Marriage Missions International

When You Sense Your Spouse Is Not There For You

The need for closeness and the reactions to being disconnected are a natural part of being human in close relationships, especially in a marital relationship. Couples also long for closeness while protecting their hearts from being hurt and devalued. Spouses cling and cry, get angry and protest, or become withdrawn and detached when actually all they long for is closeness and to be valued.

There are ways couples interact that hurt the bond of their relationship. Pursuing and withdrawing is a common way couples relate that often leaves them far apart from each other. Many couples are stuck in a rigid pursue-withdraw cycle of interacting in an attempt to be seen and understood where one partner pursues and, in response, the other withdraws. The more the pursuer pursues, the further the withdrawer pulls away and shuts down.

In the pursue-withdraw cycle, both partners are unable to share what is going on in their heart; they are only able to share their anger, frustration and hurt.

The pursuer feels the loss of his or her partner’s attention, care, or concern and so searches out him or her with anger, frustration, and hurt. The pursuer feels that if he or she does not pursue, he or she will not be seen or understood. Wives, who are usually the pursuers, often say, “I nag because I feel he will not hear me. He’s just not there emotionally. He can’t shut me out like that.”

The with-drawer, overwhelmed by the pursuer’s emotion, feels alienated and helpless in pleasing his or her partner. And so, in protection, the withdrawer pulls away. Husbands, who are often withdrawers, say they are left feeling devalued, disrespected, and unworthy. Unable to calm and soothe their wife, they withdraw to find peace.

Withdrawers frequently walk on eggshells and skirt around issues that may trigger displeasure in their spouse. Oftentimes withdrawers say that attempting to get their point across is not worth the hassle, because they feel that their spouse would not understand them anyway.

The Impact of the Cycle on Your Marriage Bond: When a spouse is busy pursuing or putting a lot of energy into withdrawing, he or she does not have the emotional space to hold his or her partner’s perspective and needs. Couples begin to see each other as unavailable and inconsiderate. They say of each other, “My husband (or wife) just doesn’t understand me. He (or she) isn’t there for me and no longer cares about how I feel.”

Sharing one’s heart freely begins to feel dangerous. Couples say, “There’s no way my spouse would understand me. I learned not to put my heart out there. Risking that would just mean I’d be hurt again.” When husbands and wives emotionally disconnect, their relationship no longer feels safe or secure. They no longer turn toward each other for support or comfort.

What Triggers Your Pursue-Withdraw Cycle: Something happens, and suddenly you see your spouse in a different light. You perceive your spouse to no longer be the kind, thoughtful, loving person you married but rather the person who does not care about you or value your heart. And although you might not doubt your commitment or your love, you, in the moment, dislike your spouse.

We all have had a time when what our spouse did meant to us that they didn’t care. And when you feel your spouse doesn’t care, or is not there for you, your cycle is usually triggered. Too often differences are interpreted as “You don’t value me.”

Mary and Joe are very different from each other. Mary is a night owl and Joe is an early bird. Joe interpreted Mary’s inability to fall asleep at 9:00 P.M. as uncaring and disrespectful. Mary viewed Joe’s request for her to come to bed at 9:00 P.M. as unreasonable and insensitive to her need to relax after a long day at work. Their difference in internal body clocks is not seen as that but rather as the inability of the other to be sensitive and caring. Their differences become a threat to their close attachment bond.

When differences are seen as damaging to the relationship, you and your spouse judge one another as being the enemy rather than friends. Most of the time it was the differences that drew you and your spouse together in the first place. You were outgoing and bold, and your spouse was quiet and gentle. After hurts, disappointments, and inability to talk about the complications and difficulties that arise as a result of being different, the differences in your spouse change from positive to negative.

A connection comes when you and your spouse are able to sit together and risk talking openly. Don’t let the difficulties that differences bring trigger your rigid cycle of criticism, blame, defensiveness, and withdrawal. It is in this cycle that you and your spouse lose sight of each other’s value.

Sharing Heart needs and Longings: As a couple, it is important to talk about the needs, hurts, longings, and feelings of your heart in an open and honest way. In this way you and your spouse can find a path to each other instead of pursuing and withdrawing. Instead of this openness, all too many couples chose the disconnecting path. Or they chose to communicate in ineffective ways.

