Q: I recently got married to a guy who should have been perfect for me. The problem is that he doesn’t communicate at all. I feel sad and alone most of the time, and I never know what he’s thinking. How do I get him to open up? — Lonely and ignored
Dear Lonely and Ignored:
Welcome to my world! My husband is the strong and silent type, too. Your answer lies in a combination of acceptance and gentle prodding.
It’s important to understand that he may never become a talker. Some people are talkers, and some aren’t. Me expecting my husband to morph into a conversationalist is like him expecting me to suddenly develop an interest in car racing. Just ain’t going to happen.
That said, you do not have to continue to suffer in silence. Use this advice.
Ask him to listen. Explain that you don’t need him to chatter back at you, respond, or fix your problems. You just want him to listen with rapt attention. This will take the pressure off him to talk. If you want him to do certain things as he listens, tell him. Perhaps you want him to make eye contact, hold your hand, nod every once in a while, and so on. I know it sounds silly, but these are things that women and some men do automatically. Strong and silent types? They need an instruction manual.
Make a list of topics that you absolutely need him to communicate. For instance, you may want all financial purchases to be made jointly. You may want some parenting decisions to be made together (what time should Johnny’s curfew be?) and some not (whether or not it’s a good time to play catch in the backyard). Again, the ability to know the difference between Must-Talk-About-Now Topics and Better-Left-Unsaid comes naturally to some, and not so naturally to others. Teach him how to know the difference.
Let him talk when he’s ready. If you need to discuss something that will probably make him uncomfortable and shut down, bring it up calmly and ask, “When would be a good time to talk about this?” This allows him time to think things over, prepare a response, and calm down from the stress of being confronted.
Talk while you are doing something else. Do it while walking, while sitting in the car, or over dinner. This reduces tension, which may allow him to more easily open up.
When he does talk, reward him. This is important, especially if he is finally opening up for the first time. Hug him. Say thank you. Take him to the bedroom.
Talk about your loneliness. Explain that you want to feel close to him and you worry that you might turn to someone else for this closeness if you don’t get it from him. Ask him to help you affair-proof your marriage.
Don’t ask him what he’s thinking or feeling. You’re just wasting your creative energy on that one. The answer to, “What are you thinking?” is probably, “Nothing.” The answer to “What are you feeling?” is probably “I have no clue.” Instead, ask him very specific questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no, questions such as:
- Why do you root for the Mets?
- Tell me about the most interesting thing that happened to you today.
- If you could do anything with your life, what would it be?
- If you could live anywhere, where would you want to live?
Find an outlet for your need for conversation. It will never be him. Find a group of girlfriends who love to chat. Get involved in online discussion groups. Sit at the local coffee shop, diner or some other hangout spot for a few minutes everyday and chat with strangers.
Do you have advice for Lonely and Ignored? Share it in the comments area!
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A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.