You have the expectation that your husband will put down his laptop and greet you after a long day at work. He knows that you had an important meeting about a possible promotion.
Not a word.
Not a glance.
He just sits there looking at that stupid computer doing God knows what.
Or . . .
You have been waiting for days for your wife to finally give the okay to have sex.
You feel like you have been patient. Not too pushy, for she hates that, but nor have you been passive.
You thought that you have made your desires and needs to be known, but they fall on dead ears.
You just desire to be looked at as if you are desired. You long for your wife to respond to you. Not like a porn star faking it, but like a woman who is in love with you, who longs to be with you.
No look. No desire. Just a cold voice telling you once again that she is not in the mood.
Of course, both these situations could be reversed. Doing enough counseling has taught me that a woman can desire a non-responsive husband sexually and a husband can long to be greeted at his home from his wife.
And nothing says they have to be husband and wife. You find these types of dynamics in all relationships.
These types of relationships are what I call, “Sleepwalking Relationships.”
Your partner is walking around, able to eat and drink, and can even say a few words, but he or she is not present to you.
He or she is like a person sleepwalking. Or it at least feels as if he or she is.
Unfortunately, the sleepwalking relationships are all too common and extremely exasperating to be apart of.
Rejection and loneliness lead to frustration and anger.
A lack of love and the feeling of a loss of connection gives way to rage and irritation.
You use to think you were a patient person once. Not so anymore. The mere presence of your husband or wife causes you to feel like a ticking time bomb.
Why doesn’t he love me?
Why can’t she show me how much she cares?
Is she having an affair?
Is there someone else?
Is there something wrong with me?
Over and over you go through the answers to these questions.
Fear grips you and you begin to panic.
And it is at these moments that you do the 5 things you absolutely should never do to win your spouse back.
All 5 of these feel great at the moment and even feel justified.
Regrettably, more times than not, these 5 ways of reacting to your spouse ignoring you simply reinforce the sleepwalking cycle your relationship is in.
Let’s break them down one by one.
1. Don’t Seek Eye For An Eye
We all love justice. Fairness is one of the first things a child learns. Well, not that they have to be fair to others but that everyone else should be fair to them. As adults, we basically still operate in the same way.
It is always easy to justify our own unfairness and even easier to desire vindication when we are treated unjustly.
Like Moses, you bring the law down from the Mountain and throw the 10 commandments at your husband or wife (boyfriend or girlfriend) in anger and frustration.
You reason that if he is going to be such a jerk, then you too will be a jerk.
If she is mean, you will be mean.
If he won’t talk to you, you won’t talk to him.
If she won’t have sex with you, then you won’t help out around the house or with the kids.
Fair is fair. Justice is Justice. And you will have your vengeance in this life or the next.
You want him to feel pain just as you feel pain. You want her to feel lonely just as you feel lonely.
And so the day comes when your spouse finally complains about how “unfair” you have been and WHAM! You unleash the pain and anger that has been building up.
The only problem with this method is it leaves you just as lonely as before. It might feel good to release your anger at your spouse, but it does not satisfy what you are really wanting: a deep connection.
Demanding justice rarely has such an effect. The simple reason is it feels contrived. You feel like he or she is only showing you affection because it is his or her duty.
That’s not what you want.
You want her to desire you, not have functional sex with you to fulfill your pubescent needs.
You want him to be actually interested in your promotion meeting, not just quickly asking the questions you gave him so that he can return to his computer.
The fact of the matter is, demanding justice typically pits you two against each other. He feels he has been treated unfairly and you feel like you have been treated unfairly.
So who won?
(Of course, there are times when an injustice in a marriage needs to be expressed. Like if there is domestic violence (both physical and emotional), infidelity (including porn use, alcohol and substance abuse, etc). These are topics for tough love and they are beyond the scope of this article.
2. Don’t Threaten Divorce Or Separation
I would say one of the worst things you could do to get your spouse to show you attention is to threaten divorce or separation.
I suppose I can see why this option has its appeal to you.
