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Silent Divorce, Bonding and Marriage

silent divorce

Silent divorce, Bonding and Marriage is ©  George Hartwell M.Sc. -commercial use reserved. Contact: E-mail to G Hartwell,



Marriage at the core is couple bonding.  This capacity to enter into a bonded couple relationship is God given. In the Biblical Creation story of Genesis Chapter One God says: "Let us make man in Our image."  In Chapter Two God says: "It is not good that man should be alone."  With the creation of woman Adam says: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."  Then comes the statement: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

My thesis is that the spirit and truth of marriage is bonding and divorce and silent divorce may reflect a failure to bond or the loss of the bonding connection.  Couples in marital therapy select bonding and connection as the most needed component of their marriage (in my own survey).  Marital therapy focussed on bonding and connection has been found to be very effective: couples are less likely to drop out of marital therapy with this focus and the results are stable 6 to 9 months later. 

7 Ways of Assessing Couple Bonding

The experience of bonding, can it be felt?  Can it be felt easily?  Is it an underlying feeling, or state of our spirit, that we act upon without surface awareness?

You might answer this differently than I do.  Here is what I sense:

1)That bonding is an underlying state of the human spirit and not felt as a normal emotion.  It is not the feeling of 'falling in love.'

2)  It is not as easy to access the 'feeling of being bonded' as it is to experience day to day emotions. Wanting to know if we are bonded, we ask:  "Did you miss me?"

3)  The Bible speaks of heart trust - Proverbs 31. Ask yourself: does my heart 'safely trust" (have full confidence) in my loved one?

4)  If present there will be an ongoing encouragement (strengthening of one's spirit) in one's life resulting in increased confidence and energy.  I

5)  One evidence of this process of encouragement is an increasing willingness to admit to one's weaknesses.  Ask yourself: "do I experience and increasing willingness to take responsibility for my faults and to ask for forgiveness?

6)  When present the characteristics of love of 1 Corinthians 13 will be increasingly present in the individuals and in the relationship.

7)  Bonding will cement commitment and decreasing willingness to wander away visually, mentally or sexually.  Am I experiencing increasing levels of faithfulness and less temptation to look for greener fields?

Pastoral Note: Weakness in these evidences of bonding may reflect weak bonding in either or both partner and may reflect many root causes not just unwise and immoral choices.  Present or previous abuse may be a factor in one or more spouses.  Weakness in bonding of one spouse to one or both parents in early childhood - again for a variety of conditions, events or personality patterns in the parent - will undermine later bonding. 

Bonding as a Precondition to Sex

Some, not all, men and women have a mature functioning human spirit (inner being, emotional intelligence) and a level of awareness of their own inner state.  Such women intuitively require a level of intimacy and security to be present to feel safe and right in trusting her body to a man.  Such men also experience intimacy in their spiritual core (deepest feelings of our inner being) and such men, if they are living in integrity with their inner being, will avoid sexual intercourse if intimacy is not present. 

Pastoral Note:  Some people, for example those designated as 'extra care needed,' live with crippled functioning of their human spirit.  This results in emotion immaturity.  John and Paula Sandford see people like this as in a state of inner imprisonment or spiritual slumber. For such, sex is seen and felt from the perspective of a child - a child not ready for the responsibilities of sex and who is not emotionally ready to bond. 

Twelve ways to Strengthen your Marriage Bond

There are many ways that a person can allow and encourage the personal connection, the bonding, and the love connection that God intends for the marriage relationship. God puts us together by providing these mechanisms.  We tear marriage apart by avoiding these mechanisms.  Avoid most of them most of the time and you may well succeed in putting asunder what God has intended to be together.

