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Q&A: Engaging an Unresponsive Spouse

Recognizing what is your responsibility and what you need to leave in God's hands.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


We have a pretty good marriage, but I know it could be much better. My problem is that my spouse shows little response when I make suggestions of steps we could take to improve our relationship. What do you do if you have an unresponsive spouse?

Dennis: I hear this question a lot. This is definitely one of the most challenging problems facing many couples today. You need to know you are not alone.

Barbara: Wives seem to ask this question more often, but I think we're also hearing from a growing number of husbands who want to grow in their marriage but are having difficulty with an unresponsive wife.

Dennis: Here are a few suggestions: First, decide on the important issues you need to address. Some of us can get a burr under our saddles and attempt to fix an area of our relationship that really may not be a critical issue. Then we nag too much and cause our mates to become uninterested or embittered. Nagging is like being nibbled to death by a duck!

Begin with prayer. God loves the prayers of a helpless spouse. Ask God to give you wisdom and show you how to get your mate's attention in this situation. Or ask God to get your spouse's attention if you can't. Most importantly, pray that God will touch your mate so that he or she will develop a heart to walk closely with Him.

Find out what motivates your spouse. Find out what communicates love and speak the words of love in your spouse's language. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone to show a love that your spouse will understand but may be different than how you want love shown to you.

If patterns or habits have progressed to a severe level, I would encourage you to write a letter expressing your concerns, hurts, and disappointments, along with some clear points of action. It may be helpful if those action points have consequences to the relationship if your spouse does not respond to them.

Make sure you are definitely a part of a growing body of believers through your local church. You need to be surrounded by people who will cheer you on and pray for you in the midst of those difficult days of struggle. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Barbara: I have a few other ideas. First, find a godly woman or a godly man who can become your friend, mentor and sounding board. You need someone who can give you wise advice, help you entrust yourself to God, and keep a balanced perspective while not becoming bitter.

Take a life inventory to see if there is anything you need to do, give up, or deny that would help ensure the success of your marriage. Is anything competing with the attention God wants you to give your spouse? What action do you need to take?

Beware of criticizing your mate to your parents. Most in-laws have little tolerance for imperfections in the person who married their child. Be careful of "running home" to their listening ear. Instead, ask a few godly friends to pray for your spouse to respond spiritually to God.

You also might want to schedule a spiritual retreat by yourself, or with a best friend, one or two times a year. Also be sure you have a daily quiet time when you can reflect, pray and allow God to minister to you.

Pray that God would bring people into your spouse's life who would model a whole-hearted love for Christ. Often a person of the same sex can identify with and challenge your spouse in areas of neglect or stubbornness.

Finally, know your own limits. Recognize what is your responsibility and what you need to leave in God's hands. If you always take time to bring your needs to God, you will be mindful of trusting Him for your relationship and for the outcome.

© 2003 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



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