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How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse

These action steps are key to compassion.

I think one partner in every marriage has heard or thought the phrase, “You don’t care.” I’ve learned to interpret that in my own marriage like this: I’m not showing any compassion. 

Compassion is where empathy meets action.

It’s the difference between caring and showing care. You want your spouse to know you can feel their pain, and you’re willing to do something about it. And studies show that you’re better off for showing compassion whether your spouse acknowledges it or not.

Do you want to be more compassionate to your spouse? Sure you do! Here are some tips.

Put your energy into understanding.

Compassion starts with listening for understanding. Listen, not for how you can fix it or be right, but to understand your spouse’s thoughts, emotions, and desires. The Gottman Institute’s research tells us, “Most of the time, when your mate (or anyone) comes to you with an issue that has made them upset, they don’t immediately ask for advice. They are silently asking for your understanding and compassion. They want to feel that you are on their side.”

Action: Respond in a way that demonstrates you understand or that you want to better understand. Avoid trying to fix the issue.

Step outside of yourself.

Things affect people differently. You may not react to disappointment, pain, or betrayal the way your spouse would. If you respond differently than your spouse, try laying your preferences down and allowing your spouse to be true to themselves. Accept them as they are and support them.

Action: Validate your spouse through words, physical affection, and comfort. 

Never forget: your spouse is human, too.

He’s your husband. She’s your wife. The parent of your children. Your knight in shining armor. Your queen. All that may be true. But they are also a person with emotions, ups and downs, disappointments, and unrealistic expectations at times. They make mistakes, and they might have a lapse in judgment here or there. In other words, we all have our imperfections. Treating a spouse as though they shouldn’t make mistakes will block compassion.

Action: Give your partner space to be human. Give them grace when things don’t go their way. Avoid placing unrealistic expectations of perfection on them. Don’t treat them like a title: husband/wife, parent, provider. Instead, treat them like they’re your favorite human on the planet.

Stop what you’re doing and go “all-in.”

Sometimes when your spouse is having a difficult time, you have to just turn the TV off. Silence those cell phone notifications. Cancel a social outing. Remind your spouse that the world can go on, but right now, “my world is stopping until you get what you need from me.” Do this before there’s a panic attack, nervous breakdown, or an explosion of pent-up anger.

Action: Ask, “What do you need from me at this very moment?”

Be helpful.

Each of you brings different strengths and tendencies to the relationship. Our tendencies can sometimes leave us vulnerable to mistakes. For instance, your go-getter spirit can cause you to overcommit your time, which causes stress. Your kindness can allow others to take advantage of you. You often have the choice to criticize or be compassionate toward your spouse. 

Criticism will help point out all their “flaws.” Compassion will look for ways to cover their blind spots.

Action: Be the spouse that recognizes blind spots. And with a generous spirit, help fill the gaps. For example, be the friend to your spouse that they are to others. Do a little more housework when your spouse is stressed. 

Pillow talk and morning coffee…

Compassion is at its best when we intimately know the recipient of our compassion, a.k.a. spouse. We don’t learn them through osmosis. Sometimes the only way to get the answer to being more compassionate is to talk about it. This is the perfect kind of conversation to have at night while lying in bed.

Action: Give your spouse undivided attention before bedtime or during morning coffee. Ask, “What does the word compassion mean to you?” What does compassion look like to you? What do I do that makes you feel cared for or understood?”

Sometimes we can be our kindest, most understanding selves toward strangers, but I’m here to tell you: it should be the other way around. The ones closest to us should be the first recipients of our compassion. Admittedly, it takes intentionality. Remember that your favorite human is the one you said “I do” to. And now that you remember it, treating them like it will help them believe they really are your favorite.

Sources:

Tis’ Better to Give, To Your Spouse

Expressing Compassion and Empathy

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How to Help Your Spouse With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Here are two important things you can do right now.

Let me state the obvious and say it’s been a rough year or so. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, reality has come the closest it’s ever been to a sci-fi novel. And it’s literally messed with our heads. Society as a whole experienced a significant uptick in relationship and mental health issues. 

