What’s a wife do when her husband won’t talk?
How do you grow when one part of the relationship is disengaged?
Communication was one of our top issues as a newlywed couple.
From a survey I conducted early this year, and more chats with wives, I have discovered it’s a hot-spot for many couples, particularly those in the early years of marriage.
So today I want to dissect the options that a wife has when her husband won’t talk.
Update; After getting feedback about this post, I just want to clarify, again, that I write to wives, specifically those in the early years of marriage. If you’ve been married for a long period of time, some of the tips and ideas I share here might feel light for your chronic issues. Also, just because I encourage wives doesn’t mean husbands gallop away, responsibility-free. Nope. Pretty much everything I say here can be flipped and applied to the husband as well.
There are different reasons why a man might shut down; I won’t get into that today. But I’ll share from our experience and extract lessons, and hopefully give you ideas on what to do in your situation.
Let’s set a little background first;
– Newlywed often means new problems. Not problems in the dreadful sense. Mostly in the context of learning how to do life as two people who are supposed to become one.
– Most newlywed guys have no idea how much they will be required to converse and engage in marriage.
My husband had no clue of my deep need for dialogue (and neither did I.) And how incapable he was of meeting that need right away. It was something he would have to work at. While everything within him screamed, “you are failing her as a husband.” Not the easiest mental process to navigate.
– Many newlywed wives don’t know how to extend mercy when their husbands fail.
Oh, we can talk the talk, but walking the walk? That’s a glitcher.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the lessons – three things to consider when your husband won’t talk to you and what I’ve learned from hindsight.
1. Consider how he communicates and adapt.
Sometimes it’s not that a husband won’t talk; it’s that his idea of talk is different from his wife’s.
My concept of talking was “let’s analyze and work through this issue and resolve it completely, immediately after it happens.”
My husband’s approach was “leave me alone until I’ve figured out what is troubling you. Once I know how to fix it, then we can address it. If I can’t figure it out..we will not.”
At this point, we were doing what we knew, and we hoped our style would be satisfactory to the other.
But it wasn’t. At that point, we could have adjusted and saved ourselves a lot of trouble.
For my husband, it’s not that he didn’t want to talk to me. In fact, we could talk about issues but only up to a certain point. The moment he ran into something he couldn’t figure out (and there’s a lot of things a newlywed guy doesn’t know) he switched off.
After years of marriage, I would learn the reason he switched off was because not being able to meet my needs was a big scary deal.
But most brides don’t get that; that the reason their husband is hiding is not because they hate you, it’s because he is scared he can’t love you well.
My aggressiveness about resolving everything as it happens only served to heighten his sense of helplessness. Which then would trigger his defenses. The walls would go up and I would get upset because then I would think he didn’t care.
Which would make me afraid and anxious and set me on badgering-mode; trying to get him to give me what I wanted so I could feel safe and happy.
An easy fix to our drama? Tone down my eagerness to talk, so my husband didn’t feel so threatened. See this post How humility changed the course of our marriage.
I know that feels horrid when all you want is your guy to talk to you. And I am not trying to minimize your feelings or efforts. But I am trying to help you see how you can draw out your husband.
I am writing this post after nine years of marriage; this, my friend, is wisdom from hindsight. We’ve had time to study and understand one another. I wish there were a shortcut to toss your way, but there isn’t.
Studying your husband’s communication style and reading his needs is something that takes a lot of time and a lot of Jesus. But if you embrace the student’s seat and allow God to tutor your heart, you eventually get there.
2. Create boundaries if husband won’t talk
My sweet and I went through a lot of post-wedding tune ups, and not a single session recommended hard rules for better communication. It’s like we all assumed that knowing what to do was enough to change behavior.
But the more we knew what to do, the more our (okay, my) expectations grew, and the more my husband felt cornered and upset. Because now it wasn’t just one person – his wife -harping on his failure, it was five!
Indeed we learned and grew from our post-wedding counseling, but I would soon learn that “people tend to embrace change when the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the pain of changing” – paraphrase To Love Honor Vacuum
Boundaries within marriage is a touchy topic, and I spend some time talking about them in this post – 5 guidelines for creating boundaries with a difficult spouse. The premise is of the post? Marriage is not where common decency and standard rules of engagement go to die.
It’s not okay for your husband to shut you out of his life. And it’s not healthy for you to badger, even mistreat him in efforts to break him out of his cave
In our marriage, I came up with the limits, based on research I had done and present issues. Thankfully, my husband agreed to have a sit-down and hear what I had to say.
Not every husband who has barricaded his heart will lend their ears or mind to their wife. In that case, a wife should consider other means, like writing an email or a letter to her husband. Or she can bring in an intermediary (see #3)
To give you an idea of what boundaries might look like, here’s what we agreed on.
(I say “agreed on” because I phrased it as a discussion, not a lecture. The conversation was brief, no teary emotions, and I asked his opinion. He probably spoke two words the whole time, but the goal was to create an “we” environment, not “me vs you.”
