is an Advice Column for Humans by One Human. We want to hear what you’re struggling with these days. Relationships? Breakups? Family? Friends? Jobs? Mental health? Anything.
I NEED HELP!! I need to find a way to teach my husband how to communicate with me!! Sure we talk, all the time. About NOTHING though. But we don’t talk about the important things. If it’s a problem issue, something is bothering us, if one of us has a problem with the other person, we do not discuss it. He doesn’t know how to have a conversation about any kind of topic that might make him feel uncomfortable or that might require he share his feelings. And when I try to have those types of conversations I either get a head nod, like yeah, okay. Or he instantly becomes defensive and I can tell if I push the conversation will turn into an argument. So I don’t. I bit my tongue. Until I choke on the blood from bitting it so hard and I have to release it. And then he’ll tell me that I am passive-aggressive. To which I reply “I’m passive-aggressive because you are impossible to have a conversation with if the subject is something you don’t want to hear”. So, again I ask, how do I teach my husband to communicate with me?
Mrs. Moe, Ugh, isn’t it so frustrating, annoying and sometimes hurtful when our partners can’t have REAL conversations?
First, I have to say you’re awesome for realizing this SHOULD be a natural thing in marriages. Many times, when our partners repeatedly shut down hard conversations, we believe we’re the ones with wild expectations. That’s how I felt when it happened to me. I put myself in uncomfortable positions to have conversations I knew were necessary. But every time, my former partner would shut them down. “Let’s talk another time.” “Not now.” “We already talked about it enough.” “What’s more to say?” Then, when I would insist problems just don’t magically evaporate, he’d get more defensive. Until the same problem happened again. And then it would all repeat.
We aren’t asking too much though. We should be able to discuss issues and feelings without feeling like we’re asking the world.
Try approaching the topic from a place of love—even if you don’t feel very loving about it. Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language. If he can tell you’re upset before you even speak, he’s more likely to get into “defensive” stance before even hearing you out. If you’re not already, try to use a calm tone of voice, look him in the eye. If you can bring yourself to do it, try using an act of affection while talking, like holding his hand or rubbing his arm. It may sound cheesy, but acts like these may train his brain out of “automatic defense.” He may unconsciously read that body language and soften instead of getting into “fight” mode.
Basic communication skills are useful during tough conversations too. For example, not using “never,” or “always” unless it’s 100% factually true. Using facts instead of hyperbole or exaggerating. Saying “it makes me feel like…” instead of, “you act like an asshole” (gotta admit, I could use this advice myself). And showing some kind of understanding to his own thoughts, even if you think they’re wrong (ex. “I know you feel like you need to work all the time because you want to get ahead of bills, but I’m really missing out on time with you.”).
And choose a time when it’s ideal to have a conversation—where there’s plenty of time, nobody is busy or in a rush, and you haven’t had an abnormally stressful day. Of course, that isn’t always possible but it will probably make it easier.
It’s possible you’re already doing all of these things and he’s still afraid of real convos. You might consider having a conversation about your conversations. Remind him that hard conversations are uncomfortable. But uncomfortable things are often necessary. And that it’s a normal part of marriage. Remind him that you both should be able to talk to each other about issues. If he has problems with you, you want to hear them too. And you can both promise each other to air your grievances as kindly as possible. Mention that when conversations aren’t calm and he gets defensive, you shut down. And shutting down doesn’t mean it goes away, it just means the resentment grows inside of you. And the longer and more that happens, the more the marriage will erode, and you love him, so you’re trying to prevent that—all you’re asking him to do is his part in stopping that erosion. Try to come from a place of “I care about you and this marriage” rather than one of assigning blame (even though he may need to take responsibility for the blame).
You could also ask “we both agree we can’t ignore issues or be passive-aggressive, so how would you prefer we talk about these kinds of things?”
When you have conflict conversations that go well, or at least a bit better than planned, reenforce them by saying something like, “I know that felt weird for you, but I really appreciate how that went, I feel a lot better about it.”
For men specifically, uncomfortable conversations can be hard to have. Society has taught everyone that men shouldn’t be emotional unless they’re angry—which is probably why your calm conversations turn into arguments (because that’s weirdly more acceptable). This is never an excuse for a man to completely shut down, but it can help us understand where they’re coming from and why they may need more time to open up.
A big part of that may be reframing vulnerability in the relationship. I’m not sure what the problems are that you need to discuss, but conflict typically involves vulnerability. It takes courage to say how you feel, really understand how you make someone else feel, and to apologize or compromise if needed. When we don’t have courage, we shy away from the conversation and say what we can to shut it down.
Building “talking intimacy/vulnerability” outside of conflict may help you when you need to have these hard convos. In other words, if he builds this skill when everyone is happy, he may use it more readily when everyone is unhappy. This may sound like a weird suggestion, but try to look at other ways you can have real, deep, vulnerable conversations. For example, asking specific things about his childhood, hopes, fears, etc. I love playing “20 questions” for this reason. You can search for questions lists online and collect a few to ask each other. If you’re thinking “he’s really not this type of guy,” see if you can con him into it with some delicious beverages (alcoholic or not) and his favorite snacks (meat, cheese, baked goods, etc.). Treat it as a sort of date. Remember, the goal is to get closer to one another and feel what it’s like to be vulnerable and honest in conversation.
Another way of building vulnerability is acknowledging when we, ourselves, are wrong. If someone sees that we feel say enough to genuinely say sorry, they may feel safer to apologize when necessary too.
These are all suggestions that you can try, but remember that you can’t change someone else’s behavior. We can guide and support them to better communication, but ultimately, the choice is theirs to make. And whether he decides to become better or not, it doesn’t necessarily reflect on your efforts. The fact you wrote in means that, while you’re fed up, you also deeply care and are loving enough to research ways to support better communication. That’s something you both should be celebrating 🙂 ❤️
Hope this helps Ms. Moe!
A Human ❤️
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