What to do when your man doesn’t talk

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!

Send your questions to the Marriage Expert.

97 comments… add one

  • sathya November 2, 2014, 11:31 am

    Its so true. My husband is not talking to me even after 8 yrs of marriage and I have developed severe mental disorder. I started talking on my own and look at couples who talk with jealous.

  • Janice November 4, 2014, 12:11 pm

    Has he done this since day one? Find out if he’s just quiet or self-absorbing. Don’t wait until years into your marriage to find out. I’ve been married to a man like that for 37 years and haven’t had the time until now to figure out that I could of done more for myself and not just to satisfy his every whim and live with it. I was busy raising children so didn’t really focus on it until it was too late. Don’t wait until you get older to figure it out.

  • linda November 19, 2014, 11:30 am

    I am so fed up with the way my partner treats me. we used to talk about everything… emotional things weren’t easy… but we used to deal with and had really good chemistry. during our courting days he was very grounded, with common sense and seemed he had a good head on his shoulders. also our sex life was GREAT. fast forward 4 years later we have a toddler and another one due in a few weeks and we are practically strangers. it has been very gradual and I have been always alerting and trying to save whereas he has been emotionally checking out since he found out we were pregnant. he loves our child but displays -0- interest in me, what I am doing, how my day has been, my family, what i’m laughing or crying about.. it just simply doesn’t matter. further, I ask him about his day, his job, his colleagues, his sport and his answers are very vague unless ti’s sport or some project he is currently working on (which he can talk for hours about). he spends 23 hours a day on his blackberry, computer, tv, work and there are no goodnights, no good mornings, no I miss you, no I love yous and he doesn’t EVER talk about his lady colleagues which he hangs out with on a daily basis. (background we used to work together so I know them personally but now no one chats with me and he doesn’t talk to me about them… EVER). I feel like I am at the absolute bottom of his list and that he stays with me just for convenience and nothing else. also.. b/c I am the mother of his children. he doesn’t care if I want emotional or physical intimacy… he doesn’t care what makes me feel good or how he hurts me with what he does. every question I ask he things I have an agenda.. and all his answers are either “what kind of question is that,” “idk”, “maybe” or other dodging subjects. Also everytime we go out he never actually hangs out with me… always hanging out with others…. the more I write the more I keep thinking I just need to leave this relationship as why would anyone subject themselves to this kind of treatment when reality stares in the face. I guess, first is because I love him….and second because I think kids should live with their parents. Not sure why “I” love him now as I find it difficult to find reasons… this being masochistic in love makes no sense in the long run as people only change if they WANT to change… and second I know kids are happier if parents are happy… even if they have to be apart from them. regardless I desperately want to save my relationship… I am at the end of my string and I hav eno idea what to do any more…

    • Liz November 19, 2014, 12:46 pm

      I truly and honestly feel your pain. And I know that pain. It is so real and hurts a lot. I always used to think, what’s the use in living with a person when all you feel is alone? It’s worse than actually living alone. At least if you lived alone, you would be free of expectations and rights that a wife should never have to beg for. I have been married for 14 years like this and I thought it would never get better. We both started out EXACTLY the way you did. After 8 years of mental, emotional and physical abuse, I left. I moved far away with his child and he paid for it all. I manipulated the situation so that we were on speaking terms and helped him to understand that even though I still loved him, I couldn’t take it anymore or live with him. We talked often, from a distance. To make a long story short, he eventually started visiting. Things got better. VERY slowly. The time away and the distance helped me. Helped the relationship. We are still apart after 7 years but he is moving in. ….7 years. It has suited me because he visits, he pays for everything, we miss each other, and he will move back in soon. I don’t recommend this for everyone. It just worked for me. He is still distant sometimes and is not the affectionate type, but I have become considerably stronger where those needs are less important.
      Sometimes I wish that women would get to the point where we say, “don’t be a woman that needs a man, be a woman a man needs” stand up for ourselves and be strong. I know we love our husbands and don’t want to leave them, but why should we be the ones who have to pussy-foot our way around the tender, fragile male egos. We should be the ones they chase, not us.
      But part of that doesn’t mean that we should expect them to cater to our every emotional and mental need. We are stronger than we think. And I? I am where I am because I acknowledge all my strength and having been able to put up with all that garbage in the past, because I have a relationship with Heavenly Father. No other words needed.

      • M November 19, 2014, 12:53 pm

        Brava, well said!!

  • Sharda November 30, 2014, 12:33 am

    Great advice in this article, thank you.

    I would like to add one more option…..Separate/divorce
    If your needs are not getting met with a person than why marry them. (This is in case the person has always been like that, and not suddenly stopped talking).
    Why torture yourself? And i believe that your partner may also feel that you don’t fully except them (which is true). The situation is bad for both of you.

    • Ty January 20, 2015, 12:43 am

      I haven’t been with my boyfriend very long .. Soon it will be two years which is the longest relationship I’ve been In. We have a huge communication problem and idk what to do about it. Whenever I want to talk he shuts me out and nothing ever really gets resolved. We used to talk about everything and even have sex more now none of that happens. Most of our arguments or fights are about his actions whenever things aren’t going perfectly in his life he completely shuts me out and gives me no type of communication at all. I’ve tried everything and nothing works im sad and frustrated I don’t deserve this there is no reason why we shouldn’t be having sex regularly I’m to the point where I just wanna give up I’m only 20 and I feel like I’m too young for this nonsense. I know he loves me he expresses this often I just wish he would talk to me more all he seems to care about is his phone and work.

      • RJ April 14, 2015, 6:10 pm

        I completely understand that, my boyfriend is the same way. It gets really frustrating for me because when he’s stressed or upset all I want to do is help, but he won’t talk to me. The only advice I can give is not to push, let him know you’re there for him and you support him. Do something thoughtful, whether it’s a brief, cute message on his phone while he’s at work, or a date. In the end, if you really matter to him he will tell you the things he wants you to know and the things he doesn’t want you to know you have to be ok with. Privacy is a must for relationships which is why trust is also so important

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