Many people who are reluctantly separated are not sure how they are supposed to act around their separated spouse. This can seem very odd. After all, this is your spouse that we are talking about. Chances are, you have known him for a very long time and being around him should feel as natural as breathing. However, if you are separated and want to reconcile, you can sometimes sense that you are on shaky ground with your spouse. You don’t want to do or say anything that will make him uncomfortable or drive him away. And yet, the wish to reach out to him can be hard to ignore.
Someone might ask, “How do people handle the showing of affection during trial separations? My husband and I have only been separated for a short time and honestly, I’m not quite sure of protocol here. My husband was over visiting the kids this weekend and we were discussing a sad issue with my husband’s extended family. My husband was upset and I went to hug him, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. I simply wanted to give him some comfort. I didn’t really think about it beforehand. But when I did it, I felt my husband bristle. He literally stiffened at my touch. I pulled away and tried not to make a big deal of it. Later I talked about this with one of my friends and she suggested that perhaps I should not show physical affection to my husband while we are separated. She said that when you separated, you aren’t necessarily loving on one another. Is this true? Should I not be showing affection to my husband right now? He wanted to separate. I did not, but none of this means that I don’t love him anymore. If I shouldn’t show him affection, I could stop. But I don’t really want to. I feel like I’ve already lost so much. Do people really not show affection while separated?”
It really does depend on the couple. I know some couples who continue to hug, kiss, have sex, etc, while separated. And I know others who hesitate to touch in any way. There is really no hard and fast rule about this. And in my opinion and observation (based and on my own separation,) I think that it is best if you either follow the understandings that you’ve already established. Or, if you have not established boundaries, you either ask now or read your spouse’s cues to determine his comfort level.
My husband seemed pretty uncomfortable in similar situations and finally I just asked him. I literally said, “Should I not do this?” when I attempted to reach out to him. My husband didn’t flat out tell me no, but he was clearly not comfortable with physical affection in the beginning of our separation. So I eventually decided to just allow him to take the lead. That way, I didn’t have to worry about doing something that would hurt communication between us. Instead, I eventually focused on trying to be comfortable and to laugh and relax with one another so that he’d want to keep communicating. Further down the road, he was the one to initiate physical affection and I believe that this worked best for us, but that may not be true of every couple.
I do also know that things may change from one day to the next. There might be a time when your spouse pulls away from you and then three days later, he’s reaching out to hug you. It can certainly be confusing and can give you mixed signals. However, I don’t think that you can ever go wrong by being friendly and supportive, but also observant as to how he is acting and how receptive that he might be at the time.
I realize that this is frustrating. I used to think during my own separation that it just should not be so hard to know how to act around my own husband. But I think that if I would have pressed the issue and pushed affection when he wasn’t receptive, that might have delayed our progress even more. I learned that you really do have to take a gradual approach and just accept the progress that you are given.