  1. Make eye contact.  Make eye contact when love-making.

  2. Allowing togetherness - the afterglow - the calming down together - which occurs naturally after love making.

  3. In conversation, allowing topics that are personal.

  4. In conversation, allowing some problem solving, some confronting of the things that produce negative feelings. 

  5. Allow positive confrontation without abuse or name calling.

  6. In conversation, responding to or acknowledging the other.

  7. Develop common recreation, sports, or other shared activities.

  8. Set aside time for the two of you each week - like a date night.

  9. Touching base with each other, i.e. a staying 'in touch' phone call.

  10. Expression of affection through physical touch.

  11. Communicating when in difficulty and needing support.

  12. Consistent faithfulness: being there without overreacting emotionally.

How to Recognize and Stop Blocking marital intimacy

Fear and lack of trust are always paired with a high need to be in control.  Often one's control and security is not complete until one achieves full control of close relationships.  Full control results in the total loss of love and security of a trusting close connection.

The following seven points help you recognize a pattern of intimacy avoidance that will lead to silent divorce.

If this describes you and you really want the security of a bonded couple love relationship, then you need to learn to ease up on the following habits, reduce control and take little risks if you are to avoid silent divorce:

  1. Controlling appearances: focus on the surface - on 'looking good' - a sort of 'image management.' 

  2. Controlling finances: not sharing resources or information or input about them with your partner.

  3. Excluding the other in key relationships - hogging time with special ones.

  4. Taking the lead to the point of over powering the other in mutual friendships.  Once you have shared something leave space for your partner to enter the conversation.  If you have an urge to say something wait a bit if you have been doing all the talking.  If your partner tends to be the silent type, learn to be comfortable with silence.  Take three deep breaths.  If they start to talk - listen.

  5. Avoiding communication that shares information that is relevant to decisions, to your relationship, to problems between you, to your health or close friends or family.  Learn to puch past your sense of vulnerability when you share anything that is personal or that reveals your needs or feelings.  Love is about that sharing.  Talk about stuff.

  6. Do not include the other in key decisions (consult,Control decision-making by withholding relevant information and avoiding consultation.

  7. Avoiding conversation focused on the here and now, the personal and relevant.

 Bonding and Personality

Bonding and marital intimacy will be weakened by our personality patterns such as the 'Life Avoidant,' "The Martyr' or the 'People Pleaser' personalities.

What does the 'Life Avoidant' Personality look like?

There is a personality type that is associated with avoidance of risk. Such persons are basically in a flight from life state.  They use manipulation and control to consolidate this flight. Here is what a deep manifestation of avoidance looks like:

"They may focus on making the home womb or cave like.  This is done with soft weak colours (nothing bold).  Windows may be covered with many curtains and sheers.  The house feels screened off from the world - a private place.  It may look picture perfect - the home decorators dream.

"The may be obsessed with privacy and avoid exposure, public display - perhaps fear of nakedness before one's mate.

"Avoid decisions, confrontations, new situations, creative challenges, travel.

"Live a life at home, within the home, about the home and don't venture far away from home.

"Unwilling to venture in recreational life, in intimate communication, and in work.

"Avoid eye contact.  Avoid eye contact in intimate situations or during love-making, perhaps, by always having the light out.

"When confronted doesn't take responsibility but shifts the blame onto the other.

"Undermine conversation by talking without getting the attention of the other, for example, speaking from another room.

"Sitting or conversing at a distance and out of contact with each other.

"Not acknowledging or connecting with the other's feelings.

"Making demands but not requesting directly for what one needs.


Silent Divorce - the Result of life-avoidance 

In Jesus parable about failure to risk (Matthew 25:24-30) the risk avoidant "wicked, lazy servant" ends up losing what they have. That worthless servant is thrown out into the darkness!

So, according to Jesus, it is inevitable that whoever buries his talent will lose what he thinks he has. Without trust (courage) there is no risk.  Without risk, there is no growth.  Without growth (movement forward), there is death!

How this happens:

1.When the avoidant partner avoids all personal communication, adult consultation, playful interaction and all correction or negative feedback, then the other partner will be lonely and vulnerable - needing communication and intimacy.