And let me just speak for us all when I say thank goodness we seem to be on the downswing of it all. (Of course, we’re not entirely over the hill — many are still dealing with health concerns.

Despite this downswing, fear and anxiety are still lingering in the air. Many are experiencing what scientists call “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” It’s a condition marked by continual worry about re-entering life in the post-pandemic era. 

Signs1 of this syndrome tend to mimic other mental health issues like anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. They include: 

  • Increased stress
  • Excessive worry
  • Difficulty returning to a full engagement with society
  • Avoiding work or social interactions
  • Constantly checking symptoms despite not being in a high-risk scenario
  • Perceived threats that aren’t necessarily there

Some of these symptoms are pretty normal after a global pandemic. Most of us experienced at least one of these at some time or another. But for those who cope in a healthy way, these signs should gradually taper off. 

However, symptoms that persist or get worse might indicate a bigger problem. 

So how do you help your spouse with post-pandemic anxiety? 

There are two important things you can do right now.

1. Exercise a great deal of empathy and understanding. 

You may not have the same anxiety your spouse does. You may even wonder what all the fuss is about. But it will help if you understand that’s not their reality. 

Consider this: We now know that our brain can train itself to think toward a certain way over time.2  

We’ve had over a year for our brains to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. That’s stressful. 

And now, we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life. For many, that’s stress multiplied

Knowing this, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Let him or her know you’re there, walking with them through this. Allow them to vent and share feelings, no matter how irrational it sounds to you. 

Anxiety isn’t something that can just be quickly “fixed.” It’s a process that takes time. So you’ll have to be patient

2. Encourage your spouse to seek out a professional counselor that works well with them. 

A counselor can provide useful coping tools and help your spouse monitor their progress. It may even be a good idea to attend counseling together because anxiety affects your marriage3,4. You may also need to learn new skills to support your spouse. Couples therapy is very effective for treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety5.

Your number one goal in marriage is to show unconditional love and support for your spouse, for better or worse. And that takes a great deal of understanding. You may not know the particular skills they need to cope and overcome the anxiety, and that’s okay. (That’s one reason a professional counselor is so important.) But the greatest presence they have is you. Let them know you’re on their side and you’re not going anywhere. Post-pandemic anxiety is real, and it’s scary for those going through it, but it’s no match for the support and understanding you can give your spouse. 

Sources:

1Nikčević, A. V., & Spada, M. M. (2020). The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale: Development and psychometric properties. Psychiatry Research, 292, 113322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113322 

2Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

3Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: a study of daily processes in couples. Journal of abnormal psychology, 119(1), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018473 

4Darcy, K., Davila, J., & Beck, J. G. (2005). Is Social Anxiety Associated With Both Interpersonal Avoidance and Interpersonal Dependence? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(2), 171–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-005-3163-4

5Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 145-68. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x 

When I first sat down to write this blog, I asked myself, “Why me? Why am I writing a blog on how to understand a strong-willed spouse?” The answer followed quickly: “YOU ARE A STRONG-WILLED SPOUSE.” 

I must confess this is true. I was a strong-willed child who now is a strong-willed spouse, and I want to give you some tips for understanding your strong-willed spouse.

Often at the beginning of relationships, it’s the differences that attract. You must admit that your spouse probably didn’t become strong-willed overnight. When you began your relationship, they may have exhibited strong-willed qualities that benefited your relationship. They were firm and steadfast in their beliefs and in their decisions. They were transparent with boundaries and expectations. 

But now, them being strong-willed has become a problem to be solved. However, your strong-willed spouse doesn’t see themselves as having or being a problem. They are being themselves. As such, your spouse sees themselves as determined, passionate, self-assured, confident, or knowing their own mind. 

How do you learn to understand, appreciate and respect your strong-willed spouse?

Here are 5 tips for you to keep in mind.

1. Your approach to them matters.

When you have a topic to discuss or a problem to solve, how you approach it makes a world of difference. If you want your spouse’s input, invite them into the conversation. For example, “I would love to get your feedback on this issue. When do you have time?” This provides the strong-willed spouse the opportunity to choose to join instead of feeling like there is no choice or that they are minimizing their will to you.

