All too often, husbands who come into marriage therapist Becky Whetstone’s office have already experienced what she calls an “emotional divorce.”
“Sometimes, people get so fed up and disgruntled, there’s a disconnection process,” she said. “When that happens, the husband will mostly be apathetic about their partner and the relationship as a whole. That’s when an emotional divorce takes place.”
Below, Whetstone and other marriage therapists share some of the most telling signs that a husband has emotionally checked out of their marriage. (Note that either spouse could experience these problems ― but therapists say men tend to bring them up more often. For signs that wives have checked out their marriages, head here.)
When you’re in love, you overlook certain personality quirks your spouse possesses. You forgive them when they forget to turn off the bedroom light before work or kill the new succulents in your apartment. In other words, in most instances, you’re generous toward them.
If your husband has become less generous of your mistakes ― and grown critical of small things that were never much of a problem before ― there’s a good chance it’s part of a larger issue, said Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
“Maybe he doesn’t know how to express it or fears causing a blowup if he expresses what’s really bothering him,” she said. “There may be more going on. Directly ask him if there’s something bugging him and how you can help.”
Nothing cripples a relationship quicker than stonewalling. In fact, renowned researcher John Gottman has said it’s one of the greatest predicators of divorce.
Consider stonewalling an elevated version of the silent treatment: It occurs when someone gets so upset, they shut down and disengage from the conversation, said Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah.
There are some tell-tale signs: “Your spouse’s body language may be closed off and they may offer zero verbal feedback in conversation,” she said.
“If you recognize these signs of stonewalling from your hubby, it is time to back off and take a break for at least 20 minutes,” Heck said. “A habit of stonewalling in your relationship should definitely not be ignored.”
When requests to get something done around the house repeatedly fall on deaf ears, it’s only natural for a spouse to get annoyed and start to feel like they can only depend on themselves, Whetstone said.
“In this situation, they watch and wait for their spouse to act, then just get fed up and do it themselves,” she said. “During this waiting period, the partner may begin to dismantle their emotional connection to the other.”
To remind your partner that you do care and want to be equally responsible in your marriage, acknowledge his requests. When you say you’re going to get something done, see it through.
Otherwise, “ambivalence will set in and your partner will develop ‘I can take it or leave it’ attitude toward your marriage,” Whetstone said.
Every couple has bad days, but for the most part, you should get the feeling that your spouse genuinely enjoys spending time with you. If the sense of playfulness is gone and your spouse rarely laughs with you, it could be a sign that one of you has pulled away, said Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“Ask yourself honestly if your partner is happy hanging out with you, or if he’s just going through the motions, in a distant, disengaged way,” she said.
If that’s the case, one of the best things to do is to introduce laughter back into your marriage, in whatever way you can, Clark said.
“Tell him a funny story, get tickets and go to a comedy club, watch a rerun of his favorite sitcom. Get laughing to break the ice and see what happens,” she said. “Reconnecting is the key.”
If communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship, your husband’s grunts and eye rolls aren’t going to cut it. When your spouse has become non-verbal ― or verbal language has shifted from kindness and tenderness to impatient and short ― it’s a big red flag, said R. Scott Gornto, a marriage therapist in Plano, Texas.
“Timing is critical here. At the first sign of this behavior, start the process of talking about it,” he said. “Talk about ways to shift this. Long-term impatience and being short with the other is an intimacy killer and can to lead to avoidance.”
It’s healthy to have a network of support outside of your marriage. After all, you’ll exhaust each other if you depend on one another for everything. But don’t let it go unnoticed if your spouse suddenly begins to confide and rely on someone else (a coworker, or an old friend from high school) for emotional sustenance.
“Sharing intimate details about his personal life and your relationship is a slippery slope toward other forms of betrayal ― like an emotional affair,” she explained. “Confront your husband and have a discussion about what is OK to share with others and what’s not OK to divulge.”
In the end, you should be the person your husband is primarily sharing his marriage frustrations with, not a third party.
“Invite his feedback openly and you might change the relationship for the better,” she said.