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Relationships can be complicated, mainly when it’s time to work through the challenges that come with them.
Everyone always says, “Communication is key.” But what happens when your partner won’t communicate?
You bring up an issue with them, and they immediately shut down or try to avoid the conversation. They may push back, try to change the subject, or just not reply at all.
That, of course, has the opposite effect to what is intended. It doesn’t defuse the situation or resolve any of the problems at all.
Instead, it just throws more gasoline on the fires of the conflict, inciting anger and perpetuating the argument.
It can make you feel isolated, lonely, and hopeless that there will be no resolution since there is no open communication about the conflict.
This problem is not limited to just men or husbands either, though it is commonly presented as a “man thing.” Many women may also try to avoid unpleasant conversations that they don’t want to have.
It can also happen in same-sex relationships where one person is avoidant about conflict, and the other wants to dive straight into it to try to find a solution.
Some people describe this kind of behavior as abusive. It may or may not be. People aren’t that emotionally intelligent. Sometimes they just don’t want to talk about something.
It might be that the person just doesn’t have anything to say, feels they’ve already talked about it, or that talking about it won’t help anything.
That’s different than someone who uses the silent treatment as a means to coerce, punish, or force someone to take any action they don’t want to take.
If the silence is coercive or punishing, then it falls more into abuse territory and is a red flag to be wary of. That type of treatment is unacceptable.
But let’s assume it’s not abusive. What can you do about a partner who won’t talk about anything?
1. Approach the situation diplomatically.
Tensions and anger run high when things aren’t working how they are supposed to be. It’s easy to speak harshly when you’re feeling hurt or as though your partner is not paying attention to what you have to say.
The problem is that anger and an aggressive stance are virtually guaranteed to bring out a defensive posture in your partner, which is going to shut down communication almost immediately.
Try coming at the situation from a diplomatic angle of neutrality or one of caring. Explain how the impact of the situation concerns you and that you feel you need their help to come to a meaningful conclusion.
In this approach, you are presenting the issue as a problem that the two of you are working to resolve.
Remember, in a relationship, it shouldn’t be you against your partner. It should be you and your partner against the problem.
2. Start on a positive note.
As soon as you launch into a speech about how your marriage is failing and all the ways your husband is contributing to that breakdown, you set the tone for the entire conversation.
By starting with a negative, your husband may not see a good enough reason to contribute to the conversation – after all, everything’s going to sh*t and it’s all his fault, so why bother trying to fix it?
By starting positively and confirming how much you care about him and value the relationship, you give him a reason to want to make things right between you. He will feel loved and appreciated and that can reflect back to you and make him more willing to engage.
Try to keep the conversation positive too. Whenever possible, mention some of the things he does well or how you are grateful to have him in your life. It can’t all be doom and gloom because that’s a recipe for him shutting down and withdrawing.
3. Accept your role in the problem.
The way you approach a conversation can dramatically impact how open your husband is willing to be during it. If you position the problem you’re having in your relationship as something that is entirely his fault, he’s quite likely to shut down and refuse to talk about it.
Remember that no problem exists in isolation, and even if it seems to you that this particular problem is entirely of his own making, you can’t put all the blame on him.
Instead, try to identify the role you played in getting to where you are now. Accept that role openly to your husband. Admitting to your own faults will make it feel less like you are attacking him and more like you are open to finding a solution together.
Taking some responsibility is also an act of vulnerability in itself. You are acknowledging how you are far from perfect which might be enough for your husband to admit to his own shortcomings.
Mutual blame-sharing can open the door to dialogue. If all you ever do is attack and never concede, can you honestly expect your husband to want to talk about things with you?
4. Express your hurt honestly and openly.
You might be tempted to try to hide how much it hurts you when your husband won’t talk to you. You might put on a brave face and pretend like you’re okay when you’re actually crying on the inside.
Let those tears show on the outside too. It’s not manipulative to express your feelings, as long as those feelings are genuine. If you feel sad, don’t go to another room to cry to avoid making a scene.
Your emotions are a form of communication that is as effective as any words could ever be. When your husband sees how upset you are about the situation, it might activate his empathy and get him to comfort you, and maybe even to talk about the thing you wanted to talk about.
Your honest emotions show your husband just how serious things are getting. He may not realize how unstable your marriage is. If you keep going through the same cycle of trying to discuss your problems, getting rebuffed or ignored, withdrawing for a while, and then allowing things to go back to ‘normal,’ he may not understand how much hurt you are in or how close you might be to ending things.
What’s more, by showing your own vulnerability in this way, you communicate to him that it is okay to be open with your feelings; that he is in a judgment-free zone where he can express himself without fear of being ridiculed.
Remember, though, that you should never fake tears just to get his attention. That’s dishonest and manipulative and will only cause more problems than it solves.
5. Ask questions to help you understand.
You don’t know what’s going on inside your husband’s head, but it would help if you did. So you can ask a simple question to get a better idea of what he is thinking and feeling:
Can you help me understand what you’re thinking?
This is a very neutral question; it doesn’t make assumptions and it doesn’t assign blame to anyone. All it does is seek to clarify.
You might phrase it differently depending on what you want to know:
Can you help me understand what is upsetting you?
Can you help me understand your point of view on this?
