By Leslie Cane
People often contact me and tell me that their spouse has become “indifferent” to them or their marriage. Needless to say, most people can’t help but notice this. I often hear comments like: “my husband has become completely indifferent to me. He’s no longer affectionate. He mostly just ignores me. It’s not as if we’re fighting or anything, it’s just as if he doesn’t seem to care whether I’m there or not. It’s like I’m just any other person or acquaintance rather than his wife.”
Many people assume that if their spouse doesn’t appear to be angry or overtly mad at them, then there’s no ready to worry too much or get worked up about it. But frankly, I worry a lot when someone tells me their spouse is indifferent. Because this means that the spouse has possibly checked out of the marriage.
When people are angry, frustrated, or even fighting regularly, they are often doing so because they are still invested enough in their marriage and in their spouse to feel these emotions. But indifference means something else entirely. Sure, many find it preferable because there’s not much conflict. But there isn’t much emotion either and this can be a real problem in your marriage. In the following article, I’ll discuss what it might mean for your marriage when your spouse is indifferent and what you might consider doing about it.
What Does It Mean When Your Spouse Is Indifferent: Sometimes when people ask me about indifference in their spouse, they’ll try to excuse it away. They’ll say things like “Oh, that’s just how he is. He doesn’t get overly emotional about anything.” But I often ask the person who contacted me to compare their spouses emotions when they first got married to their emotions today.
Because often, when the relationship was good, they’d see what is a high level of emotion from their spouse (even for an even keeled person) in contrast with what they’re seeing now (which is very low emotion.)
Sure, some people aren’t very demonstrative or free with their emotions. But most people can tell the difference between a low key person and indifference. When a spouse is indifferent, it’s not that they’re not showing their emotions, it’s more likely that they are not experiencing them -at least with you. Often, you’ll see your spouse interacting very differently with his friends of children. Much of the time, his indifference is reserved for you.
I can’t say why this is happening as I don’t know your situation. But most spouses become indifferent when they think the marriage just doesn’t work for them anymore or offers them anything to get worked up or emotional over. Often, they are beyond being angry or sad or frustrated.
They are at the point where they believe that nothing is really ever going to change or improve, so why bother? In a sense, indifference is a defense mechanism. Because they’ll often tell you that they’ve been disappointed before, so whether they realize it or not, they’ve shut down in order to avoid this again, especially when they really believe that nothing is ever really going to change.
What Can You Do When Your Spouse Is Indifferent? How Do You Handle It?: As you might suspect, the worst way to handle indifference in your spouse is to ignore the problem. Because the more they withdraw and distance themselves, the harder it is to get them reinvested again.
The thing is though, when you tell them they’re indifferent or ask them why they are acting this way, they’ll often deny that anything is wrong. They’ll ask why you’re getting so upset when they haven’t done anything or the two of you aren’t fighting.
So, rather than engage or argue about this (which isn’t likely to do any good,) I’d recommend giving them a reason to become involved again. If they’ve checked out, then you need to give them a reason to check in.
Now, many spouses make the mistake of trying to engage their spouse because they are trying to get any emotional reaction at all. They would rather their spouse be mad at and argue with them than to ignore them. I understand this thinking, but I think it’s the wrong call.
Frankly, indifference is beyond the point of angry and trying to make them angry doesn’t really gain you any ground, it’s only made them mad on top of their indifference. You don’t need two negatives to overcome.
You’ll often be much better off if you can lure them closer to you with positive reinforcements. Remember when I said that people check out because they really do believe that nothing is ever going to change? Well, it’s important to understand this because one way to get them to check back in is to show them that they were wrong about this assumption.
So you have to be very proactive in determining what would make them happier in the marriage and providing them just that. Admittedly, as I’ve said I don’t know your situation. But I can tell you that most indifferent spouses that I dialog with don’t feel heard, don’t feel appreciated, and don’t feel particularly involved.
If you shift your attention, your priorities, and your actions, you’ll often find your spouse becoming somewhat receptive to you again. I know that this can be a gradual process, but it is worth it in the end. I can’t imagine being in a marriage with an indifferent spouse for the long term. It would not be a pleasant experience. And both of you deserve to have a marriage where both people are fully participating and invested.
You don’t need to necessarily tell your spouse what you’re doing. They will likely notice even if they aren’t sure why you are doing what you are.
I truly believe indifference is one of the biggest indicators that the marriage is in real trouble. Because it’s very hard to save your marriage when one spouse just isn’t interested anymore.
Unfortunately for me, I ignored my husband’s indifference for so long that this almost cost me my marriage. It was a long crawl back but I finally came up with a plan that got him invested in the marriage again and this saved it. We came a long way and are very solid today. If it helps, you can read that very personal story on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com