The Nuanced Art of Detachment

Detachment“. Scary word? There are so many myths and fears around this word. If you Google detachment you’ll find dozens of articles calling the “subtle art”.

Why, “subtle?” Because tiny invisible pivots of mindset, attitude and beliefs can create and unimagined space where you can breathe again after a boundary violation.

Why, “art?”  Because it’s subjective and to each person, it will look and feel different.

We can also call it “healthy attachment” if detachment sounds too extreme.

Let’s look at healthy attachment in the context of a relationship with a sexually addicted partner.

Why detach? The benefits of learning the new skill of detachment can be:

-Arguments decrease because you’re not trying to change them
-Not engaging provides mental distance from the drama and chaos
-Acceptance that your spouse can’t meet all of your needs and may not be able to meet needs for safety and stability in their current state of recovery
-You have more energy and feel more empowered as you focus more on self-care

What it doesn’t mean:

Detaching with love, doesn’t mean abandoning the person we love.
It doesn’t mean threatening to leaving them.
It doesn’t mean I stop caring about them and their welfare.

It doesn’t mean, severing the “connection”.

In fact, the connection can be maintained, in a healthy way (think interdependence vs. complete dependence.)

What it does mean for me:

It does mean, I attach to myself.
It does mean loosening the grip.
It does mean acceptance of the reality that I can’t help, save, influence or fix another person who is choosing to live in their addiction.
It does mean letting go of fantasies that I can do or say something, to trigger a change in them.

It means I attach to my own self-care, including feeling the icky feelings if I have to, of my separateness. Sometimes, initially, I feel lonely. When I continue to be mindful and remind myself that it’s healthy to detach from him and his addiction, I have more space and energy to focus on my sacredness, my worth, my values and caring for me.

Personal responsibility is about separating your business, from other people’s business.

Accepting and living in truth means we acknowledge that we can’t control other people and then we adjust and re-orient our own lens to walk that out, in our business. 

It’s about Responsibility

According to author Byron Katie, there are only three kinds of business or responsibility:

1. Mine
3.And God’s  (Feel free to substitute whatever name or term you want here.)

Personal responsibility is about separating what you are responsible for, from other people’s responsibilities. I’m responsible for my self-care, thoughts, emotions and behaviors, including my recovery from betrayal trauma. My partner is responsible for his.

Accepting and living in truth means we acknowledge that we can’t control other people, and then we adjust and re-orient our own lens to walk that out, in our own business.
(note: Responsibility is not the same as accountability for the purposes of this discussion.)

What it does mean for others:

It does mean I allow others to experience the full results and consequences of their behaviors. I allow them to also feel alone, so they can bear the full weight of their behavior on their own shoulders. They reap, what they sow, instead of me bearing the pain for them.


But how do I actually detach when it’s so freaking hard?

It can be hard at first, but not impossible. It’s hard because it’s so new. Anything new feels scary, especially when the emotion of fear is so prevalent after betrayal from an intimate partner.

But, I detach, re-attach, and detach over and over again, until I can see the gifts of detachment more clearly.

Practical ways we can detach with love and compassion, for ourselves and our spouse (and others.)

-Treat your spouse like you would a dear Platonic friend
-Stop trying to change or rescue them
-Let go of the small stuff
-Stop focusing on what you can’t change
-Let them make their own choices (even if they’re unhealthy)

-Take a breath instead of reacting defensively

Practicing healthy detachment is only, “so freaking hard,” the first few times, and the outcome is so much better than the “hard” of staying enmeshed. Keep your eye on the prize of getting back your own sanity, and recovering your peace. 

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