When your husband ignores you

man hides his head under newspaper

Your cookie-cutter marriage doesn’t work. You are starting to avoid each other. Ignoring is an example of not getting what you want because you’ve stopped trying.


Your husband ignores you and you start ignoring him back

Ignoring can be large or very small. It can be as shocking as someone stalking out of a marriage or as gradual as a slow decline in the frequency of lovemaking. When your husband ignores you is meant to be punishing, it overlaps with passive-aggressive retaliation.
But ignoring can also be motivated by a distaste for retaliation, or a general fear of conflict, a mistrust of closeness, a reluctance to be vulnerable, a sense of futility, or just plain fatigue.
You can withdraw from the entire relationship, drifting further and further apart.

My husband and I just started leading more separate lives.

He had his interests. I had mine. He had his friends. I had mine.

Eventually, there simply wasn’t much left to bind us together.

You can also stop sharing your feelings, or stop sharing yourself physically. Emotional connection starts to dry up between you and your partner. You can tiptoe around your partner, fearing his volatility, thinking him either too fragile or too explosive to handle stressful issues. Or you can withdraw discussion and negotiation about one particular issue, such as child-rearing or money, because you “know” in advance that you “won’t get anywhere.”

And the cost of ignoring is the loss of passion. When you stop talking to your partner, know that you are on a slippery slope.

The wall between you and him

There are people who live their lives behind walls. They suffer the consequences of being overly protected.

Your husband doesn’t hide behind walls at work. He would never just ignore his colleagues, friends, or strangers the way he routinely ignored you, his own wife.

Maybe you or your husband is TOO BOUNDARIED?

The number of things we can use as walls is simply astounding: walls of silence, walls of words, walls of anger, intoxication, preoccupation, charm, humor, condescension, helplessness, and fatigue.

A healthy psychological boundary is supple and doesn’t interrupt your communication and intimacy.
But when you’re behind a wall, you take in nothing. You are not engaged with your partner; in fact, no matter what you may look like from the outside, you’re not actually listening at all. You are shut up in a closed fortress that no one can breach.

When you are behind a wall, you are protected, but not connected.

The only proper use of a wall is when you are being abused and you can’t, or choose not to, remove yourself. You’re stuck in a full airplane and your partner’s being a jerk to you. Or you’re in a car with him ten minutes away from the dinner party you’re both attending and he’s directing his anger at you.
Then, and only then, you can choose to use a wall in order to protect yourself. And even then, you must soften your wall back into becoming a pliant boundary the minute the abuse stops. When else is it healthy to operate behind a wall? None.

How can you smash his wall?

You can’t. And you’re better off not attempting to. Don’t tear down your own walls any more than your partner’s. Walls are just the flip side of boudarylessness. Neither state leads to health or to intimacy. Many people, including some therapists, don’t understand that the “cure” for being walled off is not simply “opening up.”
I want you to respect walls. They’re there for a reason. Partners who live behind walls are just boundaryless people who’ve learned to protect themselves crudely. Take down their walls and you get unshielded boundarylessness—which is precisely why they won’t let you do it. People who live behind walls don’t need to talk of more openness; they need reassurance that they will still be able to protect themselves as they get healthy but in more nuanced ways.

Create healthy physiological boundaries

When you don’t have a protective psychological boundary, your environment—whomever you’re with—will determine your psychic “temperature.” Positive people will cheer you; sad people will bring you down. If your husband is angry, you’ll either get angry back or crumble. In all of these cases, you have little capacity to stay rooted in your own reality in the face of someone else’s.

When you have a poor protective psychological boundary, you are in a constant state of emotional vulnerability. If you are fighting with your partner, for example, and he says something negative about you, you will immediately and invariably start feeling bad—not just about him, but about yourself as well—even if what he’s saying is totally untrue. You lack the means to keep his negativity at bay. Without a protective psychological boundary, the only way you can make yourself comfortable is by stopping the upsetting stimulus. In order for you to feel right again, you have to either “get him to stop saying that” or else leave, removing yourself from the disquieting material. Your only options are the two losing strategies of control or withdrawal. By providing protection, your psychological boundary allows you to stay engaged with what’s being said, without the need to stop it or run from it.

Your internal boundary and self-regulating in the relationship

Having a healthy protective psychological boundary allows you to self-regulate. You remain appropriately constant whether the environment around you is hot or cold. And this newly developed capacity to self-regulate, independent of changes in your environment, releases you from endless, seemingly uncontrollable reactivity.

You don’t need to feel hurt; you don’t need to fight back; you don’t need to “get” your partner to see things differently; you don’t need to be defensive; you don’t need to run away. In fact, you no longer need to do anything. Protected by your internal boundary, you have the miraculous new freedom to simply stand still and be present, or said differently, to utterly transform your relationship.

Most people of either sex do not do the hard work of sitting down, clearly identifying their relational wants and needs, figuring out how best to ask for them, going after them, and then, if the first attempt fails, regrouping, rethinking, and trying again.

Why can’t you get what you want from your partner?

Because relationships are complicated.

