Are you married to the strong and silent type? Do you wish that he would open up a bit?
Many women feel emotionally stifled in their marriages because we just don’t seem to be able to reach our husband’s heart. So today I thought I’d get a male perspective on this! So many women blog about marriage, so I was thrilled a year and a half ago to run into Kevin A. Thompson, a pastor who says some really insightful things (I’ve linked to lots of his posts on my Facebook page!) He recently wrote an amazing book called Friends, Partners, and Lovers which will make your marriage much richer! And I invited him today to talk about how to bridge this emotional connection gap.
“I just wish he would talk to me.”
Her voice broke and her lower lip quivered. On the outside, they looked like the perfect couple–married for 40 years, the model for many young couples in our church. But on the inside things weren’t as good. They didn’t have a bad marriage, but a level of intimacy was missing because he didn’t consistently talk to her. They would discuss a news story or he would listen as she reported the latest news about the grandchildren, but the deep, heart-to-heart conversations which define a close intimacy were missing. She wanted more.
She is not alone. One of the most consistent complaints I hear from women is that their husbands won’t talk to them. Wives enter marriage assuming a continual dialogue in which they will share thoughts and emotions, but instead, they experience a monologue in which they continually speak and their husbands only listen (hopefully they are listening). So they come to a man who speaks for a living asking, “How can I get my man to talk?”
A Surprising Fact about Communication
I’m glad my wife isn’t in the room when I’m asked this question. Jenny often feels the same desire that other women feel. While I’m quick to speak on stage, I’m not so quick-tongued at home. She often desires more conversation than I give. But I’ve noticed something about myself which is likely true of most men–I want to talk more than I do. There have been many times in which I desired a meaningful conversation with my wife, but the talk never happened. On the verge of opening up my heart, I’ve hesitated. Many times it’s out of my own fear, but on occasion, it’s because of something she does. While desiring me to talk, she unknowingly does things which prevent the conversation.
Ultimately, I’m responsible for talking. When I said “I do,” part of the doing was revealing my full heart to my wife. This demands honest, heartfelt conversation. Yet there are things my wife, and every wife, can do in order to create a climate where a husband is more likely to talk. It begins with a basic understanding that most men desire to intimately connect with their wives. They want to talk. Some don’t know how. Some are too afraid. Some lack the courage or initiative. But some conversation is hindered because wives are unknowingly preventing the conversation.
5 Ways to Encourage Your Man to Talk
1. Be Honest.
Do you really desire for your husband to talk more? For many women, the answer is no. While they say they desire more communication from their husband, what they actually desire is for their husband to listen more. This is a reasonable desire, but it is different from wanting your husband to talk. One must identify the difference. If you desire your husband to listen more, this isn’t the article for you (but this one on how to get your man to listen may be!). Others say they want more conversation, but they don’t truly desire to hear their husband’s fears, weaknesses, or doubts. You must honestly understand your desire in order to properly move toward it.
2. Listen quietly.
People communicate differently. Some are quick to share their thoughts while others are more hesitant. Some are comfortable being looked in the eye while others shy away.
Beyond individual differences, the sexes also communicate differently. Men often take turns speaking with one person clearly talking and one clearly listening. Women often weave conversation, with moments of both talking at the same time. Women generally talk to create connection while men tend to talk to create independence. Women often open their eyes wider while listening while men tend to squint. Women often talk more personally the closer they physically are to the listener while men often become more guarded when physically close.
You must identify your spouse’s communication style and do things to promote it. If your husband needs physical space to reveal his heart, reject the temptation to move toward him when he begins to speak. When your husband speaks, refrain from talking over him or automatically speaking the first time he is silent. Many men pause before continuing their next thought. Women must avoid the temptation of quickly taking the silence as their cue to start talking. If this is a problem, slowly count to five after your husband stops speaking. In many cases, he will add an additional thought. (Note: men often drip information and the more intimate details come later. If a wife continually speaks as soon as she thinks her husband is finished talking, she is likely missing out on his most personal thoughts.) Until a woman recognizes her husband communicates differently than her, she will likely experience frustration over the differences.
3. Create safety.
We can talk to anyone about anything if we feel safe. Nothing prevents communication like the fear of having our words used against us. The absence of communication is often a sign of fear. Most often, it’s a fear we bring with us into marriage. Parents who divorced, authority figures who shamed us, or past relationships that were unhealthy can scar us in a way that creates fear regarding opening up our hearts. Our own past failures can add to the failure. Words carelessly spoken, fights that became personal, and jokes that publicized inside information can hinder communication for years. If you want your spouse to communicate, you must protect their hearts. Prove that you will not use their words against them, belittle them, or shame them. If you can create safety, your husband will likely share far more than you realize.
4. Join him in activity.
There’s an old saying, “women enjoy communication while men enjoy recreation.” While it’s not fully true, there is a key concept in the statement. Men most often talk while doing things. When talking to one another, men rarely speak face to face. Instead, we talk side by side. Consider two men in a fishing boat, riding in a golf cart, or sitting in a duck blind. In each scenario, men are likely talking, but they aren’t face-to-face. They are side-by-side. This is how men better communicate. We open our hearts in the midst of doing other things. Women often talk while looking the other person in the eye. If you want your man to talk, join him in doing something. Attend the game, go out to the garage, take a drive. Good conversation often defines quality time, but quality time is only the result of a quantity of time. Find ways to do things together and your husband will likely speak more.
5. Study what works.
If you truly desire more conversation, study your husband the way he studies his hobby. Deer hunters will go to great lengths to lure the right deer into his sights. Do the same with your man. Try things and see how they go. Write down what works and what doesn’t. Reflect on good conversations. What made them good? What did you do or not do? What was the setting? Why did he open up in that moment when he hasn’t in others? Do the same with bad conversations. Why did he suddenly shut down? Why wouldn’t he reveal his heart? Good communication is a process. Fail and succeed, but try. As you learn, you will better understand your role in the process.
Own What Is Yours, But Nothing More
Don’t mistake this article as a way to control your man. It’s not your job and it can’t be done. He is responsible for him. But there are some things every woman can do in order to create a climate where her husband is more likely to talk. You should own this. Learn what you tend to do which hinders good communication. Figure out what works.
Few things can change a marriage like good communication. When a couple learns to openly reveal their thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes, there are few things they cannot face. If you want your man to talk, he likely desires to talk more too. The challenge is to figure out how to make that happen. It starts with these five steps.
What about you? Do any of those tips resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments!