One of the most frustrating problems I hear about from my clients revolves around the persistent breakdowns in communications between a husband and wife. I often hear from some of my female clients who complain that their husband won’t open up and talk to them. When I press them for more details, they explain that their guy will banter back and forth on occasion, but most of the time he just shuts down and will get annoyed or even angry when attempts are made to open up the dialogue.
Fixing Communication Problems in Your Marriage Starts With Understanding Differences
Now, if you think about it, it would at first seem like the whole problem of communication breakdowns could be easily fixed, right? I mean, if a couple are not talking much, then the solution seems obvious. Just talk more, right?
Of course talking is not the sole solution to making people happy. So how do you go about making your husband happy with you? I explored some ideas in this post:
But as most people realize, the solution of telling people to make more time for each other and “talk more” is not really much of a solution. It assumes the husband and wife are always motivated to engage in genuine and constructive dialogue and that they are aligned on when they should talk and how to talk to each other.
It also assumes that men and women are similar in their communication preferences and that is simply not true. Women tend to seek connections with their husbands by talking about things which are impacting them on an emotional level. Men, on the other hand, are quite different about reaching out and making that emotional connection women emotionally hunger for. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told, “he doesn’t have a clue“.
I am sure you have also heard of the phrase, “speak your mind“. What I find interesting is more often than not, women will literally share what is on their mind and sometimes while their thoughts may appear to be somewhat scrambled from the perspective of a “man”, their desire and willingness to share their thoughts and feelings is a perfectly natural response to the situation or emotional challenge they may be facing. By speaking their mind, the wife is able to root out internal conflicts and better process the many notions they may be reflecting on. As a result of this process, women will often come to terms with what they are feeling and what they should do or think about something.
The husband is less likely to share what is on his mind. He tends to be less willing to open up and share any of the “internalizing” that actually may be happening within his mind. Part of this behavior is learned behavior. Maybe his father or mentors were the strong silent type. “Don’t show them you are hurting” is a Man’s motto.
Another part of why men tend not to open up is in part due to their preferred attachment style. Some guys practice what I would call the “avoidance attachment style”. A guy may actually keep things close to the vest, so to speak, because they do not want to open themselves up or become or be perceived as vulnerable. This type of attachment style may cause them to be less comfortable with making commitments and more likely to avoid intimacy.
Now I might get some argument from the guys out there, but I think women tend to have a healthier and more proactive way of dealing with communications. In my opinion, women, in general, probably have a more advanced way of creating connections with people around them due to their preferred communication style. Unfortunately, sometimes when you get a husband and wife coming at each other with a different communication preference, you get disconnects.
Guys, listen up!
You need to realize that for most women, talking to you is multi-faceted experience.
It is their way of creating that bond that is so important in a marriage. It is a way to express their love and connect. It is their way to share what is on their mind and work out worries and anxieties that might be bottled up or to collaborate with the one they love as they seek to figure things out for the future.
A lot guys, on the other hand, have a different take on communication in general. They are more choosy when they are ready to open up. They often prefer to go within themselves and avoid talking about things that otherwise might make them uncomfortable or anxious. If they have insecurities or anxieties, the thought of talking about them a lot is usually the last thing they want to do. They often need time to work it out in a quiet place or through a distraction. Hence, their communication preference may very well be to bunker down and ride it out. The thought of sharing a lot of these intimate feelings going on inside their mind make them uncomfortable and trying to get a guy to talk about things before they are ready is likely to backfire.
Husbands Prefer to Act on Things – Not Talk it Out
Women often talk to share and explore their feelings. For example, if they had a problem at work, they may very well want to talk it all out. Men on the other hand, may hear a few sentences from their wife about these problems and issues and immediately start searching for a solution. Or if the conversation is going on too long, the guy could be searching for an escape. They may be thinking, “enough already, just get to the point”.
When you husband starts acting distant, you have some choices. I discuss your options here:
A guy will tend to listen, somewhat impatiently to what you are saying and then immediately switch over to their problem solving mode. They will internalize what their wife or girlfriend is saying, then dissect it and offer up a solution.
In most of these cases, your husband may be trying to genuinely help you with the situation you are talking about. But on another level, they could be ready for the conversation to be over. So when they offer up their solution, but then the conversations takes a bend into another direction, they may possibly feel that their solution was ignored and meanwhile it seems that they are still stuck in this endless conversation that they have long been ready to escape.
Why is this? Why is it that your husband can easily shut down on the communication front? Did you do something wrong? Is there something wrong with your husband? These questions are not easy to answer because there are so many variables and individual situations and preferences involved. But more often than not, men are not the great communicators of our species.
