A lot of the correspondence that I get is concerning, but one type stands out from all the rest. This type of correspondence is indicative of a very serious problem that shouldn't be ignored. You might assume that I'm talking about extreme anger, sorrow, or even claims of outright hatred between the spouses. Unfortunately, I'm not.

In fact, when I hear people speak of strong reactions from their spouse - even if those reactions are negative or even nasty - I feel a bit of relief. Because anger, resentment, frustration, and jealousy can all be signs of life in your marriage. They can all indicate that there is still somewhat of an emotional investment. And, believe it or not, you can work with that when you play your cards right. (I finally learned to. And I did save my marriage. That entire story is here.)

But it is MUCH harder to play if your spouse is apathetic to you and your marriage. I'll tell you why, as well as offer suggestions on how to handle a spouse's apathy, below.

What Is Apathy In Your Marriage Or Separation? What Does It Look Like?: An apathetic spouse gives you almost no reaction whatsoever, no matter the circumstances. You're not likely to see anger or excitement from him, even in extremely difficult situations. Instead, he is blank. He'll just stare at you as though he didn't even hear what you said. Or he'll act as if you're being hyperbolic or are exaggerating.

He's completely withdrawn and no longer participating in the relationship in any meaningful way. This often means that, prior to separating, spouses live like roommates, doing their own thing even as they share a house. And, once separated, they aren't going to cooperate when you try to draw them in or attempt to interact, even on important issues. And the more you try to force it, the more they will back away.

You might hear someone say, "I honestly thought that separating and living apart would force my husband out of his apathy. I thought he would have no choice but to interact with me as we had to navigate our kids and our home. I was wrong in this assumption. He acts as if I am invisible. He insists that all communication is in writing so that he doesn't have to physically or verbally interact with me. Some days, I believe that I could tell him the house was on fire or something was wrong with one of the kids and he would act as if I'd told him that today is Wednesday. His reaction will be flat no matter what words I say. In contrast, if he's talking to the kids without me or to one of his parents, he can be animated, loving, and will have appropriate reactions. It is just me to which he is apathetic. How do I break through to him when he seems to insist on putting up a wall to keep me out at all times?"

Find The Crack In The Wall: Please do not take this the wrong way. The question that I'm about to ask is personal, but it's also designed to give you important information. We all know that there are two sides to every story, but have you stopped to consider your husband's? I ask because sometimes, if you do, you'll get some very big clues as to your best play moving forward. Even if it is very hard to find, there's often a reason that your husband has built a wall around himself. Your job is to find the crack in that wall.

Sometimes, when I hear from husbands, I'll get a completely different perspective on the issue. Husbands in this situation will often tell you that the wife acted with apathy first. They'll tell you that they withdrew only after getting shut down repeatedly from their busy, preoccupied wife. They'll claim that the wife always made time for the kids, but not for him. Or they'll tell you that they've tuned their wife out because she's ramped up her behavior so high, that it's emotionally easier to not engage anymore.

I understand that this may be difficult, but sometimes, you would do yourself a favor to ask yourself, "What has it been like to be married to me for the last two years?" Answer honestly. I'm not asking you to do this because I want you to blame yourself. You are not to blame. But if you can figure out where his perceptions have turned negative, you've likely brushed upon at least one of the reasons WHY your husband has built that wall. Once you understand this, you can address it and hopefully begin to chip away at it.

For example, if you have to admit that you've been preoccupied and have put your marriage on the back-burner, then redirecting your attention to it is obviously an important first step. Because in your husband's mind, he believes that you were apathetic first and his behavior is just a reaction to yours. I'm not saying that his perception is true. But if this is what he believes, then this is the reality you are working with right now.

Be careful that you both aren't crossing your arms and staring at each other in a sort of perpetual standoff. When the culture in your marriage or separation becomes "hands-off" for both parties, you're dealing with a situation where no one wants to make waves, and both parties assume that the other just doesn't care. In fact, both people can care very much. But no one wants to be the odd man out, or the only one who cares.

You Can't Force Him To Drop His Apathy, But You Can Easily Control Your Own Behavior: One of the biggest mistakes that I see a wife make is to keep escalating her own behavior as the husband shuts down. She comes to believe that she has to do something very dramatic just to get his attention. And the more over the top her actions become, the more he turns a blind eye. Needless to say, this can contribute to a very destructive cycle that only damages the marriage more.

Don't attempt to address his apathy with more negative or bad behavior on your part. I understand the desperation you feel to get his attention by any means necessary, but trust me, it will often only make things worse. It will only make him even more determined not to budge.

What you can control is the culture of your marriage or separation from your own side of it. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is likely that you will have to be the one to initiate things and to take the lead.

I often suggest applying the type of behavior that you hope to see. I know that this can feel vulnerable and that you will feel as if you are doing all the work. But sometimes, the ends justify the means. If you want him to pay attention to and invest in you and your marriage, then this is precisely what you must do. Yes, sometimes, it will feel as if you are standing alone and without an audience. But if you do the right things for long enough, he will often not only notice but he will begin to reciprocate.

And at the very least, you will never go wrong being caring and cordial.

Understand What He Is Most Likely To Respond To: It is human nature to respond in kind to any behavior - both negative or positive. We often mirror behavior even when we aren't aware that we're doing it or have no intention of doing it. When he sees you making an emotional investment, he will be more likely to do the same because people move toward the things that make them feel good about themselves. It is just human nature.

Whatever you do, don't ignore his apathy and just hope that it goes away. It likely won't. And true and unending apathy can mean that the next step for your marriage is not going to be a desirable one. Admittedly, you can't control your husband's behavior. But sometimes, changing your own can gradually bring about a big difference that is the spark you need to get him invested again.

My husband was very indifferent and apathetic at points during our separation.  And I did shut down in response.  But I had to play a different game to save our marriage, which eventually worked.  You can read more at https://isavedmymarriage.com

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