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Marriage 911

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Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

At The Marriage Recovery Center, Dr. Hawkins promotes '3 Days To a New Marriage, Guaranteed!' Contact TMRC for a free 20-minute consultation.

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When Your Spouse Shuts Down

Imagine you’ve just fought with your mate. You said things you regret in the midst of the argument. Your mate also said things that hurt your feelings. The tension is high until one of you finally ends the drama and retreats. The conflict left both of you nursing your wounds.

Following the fight is the time often called the “cold war,” as you both deliberate about who is going to be the first person to apologize. If you’re like me, this can be a tricky time. Part of you says, “Get over it. Go and apologize and own your part of the struggle.” However, another often equally strong part says, “You were wronged. You don’t have to apologize. You were right and they were wrong. Wait until they say they’re sorry.”

Being relational and sensitive, you decide to be the first person to hold out the olive branch. It’s no fun fighting. You want to end the struggle, and decide to make things right. However, approaching your mate you quickly realize they are not ready to make up. They’re determined to pout for a while longer. This is a common problem in many relationships, and the following story illustrates the dilemma.

Dear Dr. David. My husband and I seldom fight, but when we do, the fight lasts far too long. I’m ready to apologize quickly, while my husband holds onto grudges. He withdraws for hours and sometimes days, even if I apologize and reach out to him. When I approach him, I ask if anything is still bothering him, and he tells me ‘no.’ I know this isn’t true because he is distant, cold and detached.

Lately I’ve begun developing an attitude about my husband’s pouting. I hate him punishing me this way and am sick and tired of it. I’m getting angrier and angrier when he withdraws from me. I can understand giving him an hour or two to cool off, but a day? Come on. Why does he need to be so immature? What can I do to pull him out of his pouting? Please help because this problem is creating more and more problems in our marriage.  --Tired of Pouting

Dear Tired,
I can certainly sympathize with you about living with a pouter. There is little more infuriating than trying to negotiate a problem with someone unwilling to talk about the issues in a straightforward and honest way.

Here are a few things to consider:

Try not to get hooked in the chaos. Remember you can never control the pouter. You can only control your part in the equation. You can’t make him open up or talk about the problems. Trying to pry him open will likely end in even greater frustration.

Never, never humiliate or act aggressively toward his pouting. Even though his behavior is irritating, attacking him or putting him down for his behavior will only drive him further into his shell. Work on healthy boundaries where you manage you, and let him manage himself.

Invite him into sharing with you. Assuming your husband feels unsafe sharing his most intimate feelings, do your part to create a container for his pain. He is likely feeling angry and possibly ashamed. He is aware of his behavior and probably feels badly about it. Let him know he is always safe in sharing with you.

Let him know how you feel about his pouting. While you should never get into a power struggle with him over his pouting, you should let him know that his withdrawal, coldness and detachment are hurtful behaviors. Make certain he is clear about the impact of his behavior.

If your husband takes a long time to come out of pouting, insist on him making amends to you for his actions. While it is important to be quick to forgive, there need to be consequences for his immature actions. Let him know you will expect an apology and some sort of amends.

Insist on counseling if the problem continues. Your husband has practiced this behavior for a long time and needs help in overcoming it. You may also need help to ensure you’re not reinforcing his behavior in some way.

I’d love to hear from you about these strategies for dealing with the pouter. Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2008 6:13 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

While the pouter's behaviour may appear immature, perhaps the comments made by his spouse were so hurtful that he is having a hard time getting over them. Maybe this happens everytime they argue and he doesn't know whether to believe what she says about him or stand up to her and tell her that her comments are hurtful. Sometimes a pouter wants to end the fight, too, but cannot get over the hurtful things said to him and wants assurance that next time they argue, no hurtful name-calling allowed, as this requires more than just a simple apology.
Left by ssigalos on Dec 12, 2008 11:14 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

