My Husband Ignores Me

Q. When my husband and I get together with his family, he ignores me. He isn't mean or degrading; he just focuses on his family. On the drive home from his parent's house the last time this happened, I brought it up and he didn't know what I was talking about. How can I get him to pay attention to me?

A. We've struggled with this same problem! In the past whenever we'd go to Les's house, he'd shift into premarriage mode and forget I was his wife. Rarely checking in with me, he'd visit his buddies or take off with his dad—leaving me to fend for myself. He didn't mean to do it, but it felt as if I was invisible, a mere tag-along. And it was terribly lonely.

Finally, in private I asked Les if he realized what he was doing and, like your husband, he didn't. He was having a good time and assumed I was too. I was careful not to blame him or lash out because I felt wounded. But I did tell him how I was feeling and he began to see the situation from my perspective. This would have never happened if I'd accused him of deliberately ignoring me (that's guaranteed to put him on the defensive and solve nothing). But focusing on what was going on inside me when he took off without my input or didn't include me in discussions helped him realize what he was doing. And I realized I couldn't take his behavior personally, as I was tempted to do.

As we talked more, we devised a simple action-plan. Les would include me in discussions and keep me informed of what he was up to. I suggested I'd bring a book for times when he wanted to go off with somebody. Then we devised secret signals only the two of us would know as a way of staying in touch, such as making eye contact for "rescue me." I've used this one on several occasions—such as when I'm on my third round of Monopoly with his nephews.

Another thing that helped was that Les would make a conscious effort to touch me more often. A gentle squeeze on the shoulder as he was walking by, holding my hand every so often, or touching my elbow let me know I mattered and that I wasn't being ignored.

Try this yourselves and see if it works. Have a frank but gentle discussion about how you're feeling, invite him to discuss his experience, and then devise a plan of action to correct the problem.

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