My husband simply refuses to engage in deep conversations with me. We’ve had our problems, so he says he’s afraid of talking about anything that might stir up a fight. But I insist that we must talk about these issues. How can I persuade him that facing issues is better than avoiding them?
I’m not sure there’s a foolproof way to persuade your husband that talking about something is better than avoiding it. Even the act of trying to persuade him — what I call talking “at” rather than “with” someone — is likely to push him away.
Someone much wiser than I observed the following: “Unwanted advice will be perceived as criticism.” This has been true in my life and suspect yours as well. When someone tries to convince me of something, I immediately erect my defenses and listen guardedly for how this person is trying to convince, coerce, or manipulate me.
That said, I understand your desire for deeper conversations with your husband. Let’s briefly look at the varying levels of communication (from John Powell):
- Small Talk: We talk about the weather, the kids, and what’s for dinner. When communication remains at this level, people become quickly bored and perhaps even resentful;
- Facts: We may talk about events — what can be seen, heard, or read. We reveal little personal information, and this too becomes quickly boring;
- Ideas and Opinions: We begin to expose more of ourselves. We may talk about some external event, but we share our feelings about that event;
- Feelings and Emotions: We begin to share something personal. We listen for the other’s feelings and are ready to share our feelings on a matter. We require a greater level of trust to share at this level;
- Deep Insight: Real connection happens at this level. Here we listen to the inner thoughts and feelings of our mate and share our reciprocal feelings and thoughts. This has been called “gut-level communication.”
Deep connection and mutual sharing have a profound impact on both parties in a marriage. While you can’t expect to connect deeply all the time, if your relationship doesn’t reach this level occasionally, you’ll experience loneliness and disconnection.
Yet deep communication typically doesn’t occur naturally. Wounds created in marriage often produce barriers to close communication. Scripture tells us, “There is one whose words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Hurtful words spoken, again and again, make sharing on a deep level unsafe.
Here are some ideas on how you can increase intimate communication in your marriage:
Create safety in your marriage. You indicated your husband is afraid of sharing his feelings because of fighting in your marriage. Fighting takes two people, so refuse to fight. Show your mate you can settle issues without a power struggle. Make concessions when possible. See his viewpoint. Honor whatever feelings he shares and validate his experiences.
Create an atmosphere where deeper communication is likely to occur. Deep communication rarely occurs when the television is on, iPads are humming, or a hubbub is happening. Seek a quiet corner of a café to listen to each other. Set up a scene where your mate is likely to feel more comfortable to share.
Model deep-level communication. It’s often easier for women to share on a deeper level, so lead the way. Model the kind of communication you’re looking for and see if your husband will follow. Continue to share feelings and gently nudge him along.
Reinforce your husband’s efforts. Never, ever criticize. This is sure to shut your husband down. When he does share on a deeper level, show him nonverbally how pleased you are. Even when his feelings and thoughts contradict yours, show pleasure at the process.
Celebrate the joys of deep connection. When you’re able to reach those moments of deep connection, celebrate. Make note of how good it feels to really talk to each other. A simple “I really enjoyed myself tonight!” may be sufficient to plant the seeds of its recurrence.
In summary, deep-level communication will not simply happen. It takes work. Someone has to lead the way and in this case, that’s you. Lead the way by gently guiding your mate into deeper communication — and notice your relationship improving.
If you would like more information on communication and intimacy, as well as setting boundaries, I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome your reactions. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.