Dear Dr. David, My husband is shutting down more and more everyday. There is so many issues that I don't even know where to begin. My health has been a real problem for him. I almost died giving birth to our child years ago and had problems ever since. After 5 years I'm finally gaining control of my health. I had not been able to work due to that. He had been able to provide for us ok. But he resents me now. Drugs and alchol have been a issue on his part. Seems like bad luck follows him. He is cold toward me at times . At times he talks to me like I'm stupid.I had talk to him some about God and told him God would make things better if only he would allow him too. But he had to ask him to. Well he says he has been talking to God.Last week our home we was ready to move into after 4 years of remodeling burned to the ground. We lost 80% of our belongs. We wasn't fully moved in. This was his childhood home. Now he don't seem to care about anything. I'm afriad for my marriage and him. Help..
Left by Nightowl on Dec 13, 2008 12:49 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

I would just like to say to all the women who have relationship or marital problems. The enemy is after our men, and it is up to us mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives to do something about it! Let us all look to God in prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving make our requests made known to God (Philippians 4:6-8). Only constant prayer for our spouses, boyfriends, brothers, fathers and brother-in-laws will do. Let us not give up on them and ask why they are the way they are, and get frustrated and annnoyed at/with them; let us not put the responsibility to change or accept God's truth solely on their shoulders. Let us aid them through prayer and give them up to the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Through prayer we can destroy the strongholds the devil has on their minds (2 Corinths 10:3-5). Jesus was a constant prayer, let us imitate Him and look to the Father for the salvation of our men.GOD BLESS YOU ALL!
Left by akefilwe on Dec 16, 2008 2:43 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

In a fight I am the one the shuts down. And, though it's over within an hour or so I'm sure my husband finds the time difficult, annoying and even hurtful. The reason for my shutting down as it's put is totally my fault. Part of it was what I watched my mother do while growing up. The other has to do with wanting to fight fair. I know it sounds silly because staying silent can seem like punishment. But, when the fight begins I'm either angry or defensive and neither of those feelings are capable of making peace. So I shut down, think and pray. And, while silent I come to terms, with the help of the Lord. He is the One who gently points out my contribution the the crisis at hand. And, only then, when I have been humbled, do I feel safe to come out and say I was wrong to.
Left by talpup on Dec 16, 2008 6:20 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

My boyfriend (i'm 41 he's 45) does the shutting down thing also. He has a hard time apologizing when he's wrong and won't talk to me for weeks. It's not fun. I'm finding that meditating on God's word shelters me from the torrent of upset emotions and calms me. The bible also says in Zech 2:13 that when we are silent before the Lord God is springing into action. I'm trusting God for help in this area. In Genesis 24:63 Issac and Rebeka came toward each other right after Issac meditated. They met. Sometimes that's what all relationships need. Is to meet.
Left by mthair on Dec 16, 2008 7:29 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

Yes, we must be silent before the Lord, and if we listen, He is faithful to give us wisdom. However, silence and pouting are two very different things. Pouting is a manipulative, immature response to challenges. Silence is an effective action we take to ask for guidance in our thinking. Shutting up, and blowing up, are destructive. Taking a time out to consider a situation is often very wise.
Dr. David
Left by yourrelationshipdoctor on Dec 18, 2008 5:11 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

We fight about past things, and past hurts. It is like the problems never get healed or go away. It's like a big disruptive volcano, only verbal, not at all physical, and then calm after the storm until another fight breaks out a few months down the line. It is like history keeps repeating itself, nothing is resolved and the pain and holding on to past hurts is just ready to rear it's ugly head. I love my husband, but he is a big flirt and hangs out with other women constantly. It never stops, and it makes me uneasy. That I have emotionally finally shut down and build a wall, because if I tell him what I feel it would be: that I am jealous, insecure, that he could go out on me, but chooses not too. If I even mention a person of the opposite sex talking to me, he wants to do bodily harm. It 's terrible that our relationship is so one-sided. So, I have shut down.
Left by alisa on Feb 22, 2009 7:32 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

things have gotten so bad in my marriage that it's sad to say that we both shut down. Im so hurt by the things that are done and said to me that i just 'shut down'. My husband on the other hand shuts down by going on with life as though everything is fine. We NEVER communicate about our issues. it is never a good time for him to talk about the problems and if i try to, that only sparks another arguement..what do i do then...please help
Left by divineintervention on Mar 05, 2009 7:41 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