Expressing your needs and longings to your spouse can be difficult. Some people don’t know what they feel or need. Others feel that if their spouse really loved them, he or she would know what they needed without having to tell them. This expectation is very damaging to the relationship because it keeps your heart’s needs and longings hidden and your pain of being alone heightened. It tempts you to up the ante and angrily pursue your spouse to keep guessing what you need. It also sets up your spouse to withdraw in frustration, because no matter what he or she does, it is just not good enough.

If you are a withdrawer, it will be important for you to share openly and honestly your feelings and needs. Risk being emotionally available to your spouse. It might be important to admit, “I can’t come close to you and be there for you when you are angry and criticizing me.” In this way, you can allow yourself to be there for your spouse in a more open way.

If you are a pursuer, learn to express your heart rather than just getting angry or criticizing. Reach beyond your anger and harsh words to a softer place. From that place, express your longings and fears and ask for your spouse to be there for you. Interactions then won’t revolve around your anger and disappointment. You will both come together around the tender longings of your heart.

Don’t be afraid to admit that sometimes you don’t know what to do. Say something like, “I care for you, but I don’t always know what to say or do.” This invites your spouse to share what they need from you. In this way you are connecting in honesty and warmth instead of anger and defensiveness.

Emotions and Hearts: Couples don’t always know what to do with each other’s emotions. Husbands are taught to buck up and not feel. And wives don’t always know how to express their feelings in a manner that their husbands can hear, understand, and respect. Often spouses fear that their emotions will be found unacceptable or that they will be thought of as weak. How you and your spouse deal with your emotions will be very important to your bond. … So what are you supposed to do with your spouse’s emotions? Try listening.

Listen to your spouse’s emotions with an empathetic attitude. Listen not only with your logic but with your heart as well. Aim to understand your spouse’s heart. To do that you often have to listen beyond the words. You don’t always have to find a solution, fix what is wrong, or solve the problem. Often spouses can’t just listen to their partner’s heart without being defensive, reading into the conversation more than what was intended, or being hurt by what is said. Learn to say, “That must have been difficult.” “Sounds like you had a rough day.” “I would be disappointed if that kept happening to me too.”

Both husbands and wives long to be heard, understood, and respected. Most often your spouse comes to you to share his or her heart and life. Listening is the most powerful way to show your spouse that you understand and accept him or her.

Reconnecting Your Hearts: It will be important for you and your spouse to emotionally reconnect as soon as possible after being hurt and hooked into your cycle. Remember, disconnecting and not talking for days or sweeping the whole encounter under the rug and coming back together to take care of household tasks is not a reconnection of hearts, only of schedules. Unresolved hurts and issues add strain and stress to your haven of safety, and soon you and your spouse learn not to turn toward each other but rather away.

HOW SHOULD YOU CONNECT AFTER BEING HURT? Remember four things:

• First, God was wise when he told us not to let the sun go down on our hurts, especially anger. Turn your hearts toward each other as soon as you are able. Before the end of the day is God’s preference.

• Second, come back together and acknowledge what happened. Understand your as well as your spouse’s part of the cycle. Admit to your role in keeping the cycle going. Remember, your bond is more valuable than your being right.

• Third, share your hurts and needs rather than your anger and frustration. Remember you both value the relationship. Neither wants to hurt or be hurt.

• Fourth, when all is said and done, touch and talk to each other in a soft tone of voice, sharing encouraging words. This can be very powerful. The touch of your spouse is physiologically soothing and calming. It assures both of you that the bond is safe and sure.

CREATING CONNECTIONS: There are many ways to build the attachment bond between you and your spouse. Here are three ways that are effective:

• First, pray together daily. Beginning and ending your day in the presence of the Lord not only turns each of your hearts toward each other, it turns your hearts toward the safest place you’ll ever know: in your heavenly Father’s presence. Couples who pray together stay together, because by praying together they’re strengthening the bond between them in the presence of God. That’s powerful.

