Talking about Problems with a Spouse Who Doesn’t Want to

If your spouse does not want to talk about problems, there is a better way to improve your relationship

On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will help you to improve your relationship, even if your spouse doesn’t want to talk about marriage problems with you. You no longer have to feel stuck, and you don’t have to give up on your marriage.

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Talking about Problems with a Spouse Who Doesn’t Want to

(Podcast Transcript)


[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.


Coach Jack: Are you having problems in your relationship that you would like to talk about with your spouse? It can be very frustrating if you want to improve your relationship, but your spouse won’t even talk to you about problems in your relationship. Or, perhaps your spouse is willing to talk, but every time you try to do that, your spouse becomes angry, defensive, or shuts down. In this situation, it is easy to feel stuck. What most people do in this situation is to repeatedly try to get their spouse to talk about problems, sometimes for many years, before eventually giving up. At that point, hopelessness sets in and people often give up on their marriage. In today’s podcast, I will teach you how to get un-stuck from this situation and improve your marriage at the same time.


If you are like most people, you believe that being able to talk about problems with your spouse is the key to a good relationship. This is actually a false belief propagated by the therapy industry, which makes its money by getting people to talk about problems session after session, while providing little in terms of practical advice. Relationship coaches take an entirely different approach and believe that key to a good relationship is to take care of the emotional connection in a relationship the same way that people stay connected when they are single. That is, by being similar and validating your partner, being as attractive as possible and using good boundaries.


This does not mean that there is no place for talking about problems—just that it is not the primary reason people are in relationships or maintain relationships.

The best time to talk about anything, with anyone, is when:

·       you and the other person both want to talk about it AND

·       you both have the same perception of what is wrong AND

·       you both want the same outcome.

In such a discussion, the other person will be:

·       motivated to talk with you,

·       your talking will be enjoyable and productive, and

·       you will come up with solutions that you both want to try.

Many of my clients have technical jobs and are used to this kind of atmosphere in their workplace. They have trouble though, when they try to talk about problems with their spouse. They fail to notice that the conditions that make talking productive at work are not present when they talk with their spouse. They just assume their spouse is motivated to work on what they consider a problem; they assume their spouse enjoys working on such problems; and they assume their spouse is motivated to come up with solutions. These assumptions are usually wrong. The result is that they have greater conflict and more distance in their relationships. What do they do when talking to their spouse about problems fails? They continue to try again and again to discuss problems. But, because the conditions are still the same, they only create more and more distance in their relationships. They rarely realize that repeatedly trying to talk about problems has become a problem in itself. Could it be that your repeated attempts to get your spouse to talk about problems has resulted in more distance in your relationship?


Let’s review those 3 factors necessary for the productive discussion of a problem:

1.     The other person agrees with you on what the problem is.

2.     The other person is also motivated to come up with a solution.

3.     The other person wants the same outcome as you.

If even one of these conditions is missing, then the more you try to talk to your spouse about the problem, the worse your relationship will become.


Let’s take a common example:

Suppose that you are feeling bored in your relationship and would like to go out more with your spouse so that you can both be happier and enjoy your relationship more. I would agree with you that is a great goal. I help many people to be happier by creating a better relationship. But, let’s suppose that your spouse differs on one of those three factors for positive problem solving.


If your spouse is satisfied with your relationship now, he or she is not going to be motivated to talk about doing more together. That would make your spouse feel like you are becoming more work. Insisting that you talk about your lack of connection and need to have more fun would make your spouse have an even lower motivation to date more. Your spouse would likely either come up with excuses like being too busy or needing to save money, or will reluctantly agree but have poor follow through. Changes that do happen from this situation are going to be temporary and result in both you and your spouse being more dissatisfied with your relationship than you were before.


Many people do similar damage to their relationship when they pressure their spouse to go to marriage counseling.

Reluctant agreement leads to reluctant participation and only temporary change

Marriage counseling does not motivate people to have better relationships. Taking an unmotivated spouse to marriage counseling, just like getting an unmotivated spouse to date more, make the marriage more work, less enjoyable, and decreases desire to be together. To benefit from marriage counseling, both people must already be motivated to improve their relationship, desire to work together, and desire an improved relationship. These are the three conditions required for talking about problems with your spouse, which is the main thing you will be doing in marriage counseling.


