Full discloser here: If you have ever met my husband, Mike, you’ll know I am not writing this blog post from personal experience. My man is a talker! He loves to tell stories, make small talk with perfect strangers, and even dive into the “deep end” of conversation when he’s in the right mood. I’m actually the non-talker in our marriage, and I’ve worked with enough couples to help you navigate your challenges with a husband who doesn’t open up easily.
Men (and some women) may be quiet for different reasons. Part of navigating a challenge of silence in your relationship is understanding why the man in your life is so quiet.
Is He an Internal Processor?
People who process internally don’t like to share their opinions and thoughts until they have had time to think about them. You might look in your man’s eyes and see the wheels churning but nothing’s coming out of his mouth. Questions like, “What did you think of church today?” or “What do you think we should do about Josh’s failing grades?” may elicit silence because he’s not ready to share his thoughts. A few days from now when he has thought the issues through, you have probably “moved on” to today’s crisis and show disinterest in what he wants to talk about.
If this describes your husband or boyfriend, respect the fact that he needs time to share on a deeper level. Instead of feeling rejected when he doesn’t engage you in an immediate conversation, you might say something like, “I know you like to think about things before we talk them through. Can we talk later today or tomorrow about . . . ? I’d love to know what you’re thinking.”
An internal processor might also quickly get derailed if you interject into what he’s saying rather than listening. He’s probably planned out what he wants to say and how he wants to say it, and you’ll probably shut him down if you don’t let him complete his thought. Yes, patience is required, but it will pay off in the end.
Does He Feel Uncomfortable Expressing Feelings?
Have you noticed your man talking excitedly about a football game or an inventory report at work but this same man can’t seem to put two words together when you ask him a question like, “How do you think we could improve our relationship?”
Talking about feelings, emotions, and the relationship itself is extremely uncomfortable for many men. It might feel like how I would respond if my 6'2" husband asked me to play him a little one-on-one on a basketball court. I’d know I was completely out matched and would have no desire to watch him run circles around me.
Traditionally, women have a far easier time talking through feelings and relationship issues. First of all, our brains are naturally wired to integrate thoughts and feelings more naturally than male brains. Secondly, we’ve been practicing these conversations since preschool. Just watch 4-year-old girls play compared to 4-year old boys, and you’ll notice a big difference in how they talk.
If your man is uncomfortable sharing feelings, there are other ways to draw him out. Instead of open-ended questions, start with questions that can be answered in a few words with concrete ideas. These are far less intimidating and, therefore, more likely to put him at ease.
Instead of “How was your day at work?” (Which probably will elicit a 1-word answer of “fine”), ask, “On a scale from 1 to 5, how was work today?”
Instead of “How do you think our marriage is going?” ask, “Do you think we are connecting better than we were six months ago?”
Instead of “Do you think I’m a good mom?” (Which is just fishing for an affirmation), ask “What is one practical thing I can do to be a better mom?”
You may find that questions like these give you information about how your man is feeling and also subtly invite him to share more if he’s comfortable doing so.
Does He Feel Emotionally Safe Sharing?
If a man you love seems more willing to talk to others than he shares with you, it’s probably because he doesn’t believe you will validate what he has to say. Many men don’t talk with their wife/girlfriend/mom because they have been shut down in the past. Although they may hide their insecurities, the average man has quite a few of them. Maybe he’s afraid of being laughed at, dismissed, or exposed as a failure if he really shares what he thinks. I’ve seen many women shut down the men they love without ever realizing that they did so.
Comments during conflict like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” or non-verbals like rolling your eyes or laughing sarcastically send a very clear message: “I don’t value your thoughts and opinions.” This only has to happen a few times in a relationship for a man to decide never to risk sharing again. Sometimes, the offense didn’t even happen with you. Maybe his mom constantly criticized your husband, but he projects that into your relationship.
The good news is that you can rebuild trust that has been broken and invite your man to share without the fear of being dismissed or invalidated. You may need to apologize for ways you have discouraged him from talking in the past and commit to kindness. Tell him how much you appreciate when he shares his thoughts and feelings with you, even if he says something you don’t agree with. Rebuilding the relationship is far more important than proving your point.
Some guys are also more willing to talk if you are doing something active, like going for a walk or a drive. Because you aren’t facing each other, sharing thoughts and feelings won’t feel as intimidating of vulnerable.
Do You Out-Talk Him?
Most of my dating relationship with my husband was long-distance. This was before Skype, Facetime, or even texting, so Mike and I talked on the phone. My talkative boyfriend would go on about his day, sharing details about what he did, what he ate, and what he was thinking. I was content to listen unless he intentionally drew me out. Even though I let him talk, sometimes I was frustrated that Mike did so much of the talking. One time I actually sat with a stopwatch while we were talking on the phone and timed how much each of us talked (yes, pretty pathetic!). I think he talked about 90 percent of the conversation. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have things to say or he didn’t want to hear them. It was because he was more comfortable talking, and I was more comfortable listening.
A few decades later, my husband has mastered the art of getting me to talk. He’s still a talker, but he’s also learned to be a good listener, inviting me to share and validating me when I do. Here are three things Mike does to get me to talk:
- Mike has learned to be okay with silence. When he allows there to be a gap in the conversation, even for several minutes, I usually step in and share something I’ve been thinking about.
- Mike has learned not to out-verbalize me. His naturally tendency is to jump in and share a comment or suggestion when I’m expressing myself. This totally shuts me down. He’s learned to listen until I’m done talking and even ask a follow up question before he jumps in.
- Mike has learned to ask me very specific questions. Vague questions give me the option of vague answers. When he asks me something very specific like, “How did (a particular conflict at work) make me feel?” it helps me put words to what’s going on inside me.
I’m not promising that by implementing these strategies your strong, silent man will magically open up. Some people are by nature more introverted and reserved. While you are asking and prompting him to learn to communicate more effectively, you may also need to adapt to how he naturally connects with you.
Not all intimacy and connection is verbal. Sharing a hobby or mission can be a profound way to connect even if there is little talking involved. And many reserved men prefer to express love and passion through sexual intimacy and other forms of physical touch. It’s not fair to ask your man speak your “language” without also a willingness to connect with him in ways that are meaningful to him.