2.When the avoidant partner minimizes all kissing, hugging, caressing and being affectionately physical together then both partner will end up 'touch' starved.

3.When the genital sexual relationship does not develop into heart to heart bonding because of the avoidance of eye contact, stepping away from the afterglow period then a powerful opportunity to deepen the marital bond and feed and nurture one another's spirits is missed.

4.When decisions are not shared together, requests are not made; discussion does not happen the life together must of necessity become life apart from one another.

5.Both of the partners begin to deaden within, the heart sickens, the spirit languishes, one lives with constant residual depression and a search for life outside of the marriage becomes as search for life, love at the emotional and spiritual level.  One strongly hungers and thirsts for that which will lift one spirits, heal one's heart, rekindle one's passion and bring the experience of community and intimacy to one's soul.

By God's design there is a powerful oneness created in sexual union, in cleaving to one's wife, in becoming one with her.  But Jesus is right.  After years of neglect (the burial of the possibility by the one in flight from life) even that powerful God-given oneness can and does die.  The result is silent divorce.

On my Blog HealMyLife.blogspot.com see Avoiding Love.
On my web site: www.ex-harmony.com see what happens if we mess with God's plan for love, sex and marriage.  What happens if we avoid close personal encounters that create the marriage bond or the love bond.

Three Patterns to Handle Silent Divorce

People will differ in how they handle silent divorce. Some will stand still and find ways to live with the condition.  Some will seek help and attempt to change the condition.  Some will move on to find love and life in other relationships.


1.  Stand Still

Some couples are not motivated to destroy the appearance of marriage and so keep up the appearance of marriage that we call 'silent divorce.'  

2.  Seek Help

Some couples make strong efforts to mend and restore their broken hearts and recreate a healthy marital bond.  Some such couples have chosen an intensive therapeutic retreat with a counsellor skilled at dealing at depth with the root issues that undermine marriage and bonding.  One couple I know trusted and respected each other and was fairly successful in working through the issues behind one partner's sense of loss of desire for physical intimacy.

3.  Move On

And, thirdly, some will move on through legal divorce. This happens, I suspect, based on my wisdom and experience, when one or both spouses:

1)Experience the death of the marital bond (based on years of intimacy avoidance).

2)Has developed a deep distrust of their partner (based on repeated betrayal).

3)Views their partner with deeply founded disrespect (based on behaviour that has been confronted but is repeated).

I also find that when this state is reached and a decision has been made to move on that nothing changes the person's mind.


Life Implications of Silent Divorce

Each way of handling silent divorce will impact our life. Experience will tell us which option brings us to life, love and communion with God.  In the long term the option we choose will impact:

1)our emotional capacity for love and openness,

2)our capacity to think clearly and face the facts,

3)clarity about our own identity,

4)Our ability to be open to and to hear from listen to God, rather than death and distance in relation to God.

5)An atmosphere of blessing on our life based on our openness to God or, alternatively, live under oppression because we have become shut off from God...

6)Our outlook on life, positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, grateful or grouchy, energetic and productive or depressed and under functioning.

7)Emotional brokenness and a contrite heart which draws God close and allow the Holy Spirit to move through us in prayer and other gifts including our creativity.

Once we recognize that what God puts together sometimes man pulls asunder, not just legally but by neglect, by avoidance, by head in the sand living, by burial of one's talent, and then we are open to learn where people are at and how they are dealing with the death of the marriage.


Theological implications of Silent Divorce 

The Bible values our bonding (clinging to) God and the bonding (one flesh) between man and woman.  

How important is bonding to our relationship with God?  I believe the Bible reveals that it is vital, in fact essential, to our souls, to eternal life.  After all eternal life is defined in terms of an intimate relationship - as knowing God the Father and His Son, Jesus the Messiah (John 17:2 ).

The parallel truth is that bonding vital and essential to the truth and spirit of marriage.  

