get spouse to change

How to Deal with a Spouse Who Ignores You So You Can Save Your Marriage

Is your spouse ignoring you, making you feel frustrated? You can end the struggle for control by knowing what this behavior means and how to deal with it

get ignoring spouse to change
change the way you respond to an ignoring spouse to stop the power struggle and end the frustration

Is your spouse tuning you out, refusing to answer you, or pretending that you are not even in the room? This attempt to ignore you is actually very similar to avoidance. Typically such people do not like open conflict, so avoid it with passivity. Ignoring has a controlling aspect. It is typically done to get you to give up either trying to connect, trying to get your spouse to do something, or trying to talk about an issue your spouse does not want to talk about. Confronting such behavior rewards your spouse for such behavior, as does giving up. To end this pattern, you need to learn how to deal with your spouse in a more effective way.

Your spouse is talking–just not with words

Many people feel frustrated because they are attempting to get their ignoring spouse to verbally answer them. Even if you could get your spouse to answer you, he or she would not be saying anything that is not already being said through body language and lack of communication. Ignoring generally means, “no,” to any request. So, when you make a request and are ignored, just interpret that as a “no.”

You:  “Would you like to go out to dinner this Friday.”

Spouse:  (Ignores you).

This has the same meaning as,

You:  “Would you like to go out to dinner this Friday.”

Spouse:  “No, I would not.”

A helpful thing to do is to let your spouse know how you are going to interpret the ignoring behavior:

You:  “Whenever I ask you something, and you ignore me, I am going to assume that the answer is ‘no.’”

This will help you not to wait for an answer from your spouse. Waiting for an answer when your spouse ignores you gives your spouse control. By using this explicit assumption, you take that control away from your spouse.

Another example:

You:  “The sink is stopped up.  Can you fix it?”

Spouse:  (Ignores you).

You:  (Call the plumber).

Although your spouse may become upset because you called the plumber, it is something that your spouse could have easily avoided by simply answering you. Consistently behaving this way will help your spouse to communicate with you.

Don’t let your spouse’s ignoring you stop you from having a good time

In the example above where you ask your spouse out to dinner and he or she refuses to answer, you could just give up going out to dinner. Unfortunately, that also appears as though your spouse is preventing you from going out to dinner and again rewards him or her with a sense of control. In such situations, it is better simply to have a backup plan for going out with a friend so that when your spouse ignores you, you can give a calm and positive reply:

You:  “Would you like to go out to dinner this Friday.”

Spouse:  (Ignores you).

You:  “That’s okay.  I thought you might not, so I’ve arranged to go out with my friend instead. Maybe we can go out some other time.”

If your spouse then jumps in, sensing that he or she has lost control, and wants to out with you, you should treat that positively, but still not go out with your spouse on the planned day. That is, you should continue to go with your backup plan:

You:  “Would you like to go out to dinner this Friday.”

Spouse:  (Ignores you).

You:  “That’s okay.  I thought you might not, so I’ve arranged to go out with my friend instead. Maybe we can go out some other time.”

Spouse:  “I didn’t say I don’t want to go.”

You: “Since you ignored me, I am treating that like a ‘no,’ and am still going to go out with my friend.  We can arrange a different day to go out, if you like.”

Spouse: (Ignores you)

You:  “That’s what I thought.  Let me know if you change your mind.”

This kind of behavior demonstrates that your spouse did not really want to go out with you, but he or she simply wanted to prevent you from going out with your friend. If you had changed your plan and agreed to go out with your spouse, there is a good chance that your spouse would have stood you up at the last minute–again taking control, while still preventing you from going out with your friend.

Make the ignoring ineffective

When you respond calmly and without insistence that your spouse answer you, your spouse’s ignoring behavior will only serve to frustrate him or her. That is because you will have already gotten the answer you need and be able to react in a proactive way. Your spouse will not like you behaving the way that I suggest, but it will help you to get your spouse’s respect.

Is the ignoring a single behavior or a pattern of behaviors?

If your spouse has this habit of ignoring you, but otherwise is generally positive, then the above way of responding will help your spouse to become more verbal while not making you feel pressured to get your spouse to respond.  However, if the ignoring behavior is just one symptom of a whole set of behaviors in which your spouse is treating you badly, then your spouse is most likely trying to push you away. This usually comes with affairs, plans for affairs, and/or plans to leave you. If, no matter what you do for your spouse, or how positively you behave with your spouse, you get rejection, then it is a divorce warning sign.  Your relationship is not far from crisis. You need a strategy other than patience or conflict to get your relationship headed in the right direction again.

How long has your spouse been this way?

Another indicator of serious trouble in your relationship is if this behavior has not been a long term characteristic. If it has been two years or less, it is a sign your spouse no longer loves you and wants out, but has not yet taken action. If your spouse has always been this way, it is much more likely to be a communication problem or a personality characteristic. Some spouses are simply poor communicators and don’t do much better with other people than they do with their partners. When that is the case, focus on enjoying those aspects of your spouse that you do like and accept that your spouse does not have the ability to be more interactive, even if you badly want that. You have to be careful not to give your spouse the message that his or her behavior is unacceptable if he or she has been that way since you first met.

Criticism never helps

Although you may be tempted to criticize your spouse for ignoring you, it won’t help. Instead, strive to make your relationship more enjoyable for your spouse, while also not being a hostage to your spouse’s behaviors. The combination of these two things (and not one alone), will help to create a more positive relationship for both of you. Remember that the goal of your interactions with your spouse should always be to make the relationship more enjoyable for both of you and not just for yourself.  Having such a win-win perspective will help you to keep your love alive.

For more win-win methods of improving your relationship, see my book, Connecting through “Yes!”







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