“My boyfriend is ignoring me, should I ignore him too?”

Should a woman ignore a boyfriend who is ignoring her or are there other ways to handle the situation? We interviewed experts asking them this question, below are their answers.

Peggy Yoder, M.A., LMFT Associate:

When a boyfriend is ignoring his girlfriend, it’s likely one of two scenarios. The first scenario is that he has withdrawn temporarily to work something out in his head or cope with some frustration in the relationship. In this case, the best thing to do is respectfully give him his space and wait for him to re-engage. The second scenario is that he’s no longer interested in continuing in the relationship and instead of being straight forward and risking that an argument will ensue, he is choosing to ignore the woman hoping that she’ll get the message.

Anita Avedian, LMFT, CAMS-IV:

The sense of feeling unheard and invalidated when ignored in a relationship can be a painful and damaging experience. Although it may be tempting to react and escalate when you are ignored, consider these options instead:

  1. Give your partner space; your partner may be feeling overwhelmed and has not been able to communicate how they are feeling effectively.
  2. Self-soothe: practice taking a step back and self-soothe. This can include engaging in mindfulness, going for a walk, or doing something kind for yourself.
  3. Make sure your partner knows you care about them, and that you’ll listen when they are ready to reach out. “I can see you need some space right now. Let’s take a break and talk when you’re ready.”
  4. When you and your partner are ready to talk, use “I” statements and describe how you are feeling. “I feel so scared and hurt when I am ignored, because it’s so important for me to feel close to you. How can we make things better?”
  5. Avoid blame, accusations, and pointing fingers. Statements that begin with “you” often quickly escalate into greater arguments. Continue to focus on your feelings and empathy for your partner.
  6. For future conflicts, create a “safety word” with your partner that signifies when you or your partner are feeling overwhelmed and need a break. This will grant you and your partner a mutual agreement to later reconvene when you are both ready.

Ignoring, whether it’s used as a power play, a punishment, or a method of disengagement, is never advisable in a relationship. It can have significant psychologically damaging effects. According to John Gottman, stonewalling (withdrawal, ignoring, shutting down) in a relationship is considered one of the “Four Horsemen” that slowly disintegrates a relationship. It does not serve to resolve conflict and may lead to resentment and a sense of insecurity in the relationship.

Keep in mind that you and your partner are a team. How can you and your partner find healthier ways to communicate and solve problems together? Rather than working against one another, communicate with honesty and empathy. Remember that the idea isn’t to fully avoid arguments, but rather to learn how to navigate conflicts in a way that promotes understanding, mutual respect, and the feeling of being heard. This will promote a sense of security, stability and safety in the relationship.

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