written by Petra Blank, a Marriage Helper Admin on the Save My Marriage Facebook Group. Click here to join!
When we at first called it No Contact, we didn’t anticipate how people would hear those words over the other things we said about the principle. Allow me to explain:
First, we teach principles. You have to decide how to apply it to your situation. Every person and every situation is different in some ways from others. Yes, many things are very similar. It’s the small differences that require you to use wisdom as you apply the principles.
Let me change No Contact to Smart Contact.
What does that mean?
Anything you do that appears to the other person as manipulating, whining, begging, pleading, etc. very likely will result in their moving away from you even faster. There are those out there who say that you should send your spouse a note, email, or call every day to keep them aware that you are there, etc. We hear regularly from people who used that approach that it only drove the other person away if s/he already wants away from you and is/has vilified you to justify departing.
If the wayward spouse has any kind of “business” with you, it makes sense to be in contact but still NOT in ways that appear to be doing the things mentioned above. “Business” might mean kids together, talking about bills, or, in some cases, actually being in real business together.
For example, if you have children together, it makes sense to contact the wayward spouse to share information, ask opinions, and more. However, if when you talk about the kids you regularly start into something such as “the kids cry about you every night,” s/he very likely will start avoiding your calls or finding ways to end them quickly.
Is there ever a time to tell a wayward spouse that the kids are hurting? Yes. But that is better done when EACH of you is engaging the other in a genuinely open conversation. In other words, when the defenses are not up.
Continuing to contact the other just to say hello, or to send a message that you miss him/her might in some cases be a good thing. For example, if s/he is alone and hurting and hasn’t told you to leave him/her alone. Even then, I would suggest caution and not to do it too often. If it comes across as begging or whining or makes it appear that you can’t live without him/her, it usually backfires.
Why don’t you want to give the message that you can’t live without the wayward spouse? Or that you think about him/her all the time? It’s because it implies that you will be there no matter what s/he does. Why is that a potentially bad thing? Because it communicates that s/he can do anything without consequences. S/he has no reason to act differently. I’ve actually heard some straying spouses say things such as, “My husband/wife will be there if I ever want to go back. Because I know that, I’ll keep exploring whether this new person / lifestyle / whatever is what I really want. If I discover it isn’t, s/he’ll take me back. Therefore, I don’t need to change anything.”
This is more of an art than a science. I can’t give you specific things and say if this list happens make some contact, if this list happens make no contact, etc. As already stated, it is a principle that you have to figure how to apply to your situation.
What do you do if your spouse contacts you?
Whether it’s about business or just to chat, listen. If s/he provides any openings to true emotions, gently speak to them. Still you do not do anything that makes him/her regret opening up – even if it was only minor. Think in terms of being the understanding friend rather than the fighter looking for an opening. I have witnessed on many occasions that a straying spouse eventually found his/her way back home because the spouse s/he left became first a friend and finally a best friend.
If you wayward spouse left you because s/he felt controlled by you, all this becomes even more important. [There is a lot more to say about whether you actually were controlling or if that is a manipulation on the departing spouse’s part, but that is more than I can mention here. If you wish to receive an eBook on control, email AskJoe@MarriageHelper.com]