Is a “healing separation” the same as a “relationship detox”?

In this article I will draw parallels between variations of fasting and this exceptional approach to healing relationships. How can strict attachment fasting safe your marriage? Much like with food, when things seem too complicated, painful and hopelessly constipated there is the radical option of stopping everything you have tried so far -entirely.

Many couples are facing challenges in their long-term committed relationships. For some partners issues grow bigger over time, hibernated for years of marriage or vegetated under a blanket of complacency and the distractions of life. Others find themselves having to deal with crises, infidelity or unprecedented emotional episodes of their other halves, which manifest suddenly as outbursts or realisations of something broken.

In my practice I typically witness three pathways: A few couples sadly default back into their familiar and suboptimal patterns soon after having started the work. Then there are couples who come to the mutual or one-sided conclusion to end their relationship. This often turns out to be a deeply transformative and insightful process for both if properly supported by an experienced marriage counsellor.

And then there is a majority of suffering partners who want to work on staying together. In my opinion this can only mean to leave a good part of the relationship as we knew it behind and to start writing a new book – not just a chapter.

I do sometimes come across couples who are genuinely invested in their love-attachment and long-term commitment, but find themselves pulled into mutual suffocation, disappointment and poisonous energy that often also bleeds into family and friends. Like a nuclear power plant without regulating control rods, their reacting comes dangerously close to overheating and disaster.

A relationship detox can help to (re-)install emotional control rods for a safe and loving attachment. In order to rebuild their power plant of love some couples decide for a healing separation. Much as in any detox fasting, the primary goal here is to decouple the feed – of food or love – and internal processes of body and mind. Giving the individual time to adjust and to awaken self-healing forces that each living being carries.

Couples counselling helps to buffer the imbalance between a driving partner and a typically more reluctant one. The safety of a long-term relationship is fragile when emotions are faced with honesty. Individual counselling and therapy are crucial for both partners to maximise personal growth during the time apart.

In the same way detox fasting is an extreme and temporary way of cleansing, a healing separation is limited in time and targets to activate transformative processes of personal growth and development in each partner. For some couples it is the last resort and can be promising if mutually understood, agreed upon and with professional support.

Relationships that can benefit from an attachment detox typically experience several of the following symptoms:

  • The relationship dynamic feels like wearing a heavy cloak denying you the air to breath
  • Feeling emotionally constrained, often sensing a connection with childhood trauma
  • Not having been alone or lived in a way of self-reliance and independence
  • You actually want to divorce the old relationship but not your partner

Again, in the same way it is important to prepare for a detox fasting – mentally, physically and practically – it is essential to be clear of the what, when and how of the temporary decoupling. Expect the beginning to be difficult and even painful – you need to make it through a first phase of adjustment with “hunger-pangs”, cravings and emotional lows. After that, it gradually becomes easier, but with no certainty about how body, heart and mind will react.

The more you focus on what you want to detox from, the harder it will become. Or: The less you obsess with change, the better you enable it. One pitfall of each fasting diet is for the mind to find substitutes – “if I can’t eat, I now binge-watch Netflix”. In the same way the relationship detox can be misunderstood as a free zone for sexual and dating experiments. However understandable some motivations here might be, replacing one partner with another is defeating the purpose.