Our culture’s norm is to get whatever it is that we get from our partners and then react. But mastering the skills of relationship technology changes all that. By disrupting our usual knee-jerk reactions, the defaults we learned as kids from our families, second consciousness opens the door to a new world—a world in which we have options, in which we develop the ability to control our responses rather than being controlled by them. This isn’t a matter of white-knuckled suppression, but rather, as your practice matures, the cultivation of artfulness. No longer the pawns of our own reactivity, we can think about how to intentionally shape our relationship, about what we want for ourselves and our partners, and how best to get it.

If life were simple, your good use of the previous exercises would be all that was required to improve things. A clear understanding of what you’d like to see changed would be matched by a partner as willing to make those changes as you are. In a perfect world, you would be nearing the end of your journey of relationship improvement.

False sense of compromise

If you carry one shred of resentment, either do the work of full acceptance or go back to the negotiation table and fight for what’s important to you. But don’t try to be a marital martyr; you won’t pull it off. We moderns aren’t really built for noble self-sacrifice. Don’t give in to a false sense of compromise. In the long run, you won’t like it. And you won’t be the only person in your relationship who will pay for it.
At the core of relationship empowerment lies the belief that taking good care of yourself is taking care of the relationship. You don’t really want to withdraw your needs, your ideas, and feelings, out of frustration, anger, or hurt. And a sensible partner doesn’t want that for you, because he loves you, certainly, but also out of a sense of enlightened self-interest. Because a sensible partner understands that the withdrawal of truth, the withdrawal of one partner’s real needs, even when masquerading as acquiescence or generosity, will hurt both of you in the long run.

Shift your negative focus

Instead of focusing on what your partner has done wrong, or why he is ignoring you,  discipline yourself—and it does take discipline—to focus on what he could do now or later that would be right.
You shift from a negative/past focus to a positive/future focus.

Remember this phrase:  Don’t criticize, ask!

What would you like to hear?
Choice A:
“Honey, it’s really important to me that you’re home in time to help the kids with their homework. It is a big value of mine that we both stay involved in family life. Would you be willing to do that?”

Choice B:
“You’re never around when the kids need you at night. I’m stuck with all three of them. I can’t answer all of their questions, and I certainly can’t answer them all at once. It’s overwhelming,
John. I don’t know why you’re having so much trouble hearing this. What’s so difficult about showing up for your kids now and then?”

Which do you think would better enable your partner to give you what you want?
Choice A:
“Listen, I want to hear why you are ignoring me. Could you just take a minute and talk with me, honey?  Would you do that, please?”

Choice B:
“I can’t stand it when you get like this, John. Do you really expect me to just stand here and be ignored like that? Where do you get off treating me like that, treating anyone like that?”

You may be thinking now, “Oh, but the answers behind ‘Door A’ sound so artificial. Real people don’t ever talk like that.”

But, they do if they want to be effective. Even if you can’t see yourself sounding like that.  Perhaps with some practice, you could learn to manage a less polished version.

Shift yourself from negative/past to positive/future.

A shift, for example, from “I just hate it when you talk to me like that!” to “I’m not speaking disrespectfully to you. Would you please do the same?”
I’ll bet you could if you put your mind to it.

Prepare for the conversation with your spouse

Most men freak out every time a woman tells them she has something to say about their relationship. But has anyone ever taken the time to ask guys why they’d generally prefer to ignore their wives? Let’s say that most men don’t expect this particular discussion to be either constructive or a whole lot of fun. What they anticipate, and not without reason, is that they’ll receive an extended, overheated, one-sided portion of complaints.

Try these steps instead of complaining
• Identify what it is that you want
• Express what you want in a way that your partner can understand
• Help break down your request into actionable behaviors that your partner can accomplish
• Appreciate his willingness to listen and try
• Reassure him that sincere attempts, even if imperfect, will be valued
• Motivate him
• Make talking to you about your relationship something he’ll look forward to

Speak Out with Love and Savvy

The powerful internal strategy is remembering love.

The most important part of this strategy occurs before you open your mouth. If you’re unhappy, before reaching out to your partner to initiate a conversation, take a minute to recall your goal. And take a minute to recall that the person you are about to speak to is not a monster, nor even an enemy. He is someone you love. Someone to whom you have dedicated your life. At the very least, recall that he’s the person that you have to live with.

  • Ask your partner if he is willing to listen.
  • Remember that your motivation is that you love him.
  • Tell him how you see his ignoring.
  • Tell him what you made out about it.
  • Tell him how you feel about it.
  • Tell him you would like to have happen in the future.
  • Let go of the outcome.

Here’s the challenge: When you listen, listen; put your ego aside. Remember that what you’re doing is making things better, or, more precisely, making things better for your dissatisfied partner.

Listen, don’t judge

You won’t be able to fix anything without listening enough to know what’s wrong. That is the point—not judging the correctness of your partner’s ignoring behavior but simply understanding it.

Have some humility. You are judging what your partner shares, not against an objective measure of reality, but the subjective measure of your reality.
Think of this process of judging, “true, not true,” as something you do in passing as if you were offhandedly tagging the points that don’t jibe with your perception as they fly by.
The main focus of your attention should be on your partner. You are trying your best to get inside his shoes, to understand how he sees things. You note discrepancies, but they don’t occupy you. What matters is getting inside his head.

Remember, the relational answer to the question “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” is “Who cares?”

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