You might feel stuck if your spouse does not see the same marriage problems as you or desire the same solution. You might be thinking in that situation that you either have to accept that your marriage is not going to improve or that you need to leave your marriage. Unfortunately, many people needlessly draw that conclusion and either settle for roommate style relationships or divorce. Neither of these choices is necessary. People run out of hope when they run out of options when what they should be doing is learning from others what options still remain. For going on 30 years I have been helping people to rebuild relationships with spouse who not only were not motivated to work on problems with them, they were actually motivated to divorce. And yet, I helped them to reconcile.


Although there is no single way that I help people to reconcile with a rejecting partner, let me give you a glimpse into one alternative to talking about problems. Sometimes, all it takes is one idea to get your relationship moving forward again.


Using the example I talked about where you are bored and your spouse is satisfied with things as they are, you know that talking about it is not going to do anything but make your relationship more distant. So, it is important to ask yourself the right question. Most people ask themselves, “How can I get my spouse to talk to me about this problem?” These people have become stuck on their method instead of focusing on the goal. The right question is not “How can I make this method work that is not working,” but “How can I motivate my spouse to be more interested in doing what I want to do, WITHOUT this method?” That question will open up your mind to other possibilities and get you unstuck.


So, in this case, the question would be “How can I get my spouse to want to date more without having a discussion about it?” If you combine this question with having the right mindset of thinking like a single person, you will come up with some ideas. Some possibilities might be:

·       working on becoming more attractive to your spouse,

·       using good connection skills when you talk so your spouse will want to talk with you more,

·       not spending too much time with your spouse at home, so that your spouse will not be full of you already,

·       working to have similar interests as your spouse so you have more in common, and

·       making dating more interesting for your spouse by doing things that your spouse wants to do.


If you had just focused on how to get your spouse to talk about dating more, you would not have come up with these ideas which are likely to be more effective. Why would they be more effective? Because each of them actually would increase your spouse’s desire to spend time with you. Willing and wanting are two very different things. Whenever you can create the desire in your spouse to do something, it will not be work for him or her. Talking your spouse into doing something might get your spouse to be willing, but usually at the cost of desire.


The same kind of self questions can be asked about many situations. For example, “How can I get my spouse to want to give up his or her affair?” “How can I get my spouse to want to make a budget?” “How can I get my spouse to want to come to bed with me?” And so forth.


I have never heard of anyone wanting to be in a relationship so that they can talk about problems. Saying that you are good at talking about problems in a dating profile is not likely to attract anyone. People actually don’t want to have to talk about problems. That alone should tell you that talking about problems is going to be work, no matter how necessary it is. Your relationship has to be good already to absorb the additional stress of talking about problems. Talking about problems in a relationship that is already stressed most often leads to conflict or avoidance. Both are distancing behaviors. Before talking about problems, we need to make sure that we make our relationship as valuable as possible for our spouse


Knowing how to talk about problems is a good skill and an important skill. In my book, Connecting through “Yes!” I even lay out a multistep method for talking about problems. It isn’t enough to know how to talk about problems, you must also know when to talk about problems. The time to talk about problem is NOT when you want to or when you feel like it. The time for talking about problems is only when the three conditions for talking about problems are met. If they are, then you can use your good problem solving skills. If they aren’t, then go about working on your desired outcome some other way.


Talking to your spouse about problems should NOT be your first step to improving your relationship unless you are pretty sure your spouse wants the same outcome as you. The counseling approach to relationship problems is to get you and your spouse to talk about problems. If you are doing that, you need to take a hard look at whether that is actually making your relationship better or worse.


The coaching approach to relationship problems is to teach you how to create more desire in your spouse to be with you and to have a good relationship with you—much as you would if you were interested in someone if you were single. There is no couple’s work. Couples’ coaching is only for learning skills, not for dealing with problems. You deal with problems in individual coaching by learning to create attraction, build connection, and use good boundaries.


Unlike talking about problems with an unmotivated spouse, the coaching approach  eliminates arguing, decreases negative interactions, and increases positive ones to create win-win changes for you and your spouse.

“Talking about problems” is one of those marriage mindsets that tend not to be very productive. By starting to think more like a single person, you can focus on what really matters to your spouse and create a better relationship for yourself in the process—without needing to find someone new to do it with. People do not want to lose someone they are attracted to and enjoy spending time with, even if that person has respectful standards. Just like a secure single person, you can become that way in your marriage.


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.