You’re desperate and you’re using every tool you have in the bag. Plus, it seems sort of logical in today’s culture to not want to waste your happiness on someone who doesn’t want to be with you.
And you know that he or she doesn’t want to be with you because if they did then he would put down that computer and talk to you or she would get dolled up and have sex with you.
But no . . .
They don’t do that.
So this must mean they don’t love you and so you say something like, “Well if you don’t desire to have sex with me then maybe we are not meant to be together!”
Or perhaps you slam the bedroom door to get his attention and then scream, “I can’t take this anymore, I’m looking for apartments.”
But of course, only a small part of you really desires this. The real desire is for him or her to show some sign that they care.
You imagine she begins to grovel and begs to have sex with you or that he leaps up and suddenly longs to hear your every word.
Instead, they go into panic mood and scream back, “I’ll help you pack!”
The next thing you know, they are withdrawing money from the bank account and contacting a lawyer.
Maybe it doesn’t go to this extreme though this has happened, but threatening divorce or separation almost always causes the other person to go into individual survival mood. If they respond to you it is out of desperation that often leads to bitterness.
These men and woman come into my office saying things like, “I feel like I’m a hostage. If I don’t do as he or she pleases they are going to leave me.”
You might be feeling lonely, but don’t threaten to burn the house down in the hopes of being heard. For you don’t actually want a divorce. You don’t actually want to separate. You just want to be heard or seen.
So, please do yourself a favor and avoid threatening divorce or separation. You might just get what you really don’t want.
3. Stop Freaking Out And Nagging
Some of you get vindictive. Some of you threaten.
A lot of you freak out and nag your spouse to death in hopes that he or she will finally wake up and be present to you.
But like getting vindictive or threatening, freaking out and nagging also does little to get your partner more engaged.
Now I think I understand why we humans think freaking out and nagging is effective. Basically, we learned early on in our babyhood that if we scream loud enough or if we bug our caretaker enough, they will respond.
Children throw fits when their emotional needs are not being meet. Ignore a baby long enough and they will began to show signs of great emotional distress.
They begin to do anything and everything to get their caretaker to respond to them again, even if this means angering the caretaker. Therapists have known for a long time that negative attention is still better than no attention.
So, in a way, those of you that are freaking out or nagging your spouse to death are really engaging in a learned behavior.
Certainly, I am not suggesting that you are “acting like a baby” and therefore “need to grow up.”
Actually, my point is the just the opposite. I am trying to help you understand why you feel the need to freak out and nag your spouse: you long for connection and you are willing to do anything or everything to get it.
That makes sense.
The problem is when an adult freaks out or nags it typically gets the same response many parents give their children, less connection and more distance.
A lot of kids are given time outs, spanked, ignored, and told to shut up.
Not too many parents pick their kids up and reengage with them, comfort them, show them that they are not alone.
Nor does the typical wife respond to her nagging husband by reengaging him, comforting him, and showing him that he is not alone.
I know the temptation is to go into your infant needs love mode, but it’s vital that you allow your prefrontal cortex, which is part of the brain that allows you to think rationally, to operate for you instead by telling those infant or nagging parts of you to calm down.
I always find it amazing what happens to the relationship after one of the spouse’s stops freaking out or nagging and instead begins to communicate their true needs in non-threatening, non-demanding ways.
I’ve literally seen marriages flip 180 degrees in a matter of a few weeks.
Of course, the spouse might not understand what is going on and might tempt you to return to the status quo. The simple reason is people are afraid of change.
But be vigilant. Resist the temptation and his or her promptings for you to return to psycho mode. It usually only separates you more from him or her.
4. Don’t Seek Emotional & Physical Comfort Outside Of Your Marriage
I really wish this issue was so obvious to not seek emotional and physical comfort outside of your marriage (relationship) that I could simply skip it, but humans have been cheating on each other emotionally and physically since the very beginning.
I suppose the reason is that there’s a lonely part in each one of us that needs acceptance and attention. When these are not given by those who are supposed to, temptation to appease that part can become unbearable.
This means that many of you are vulnerable to be lured into the affair trap.