Jesus makes clear, in John 15:2 that branches that bear no fruit are cut off by the Father.  Such branches bear no fruit because they fail to remain in Jesus - the True Vine.  "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine."  Jesus says "Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me."

The parallel truth is that the fruit God wants from marriage flows from bonding between husband and wife.  God's Spirit and kingdom can flow from the vital oneness of man and woman.  If a vital bond is present then fruitfulness will follow. 

If God would cut off those branches that do not remain in the vine, then God must consider a marriage to be dead if bonding is broken and a 'silent divorce' has replaced a life-giving marriage.

© George Hartwell, all rights reserved, 2006. www.HealMyLife.com


Comments and Letters:

  Brief over view of my divorce.  I was married in 1974, within two weeks of the wedding I noticed a problem.  My wife was starting to change and not bonding on all levels. I had been a christian for about one and a half years at this point (I also thought that my wife was also a christian, not sure now???)   Being a new christian I thought that all I had to do is to love her and pray for her that things would get better. I was way off on that thinking - I should have confronted the problem with her directly (at times I did but she would never share what the problem was), and worked on it with her, or ended the marriage. Things didn't improve over the next 28-36 years when we finally recently divorced. All I wanted her to do was acknowledge the problems and ask me to help and work with her on them.  That never happened and could never happen... (There is an interesting side note of what in year 26 finally woke me up, but too long for now)  Over the years we tried counseling with 3 different pastors, I read many books on building marriages and finally spent two years in marriage counseling with a psychologist with her to no avail.  During the divorce I met with the same psychologist and told him that from what I was reading and studying I believed that my wife had BPD.  What happened next was interesting.  He said your wife was my patient and I can't comment on that (HIPPA).  But what I can say is that we look at two classifications with mental illnesses, "clinical and pathological". I asked him to explain his view of the differences.  When he got to the end of "pathological" he looked me in the eyes and "nodded his head"...I was correct and on track in what I understood about my wife and BPD.

 In my marriage there were two incidents of violent behavior towards me.  15 years into the marriage sitting in bed my wife hauled off and hit me in the arm.  Sadly, my reaction was to hit her in the arm the same way and tell her don't you ever hit me again.  Things were quiet for about 11 years until she became enraged one night and tried to rip my member off with her bare hands.  I had to use all of my strength to get her to let go of me.  She consistently denied and lied about doing that to me. I had never known her to lie but that started changing...

 I'll shorten this up a little bit.  At our separation she became "the victim" and reproduced her "family of origin" - "matriarchal system' with my 3 daughters, pulled them away from me and began a war against me.  It was very ugly, there is still a lot of distance with my 3 daughters and 9 grand children.  My son who was living at home when I left has come to understand and see that his mother has a problem.  My son and I are on very good terms, he is 21 and 3rd year in college.

 Enough of that, I'm sure you have already heard many accounts like that...  What is most important now; I embrace all of the pain and difficulties I have endured over the years because God was teaching me Agape love through these trials, all of these years have worked for good and made me a kinder and more loving person,  I have forgiven, and I pray for God to bless my wife with her new relationship with her boyfriend ( I hope he knows what he is getting into) (we are suppose to bless our enemy's...).  And, I feel and sense that I'm closer to God and have a reall hope for a Godly marriage in the future.

  A couple of things I'm thinking now; If you refuse to "bond" with your spouse you have "abandon them, already". (possibly in Old Testament understanding, you have the right to divorce)

  In Christian circles "Divorce" is the "sort of unforgivable sin" that is used to cause pain and torment to God's dear children who are in a very difficult spots.

  Unhealthy relationships affect your spiritual life and walk with God. 

 Living in  "Silent marriages" and "pretending to be married" you are sort of committing fraud and hypocrisy, I don't see how God is would be pleased with doing that.

One book I found helpful wrestling with the "theological implication of divorce" was "Ending Marriage, Keeping Faith" by J. Randall Nichols. 

From 'Roger'