Why Your Spouse Doesn't Listen

woman sitting on chair looking away with man in the background
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Successful marriages are all about healthy communication and listening to each other. However, it's not uncommon for couples to experience periods when talking to each other becomes a challenge and listening is absent. When one or both of you are not responsive, you may have a problem. If the lack of listening continues, it could be a sign that your marriage is in jeopardy.

Overview

As you think about the possible causes of this ignoring behavior, be sure to consider how well you are listening and holding space for your partner as well. Remember, it's easy to blame your spouse, but often, faulty communication is a two-way street.

A listening problem in a relationship could be related to many different issues. Common contributing factors include your (or your partner's) method of delivery, personal issues that make either of you unable or unwilling to listen, or some combination of these elements.

If you feel your partner isn't listening, it's worth telling them that. Don't assume they know what you're thinking. They may have no idea that you're feeling ignored.

The key is to be honest and kind—that is, say what you mean, but do it without hurting your partner. That said, you also need to share what is true for you.

Your Method of Delivery

Often, the way we say things is just as important as what we're saying. A negative, argumentative tone, roundabout speaking, and/or passive-aggressiveness are just a few of the ways you may be inadvertently sabotaging your conversations.

Here are 10 problems with your communication delivery that could be causing your spouse to tune you out—as well as suggestions for how to fix the problem so that you both feel respected and heard.

Too Many Words

You may be taking too long to say what you want to say. Sometimes, when we're nervous or expecting a negative response or conflict, we may become more long-winded than necessary. This can be frustrating or boring for your conversation partner—and your meaning can get lost in all those words. Aim to get to the point. Still, a loving partner should also be patient enough to hear what's on your mind.

Monopolizing

Your spouse will probably zone out if they are rarely getting a chance to talk. In your attempt to get them to listen, you may inadvertently monopolize conversations. Good conversations allow both people to contribute. Examine how you listen when your spouse is discussing an important topic with you. Model the listening you want to see from your partner—they may follow suit.

Giving your spouse a chance to talk and really listening to them may encourage them to do the same for you.

Hurtful Comments

If you have a history of saying things that are hurtful, insulting, intimidating, dismissive, or disrespectful of your spouse's opinions, beliefs, and feelings, your spouse may not want to listen to what you have to say. Likewise, if your conversations tend to quickly escalate into tense arguments, they may feel protective, defensive, angry, or out of control in these conversations.

They also may be disengaging from your talks in an attempt to avoid saying negative or hurtful things to you. Ideally, both of you can work toward having civil conversations where you both speak your minds without being cruel. Consider coming up with ground rules that you both can live with, such as taking turns speaking, not interrupting, setting a timer for each speaker, and never using hurtful words.

Ulterior Motives

Your partner may think that there's a pattern of manipulation in what you say to them—and preemptively decide to tune you out. Avoid being manipulative or passive-aggressive, and be aware that your spouse may feel like you're trying to take advantage of them. Even if you aren't doing this intentionally, it's still important to make sure being straightforward.

Honesty can be scary, but it's vital for engaged conversation and marriage. Say what you mean. Ask for what you want. Own your feelings, and give space for your partner's thoughts, desires, and emotions as well.

Lecturing

A talking style that comes across as preaching, lecturing, or questioning may make your spouse not listen. You may feel unheard and ignored, which understandably may make you feel your partner is being childish, putting you into the "teacher" or "boss" role. But being the professor or attorney in your marriage will not help you get heard. Rather, being preachy is likely to garner resentment.

Instead, clearly explain your concerns or questions without asserting that you know best. Then, let your partner speak. Don't assume you already know all the answers or that your opinions are the only right ones. Listening with an open heart—and on an even footing—will make your partner much more receptive to listening to what you have to say.

Generalizing

It's all too easy to slip into generalizations, but often they aren't really fair or true. Either way, they are unlikely to be helpful in making yourself heard. If you use too many negative generalities in your statements, your partner will feel attacked and assume that all you see are their faults.

