How Not to Shutdown in an Argument with Your Spouse

By Chris Hammond, MS, IMH

Have you ever experienced this? You are in the middle of explaining a problem to your spouse and instead of listening to what you are saying, they are picking apart the most ridiculously details. Frustrated, you try to answer and return back to the problem but they are so stuck on the wrong word you used or your tone of voice that you don’t even want to continue. So instead of having another argument, you decide to shut down and keep your comments to yourself.

Now you have another problem on top of the original problem and so it builds until you just want to explode. While there is nothing wrong with deciding not to argue about semantics, not voicing your opinion can breed resentment which turns into anger and eventually bitterness. So what can you do? Instead of replaying the argument over and over from your perspective, try to replay the argument as if you were a third party looking from the outside. Then evaluate the situation with these points in mind.

Recognize. As you replay the argument, look for similar patterns of behavior from previous exchanges. For instance, if the argument involved another person is there a tone in your voice that indicates aggression, depression, obsession, or oppression towards that person? Could the way you say something trigger a response in your spouse because they are naturally inclined to defend that person? Recognize the non-verbal communication and see if there is a look, a lack of engagement, or a distraction that is also triggering a negative response. Oftentimes it is not the obvious answers that are the most revealing.

Remember. Replay the argument again and this time, take into consideration the timing of the argument. Did you confront your spouse while they were in the middle of something else? Did you confront them on the same day when a thousand other things went wrong? Were they overly tired and would have benefited from some sleep first? Remember the circumstances surrounding the argument and see if their response would have been similar no matter who was confronting them in that moment.

Restore. One more time, replay the argument and look for ways you could have resolved the conflict without shutting down. Sometimes it is as simple as telling your spouse that you will answer all of their questions at the end of your explanation or not entertaining their question at all until you are done speaking. Instead of refusing to get your point across, look for shorter ways to explain your point or start with your point first and then share the story. Restore your relationship rather than allowing an argument to tear it apart.

Having said all of this, there are some spouses who already have disengaged from their marriage and the distraction tactic is an effort to reinforce or justify their disengagement. If this has happened, then when you try to bring up the argument again, they will reply in a similar manner. If not, then review the three points and give them the benefit of the doubt.


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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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