2. Give them space to figure out their point of view.

Strong-willed people often have to experience things to figure out what they think or how they feel about situations. They are not likely to “just take your word for it.” Giving your partner the time and space to come to their own rationale before you have a conversation will allow for better communication and/or problem-solving.

3. They have feelings beneath the surface.

It can become easy to believe that a strong-willed partner doesn’t have any feelings. Everyone has feelings. However, we express them differently. Help your partner feel safe to express emotions by asking questions. Becoming a “compassionate detective” with your spouse shows them that you care about what is happening inside them. 

4. Timing is key.

Everyone has their own sense of timing. You have to learn the timing of your strong-willed spouse. You may even ask, “Is this a good time? If not, then when?” Suppose your strong-willed spouse happens to be a sports fan (like me). In that case, they may appreciate you waiting to ask a question or waiting until a commercial or halftime to ask for help. 

5. You’re on the same team, yet have different (roles, positions, responsibilities).

There are 11 offensive players in football, 11 players on defense, and 11 players on special teams. For the team to be successful, each player needs to know their position and responsibilities. On the football field, the center gives the football to the quarterback. If there’s a mix-up, the quarterback can’t say, “Move out the way, center. I’ll do your job and my job.” Likewise, in your relationship, you each play different roles/positions. Your relationship can flourish when you both embrace and see the positives of how you each play your part.

Marriage is made up of two different people walking through life together. Once you begin to see your spouse’s strong will positively, it will enhance your relationship. 

I’ve been married for 27 years as a strong-willed spouse. It hasn’t always been rainbows, glitter, and unicorns. It wasn’t easy learning to help each other be the best we could be, especially with our differences. What helped us was fully embracing the idea that different is not deficient. When you and your spouse bring your best and whole selves to the table, your marriage benefits.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Parent a Strong-Willed Child

3 Ways to Be a Better Listener

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

Finding out your spouse has talked badly about you behind your back feels like a betrayal on so many levels. It can feel like they’re confiding in someone besides you. Like they’re not being real with you. Not to mention, you might feel disrespected. Before you let the emotions flood your soul, let’s think through how you can move past this and be better for it.

I’m not going to tell you to suppress your feelings and only look at the “real” issue, because what your spouse did impacts you. And hopefully, you’ll both move past it to better understand how each of you wants to be treated. 

So what can you do when you find out your spouse is talking badly about you behind your back?

  • Gather yourself. Whether you found out through social media or through the grapevine, there’s a good chance you’re pretty emotional. Before letting your emotions take over, gather yourself. Don’t immediately attack or fly off the handle. 
  • Get the facts. Knowing what was said can help you avoid misinterpretations. I’ve tried to highlight my own flaws when sharing things before, but all the other person heard was that there was something wrong with my wife. What my wife heard from a third source blindsided me. It happens. 
  • Try giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Do you believe your spouse’s goal was to demean, ridicule, or humiliate you? Likely not. There’s a chance they’re focusing on themselves when sharing grievances, not how it affects you or the marriage. More on this later.
  • Remember, the goal is to stay on the same team. After all, you are married.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Your spouse was talking badly about you, and it’s clear. How do you talk to them about it?

Organize what you want to say around your T.E.D., your Thoughts, Emotions, and Desires.

  • Clearly share what you heard they said. If it’s a pattern, share several examples. You can communicate without attacking. You attack your enemies, but you share your heart with someone you’re in a relationship with. Start the conversation with, “It bothers me when I hear that you tell your friends I’m ______________.” 
  • Share what you think when you hear they’ve said negative things about you. For instance, “When I hear you’ve said bad things about me, it makes me think you are _____________ (unhappy, untrustworthy, two-faced).”
  • Share what you think they’re saying about you. “To me, it sounds like you think I’m __________?”
  • Share your emotions. If you felt betrayed, disrespected, or humiliated, voice it. Try, “When I heard some of the things you said, I felt __________________.”
  • Share your desire to deal with the issues or grievances together. “I wish we could work out our issues together. What does it take for us to do that?”

Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean you ignore your feelings. 