This question can work to get him talking because it is essentially a request for help. You are asking your husband to help you, and he may respond more positively to this than to statements that assert he has to open up. In other words, avoid saying things like:
You need to talk to me.
If you don’t open up, how am I supposed to know what you are thinking?
Both of these put pressure on him and insist that if he doesn’t talk, he’s somehow to blame for the misunderstanding.
6. Leave enough space for your partner to communicate.
People think and feel in different ways. Not everyone can think easily or quickly.
It might be no issue for you to consider your feelings and voice them in minutes. You may have also been thinking about the problem much longer than your partner.
Other people need much more time to process their emotions, consider what’s being said, consider the options, and then express themselves.
It’s frustrating and overwhelming if you’re a slow thinker being pushed by a fast thinker. You can’t keep up because things are just moving too quickly for you, like trying to swim upriver in a fast-moving stream.
Does your partner have enough time to consider their thoughts and feelings to be able to talk about the situation?
They may need more time to work through things. If you think this may be the case, you can try the following approach.
They can let you know that they need time to think about it. You set aside the discussion for now. And then they are expected to bring the situation back up to resolve it within a reasonable time frame, like a week.
That gives them the freedom to think about the situation in a way that works for them while still pushing toward a meaningful resolution.
7. Schedule appropriate time to communicate.
There is such a thing as too much communication. Continually going back to the same problem over and over, rehashing it, revisiting it, and reconsidering it can creep into the realm of rumination.
Dwelling on that issue continually will spur negative feelings, which will come through in communication, and cause unnecessary conflicts that don’t go anywhere.
Scheduling a time to discuss and consider these problems may be a better solution.
Agree upon a definitive start and end time to work through the problem and then adhere to it. That way, you both know what to expect, and you’re actively working on finding the solution together.
That gives your partner time to consider the problem, what they need to say or talk about, and come up with potential solutions to the problem.
It can also be much less overwhelming when you know there is a stop time, rather than spending all day arguing about the same problem with no end in sight.
8. Consider why he may not be communicating.
Many people abide by the advice, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
It may be that your partner is choosing not to talk because they don’t have anything good to say. They may feel that saying what they actually think or feel will result in more conflict. Rather than make the situation worse, or potentially better, they instead choose to remain silent.
It may also be that they feel punished for being honest in relationship conflicts. No one wants to be attacked with their own words, have them twisted, or used in a different context than intended.
Being honest about one’s emotions requires vulnerability, and the words spoken in that moment of honesty can be used as a savage weapon when that person is feeling vulnerable.
They may be choosing not to be vulnerable because their words are used against them.
9. Realize that some people just don’t have the need to talk.
Nothing is more frustrating than being the target of a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a message we hear constantly…
“Talk about it. Talk about it. Why won’t you talk about it? Do you need to talk about it? You should talk about it. You need to talk about it. You’ll feel better!”
What if that’s not true? What if you already did talk about it a dozen times over and still don’t feel better? What if you are a person who doesn’t experience any kind of catharsis from talking about it?
Not everyone feels the need to talk. It could be that your partner is just all talked out about the situation and has nothing else meaningful to say. They may be emotionally and mentally exhausted from talking about it.
And that’s not limited to talking about problems. Perhaps they had a rough day at work, or they’re having a difficult time in their personal life, and they just don’t want to think about it.
If you’ve already spent all day thinking or talking about it, the last thing you’d want to do is go head home and talk about it more.
Sometimes people just communicate at different levels.
10. End with a thank you.
Whenever your husband talks about a problem – or anything whatsoever that requires emotional openness and vulnerability – thank him for his honesty at the end of the conversation.
Even if you didn’t like hearing everything he had to say, make sure that he knows that him being honest was the most important thing, and that you recognize how difficult that can be for him.
The more you can frame the experience as something positive and worthwhile, the more likely he is to engage it those sorts of conversations again in future.
It feels good to get something off your chest, and whilst he may not feel completely free to do so right now, with your encouragement, he may start to see the benefits of opening up and discussing things with you.
Perhaps he has a toxic masculinity issue to get over where he doesn’t see it as acceptable for a man to talk about his feelings. He might believe it will diminish him in your eyes; that you’ll see him as weak. Do everything you can to reassure him that this is not the case and that you greatly appreciate every effort he makes to open up.
Remember, it will be baby steps at first and he won’t want to open up all the time no matter how you approach things. That’s okay – it’s the overall direction these conversations are heading in that matters most.
11. Seek professional help if you need it.
It may be that the issue is something larger than what you and your partner can handle together. A relationship counselor can provide additional insight and be a neutral observer to guide you through the problem.
Communication is one of the biggest killers of relationships, so relationship counselors are well-versed in helping couples work through those issues.
We highly recommend the online counseling service from Relationship Hero where you and your partner can speak to an expert via video, phone, and text chat to help resolve the issue(s) you are facing.
You may also like:
- 10 Tips For Couples To Improve The Communication In Their Relationship
- How To Fight Fair In A Relationship: 10 Rules For Couples To Follow
- Is Arguing Healthy In A Relationship? (+ How Often Do Couples Fight?)
- How To Make Up After A Fight And Stop Arguing In Your Relationship
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry
- 8 Ways Men And Women Communicate Differently
- 7 Simple Tips To Be Happy In An Unhappy Marriage
- How To Overcome Your Fear Of Confrontation And Deal With Conflict (for your husband)