, until we got married and had kids. Then, forget it. He doesn’t even notice me anymore.”
I remember thinking, that will never happen with us. We’re so in love. We even pray and study the Bible together. We have God as Our Foundation. It’s too impossible. But now, if he kisses me goodbye, he doesn’t even look into my eyes; he’s too busy scowling at the mess of the kids’ toys on the floor down the hall behind me. I can’t distinguish whatever it is he grunts as he’s leaving, but it can’t be “I love you.” It hasn’t been “I love you” in the past fifteen months.
In another city, across the country, a man says to his buddy, “Yeah, I’m fine. Life is good, man.” But what he’s really thinking is: She never smiles when I touch her or looks at me like I can chase her troubles away with a silly joke or by singing her favorite song off-key. She’s just gone . . . somewhere.
She was my best friend for over twenty years; we met just after college. Ah, we had so much in common, the same major, both wanted to live in the big city, have four children and two dogs. We have all that, including great jobs in our field; but she seems dead inside.
I want to reach in and lift her out of whatever pit she’s sunken into, but she denies she’s even in one and I, while I’d never admit this out loud, feel inadequate to help her and I’m scared that she’s gone forever.
Does anything in these two stories resonate with you? Is any of it part of your story?
For so many, this is the centerpiece on the proverbial dinner table of life. While it may not be a spouse, someone who you felt connected to and who was in your corner, cheering you on, loving you is now emotionally M.I.A. (missing in action), and you feel a sense of emotional abandonment.
Sure, they are physically still there; but emotionally they are checked out. This can happen for any number of reasons. While you may think it is because of you, oftentimes it is not. Your loved one may be experiencing depression, anxiety, self-doubt, evaluating their accomplishments and feeling disappointed in themselves, or going through a hormonal or other physical problem, just to name a few possibilities.
Christian Counseling for Emotional Abandonment
It can be helpful to seek out a therapist to help during such times. Even if your loved one will not go, you might gain some insights that will help you. Because it is so easy to personalize their behavior and respond in anger, frustration or showing them disapproval, seeking therapy can help you look through other lenses and come up with a strategic plan of action.
To demystify it a bit, here are some of the activities and questions you may encounter in therapy:
- Creating a life timeline of major (positive and negative) life events
- Uncovering when the emotional abandonment became noticeable
- Discussing what events occurred at the time and a little while before you became aware of the changes in your loved one/yourself
- Learning about the normally observed behaviors at the stage of life your loved one is in (for example generativity versus stagnation)
Kendra Cherry describes it this way “Generativity versus stagnation is the seventh of eight stages of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage takes place during middle adulthood between the ages of approximately 40 and 65 . . . During this time, adults strive to create or nurture things that will outlast them; often by parenting children or contributing to positive changes that benefit other people. Contributing to society and doing things to benefit future generations are important needs at the generativity versus stagnation stage of development.”
For example, you may find that a life-changing or traumatic event occurred shortly before your loved one began to wall off their emotions, leaving you on the other side of the wall. While apathy and other things can lead to emotional abandonment, let us not underestimate the terrible power of fear or anxiety.
You may be thinking, “What in the world does that have to do with the distance s/he has created between us? They simply don’t care anymore. He just doesn’t love me anymore. She’s a cold fish.”
Let’s say that your mom died of breast cancer twelve months ago. It runs in your family. Three of your aunts, your maternal grandmother, and one of your sisters have already either died of the disease or have had radical surgeries and therapies that have made them feel dreadfully ill. He doesn’t know how to say that he is petrified that you will be next.
It all became real when they found a lump in your breast ten months ago. It wasn’t cancer this time, but nine months ago he became very quiet, began spending a lot more time at the office, and can’t seem to remember to show up to coach your son’s basketball team. What is the matter with him? Fear. It’s got a hold on him and he doesn’t even know it.
From the outside, we can be tempted to say, “Well, how stupid is that? If you think you’re going to lose her, make the most of every moment you have; don’t be a fool.” Sure, logically, that works. Emotionally, it doesn’t compute at all.
Think back to a time when you had a life-shift that was assured, not even a maybe. Your best friend was moving away. You were leaving for college and so was your then-boyfriend or girlfriend, but you were going to schools thousands of miles and several states apart.
Did you find yourself or them drawing back a bit so the goodbye wouldn’t be so hard? Did you hide and not say goodbye when your mom or dad was being deployed when you were eight or nine years old because you couldn’t bear to see them go and maybe didn’t want them to see you cry?
Maybe your loved one is grappling with inner demons and fears about a situation that hasn’t been revealed to you yet. Perhaps they don’t even understand the change in them if they even notice it at all.
Therapy can help uncover the what and the why. It is important to do your best to not leap to conclusions. Though it may be true that you have experienced emotional abandonment and that there needs to be intervention and remedy, it is also important to remember the love you have for this other person who is potentially lost in some kind of horrifically painful pit and they don’t even know how to ask for help.
If you can hold the hope for you both, rather it has been months or years, it is important to seek help and encourage your loved on to do the same. Both depression and anxiety are common in our society today. They are nothing to be ashamed of grappling with and should not be surrendered to.
Life is a gift and even if your loved one has been in the depths and shadows of depression for decades, it’s not too late to try a different path and reach out for help. Help is a good four-letter word. It stands for:
Every day by
Letting in the
People I care about the most
You don’t have to settle for emotional abandonment, stagnation, depression, fear or separation for any reason from those you love the most. Call someone for H.E.L.P. right now. You’ll feel better after you take that step to move forward in your walk of good mental health today.
“Old Farmhouse”, Courtesy of Myriams-Fotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Despair”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Farewell”, Courtesy of Cocoparisienne, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Stranded”, Courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License