I married a "pouter". It did not take me long to figure out that he simply dislikes arguing, plain and simple, as do most men. I never slung mud or even said a bad thing to him In our arguments, but what I did find was, he felt attacked, and that he some how let me down by the way I approached him. Let the situation calm down, talk to him as an equal, not like he's some Joe on the street who just did something so completely unbelievable to you. I even find a time to talk about things. It works because you've both had time to think about It, and It's at a time you are both relaxed and nothing else Is going on. Stay calm, call him sweetheart or what ever your "pet" name Is for him and his defenses will fall and you will accomplish a lot and even become closer. I've proven this In my relationship, and trust me, this was no easy feat. I also leave him notes with loving words, support him and tell him how awesome he Is during these times. I hope this helps. God bless.
Left by Tessie on Apr 28, 2009 3:24 PM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

My wife comes from a northern family with many broken marriages and whose mother deserted her. I grew up in a loving home with only one known divorce in my entire extended family. My wife does not know how to hug and be warm. Funny how I didn't notice that till after marriage...she was just going along with me. After years of stirring up fights and saying very hateful things to me (in addition to demeaning my parents), I have put on a mask that hides my disgust for her! I act as if everything is normal and as if I am happy....for if I ever expain my unhappiness to her, then she will immediately go on the defensive and become angrier. Is this a good life, NO!, but I did marry her, and she can act OK if I don't show my real feelings to her, EVER. Our future divorce with be swift once I get financially in shape...for now, I just bite my tongue and ignore her remarks...I have totally shut down emotionally and make excuses to avoid any sex with her, as I could not bear to have her.
Left by coldnews on Jan 22, 2012 12:19 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

In my husband's family "Yankee" was used as a curse word. Also my father went through several wives and I too have several brothers. I was so hurt and angry it would take days before I could talk it out with my husband and tell him that not everything his "godly" said was right, and neither was siding with his Mom to have the joke on me. There is a reason your wife demeans your parents. Perhaps begin by saying, "Honey, could you please help me figure out why I am so unhappy? It can't be you, yet when... I take it personally." Hurting people hurt people. NOW happily married for 30 years.
Left by Lorraine on Feb 16, 2012 9:49 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

I have been married for past two and a half years. We started with good note. But after few months my husband wanted to know about guys who were close to me before marriage. I trusting him, that he will trust me to what i say, I told him about all guys in my life. And to one guy he got doubt that we were close and i had some feelings for him. So he started asking me about him and asked me to show all the chats with him. I showed him all that i had. with his suspicious behavior, i got scared and seeing that things were going out of control. When he asked have i met him and i told him no(even though i met him just once)but then immediately i told him the truth. after that he lost trust in me and started spying on me for some days. i tried to explain to him and asked for sorry many times, he accepted my apologies but i found that he was distancing me slowly. our sex life is poor.its been more that 2 years since that fight. Now he says How can he have a baby with someone i don't trust!
Left by SJR on Oct 09, 2014 3:21 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

Brooke, so happy for your family's new addition. I found that with my fourth baby I finally understood how quickly the babyhood passes and so was very happy to take all the time I could get savoring it. Smelling baby feet irrationally became my number one priority. Loved your observation about the balls and wish you all the best in your work!
<a href="">Life Experience Degree</a>
Left by bryanparker on Sep 02, 2015 6:55 AM

# RE: When Your Spouse Shuts Down

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Left by Anderson Pamela on Jan 26, 2016 10:03 AM