It promises comfort but only bring brokenness and emptiness.
Sure you get momentary satisfaction or relief emotionally or sexually, but now you have to begin to live the lie that you are doing nothing wrong or trying to convince yourself that your actions are justified because that SOB at home won’t give you what you want.
Furthermore, even those couples that started off as an affair and eventually married can struggle deeply with trust issues.
The simple reason is the foundation of their relationship is based upon lies and secrets. They both begin to say to themselves about the other, “If he or she was willing to have affair with me, how do I know he or she is not having one with someone else?”
The worst part about this option is it actually does the exact opposite of what you really want.
You long for your spouse to attend to your loneliness and need for acceptance. By going outside the union you are in fact sacrificing your true longing for a counterfeit. If they truly cared for you, they would help and assist you in saving your current relationship. Not steal you for him or herself!
Worst of all is when your spouse finds out. Oh man!
Guess who seems like the bad guy now?
You thought it was difficult to discuss your grievances before. Just wait. Your grievances will have a hard time matching up to the trauma of discovering you have been with another person to meet your emotional and physical needs.
Therapy sessions become less about how you two can reconnect and more about how your spouse can ever trust you again.
You thought you had it bad before.
Please don’t play with fire.
5. Don’t Gossip & Complain To Your Friends & Family
Many people don’t realize how devastating complaining to your friends and family about your spouse can be.
Of course, it only seems natural to turn to those close to you when you’re feeling hurt and lonely, but such complaining pits your spouse against your parents and your friends.
In therapy land, we call this an unhealthy triangle.
Since you are hurting, you naturally seek a coalition to defend you and to tell you that you are doing everything right and that he or she is just a no-good person.
Now it is you, your friends, and family against your spouse.
You thought your man or woman was unresponsive before, wait until he feels resented by your friends and family.
But the worst part of about “triangling” with your friends and family is you’re avoiding the real conversation you should be having with your spouse.
You see, whenever you get stressed out or fed up with being treated like crap, instead of talking deeply with your spouse, you run to your friends and family to dump all your woes upon them. You naturally feel better momentarily and now your friends and family get to carry the stress.
They will, in turn, feel bad for you and desire for you not to feel stressed out, but over time, they too will begin to be worn out with the stress that you are putting on them.
At this point you will notice they will begin to suggest that you just leave the bum or the bitch if he or she is making you that unhappy.
In fact, they welcome such a change because at some level they are getting sick of you complaining all the time.
Now it might be true that some of you have really awesome friends, and, as such, they would never think of themselves in such a situation, but the fact remains, you are still displacing your hurt, pain, and stress upon them instead of dealing with this with your spouse, which means you are actually helping in perpetuating this sleepwalking relationship.
I should make it clear at this point that I am not suggesting you can’t seek advice and counsel from your friends and family.
There’s a big difference between asking your friends about how they talk to their spouses and saying, “that stupid bastard did it again . . .”
Get my point?
There’s a world of difference between asking and complaining.
Asking seeks understanding to act. Complaining simply seeks temporary relief.
Asking leads to solutions. Complaining is thought to be the solution.
What You Should Do
I have given you 5 things you should not do if your spouse is ignoring you. I have found (and many therapists know this too) that if you ACTUALLY stop doing these things you might just find your spouse responding to you in a different way.
At the end of the day, what this article is really about is YOU. This is so important for you to understand. Too many of us place the failure of our relationships on the other person without ever looking at how we are keeping the separation going.
I know this is a hard to consider because the loneliness and anger are so strong. But please try to slow down and see your relationship from a bird’s eye view. Get meta to yourself and your relationship.
Once you do, you will come to realize that you may not be able to change your spouse, but you can change yourself, and you are only responsible for how you treat others. The goal is to make sure you can go to bed at night with a clean conscience.
Relationships are difficult. And even more difficult when you feel stuck.
If you feel like you simply can’t manage on your own and you live in the Iowa City area, then I am here to help you thrive in your marriage or relationship.
Couples counseling is what I do!
I truly believe that one person can change a marriage or relationship. Let’s see what we can come up with.