Comments that use words like "always," "never," and "constantly" can cause a spouse to tune out the entire conversation.

They may feel that you only see everything they do as wrong and/or as a pattern that you're using to condemn them. Even if the facts are on your side, no one likes to listen to a sweeping litany of all their faults. Instead, focus on the specific issues at hand, the present moment, and on the things that you and your partner can change.

Poor Timing

Another issue could be that your timing may simply be off. Your spouse probably won't listen attentively when tired, stressed out, preoccupied with other thoughts, in a rush, or busy with something else. Tell your spouse you want to talk, and ask if it is a good time. If your spouse says no, respect that—and set up a better time.

Bringing Up Old Baggage

Any conversations about topics or issues that have been discussed at length previously but keep getting brought up again (and again), may cause a spouse to tune out. If you keep raising old issues or topics, consider why you're doing this. Are there lingering issues that need to be resolved? Is there something you can't forgive, solve, or let go? If so, have that talk, and then put the issue to rest.

Aim to let things go once you've already hashed them out. Picking at old wounds is likely to put your partner on the defensive—and encourage shutting down, rather than open communication.

Excessive Negativity

Does your spouse complain that you are always complaining, whining, or speaking negatively? You may feel justified or think that's their way of deflecting attention on their own negativity. Either way, consider your tone and the way you address the topics you bring up. Even if you're "right," maybe there is a way to discuss the issue in a less accusatory, more positive (or at least neutral) way.

Always focusing on the negative (even when it's justified) can cause others to tune you out. Instead, try focusing on solutions rather than dwelling on problems.

Additionally, rather than simply making accusing statements, such as "You did" this or that, use "I feel" statements to move the conversation into different territory. For example, "I feel ignored when you don't listen to me" is likely to be more effective at getting your partner's attention than just saying, "You never listen."

Reactiveness

Another key reason your spouse may be putting you on mute is if you have a history of overly reactive conversations. They may think you try to push their buttons or just dislike that your talks tend to quickly escalate from calm discussion to argument. Not listening could be a way that they cope or attempt to avoid these reactive fights.

If you find yourself struggling not to become reactive, try taking a breath before speaking or try counting to 10 in your head while you figure out what you really want to say—and consider alternative meanings to what you just heard from your partner before jumping to conclusions. Pause and take a break if either of you gets too angry to continue talking productively. Remember that you love each other.

The goal of your conversations should be to learn about, support, and listen to each other—not simply to win

Your Spouse's Own Personal Issues

Your partner could also be ignoring you for reasons that aren't directly about you at all. Instead, they may be unwilling to unable to listen, no matter how well you try to communicate. Some examples of those reasons include:

  • Your spouse may not be interested in the subject you are talking about. Consider finding someone else to talk to about this topic instead.
  • They may be afraid of intimacy. "Not listening" may be their way of ignoring the difficult feelings you want to talk about.
  • Your partner may disagree with you and/or not want to hear your advice, thoughts, or opinions.
  • They may want to spare your feelings by not telling you what they really think.
  • Your spouse may be wiped out, distracted, and/or have a short attention span, making it hard for them to give you their full attention.
  • Your partner may have the habit of racing ahead of what you are saying by thinking of how to respond while you're talking, instead of actively listening.
  • They may believe that ignoring what you say will make the issue or situation go away and/or may not like what you have to say.
  • Your spouse may think it is easier to be perceived as not listening than to say no.
  • They may feel intimidated and/or not comfortable expressing their opposing view—and tuning out feels like an easier option.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect your spouse may have personal or emotional issues that are standing in the way of honest, effective communication, you'll certainly want to bring up these concerns—and work on whatever is derailing healthy dialogue. Encouraging your spouse to share their opinions, even when they disagree with you, can help them feel more comfortable fully engaging in your conversations.

Additionally, own any of your issues that might be getting in the way of productive conversations, as well. If trying to talk things over isn't working, couples therapy might be a way to help you clear the air for better listening.

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