Your spouse may not mean to disrespect you, but they may have. Several times in my marriage, I’ve heard, “I know you didn’t intend to make me feel that way, but you did make me feel that way.” (Normally, I’m the one hearing that statement.) Lovingly helping your spouse understand that intentions don’t justify hurtful actions can be crucial to moving forward. 

Knowing they don’t intend to hurt or ridicule is essential. It can mean the difference between attacking your spouse like they’re the enemy and helping your spouse understand how you feel.

Does this always lead to sunflowers and roses? No. It’s not unusual for people to naturally become defensive and not immediately own up to doing something hurtful. This may be an ongoing conversation that comes up consistently for some time. Talking to some trusted married friends or even a good marriage counselor might help.

Consider these things in the process: 

  • Ask why they feel the need to share their grievances with others. Is it the culture or friends they’re with? Do they feel uncomfortable telling you? Did they try and felt dismissed?
  • Do they gossip about you, or are they simply trying to get a better perspective? There are times when talking to a trusted friend provides perspective. Even then, it’s vital that you both agree that those friends are for your marriage, focused on helping you lean into (and not away) from each other.

Talking behind your spouse’s back can be painful and divisive. Managing your emotions so you can be heard while understanding your spouse sets the stage for growth. Creating an environment where you can both be transparent, secure, and heard may be the trick to reducing the need to air grievances with someone outside the marriage. That way, you can talk to each other about your friends instead of talking to others about your marriage.

Other helpful blogs:

4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in Your Marriage

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Should You Tell Your Friends and Family about Your Marital Problems?

What Does It Mean to Put Your Spouse First?

It starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected.

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. The Puzzled Look on my daughter’s face turned to a smile, and then came the proverbial rolling of the eyes (and that’s a good thing).

Here’s the conversation:

Daughter: You’re really not going to be at our basketball game Saturday? (Said with disbelief).

Me: Nope. I’m taking my wife (who happens to be your mother) on a marriage retreat.

Daughter. Can’t y’all go anytime?

Me: Doesn’t matter. We’re going this weekend. What you worried about? 

Daughter: Nothing. I just… (Shrugs her shoulders.)

Me: If anyone asks where your parents are, just say, “At a marriage retreat acting married.”

Daughter: (Rolls the eyes)

Me: Don’t worry. We love you, and we hope you play well. But I love that fine-looking queen of mine more.

Daughter: (Walks away smiling, rolling her eyes, and I’m guessing, processing what’s just happened.)

She’s witnessing me putting her mother, a.k.a. my spouse, ahead of her. 

What does it mean to put your spouse first? 

It doesn’t mean that you miss every sporting event, never hang out with friends, or never work overtime. It starts with the heart. And your actions and thoughts will reflect the contents of your heart.

A priority is something we treat or rank as more important. Putting your spouse first above work, children, hobbies, birth family, or other responsibilities means prioritizing your spouse. It doesn’t mean we neglect work, abandon our children or don’t do the things we love. It means that we make sure our spouse knows that we value them more than we value all those other “good” things. 

Here are some ways you can demonstrate that you prioritize your spouse.

Ask Before You Make Plans

When making plans and decisions (particularly ones that affect where you spend your time, money, and energy), ask your spouse for their thoughts and opinions. This shows that you don’t want to do things that may negatively affect your spouse or marriage.

Example: Your co-workers are going out for drinks after work. You want to go. 

Prioritizing Your Spouse:

  1. Call to tell your spouse the situation.
  2. Ask how they feel about it. “What are your thoughts?”
  3. Ask how it will affect the rest of the day. “Anything happening that this will change?”
  4. Understand that turning down the offer may be the best move for your marriage.

Message Sent: Asking shows your spouse that he or she matters. Their feelings matter. How your decisions or plans affect them matters.

Pay Attention to Your Spouse’s Needs

Your husband’s or wife’s needs come first. That’s where your strongest commitment is. Be aware of how easy it is to want to help everyone else and think your spouse can handle everything themselves.