• Second, believe the best of intentions of your spouse. Your spouse isn’t always out to get you, even though it seems that way at times. You long to be loved and valued, and so does your spouse. Believe that. Be there for each other as God refines and molds each of you into the image of Christ.

• Third, risk doing things differently. Open up your heart and learn how to relate to your spouse in a way that draws you together.

When Your Relationship Is a Safe Place: It will be of great value that the emotional attachment bond between you and your souse becomes close, safe, trustworthy, and predictable. If your marriage is perceived to be a haven of safety, you and your spouse will be a resource for each other and able to withstand the pressures and pains of marriage and life.

But a close attachment bond doesn’t just happen. It is over the course of time and experiences, as each of you interact and respond to each other, that your bond will be nurtured and strengthened. In this way you will experience your relationship as a safe place where your heart can safely be shared and cherished.

This article came from the book, The Complete Marriage Book: Collected Wisdom from Leading Marriage Experts compiled by David and Jan Stoop, published by Fleming H. Revell. Their book contains a wealth of collective wisdom from authors such as Dr Norman Wright, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, Roger and Becky Tirabassi, Gary and Carrie Oliver, Dave and Claudia Arp, Paul and Jan Meier, Greg and Erin Smalley and more. This particular chapter, in it’s edited form, which is titled “Creating a Safe and Close Connection” was written by Sharon Hart Morris.

— ALSO —

The following is a Crosswalk.com article written by April Motl, which could be helpful to read:

Making Your Marriage a Safe Haven

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123 Responses to “When You Sense Your Spouse Is Not There For You”
  1. Ashley says:

    (UNITED STATES) My husband after 8 year has told me he’s at peace with how he feels about me. I’m not sure what that means. Any advice?

  2. Deborah says:

    (USA) My husband and I have been married for 6 yrs. We’re both on disability so we have a lot of free time. We were extremely close and did many things together. I noticed a change coming over him right after I bought him an IPad for his Birthday last April. I see him spending almost all his time on it, even taking it to the bathroom 2-3 times a day. I know it’s not porn, but I suspect he’s playing gambling games, so far not for money, but he used to have a gambling problem, so a huge red flag!

    He knows I’m very upset that he is on his IPad so much. The sad thing is I can see how it has taken my place as the number 2 person in his life, God should be the first. We always prayed together every day since we married but stopped right around the time, yes you guessed it, I (ignorantly and stupidly) got the IPad. I feel lonely at times now in my house. I know this has to come out but I have been putting it off because of dreading a confrontation. When I bring it up I know he will be on the defensive. Any thoughts or ideas on how I should approach this? I have taken this to the Lord in prayer.

    • Nicole from Australia says:

      Best not to jump to conclusion about gambling. He may be addicted to Facebook as is my husband at times. Set up schedule of activity so that he is not able to use iPad. I.e. meet at another couple’s house for fun, people who do not have wifi. Then do something you like on your own so that you are busy and not likely to feel lonely. Start a diary and write your emotions and the issues in life. This way you can refine a nice way to have discussion when you do choose a time to talk without getting emotional.

  3. Constance from Cameroon says:

    Hi, I have a problem and I need help. My fiancé spends weeks without calling me and that seems not to bother him. I am really worried because I feel I am not valued and if we finally get married he may continue with this attitude. How can I break this silence without hurting him?

    • Tony from United States says:

      Not sure I know how to resolve it. What I would caution is that if it’s not good now, I wouldn’t expect it to get better when you are married. Perhaps the most kind thing you can do is NOT marry him, put some expectations on him that he is unwilling or unable to meet, then have a miserable marriage and/or an ugly divorce.

  4. Chawniece from United States says:

    My husband of six years is angry because I can’t find a job. He thinks I don’t want to work and I want to finish school so I have some leverage in the market. This has been an ongoing struggle and is driving me crazy. It has been two days and he won’t talk to me. I am lonely in this situation. I am also away from my family who has been my support system before I got married. I don’t know what to do. I have tried talking to him and he cuts me short and is very distant. I need help. I have been praying but this is hurtful and I really wish that either the marriage is over or he sits down with me and discusses this matter.