So we agreed;
1. I would henceforth respect his wishes when he said he needed time to think. I had to back off and quit badgering him. That was hard to do.
2. I would avoid bringing up too many issues in one conversation. Even if we had like five legit things to wrestle through, we could only address one topic at a time.
3 If he evoked #1, he was automatically responsible for bringing back the issue to the table at the agreed time of his choosing. Since difficult conversations were not his favorite cup of tea, it was hard to follow through.
But his desire for a warmer tender relationship would motivate him to keep his word. Once we cleared up the fog and he saw his responsibility, it was clear what he was risking when he skipped his responsibility.
And this is where the rubber meets the road. Where the spouse begins to feel the pinch of their lack of change. I did my best to live at peace with my husband – I served, was courteous e.t.c – but the broken undertone was still very present. There was no pretense.
As a wife, it’s important to step back and let the season take its course. The only way you can “step back” in a healthy manner is through prayer and intimacy with God.
You have to pull out the Word of God, spend a lot of time in prayer and refuse to bury yourself with work and other distraction. Otherwise you will slide into passive-aggressiveness/anger/resentment/living parallel lives.
There is no formula to this, only a broken dependency on God. God will show you what to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s a step by step, moment by moment journey and the wife who longs for health in her marriage will trust God to lead her.
3 Seek outside counsel
There are no two ways about it. If your husband won’t talk to you, then he needs to talk to someone else. And if he won’t do that too, then you need to speak to someone.
It’s not a popular choice, particularly in the early years of marriage because we want everyone to think we are happy. And of course, it’s okay to want happy.
But happy is a result of solid choices, not an automatic endowment. At least by the seventh day of marriage, you should figure that out.
See this post on mentoring – 9 things every couple should know about mentoring
From hindsight, here’s what I have learned about communication blues.
– It’s easier to resolve issues or get your husband to talk if he can sense goodwill.
Because we can be right to the moon and back, but it won’t make a difference unless we close the communication gap.
Being friendly, kind and courteous doesn’t make you a pushover. You can be kind and resolute. You can be friendly and firm. It goes back to nurturing a close intimate relationship with God so He leads you and molds you.
– Sometimes we are too concerned with preserving the image of “our good Christian marriage” we would rather live in a lie.
He ignores you, refuses to address issues that are important to you, mocks your tears and forbids you to talk to your pastor/mentor.
You think you should do something, but you are too afraid of what people will think. You want to hold on to the good Christian marriage reputation.
If this is your line of thinking, let me expand it further; you missed the “good marriage” part. What your husband is doing is not good and there’s nothing to protect.
As spouses, we need to come to this place where our desire to please God is more significant than our desire to please man. Your first priority, as a wife, is not to make your husband happy; it’s to make God happy.
Unhealthy behavior, a willful neglect of vows; these do not represent God’s heart for your marriage. As your husband’s helpmeet, God expects you do something about it.
You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. Hebrews 3:13
– It takes time to change.
Here’s the truth. My husband still feels like withdrawing when we have difficulties. He’s still a three or four lines kind of guy; the fewer the words he has to speak in a tense situation, the happier he is.
I still want to bring up five things at a time and feel frustrated when we can’t address everything right away and be done with it. Thank God we have fewer things to disagree on now but my point is, you have to be patient.
I can’t emphasize that enough. Many wives think, “but it’s been three years he still hasn’t changed, and I don’t think he ever will!” Well, we are nine years in and we haven’t got it together either.
Despite his feelings, my husband now chooses to do the right thing, regardless. A long time ago, I used to insist on changed feelings too. But there’s a lot of stuff we do in marriage not because we like it but because it’s the right thing to do.
So if your husband is making some type of effort, is continually trying to improve, don’t hold him hostage. Give him credit. Notice where he’s grown or trying to. Keep giving grace.
– Some things will take your changing, not his.
Marriage is a revealer; we are learning ourselves as much as we are learning our spouse. My husband did not know he had stonewalling tendencies until he got married.
I did not think I was a needy over-talking girl until I got married. Some of these base things remain, and I honestly believe it’s God’s grand scheme of helping us rely on Him, not our spouses. If your husband met all your needs, how much would you need God? I bet waay less.
And that’s my miss-mash of thoughts about this difficult topic. What do you think? How can a couple work through stonewalling/over-talking? If you’ve wrestled through this, how did you do it? Let’s chat in Comments.
Also make sure to read the follow up post, written by my husband – Communication in Marriage: A Husbands’ Perspective
Are you wrestling with feelings of overwhelm in your new marriage?
Is shutting down, passive-aggressiveness common place in your relationship? Do you want to bring back the feelings of closeness and warmth you once enjoyed? Or maybe you just want to love better, create the marriage of your dreams. Your marriage can change! Get on the road to a great marriage when you pick up my book Blues to Bliss: Creating Your Happily Ever After In The Early Years. Buy it > Amazon I Barnes & Noble I PDF I
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