Relationship Connection: Breaking Through the Silent Treatment

My wife is happy and friendly with everyone outside of our home, but the second she comes home, she is cold and distant with me. I try and point out it out to her, but she just gets more angry and distant. I don’t know what to do. Any idea what could be going on and do you have any suggestions for how I might get her to be nice to me?

It is certainly painful to have the one you love not respond to you in a loving way. Your question causes me to ask a few questions. Since we aren’t able to talk back and forth about this in a column, let me ask you some questions that might give you some more insight into your situation. Then, I’ll conclude with some additional thoughts.

Your wife sounds like she’s experiencing some kind of emotional or relational pain that keeps her distant from you at home. While there might be an individual mental health concern, such as depression, her ability to act happy with others outside the home suggests it’s more connected to something in her family relationships.

Has she experienced any sort of betrayal in the marriage? Has there been any history of sexual or emotional infidelity? Have there been betrayals or secrets with pornography, money, or other emotionally charged situations? The effects of these kinds of betrayals can last for years if couples don’t seek help. I’ve worked with couples where the betrayal happened thirty years ago, it was never really discussed, and the couple wonders why they’re so distant and disconnected. If there has ever been anything even remotely related to these types of betrayals, it’s important to make sure everything has been done to resolve and heal it.

What is your marriage like most days? Do you both know what’s going on in each other’s worlds? She may be feeling alone in the marriage. I’ve seen hundreds of cases in my practice over the years when the husband assumes he’s connecting with his wife because he’s home every night, takes her on a date once a week, and interacts with the kids. However, the wife tells me that she feels completely invisible to her husband. Upon further inquiry, it usually becomes clear that the couple isn’t experiencing any emotional intimacy or connection. Although being around certainly is better for marriages than not being around, it can be super painful to have your partner “there, but not there.”

Are there other possible sources of resentment in your marriage? Does she feel like she’s the only one contributing to the housework? Does she feel less important than your hobbies or friends? Do you have more loyalty to your extended family than to her and the children? Are there ongoing disagreements that never get resolved?

As weird as this might sound, I’m glad to know that she’s not faking her emotions with you. Trust me, it’s worse if she puts on the same show at home as she does in public. You wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on and one day you might wake up to find her gone with no explanation. Her emotional disconnect at home gives you a clear signal that something is wrong and needs to be addressed immediately.

I recommend you go through some of these questions with her in a loving way. Please don’t accuse her of anything or act like it’s her fault or even your fault. Simply let her know that she’s important to you and you don’t want to lose the connection to her. It’s pretty safe to say that she doesn’t want to lose that connection either. That’s why she’s putting off that chilly vibe right now. It’s her signal to you that something needs to be repaired. Move toward her with compassion instead of defensiveness and see if you can open up an honest conversation about how to reconnect.

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