Example: It’s nearing your kids’ bedtime. They’re fussy, whiny, and being difficult. You’re having a deep, meaningful phone conversation, helping a friend.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Tell your friend, “I know this is important, but it’s bedtime, and I need to jump in and help get these kids down. Let me call you back.”

Message Sent: You have your spouse’s back. Even though your friend has a pressing issue, so did your mate. You just demonstrated where your priorities lie. Jumping to help fix everyone’s problem and only helping your spouse when it’s convenient shows they aren’t the priority. We want our spouse to be the first one we support, not the last.

Consider the Impact on Your Spouse

After marriage, your life isn’t just about you. Significant changes affect you both. Be upfront with your spouse about changes and let them prepare for how it will affect them.

Example: A major project will require you to work overtime and use a lot of mental energy.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Address it head-on from the moment you sense this is a major time-consuming project. Tell your spouse about the overtime and potential stress. You might say, “I don’t want you to feel neglected. As soon as it’s over, we can make up for some lost time, if you know what I mean.”

Message Sent: You’ve considered the impact on your spouse and shown some vulnerability. You’ve recognized what you will lose and indicated a desire to gain it back because you’d rather be with your spouse than work all those extra hours. 

Couples experience different seasons. You may both have heavy work seasons and superactive kids’ seasons where you feel like taxicabs. Dealing with sick family members can also pull lots of time away. 

Putting your spouse first starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected. 

That’s what my daughter took away from us missing her basketball game. 

Interestingly, research shows that putting your spouse first provides the security, comfort, and stability that helps children thrive. And, when couples put each other first, it sets the stage for a fantastic relationship where each person feels loved, supported, and secure.

OTHER HELPFUL BLOGS:

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Set your spouse free to be themselves.

You want to be your spouse’s hero? Their most trusted confidant? The one who supports them and helps them flourish? The one they share their wildest, most audacious dreams with? None of it happens if you aren’t the emotionally safe person your spouse needs. When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to your spouse freely being themselves. With you, they feel safe to be transparent, vulnerable, authentic, flawed, and emotional. They’re free to be themselves.

Side note: Just because you’re emotionally safe doesn’t mean they will always feel safe. Your spouse may have their own barriers to work through. You can’t control that. But the safer you are, the more space and freedom your partner will have to clearly see themselves and even grow through their experiences. You’ll be the hero who stuck by them through their imperfections, missteps, and all.

How do you become that emotionally safe spouse your partner needs?

Be secure within yourself.

Start with loving and accepting yourself. When you feel comfortable in your skin, you’re more likely to be emotionally vulnerable

Show genuine curiosity about your spouse.

You’re in it to learn. You can talk to your spouse as if you know them and you know all the answers… or you can try to learn more about their thought process, how they see things and understand them better. Because you’ll never stop learning about one another.

Express honesty with humility.

Being emotionally safe doesn’t mean you don’t express your true thoughts, even when they are different or you disagree. You just express your thoughts with the caveat that you’re on the same team. You share with mutual respect and a desire for you to be on one page, not to prove that you’re right.

Ask, “What makes you feel emotionally safe with me?”

What makes your spouse feel most comfortable at being their whole self with you may differ from others. The fact that you asked with the desire to know should mean you’re willing to hear their whole heart. Don’t defend yourself. Just listen to understand.

Communicate with gentleness and gratitude.

Try making sure that every negative interaction with your spouse is balanced by five positive interactions. Get in the habit of being generous with your spouse just because. Be aware of how you speak to your spouse. Is your tone one of criticism and contempt, or one of kindness and love? An emotionally unsafe person will communicate using a tone that lacks love and gentleness.

Be Inviting.

You don’t have to be talking about serious topics to be inviting. Look forward to being with your spouse after work. Create opportunities to hear their heart and dream together. Remind them of the things you admire and appreciate about them. Invite them to be themselves. And show them that you love who they are. 

Emotional safety is a process that builds.

Being an emotionally safe spouse doesn’t guarantee there won’t be disagreements or that you won’t (at times) cause emotional pain to each other. In fact, being emotionally safe may increase your willingness to deal with those very things. 

