Communication problems are almost always a contributing factor in a troubled relationship. In many cases, one partner desperately wants to talk and work things out, but the other is either unwilling or, in some cases, doesn’t really know how. Unfortunately, without open communication, it is very difficult to get a relationship back on track.
Hollywood has often glorified the image of the “strong, silent type” of man, or the “mysterious, alluring woman”. Sadly, as appealing as they may seem on a movie screen, in real life they are hardly ever ideal relationship partners. I know, because my father was the strong, silent type. And it drove my mother crazy. Although they stayed together until the end, their relationship was often fraught with silent tension and festering frustration.
To their credit, in their later years they actually did begin to communicate much better. Perhaps it was due to a mellowing that came with age for my father, combined with my mother nearly dying at one point. For him, that seemed to be a much needed wake-up call.
But rather than wait for a wake-up call (or until it’s too late altogether), let’s discuss some things you can do to increase the likeliness of your partner opening up. Sometimes a slight change in approach can be the key… and the walls of silence begin to crumble.
First, however, let’s take a brief look at what you may be doing that doesn’t work, and in fact may be contributing to the situation:
- Nagging. Nagging is about as effective as throwing gasoline on a fire. It makes things exponentially worse. If you are nagging your partner in an attempt to get him to talk to you, he will resent you. If nagging is your approach, you must stop it immediately!
- Begging and pleading. These work about as well as nagging – in other words, not at all! By doing so you demean yourself and lose your partner’s respect.
- Getting angry or upset. If crying, yelling, or throwing tantrums is your style, you’re not too likely to get anywhere, and your partner will not respect you.
- Being critical or complaining. Criticizing your partner or complaining that he never talks will only make him more inclined to keep his mouth shut, and keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. He may be thinking, “Why bother — I can’t win no matter what I say!”
- Pressuring or making demands. Again, these just reinforce his resistance.
- Interrupting him when he does speak. When you interrupt someone, you are essentially saying, “I don’t care to listen to what you’re saying, but I insist you hear me because what I’m saying is more important”. Is that really the message you want to send?
- Ultimatums or threats. Threatening to leave or giving any kind of ultimatum will make you look desperate and/or manipulative. It doesn’t work. Don’t do it! Enough said!
Tactics that do work…
- Share your feelings openly and honestly….and calmly. Perhaps you aren’t really opening up either. Maybe you’re so frustrated or scared that you’ve been withdrawn or holding back as well. Set the example by letting your partner know how much you want to make the relationship work and would really like to know what’s going on in his head and his heart.
- Don’t push. Impatience will not get you the open conversation you are hoping for. When you are talking to him, allow him plenty of time to actually respond. It may be that truly opening up is not easy for him and he needs a few moments (or several moments) to formulate his thoughts and express himself. He may be trying to avoid a heated interaction he assumes will occur if he does open up. Don’t prove him right on this one!
- Select an appropriate place and time to talk. Don’t put your partner on the spot to open up when you have no privacy or when other pressing matters are at hand. If the children are screaming, or he’s hungry or tired, or he needs to go somewhere shortly, a conversation may have to wait until you’re both more relaxed and less distracted.
- When he finally does open up, be sure to listen carefully! If you’re not a good listener, why should he open up to you? If you tend to interrupt, over-react, or become critical or defensive, he may simply feel it is not worth the effort. Perhaps he doesn’t have the energy to deal with an ugly interaction. It may take him awhile to see that you are genuinely interested and that the conversation won’t go to hell in a hand basket within the first few minutes.