Men tend to be geared toward problem solving and value self reliance. Women tend to be geared toward problem sharing and value collaboration. Now bear in mind, these are generalities, but they tend to be true across the population. Yet when a guy is confronted with a problem that his wife is sharing with him and realizes that his solution offered is seemingly rejected, he can shut down. And it doesn’t always have to be a problem or issue that his wife is bringing up. It could be she simply wants to talk and and connect.
So what is happening in this communication exchange that makes men and women misconnect? Not surprisingly, it is truly quite complex. In most of these situations, the husband’s wife is not unilaterally rejecting his advice. What the husband does not realize is that the wife is more motivated by simply talking about her situation and sharing information. It is more likely than not, she already knows the solution, if a solution is needed. She is more motivated by sharing her emotions and talking intimately about the situation, whatever it is. This brand of communication is how she feels fulfilled and emotionally connected.
Often, the husband does not get this. He is coming into this communication exchange from an entirely different perspective. All he hears is his wife telling him about something. He figures he has to solve it. He may also not be in the mood for a long conversation. He may have his mind on doing something all together different. But at the moment he has his wife in front of him pouring out her heart (indeed something he may be somewhat uncomfortable about depending on his attachment style).
So we end up having a disconnect which can lead to a deteriation of the quality of the conversation or even an abrupt end. If this happens enough over time, your husband may form certain coping strategies such as avoidance or quick “in and out” of conversations. After a while, the wife will come to believe that her husband’s simply does not want to talk to her. She feels ignored and not valued. She may also feel perplexed by why her loving husband seems so ill equipped to engage and be supportive. To the wife, it is almost like he wishes to avoid her. And she would be right to some extent. For most guys, it is not their first preference to sit down and have long, chatty, supportive and intimate conversations with their wife. They can quickly grow weary of such a trend. They may come to think of their wife as being too needy and her efforts at emotional attachment may make them feel antsy and uncomfortable. This reaction often has nothing to do with the wife, but more to do with the husband’s emotional attachment preferences. It could also be due to some baggage they brought into the relationship from previous experiences.
Husbands and Wives: Two Sides of the Same Coin
You see, men and women are two sides of the same coin. We are the same in so many ways, but can also be very different in a lot of ways. And one such way where differences manifest themselves is in the way men and women communicate with each other.
Unfortunately, when the husband and wife undergo communication snafus such as the kind I have described, it leads to them both feeling like they are not getting what they need from the exchange. The husband is looking to escape the onslaught of all these words from his wife and does not realize she is trying to emotionally connect and gain some loving support. What results is often a clumsy or hurried attempt by the husband to solve the problem. Or worse, diminish the importance of the matter. This can lead to preaching or “talking down” types of husband to wife communication exchanges.
Meanwhile, the wife is getting very little value from opening up and sharing. She become disatisfied and perhaps resentful. All she wanted was her husband to listen to her situation and engage a little. If he said just a few sentences and nodded sympathetically and offered some emotional and physical support (i.e. hugging) that would have made him into a communication genius.
But unfortunately, these little communication mishaps will mount up. Over time, this can create a domino effect and as a result, certain unhealthy patterns and routines emerge. This is the stage when women will come to me and tell me their husband seldom talks or opens up. And when he does, it usually is to tell her something like:
“You are getting too worked up over this”
“Haven’t I told you before that you need to do…”
I know it can sound primitive, but a lot of men need to retreat to their man cave and ponder over things and be alone. They may not be ready to process everything in a lengthy conversation. It is often not their first preference and a big reason is that men and women are wired differently. Their brain chemistry is different in some subtle ways.
Women gravitate more to words. This is how many women work through many of their problems. They want to share and process and seek to get in touch with their feelings. She may just need to be heard and so talking to her husband is a natural progression. Men gravitate more toward actions. They hear something from their wife, they figure they need to solve this problem and like a fireman they are motivated to put out the fire. But what often results is a total disconnection. The wife does not want to be doused with water (so to speak!), rather she wants to be bathed with attention and support. We are talking simple engagement. Yet, from the wife’s perspective, it is lacking.
Your Husband Needs to be Primed to Open Up
Men love to be doing something. They want to be engaged in an activity where they can act on the fire that burns inside them. And when they need their “cave time” to decompress, that is usually not a good time to try and get your man to open up or have lengthy discussions. So when the wife “comes a calling” ready to share and dialogue, and the husband is getting ready to go into his cave or god forbid is already in the “cave”, you can be assured any communication exchange is more likely to be combustible from a negative sense.
So the advice I offer to wives that contact me for help in these situations is to recognize these differences in communication preferences. Sometimes an effective tactic to employ with your husband is to do join him in an energetic, physical activity. It could be anything such as a fitness workout or anything physical. Men also tend to be more emotionally available after making love when their oxytocin is flowing. In these situation, he is more likely to open up and talk about things, because remember, many guy’s first impulse need is “to act” or be engaged in action.