Why Won’t My Spouse Talk To Me?
Does it feel like every time you try to engage your partner about something that is on your mind, he disappears, withdraws, or pulls away? You might keep learning things about your spouse from other people or you regularly hear of events after they occur. It feels like you never talk to each other and you never connect about things that are important to you. When you do bring things up, you are often left feeling invalidated and misunderstood. You want to know what he’s thinking, feeling, and going through, but you’re often just left guessing. You want to enjoy his company and know that he enjoys you! You know he is a strong, resilient, and hardworking man who would do anything for you and your family, but when things get difficult it feels like you can’t reach him. He might get quiet, angry, defensive, or go into fix-it mode, but the result is the same no matter what: you feel alone and like your spouse is unavailable to you.
What You Experience: Abandonment, Isolation, and Rejection
You might experience his silence and lack of communication as a sign that he’s just not that interested in you. It seems that he must not value you or care about your opinion at all. Honestly, it might even feel like you don’t deserve to get his attention. You think that if you were more significant to him, he would actually engage with you and seek to understand what you are experiencing. His distance feels like a condemnation of you. You can almost hear him saying, “You’re not worth opening up to, you’ll never be enough for me, and there is no room for your negative emotions in this relationship.” Your spouse’s distance and avoidance communicates to you that you are not worthy, you are not enjoyed, and you are not important. Those are really painful things to experience in a relationship, especially from the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss the hurt you are experiencing, but what if there is a hidden message in your spouse’s actions that is different from what you experience?
What Your Spouse Experiences: Inadequacy and Fear of Losing You
While sitting with couples who are hurting and feeling extremely disconnected from each other, I have witnessed something unlikely time and time again. One spouse experiences the other as distant and disinterested, which conveys that the distant partner doesn’t like his spouse and doesn’t want to talk to her. But I’ve seen a different story emerge as we slowly peel back the relational patterns and discover the underlying core emotions that are present. The story I have witnessed is this: the husband who has historically been distant and withdrawn is actually afraid of losing you and is wrestling with his own feelings of inadequacy.
I’m suggesting that his actions towards you are not really driven by disdain or disinterest in you. Instead, distancing himself from you is a self-protective measure because he cares so much about you. Your head might be spinning right now as you say to yourself, “What kind of crazy mental gymnastics did this counselor just ask me to believe!?!” Just hear me out. What if your relationship means so much to him that the thought of engaging with you in your fear, sadness, and disappointment just feels too risky for him? That type of engagement might actually be activating his fears that he isn’t enough for you, that he won’t be able to be what you need, that he won’t be able to fix it, or that he will say the wrong things and just make matters worse. So the safer option for him is to just to keep his mouth shut and hide.
What if the distance you feel from him is less about you and more about his fears of potentially losing you and being rejected by you? The hiding, the distance, the emotional unavailability all feel like abandonment, but what if your partner is really saying, “I care so much about you that the thought of you being upset with me is really scary and it feels like I might actually lose you.”
Hopelessness Turned to Hope
Think about the implications of the fact that your spouse’s distance and withdrawal might actually mean he cares deeply about you. That is a hopeful place, because there is somewhere to go forward from there towards a better marriage. The implications are that it doesn’t have to continue to be the way it is right now. If your spouse really does care about you, then things can be different. The story goes from, “He doesn’t like me and we’ll never be close again,” to, “He cares deeply about me and he wants to be there for me, but he doesn’t know how to do that yet.”
These conversations aren’t easy and there are often many layers of conflict, hurt, pain, and disappointment to work through. The waters can be muddy and confusing, but you don’t have to start the path forward alone. Counseling can help you peel back the layers so that you both can honestly share about the more vulnerable emotions that have been driving your lack of connection. Instead of the same old patterns of conflict and avoidance, you can now forge a new way of interacting with each other that promotes mutual understanding, empathy, and enjoyment. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not! Real growth and change is possible for you and your relationship.