The Invisible Divorce

Ways In Which We Emotionally “Exit” Our Relationships

In which ways do you emotionally “exit” your intimate relationship?

An “exit” is a way of preventing or avoiding closeness and connection by acting out a feeling rather than talking about it. For example, you may watch TV to avoid making love because you are hurt or angry, or because you don’t feel safe around your partner. You may over-work as a way to avoid your fear that your partner will be critical of you, or ask you do things around the house that you dislike. Or perhaps you may have once considered suicide as a desperate attempt to get his/her attention.

Exits fall into three categories: catastrophic, intentional and functional. Catastrophic exits affairs, addictions, insanity, thoughts about suicide, murder or divorce will greatly damage or destroy your relationship. If any of these exits are open, they must be closed immediately if you wish to prevent your relationship from being irreparably harmed.

An intentional exit is a feeling expressed as behavior with a clear motivation to avoid involvement with your partner. In other words, you experience the activity as being more pleasurable than being with your mate.

A functional exit is a behavior that you enjoy, but your involvement in the activity clearly takes energy and time away from the relationship. The effect, although not the motivation, is decreased involvement with your partner, thus diminishing intimacy.

Do you emotionally “exit” your relationship in any of the following ways?

  • Work
  • Recreational activities
  • Sports
  • Computer and/or computer games
  • Friends
  • Your kids
  • Reading
  • TV/videos
  • Retreating into your emotions (hurt, fear, anger, mistrust, reactivity, etc.)
  • Leaving and/or going elsewhere
  • Retreating into your inner fantasy world
  • Addictions
  • Affairs
  • Thinking of suicide and/or murder
  • Insanity
  • Thinking of divorce
  • Withholding love
  • Holding grudges
  • Creating conflict with your partner (or with another person)
  • Avoiding conflict

You don’t have to literally be doing the above. It’s exiting the relationship if your energies are going into thinking about one of these, because these exits stop you from being fully present, emotionally available and intimate.

So which exits are you currently using? Which ways do you avoid your mate, distance your relationship or take time and energy away from your partner? Are there any other exits that you use that are not on this list?

Now list the behaviors that you think your partner uses as exits. Share your two lists with each other, and add any exits from your partner’s list to your own that you may not have thought of.

Share with your partner the feelings which each exit expresses. For instance, you might say “I am spending all my free time on the computer because I have been feeling snubbed by you watching so many sporting events.”

Then decide which exits you are willing to close. It is essential that you close your exits, or your relationship will never be warm, intimate, trusting, and passionate.

Tell you partner all the exits you will commit to closing.

Source: Getting The Love You Want Couples Workshop Manual by Harville Hendrix

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