Why Husbands Don’t Communicate
Communication in Marriage
In my work as a Denver couples counselor, a number of frequent patterns occur. In heterosexual relationships a common complaint that I hear coming from the female partner falls along the lines of, “I can recognize that something is up with my husband, but I just can’t get him to communicate or talk to me about what is going on?” This complaint can take any number of forms, but the common trend amongst all of them is that wives frequently struggle to talk with their husbands about problems, emotions, and difficult things occurring in, or outside of the family. This dynamic leads to extraordinarily high levels of frustration and loneliness for BOTH partners.
Why Doesn’t My Husband Communicate?
It’s important to take a quick look at why husbands frequently struggle with communication or refuse to engage in conversations revolving around emotions. In general, men are socialized differently than women when it comes to communication and emotions. The classic examples would fall to methods of play encouraged between boys and girls growing up.
Traditionally, while girls may be encouraged to engage in play centering around relationship building and communication (i.e. playing with groups of dolls, playing “house”, etc.), boys are encouraged to play in more competitive formats (i.e. sports). These themes, while not as widely displayed today as in years passed, have still largely played out in the present day.
Additionally, boys are constantly given role models that highlight certain traits or qualities that do not lend themselves to good, emotional communication later in life. Either role models existing in their own fathers, or from movie stars in Hollywood movies, boys are given the message that to be emotional is to be weak and that the only emotion that is useful or “ok” for them to feel is anger.
If boys do not see examples of good emotional communication in their male role models growing up it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will develop the skills to effectively manage, communicate, and share their emotional experiences with anyone.
Any number of these factors results in a fairly common experience between couples— one in which the wife is constantly reaching out to her partner to connect emotionally or discuss any perceived dissatisfaction or perceived problem, either from within the relationship itself or outside of the relationship, and her partner either cannot or will not engage.
Why Does My Husband Shut Down When I Try to Communicate with Him?
Often, the act of opening up to a partner puts these men into a situation where they don’t feel comfortable, either because they feel like they don’t know what to say, what/how to feel, or even that there is no use in examining their own or their partners feelings.
The end result being that men are more likely to ignore an issue and just press on in life until the issue goes away or simply try and solve the issue on their own instead of talking about the issue itself.
What I know as a couples therapist/coach is that, although this may be largely effective for a man operating in isolation, it can be disastrous for a couple. It tends to lead to a cycle where the wife constantly tries to connect with her husband on these topics, is rejected, and the husband annoyed, ultimately leading to one or both partners feeling isolated, upset, or lonely.
This leads to resentments building up over time and significant relationship distress. So how can wives help their husbands learn and move into this sphere of communication and connect?
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Provide Space and Time for Processing
If you find that you try to talk to your husband as soon as an issue or problem occurs, this may be something that is leading them to shut down. Due to the ways in which men are socialized, they may be slower to process, draw conclusions, or adequately determine how they themselves feel about an issue or problem at the same speed that their wives do.
It is important to give them the time to do so, for if they have the time to process it will afford them the ability to communicate more clearly and genuinely when you do come and approach them to talk about something.
Try soothing statements like: “I can see that what has just happened is bothering you, I know that it is bothering me as well and I’d love to talk through this together. I want to make sure that we both have time to think about this and process it, could we convene tonight before bed to talk about it?”
Don’t Try and Tell Your Husband How They Should Feel
Sometimes, when we get into intense conversations with our partners, they may not have responses or feelings yet about what has happened. Similar to the point above, husbands may need additional time to sort these things out.
Well-meaning wives may jump in utilizing some empathy to make assumptions about what their husband is feeling and speak for them (i.e. “You must be really angry right now that this happened”) but this can ultimately lead to a bigger wedge in the communication. By letting your partner come to their own understanding of how they are feeling and what they are feeling – you are giving them the space to build trust and comfortability in communication.
Try to Talk to Them While Doing a Shared-Task or Activity
Something about sitting down for a “serious” talk in a formal setting can increase feelings of anxiety, fear, and reluctance for difficult conversations. One way to help alleviate these feelings is to try and engage in these conversations while doing a neutral, shared-task or activity together. Talking while going on a walk, washing dishes, or any neutral activity that involves some degree of physical movement. If the traditional setting that you try to engage with your husband in difficult conversations isn’t working try to change the setting!
Be Patient and Clear About What Your Needs Are
Frequently, wives tend to give up and forgo their own need to communicate and connect over difficult topics/emotions with their husbands. While this may lead to a certain degree of harmony/peace in the short term, the long term emotional impact can be severe for wives and make the conversations more difficult down the line.
Always try to be patient with your partner, but it is absolutely ok and appropriate for you to make your own needs known. Your husband deserves the chance to show you that he is willing to step into an environment that is uncomfortable for him to meet your needs. He can only do that if you are able to clearly communicate to him what your needs are.
When your husband is able to meet with you and engage in difficult conversations, be sure to tell him how it makes you feel. The most difficult thing about trying to engage with a partner about an emotional topic and being rejected is the mystery of not knowing what is going on with your partner.
The anxiety that results from seeing a partner in distress but not knowing how or why is what leads to the feeling of isolation and loneliness that results in the longer term resentments. So, when your husband is able to be open and honest with you, be sure to reflect to him how he lead to some relief in the anxiety for you. This will incentivize him to continue opening up in the future. If he knows that he is capable of creating relief for you, he will become more likely to keep doing that moving forward.
When to Seek Couples Counseling
If you still struggle with creating open communication with your husband, it may mean that you need more professional help. It is still absolutely okay to either pursue individual coaching or therapy for yourself or couples therapy with you and your partner.
A good couples therapist/coach will meet with both members of a relationship individually to get each partner's take on what is going on. Once doing so, a couples therapist/coach can tailor a treatment plan and interventions specifically to help you both overcome any difficulties or struggles with authentic, open communication.
That being said effective couples therapy comes from commitment and “buy-in” to the process from both partners. If at first your husband is reluctant to try couples therapy, it may be helpful to tell him that most couples therapists (and all therapists and coaches at Growing Self) offer a free consultation, where the husband can meet a potential therapist face-to-face to see if that therapist seems like a good fit.
It is important for both partners to feel comfortable with and trust their therapist. If your husband doesn’t feel comfortable with the first few therapists you meet with that’s okay! Sometimes finding a therapist that is the right fit for you takes time, but there is a therapist out there that can definitely work for you.
A Note to Husbands…
If you are a husband reading this and finding that you do struggle to communicate with your wife on difficult topics, there are some things that you can do as well. What your wife may be needing, more than anything else, is to not have to guess at what you may be thinking or feeling.
If she doesn’t know what is going on with you or what you are thinking/feeling she is going to try to find out— especially if she perceives that something may be wrong (even if there really isn’t anything wrong). If she doesn’t know, she may start to feel anxious about it and keep asking or trying to figure it out until she knows.
As her partner and husband, it is fully within your power and ability to help ease her anxiety about not knowing. If you can, do everything you can to be as fully genuine about what may be going on for you internally, this will help your wife a great deal in easing the anxiety of not knowing.
It may be really difficult for you to do this at first. It can be scary to open up, or even not seem important to open up about what is going on internally for you, but by doing so it will lead to a genuinely happier and more harmonious relationship for you and your wife in the long run.
Wishing you the best,
Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC is a couples counselor, therapist and life coach with an easy-going, humorous, and down-to-earth style that makes personal growth work both enjoyable and effective. His tireless support, encouragement, and expertise helps you get motivated to make real and lasting change in yourself and your relationships.
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