Why Is My Spouse Shutting Me Out? If you sense something is wrong, take action with these three simple tips! BY SHARON M. RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
Sometimes your spouse might be acting different and not even realize it.
“ So, if your partner is shutting down, take it seriously. View it as a warning sign that something has changed which needs to be addressed ASAP.”
Even in the best of marriages, there could be a time when you feel like your spouse is shutting you out. For instance, Jane and John had good communication and were never short for conversation. However, as of late, Jane has noticed that John seems distant, non-conversive, and often retreats to the family room to watch TV alone. Additionally, John seems to have enough time for extra golf outings, but not enough time for Jane.
Because of his change in behavior, Jane asked John if there was something wrong. Initially, he told her, "Nothing’s wrong… I’m just tired." Jane let it go for the short-term, but as time went on, his behavior didn’t change and she became increasingly concerned, not only about John, but about their marriage. In desperation, Jane reached out to her friends for advice and support. Oddly enough, some of her friends were experiencing the same issues Jane was experiencing, but the reasons were disturbing to her. It turned out that a few of her friends were dealing with infidelity. Jane, now panicked, quickly goes into action.
She approaches John and asks him directly if he’s having an affair. John was shocked by Jane’s question, and he immediately assures her that there is no one else and that he loves her. She believes him, but she still doesn’t understand his distance and silence. He doesn’t realize he’s being distant, so he’s not sure what to do to reassure her that everything is okay.
Even though John is not having an affair, and they still love each other, this is nevertheless a warning sign that something has shifted in the marriage that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Jane is wise to suggest therapy to John, and it’s fortunate for them that John is in agreement.
In therapy, it was discovered that John was extremely overwhelmed with his schedule, the kids, their friends, and commitments. He didn’t realize that he was distant to Jane due to the demands that filled his plate. With this realization, they were able to talk again and strategize a solution. Now they’re making sure that they put their marriage first, above all.
So, if your husband or wife is shutting down, take it seriously. View it as a warning sign that something has changed which needs to be addressed ASAP. Then, here’s what you should do:
1. Address the change in behavior. The first line of defense in any situation is to try to talk about the problem. Hopefully your communication skills are good so that there’s more likelihood to get to the bottom of why your partner might be shutting down. For Jane and John, though their problem was not resolved even with good communication, it did allow them to discuss enough of the issue to help them decide what to do next, since John wasn’t able to identify the reason he was shutting down.
2. Be proactive. Because the communication of John and Jane wasn’t getting to the root of the problem, they were smart to be proactive and get help before something more drastic happened in their marriage. Because John was the one who was shutting down, it would seem that he would have eventually cheated on Jane. But he was happy in the marriage and just overwhelmed without even realizing it. Jane, however, was feeling neglected, and her needs weren’t getting met so she would’ve been more prone to cheat on John.
3. Make the necessary changes. In therapy, John was able to understand why he was shutting down. One of the main reasons he started checking out was because of tending to the needs of their friends, who were also experiencing their own marital problems. Without knowing it, and along with the overloaded schedule at home and work, it simply put him over the top. John coped by distancing himself from Jane and cocooning in solitude. What John and Jane learned in therapy was to lessen the burdens of life by being cautious of overload, better time management, and putting their marriage first.
When changes are ignored they tend to build momentum, and something as normal as being overwhelmed with too much to do can turn into something more serious, such as fighting, infidelity, or marital breakdown. The lesson? Follow Jane’s lead. She sensed something was wrong and took action to resolve the problem.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com and follow her on Google+.