QUESTION: How do I let him know he’s my everything when I now know I’m his nothing? After years together how can I mean nothing to him?
ANSWER: I am so sorry for your pain. Before I answer your question, I strongly recommend you read the articles on www.MarriageHelper.com about limerence. (If not, go there and use the search function to find them.) A person in limerence is an addict; the chemicals are made in his own brain. Does that justify or excuse his behavior? Absolutely NOT. However, it does give you insight into what is happening.
As I always point out, you make your own decisions about what to do. I cannot and will not tell you what to do. I offer my suggestions based on my work with thousands of couples. If it doesn’t make sense to you, don’t do what I suggest. If it does, follow my suggestions. It is YOUR choice.
I suggest that you do not try to let him know that he is your everything. It works against you in the long run. When he says that you mean nothing to him, that indicates to me that he probably has gone through a phase called compartmentalization and is now in cognitive dissonance. It’s not important that you know those words, but it is important for you to know this: He has gone through a process of justifying his actions in his own mind. He didn’t do it consciously. It’s what his subconscious did to give him a degree of peace as he goes against his original beliefs and values.
To do that he vilifies you. In all likelihood his mind has rewritten history. He remembers things you did that lower his respect for you and has little to no memory of the rest of your actions. He probably believes he never was in love with you, or, if he were, you changed and became a terrible person he cannot love.
Of course, I don’t know him. Sometimes people follow the path he’s on do not vilify or remember only bad things. Unfortunately, they are the exception. You wrote that you mean nothing to him; I’m guessing that he has vilified you and has rewritten history.
How do you get him to remember the good? To stop perceiving you so negatively?
You won’t do it by telling him that you love him, miss him, and those kinds of things. If he perceives you as clinging, pursuing, or manipulating, he will move away from you even faster. Therefore, you be strong. You can tell him you love him, but not in any way that shows anything other than strength. Let him know that you can live without him and that you will not allow him to mistreat you or your children in any way. He will pay his share. He will fulfill his responsibilities. If he doesn’t, your attorney and a good judge will remedy that.
Sound counterproductive? I’ve been working with these situations for more than two decades. I’ve seen it repeatedly. The greatest chance you have of bringing him to his senses and viewing you in a new way that will lead to deeper respect is to show amazing strength and calm (even when you don’t feel it).
Will he immediately change the way he interacts with you?
But it won’t be the way you want.
He’ll likely get angry. He may threaten to cut you off financially, or to file for full custody of the children if you have children. Unless he threatens or demonstrates violence, stay the course. If he demonstrates or threatens violence, call this number immediately 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Otherwise, remain calm and tell him that his blustering will not change what you intend to do. He can do the right thing or face the consequences of his decisions.
Though you will think that you’re driving him further away, you actually are accomplishing three very good things.
First, you (and, if necessary, your lawyer) will ensure that you and your children have what you need from him.
Second, you force him to face the consequences of his behavior. The sooner that happens, the better. Too often I see people allow the other to get away with things that are not good for anyone. Sometimes they do it from the mistaken idea that if they acquiesce it will bring the other back. Sometimes they do it through a misguided idea that because they are Christians they should take whatever the other does in suffering love. To those Christians I recommend they read the tough language of Jesus in Matthew 23 and His tough actions in John 2:14-16.
Third, you show him your inner strength and that nearly always changes perception in good ways….over time…not immediately.
Always be calm. Be kind. Be strong. Create valid consequences, not to punish but to bring reality into focus.
If he comes to the point of considering reconciliation, set boundaries, make requirements (such as counseling), and lovingly lead him back home by continuing to be strong.
I recommend that if he opens any doors, you consider seriously coming with him to one of our intensive weekends. We can help.