In any marriage or long-term relationship, you have to stay present. Unfortunately, far too many men take their partner’s satisfaction in the relationship for granted, said Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a marriage and family therapist and the author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage: The Essentials for Long-Lasting Togetherness.
“Many men don’t notice when their wives have disengaged,” she said. “Some wives wait to see if their spouses will care and notice the telling behavior. Husbands clearly need to take the initiative and engage.”
Below, Gilchrest O’Neill and other marriage therapists share some of the most revealing signs that wives have emotionally checked out of their marriages.
Marriage therapist Becky Whetstone said that husbands often come into her Little Rock, Arkansas office and tell her that their wives’ demeanor has changed, seemingly overnight. All too often, they haven’t picked up on tell-tale indicators that their wives are fed up.
“While trying to improve the marriage, she may have made requests of him that have been ignored, waved and danced around,” Whetstone said. “In most cases, the wife has reached a point where she has decided to turn her back on the marriage due to frustration and disillusionment with her husband.”
When your wife is unavailable or unwilling to have a real conversation about the state of your marriage, it may be a sign that she’s reached a breaking point, said R. Scott Gornto, a marriage therapist in Plano, Texas.
“Your partner has likely become emotionally numb,” he said. “When people have the energy to argue and discuss things, even through conflict, the relationship still has life.”
Marriage therapy could change the dynamic in your relationship for the better ― and if your wife is unwilling to go, it may even if be beneficial to go therapy alone, Gornto said.
“It might help you see what steps you need to take,” he said.
When you’re in love, you feel compelled to reach out and touch your partner, even if it’s just quick squeeze of each other’s hands while you’re walking down the street. Touch in itself helps release oxytocin, a hormone that helps us feel bonded and connected.
A lack of physical intimacy ― inside and outside the bedroom ― suggests something might be amiss in your marriage, said Isiah McKimmie, a couples therapist and sexologist in Melbourne, Australia.
“The avoidance of physical intimacy can extend beyond sexual intimacy to all forms of physical touch,” she said. “But touch is a way we signal love and connection to someone.”
To address this, McKimmie suggests having an open conversation with your wife about what she’s experiencing.
“Be willing to talk about underlying challenges. Don’t just pressure her for more physical connection, this is likely to have a detrimental effect,” she said.
While it’s healthy to have a life outside of the marriage, if lately it feels as though you’re living completely distinct, separate lives, it should be a red flag. If your wife continuously chooses her friends and hobbies over spending time with you, tell her it hurts, Gilchrest O’Neill said.
“As much as we should all have our individual interests separate from the things we do with our spouse, when a partner is not allowed in at all, not even minimally, something is wrong,” she said. “You need to show your interest and tell her that it’s not good for the relationship to be left out completely.”
Of course, your kids should be a priority in your relationship ― so should keeping your household running like a well-oiled machine. But if your daughter’s soccer match is the only thing you have to talk about when the two of you are alone, it’s time to refocus on the bond you share outside your kids, McKimmie said.
“Ask yourselves: When was the last time we sat down and had a conversation about life, emotions and just how our days were going?” she said. “If you’re not connecting anymore, let your partner know how much you value them and set aside time to spend together as partners, not just as parents. Make an effort to bring the romance and connection back.”
When you care for someone, you’re careful with your words: Sure, it may drive your wife up the wall that you leave beard stubble in the sink after shaving, but her request for you to clean up after yourself shouldn’t be an attack. If your wife jumps at the chance to call you out for your mistakes ― or makes frequent casual, condescending remarks at your expense ― your marriage may be in trouble, Whetstone said.
“It’s a red flag if your spouse speaks brutal truths,” Whetstone said. “Maybe she used to treat you with kindness and consideration but now she doesn’t bother editing herself with you and around others.”
Whetstone said this is distancing behavior and signals “a loss of hope for the relationship [your wife] has with you.”
She added: “If your spouse starts distancing and disconnecting from your relationship, you had better wake up and hear what she’s trying to tell you before it’s too late.”