Detachment Versus Distancing

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I’m conflicted about distancing myself from my MLCer. My MLCer already felt I neglected him; I don’t want to do more of the same.
This is a common fear regarding detachment and one I understand—the second sentence in that LBS comment is from me just after Bomb Drop. I spent the first few months at the forum telling people I did not believe in detaching. What surprises me now is that they did not try to convince me otherwise. In the Midlife Dimensions chat I asked Jim Conway about detachment and he told me to think of surrender instead; this was why I said I didn’t believe in detachment. I now have a more mature understanding of detachment and disagree with Jim. Surrender is an advancement from Detachment. Here is my official definition of detachment:

Detachment
An emotional level wherein your emotions are no longer intertwined with someone else’s emotions and actions; it is a detachment from the ego and its emotional reactions and not a disconnection from the core person within. It creates a gap between the emotions of individuals, thereby allowing the freedom to release to and embrace one’s emotions without concern of the effect on others, or without feeling guilty for someone else’s reaction. Detachment returns power to each personal core.

Distancing Versus Detachment

So what is distancing and what is detachment?
Distancing can refer to a Contact Level: Dim, Dark or No Contact.

Detachment is the first level of what I call the Releasers. In general detachment is about separating your emotions from those of another person. Since the words distance and separate can be used synonymously, some people may use the word distance when discussing detachment and the confusion continues!. When your emotions are attached, one person’s emotional bursts yields an emotional reaction in the other person. Reacting is uncontrolled; when you are attached to your MLCer, their emotions create your emotions. Detachment helps you respond rather than react.

The confusion is understandable because Going Dim or Dark or even setting a No Contact Boundary can be part of your journey toward detachment. Dim and Dark are especially important for your detachment tool box because they are something you can use even while still living with your MLCer.

There is an unhealthy level of emotional distancing that is not a part of Standing.

This couple is seething in their distance; this is not detachment.

This couple is seething in their distance; this is not detachment.

(Unhealthy) Emotional Distance
A refusal to open one’s Self emotionally (emotions can still be attached) and allow vulnerability. Refusal to share the intimate pieces of Self and life. Emotional distance manifests as aloofness, creates resentment and enables indifference. It is a numbing of the senses toward the other person.

This is not what the Contact Levels are about. They are meant to give you space—emotional and physical—in which to heal so that you may come together again whole and healthy partners.

Attachment is Imprisonment

Attached!

Attached!

You are being held captive. Another person is next to you being help and you are tied together. You are attached. Then your captives come and without removing the ropes, they move you to different ends of the rope and put a wall between you. Now there is a distance between you and the other prisoner, but you are still attached. Even from a different room if one of you moves, the other feels it and may be required to move in order to adjust. Movement can be as minor as the pulling on and chafing your wrists because the other person is crying or simply scratching their nose. You are like marionettes where you are each the puppet master for the other.

Notice something important in that example of attachment: Neither person chose it; their attachment was passive and geographical distance did not alter the fact that they were attached.

Suppose your captors cut the rope holding you together, but also remove the wall separating you. Now there is less distance and yet no attachment. Since your movements will no longer cause direct damage to one another you can focus on helping each other instead of focusing on your own pain caused by the other person’s movements. You can offer each other more comfort now, whereas before you may have been angry with each other for simple movements(some resulting from being emotional) that caused the ropes to pull on you.

This is where you are as an attached spouse. Metaphorically bound together, any emotionality from one of you directly affects the other. Detached, you are not only more available to help yourself, you can better tend to your MLCer with empathy. Detachment enables responsiveness rather than reactiveness.

Detachment does not have to mean you become aloof or cold toward your MLCer. This may be what happens initially while you are learning what it is to be detached and while you may also try to put more space between you when attachment is a temptation. But detachment allows you to care without caring being a risk to your heart and emotional stability.

MLCers Fear Detachment

Detachment can appear like you are becoming more distant and as though you don’t care even when that is not the case. Left Behind Spouses doubt detachment when their MLCer becomes upset when the LBS begins to detach. The MLCer accuses the LBS of not caring anymore and so the LBS fears that detaching will ruin their chances of reconciliation since their MLCer seems to be saying that they would be interested in the relationship if only the LBS cared.

Ha! That is a Blame Twist. You are getting stronger and more independent which means you are starting to set boundaries and your MLCer feels that you are an obstacle in their path and they want you to return to the previous status quo where they could do what they wanted and you were still available to them. MLCers also fear detachment because they want to live this new life, but they either want you available if the new life doesn’t work out or they know the new life is temporary and that they only want to be gone for a limited (even if extended) period of time. But if you no longer care—which is what it may feel like to them—their plan is ruined and they will lose you, which is not what they want.

Detachment: Your Survival Tool

Detachment is first for you; it is a survival tool. Secondarily it is for your Stand and your spouse. MLCers run away from things that challenge them or obstacles that get in their way and a detaching spouse is an obstacle. A lot of things you need to do as a Stander seem counter intuitive; they feel like big risks to your relationship, but it is not you recovering from the shock and trauma of what is happening that is destructive; the midlife crisis is the destructive force! MLCer are going to resist a lot of things that are positive because those things do not enable the MLCer in their crisis. Detachment accepts the crisis, but it does not enable it.