What to do When Your Husband Checks Out


Many couples have a tension that happens every night when a husband comes home from work. It doesn’t matter if his wife stays at home or she works, but most nights, in most houses, this scene plays out: He walks in the door, drops his stuff, says hi (or says nothing), walks onto the back porch, pulls out his phone or sits down in front of the TV and checks out. 

What do you do?

This is a question Katie or I get a lot.

If this happens in your house, here are a few things you can do:

1. Have a conversation. Most couples don’t know what their spouse needs or wants from something. Many men do not understand the stress a wife feels from being home all day with kids and having zero adult interactions. Men also don’t understand the pressure a wife feels who works outside of the home, while trying to run a house at the same time.

Women often struggle to understand the pressure that a man is feeling and how he needs to disconnect from work so that he can connect at home and be emotionally present.

2. Set expectations. When you finally talk about how you are feeling and what you want, you need to move towards setting expectations.

What do you each expect life to be like when you get home from work? What do you each need to be able to engage as a family and as a couple as you head into the evening? Most couples aren’t sure what would make a successful night at home, so talking through that is incredibly important.

What often happens in relationships is we have a picture in our head of what will happen, what a night or experience will be like. We build this expectation up, but we never share it with our spouse. Then when it doesn’t happen, we hold our spouse responsible for not fulfilling the picture in our head that we never verbalized.

That isn’t fair. But it is incredibly common.

3. Learn how to unwind on the way home (or some other way). The reality is that after a full day of working, meetings, running errands, helping kids, you need and want to unwind. You want to check out. I get it. Which means you need to figure out how to do that. For me, when I’m driving home I will use the quiet time to let go of things at work, use some time to pray. If I’m working from my home office all day, I’ll use the time between work and being off from  my work by walking around our neighborhood or working out.

You need to figure out what that is for you. What will you need to do so that you can let go of work and focus on being at home?

For many people, we don’t know how to unwind without technology, alcohol or food, and that leads to some incredibly unhealthy lifestyles. I remember talking recently with a leader about how to rest and recharge, and I asked him, “What gives you life? What fires you up and gives you energy after you’re done?”

Stop for a minute.

How would you answer those questions? Do you know?

4. Learn how to be engaged. On top of not knowing how to unwind or recharge, many men do not know how to engage relationally with their spouse and kids. Most men grew up watching a father (if he was around) who was simply there. He did not engage emotionally, relationally or spiritually.

Engaging with your family is being interested, being present. Not being on your phone. For most parents, if they stayed off their phone and social media until after their kids went to bed, there would be an enormous change in their family.

When you sit down for dinner (and this is still the best way to engage your family because you are all sitting down), no electronics, and talk about your day.

I’d recommend having some questions prepared. Things like:

  1. What was your favorite part of today?
  2. What did you love about school or sports?
  3. What made you sad today?
  4. Were your feelings hurt at any time today? Do you want to talk about it?
  5. How can I pray for you?

While you may get grunts and “I don’t know”, the answers are not as important as your kids and wife knowing that you are interested and making an effort.