You’re different people with your own thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Sometimes those differences clash, and one of you will say or do something hurtful. Suppose either person in your relationship has been perpetually unsafe. In that case, it may take time to reap the benefits of the newfound emotional safety. And that’s ok. 

Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Imagine how your spouse will feel when you are being the emotionally safe spouse that encourages vulnerability, transparency, and beyond. 

Other helpful blogs:

6 Ways to Agree to Disagree With My Spouse

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

How to Build Empathy in Marriage

Understand Your Spouse and Deepen Your Relationship
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Reasons Why Your Spouse Won’t Listen to You

Communication is the lifeline of any relationship. —Elizabeth Bourgeret

We have all seen the sitcom where one spouse is talking, and the other one seems zoned out. And maybe you laugh as your friend rolls their eyes while making a talking motion with their hand as their spouse repeats that “same old story.” However, it’s not so funny when someone does it to you. Perhaps you’ve tried to engage your spouse in conversation. But now you are at your wit’s end because you just can’t figure out why your spouse won’t listen to you. 

When someone (especially your mate) won’t listen to you, you may feel unloved, disrespected, and confused. I don’t know you or your situation, but thinking about these things may give you insight into what’s going on.

Here are some reasons why your spouse may not be listening.

Past conversations have been less than fun.

We have to be aware of our tone and nonverbal communication with our spouse. Are you curt or dismissive in your tone? Does your nonverbal communication say that you don’t want to hear what they say? Do you have a habit of cutting them off when speaking? Do you tend to monopolize conversations? These things can impact the level of communication between the two of you.

It can be hard to listen if you feel lectured.

Communication is a two-way street. Being open to hearing an opinion that varies from yours can make the conversation richer. However, if you only want your spouse to agree with you, it can make them feel unnecessary in the conversation. Lecturing creates an atmosphere that gives one partner the power of knowledge while minimizing the other’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions. And sometimes people don’t listen or engage because they want to avoid conflict. 

The conversation started at the wrong time. (Your spouse may not be tuning out on purpose).

Before beginning a conversation, ask your spouse, “Is this a good time?” In past discussions, you may have chosen to talk when your spouse was distracted. Sometimes your spouse has so much going on that they just can’t keep up with all the information coming at them. 

Yes, you need to communicate. It’s also respectful to ask if this is the right time for the conversation. The key is to get your message to be heard and understood by your spouse. Finding the right time enhances the chance. (And writing friendly reminders down can’t hurt!)

Complaining takes over conversations.

We all have bad days and bad interactions. It’s normal to share those things with your spouse. But frequently complaining can be a problem. If your spouse has offered ways to alleviate complaints to no avail, continuing to listen can be challenging. A friend shared with me that she complained about her job and boss excessively. Her spouse eventually said, “I’m tired of hearing you complain. If you aren’t going to do something to change the situation, I am unwilling to listen about that subject anymore.” I don’t think that my friend was aware of how much she seemed to complain.

The conversation revolves around one person.

Your spouse cares about you and what’s important to you. But only talking about yourself can make your spouse feel that you don’t care about them and what’s going on in their life. Your discussion should be reciprocal. 

Many of us are guilty of being so focused on ourselves that we exclude those we love. It’s not easy to accept that we help foster an unhealthy environment for communication. Once you recognize this, you can take steps to reinvigorate the way you communicate. Acknowledge any mistakes, and be mindful of bad communication habits you might have. 

But there’s one more BIG reason your spouse may not be listening to you.

It may not be about you at all. 

It could be any number of things. Your spouse might have a short attention span, OR they may not care. They may not like what you have to say, or they’re thinking about what they’re going to say while you’re talking. Your spouse may even have a hearing problem. And it’s possible they have other issues they need to work through, either alone or with a counselor.

Author Elizabeth Bourgeret says, “Communication is the lifeline of any relationship.” When each spouse seeks to create open and mutual communication, the relationship is strengthened going forward.  

Other helpful blogs:

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

What To Do When Your Spouse Gives You The Silent Treatment

Here's some help for those times when silence is NOT golden.