    • Nicole from Australia says:

      Listen to your husband’s reason for anger. Does he believe he is carrying all the financial burden? Are you pulling your weight in other ways? I.e. domestic responsibilities? Is getting a part time or casual work an option for you? If you are studying full time, that is hard work too. However, people have the perception having a job is harder, whether it is right or wrong. Manage both your stress by meditation, exercise, outline a short term and medium term plan as to your study schedule and the time to getting a job if possible.

  5. Amy from United States says:

    We’ve been married for over 45 years. The disconnection happened the day after our wedding night. We had sex once in all those years. He hated sex, thought is was disgusting, smelly, messy, not worth the effort, very emotionless and something that two humans should never do. After we were done he threw up and said that sex will never happen again.

    Since day one hes lived in the basement and I upstairs. He also worked midnights, holidays, weekends and never took his vacations. I never knew what went wrong or why. I do know it has nothing to do with me. But it made me dependant on my shrink and anti-depressant drugs.

  6. Lisa from United States says:

    My husband and I have been married for 16 years and dated for over 6 years before marrying. I feel we have definitely grown apart. We have an 11 year old son and a 15 year old daughter who does not live with us. He drinks a lot and smokes a lot and will only talk when he’s under the influence. That’s when he talks too much and the effort for being heard is exhausting for me. Our sex life has also changed. We used to be intimate at least twice a week and now it’s more like once every other month. Since my daughter is not in the home I sleep in her room. He’s not good with managing his money and I believe that’s the only reason he wants to be with me. It’s like he has a fear of being in control of life on his own. We own a home and I would like my life to be a little more fulfilled than it is. My son is the only thing keeping us together. Maybe it’s time to go our separate ways. I’m currently unemployed and would just like to be happy if it’s meant to be.

  7. Ann from United States says:

    My husband of 23 years had an affair and has since come home to repair our marriage. In couples therapy he said he had nothing more to give. He said he will always love me but he is numb and can not meet my emotional or physical (hugging, kissing) needs. He said we have a comfortable life and he is trying to reset himself to be the husband I deserve and not the husband he has become (distant).

    His response to me is hot and cold. One minute he takes my hand, the next he pulls away as if I have burned him. I have been reading affair recovery books and attending workshops; every thing says to remind him of our early years. Hug him, kiss him, tell him I love and appreciate him. I have been doing those things for weeks but now I feel like I’m the one running after him and appear desperate. I want to save my marriage and I want to be happy again.

    My husband is not a beleiver in prayer and I am at a loss what to do. I thought we had a good marriage. He said the affair (1 night stand & 4+ months of phone calls) happened because he was feeling “Is this all there is to life?”. He was turning 50 and I am disabled. We have been working through things and I thought we were doing good until his comment about meeting my needs and how he can’t. He has said that I need to decide if I can live with him the way he is. He hasn’t changed in 25 years I’ve known him. The big change/shock was the affair. Now suddenly he has nothing to give me. I am very confused!

  8. Michele from United States says:

    My husband is being hard-hearted. He chose his adoptive mother over me. My grandson was really sick and I told him to stay home just in case if my daughter needs him to take my grandson to E.R. He commented by saying that he needs to see his adoptive mom, which really turned me off. I went to work at the meantime I gave my daughter my work phone number. I just started working, my daughter called me and ask for a ride. I texted my husband and he said “I just got here at my mom’s hotel, I need to visit with her.” I was like wow. He picks his adoptive mom over me. Again, she is not GOD!

    So I went ahead and left my job to take them to the ER and I texted my husband to pick them up at the hospital when they are done. I had to stay other 2 hours working because of him not helping me out with transportation. I worked overnight and I got off at 7:00 am and I have to go back to work at 6:00 pm. I only had 3 hrs sleep. I am exhausted. I researched on online saying if I don’t really rest a lot it will KILL me… meaning he kills me by not being rested?

    My daughter told me that my husband drove reckless. But he said he didn’t. I don’t know who tells the truth, but my point is that he needs to knock off and be a father/grandpa role model for my family. In that case, he’s a mommy boy. So does that mean he loves me and my family or what? Help!! Confused, Thanks

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