When your spouse isn’t interested in doing the “work” of marriage, it’s easy to feel powerless. But all isn’t lost, said Jeannie Ingram, a couples therapist based in Nashville, Tennessee.
“The relationship doesn’t have to end,” she told HuffPost. “The truth is, all relationships need tuning up from time to time.”
Below, Ingram and other experts share the most common signs a spouse has checked out of a marriage — and what you can do to take matters into your own hands.
1. They spend a lot of time around you but not with you.
It doesn’t count as quality time if one of you is distracted by your smartphone or checking work emails, said Aaron Anderson, a marriage and family therapist based in Denver, Colorado.
“If you and your spouse spend a lot of time in the same room but they never do things with you, they’ve likely disengaged from the relationship,” he told us. “Nobody wants to spend the two hours after work browsing social media.”
Try planning new, exciting things to do together so hopefully “your partner will want to shut down the computer and turn off their phone to be with you,” Anderson said.
2. They never include you in their weekend or after-work plans.
Spending time apart (pursing your hobbies or seeing friends) is essential in a healthy marriage. It keeps the mystery alive. But spend too much time apart and you’re well on your way to living separate lives, said Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist who works in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“If your S.O feels disillusioned with the marriage, they might cope by distracting themselves with things they enjoy that that don’t involve you,” she said.
To figure out why they’re disengaging, broach the conversation in a calm manner, at a time that works for the two of you, Whetstone said.
“Therapists call this ‘coming toward your partner,’” she said. “Watch the tone of your voice and your body language and find the right time — not in the middle of something hectic. Ask, ‘Hey, what’s up? I’ve noticed you pulling away lately.’”
Most importantly, don’t lash out if their answer upsets you. “Make it safe for them to reply or they’re not likely to open up again after that,” Whetstone said.
3. They never ask, “How was your day?”
If your conversations are limited to household logistics (“Will you get dinner and pick up the kids? Could you call the plumber about the kitchen sink?”) and your S.O. seems disinterested in how you’re doing, your marriage may be in trouble, Anderson said.
“When someone checks out of a relationship, they stop caring about their partner as much,” he said. “They don’t ask you how work is going, how your family is doing or even if you got that promotion you wanted.”
To show that your marriage is still very much a priority — and that you, at least, care about them — make it a point to vocalize that.
“Just because they’ve checked out doesn’t mean you have to,” Anderson said, “And after they see how much you care, they might just start caring more, too.”
4. They aren’t interested in s*x.
The thrill is gone — and your S.O. seems entirely OK with that. Why might that be the case? Oftentimes, partners avoid physical intimacy after they’ve been hurt emotionally, said Ingram.
“In the beginning, couples in love are so intoxicated with each other that they share everything — they allow themselves to be fully vulnerable,” said Ingram.
But that same vulnerability also opens you up to hurt from your partner.
“If you’re emotionally hurt, intimacy doesn’t feel safe — it’s just too vulnerable,” Ingram said. “Couples need to become conscious of this and be willing to talk about why they avoid closeness, perhaps in the office of a qualified marriage therapist.”
5. They’re hyper-critical of your friends and family.
Your partner may not be as forgiving of your parents as you are, but they shouldn’t take the liberty to rag on them any chance they get, Whetstone said.
“It shows disinterest but it’s also unacceptable behavior,” she said. “Set a boundary and say something like, ‘Please, why so much venom? It hurts me when you throw so much negativity on to me and my friends and family. What’s going on? Obviously you’re unhappy about something. Please, let’s talk about it.’”
6. They go to bed at different times.
“I’ll be in bed in a little bit” is not as innocent a phrase as you might think, Ingram said.
“Commonly, couples fall prey to what I call ‘functional exits,” she said. “These are behaviors that are part of everyday life, but serve the dual purpose of avoiding intimacy. For example, work, hobbies, or when you regularly say or hear, ‘You go on to bed; I’ll be along later.’”
The good news? Mismatched bedtimes and similar problems are easily fixed if you and your partner are willing to make the effort.
“Exits like these are not necessarily a sign the relationship needs to end, but rather, an indication that it’s time for some work,” she reassured.