When your spouse gives you the silent treatment, it can be frustrating, painful, and confusing. It happens when one spouse refuses to communicate, ignores, withdraws from, or totally avoids their partner. It may not mean there’s absolute silence. You might still talk about daily tasks like who’s picking up the kids, who’s handling laundry, or dinner. The silent treatment shows that one person is unwilling to address an issue or connect in any meaningful way.

Ouch.

If you’re getting the silent treatment, what do you do?

Process On Your Own

What triggered the silent treatment? When did it start, and what were you discussing? Did something happen that may have been viewed negatively? You may not even know, but thinking about it can help you understand your partner’s perspective. 

What’s the goal? Is my spouse trying to punish me, hoping I’ll feel the pain they feel? Are they withdrawing so they can process their own thoughts and emotions? Are they trying to protect themselves? 

Processing can help you listen to and better understand yourself and your spouse, but try not to let it cause you to look down on your spouse.

Address it Carefully

Start with Compassion. Often, we use silence when we don’t have or can’t use healthy conflict resolution skills to deal with issues. 

Is the silent treatment a healthy approach? No. Especially when it’s used to control or manipulate. It can be abusive. (More on this later.) 

Provided this situation is not an abusive use of the silent treatment, remember, this is your spouse — and something sparked the treatment. This doesn’t mean you justify or excuse the behavior. It’s purely recognizing that something caused your spouse emotional pain. And different people respond to pain in different ways.

Speak directly to the issue. You might say something like, “I know you haven’t been talking to me lately. I’d like to discuss what started this. Can we talk?” 

Never forget, your body language and tone of voice communicate 93% of your message to your spouse. Getting the words right isn’t as important as having a healthy attitude toward your spouse.

Be Willing to Listen and Understand. When your spouse is ready to talk, put your energy into understanding their thoughts and emotions first. Some people give the silent treatment because they feel unheard. Let your spouse know you want to understand their thoughts, feelings, and their desires.

Model Healthy Skills to Resolve issues. You can’t change your spouse, but you can control yourself. Demonstrating respect, openness, and transparency while working together to resolve conflict can paint a picture of the kind of communication many people crave.

Things to Think About While Talking 

Don’t play the blame game. Focus on the ultimate goal: resolving the issue in a healthy way. Using lots of “I” statements and as few “You” statements as possible can keep you from blaming each other and getting distracted.

Own your contributions. Frame it this way in your head. “I understand that I hurt you when I did or said _______.” This focuses on the pain without justifying their response to the hurt. And when appropriate, apologize for the pain you triggered.

Be self-aware of your emotions. Your spouse may express a lot of pent-up emotions. They may flood you with more than you were expecting, but try to keep your emotions from controlling you. Be aware of your feelings as they share. At an appropriate time in the conversation, share. Remember, though, one of the reasons for the silent treatment could be they don’t feel heard. 

What if the Silent Treatment Continues?

Know what you can and can’t control. You can’t control how your spouse responds to emotional hurt. But you can control how you respond. You can gently let them know you’re ready to talk when they are. And you can choose to acknowledge the issue without letting it control you.

Don’t badger or nag. You can’t force someone else to talk. Don’t try.

Seek help. If you need to talk to a trusted friend or seek a counselor for your own mental health, it’s worth the effort. If you don’t go together, going alone can be helpful.

When is the Silent Treatment Abuse?

Consistently using silence to control someone can be abuse. Healthline lists the following signs to look for: 

  1. It’s a frequent occurrence and is lasting for longer periods.
  2. It’s coming from a place of punishment, not a need to cool off or regroup.
  3. It only ends when you apologize, plead, or give in to demands.
  4. You’ve changed your behavior to avoid getting the silent treatment.

I don’t recommend the silent treatment as a strategy for solving marriage problems. But a good starting point is to talk with your spouse about how you can resolve conflict in healthy ways. Your spouse may feel like you haven’t heard other attempts to solve problems, and understanding that may help you find better solutions together. It may be something as simple as asking for a timeout and agreeing to discuss later. Or it may take some effort for them to feel you’re an emotionally safe person to talk to. Whatever the case, learning to be compassionate without excusing the behavior may be the trick to eliminating the silent treatment in your relationship.

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***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at:1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***