20 October 2012

Expanding the 30-sec Conversation

The husband who communicates easily using his spoken words is not extinct. Such husbands are not even rare. This type of husband is, however, not as common as many wives would like. If your husband is the strong, silent type, are you stuck with a spouse who won’t talk to you? Are you condemned to a marriage of silence if your husband isn’t interested in what you have to share? Is there anything a wife can do to encourage dialogue in her marriage? 

Grantley Morris, is his article “
Improving Communication in Marriage: Understanding Your Partner’s Different Attitude to Talking” suggests that a wife can indeed influence the extent to which her husband shares his experiences, his thoughts, and his dreams through words. Morris not only explores why husbands tend to be quiet, but he also discusses ideas for how a wife can create the kind of environment that encourages her husband to talk more. We will draw on a few of these ideas as the basis for simple, practical steps that anyone can try at home:

1. Show your husband that you value what he says:

While we all know some people who love to listen to sound of their own voice, most folk feel uncomfortable talking when they believe their audience is bored or uninterested in what they have to say. Husbands who are not natural “talkers” will be even more sensitive to these verbal “turn-offs”, than those people who love to talk. Show your interest in everything your quiet husband chooses to tell you, even if he is repeating those silly childhood stories you have heard many times before. Use simple body language to show you are engaged in what is being said (e.g. nod, smile, maintain eye contact, shake your head, laugh at appropriate points in the conversation). 

2. Allow lulls in the conversation:

Instead of filling every moment with words, consciously leave spaces in the conversation. You may have much to say, but a quiet partner will need time to gather his thoughts or percolate what you have just said. If it is your turn to talk, create opportunities that will draw your husband into the conversation: leave silent space in much the same way as you would divide your sentences into paragraphs when you write - let each “paragraph” of speech be separated by thinking time; invite your husband to give his input by actually asking what he thinks about a statement you have made.

3. Don’t interrupt:

Perhaps your quiet husband has said something that irritated you, which you vehemently disagree with, or which triggered a new idea for you. You want to share how you feel about what he said, and you want to do it right now before you lose that brilliant thought. After all, if you share it, it will convince him that you are listening, right? Interrupting is tempting, especially if you feel your contribution will add to what your husband has to say. Interruptions do have a negative side: they break into the flow of what the speaker wanted to share. For someone who is already struggling to put his thoughts and feelings into words, an interruption can squash his train of thought entirely and leave him literally dumb-struck. Wait to share your thoughts. Give your husband a chance to continue his monologue until he asks your opinion or lapses into silence which opens the door for you to speak.

4. Seize opportunities to affirm:

Affirmation, especially in the context of communication, can build confidence and encourage a willingness to communicate. Let your husband know (without being patronizing) that you appreciate his willingness to try to talk. He has made the effort to step out of his comfort zone and share with you, so take some time to demonstrate that your are aligned with his dreams and goals, or that you are feeling his pain, or that you are standing by his side no matter what he is facing. If sharing with her reinforces the husband’s sense of being misunderstood or criticized by his wife, he will clam up. If he walks away from an attempt to talk feeling stupid or weird or alone, he will be unlikely to desire further conversation with his wife. His attempt to talk to his wife needs to leave him feeling as if he has a soul mate who will stand by him through the good and the bad.

5. Ask a relevant question:

If the lulls in conversation grow too long, prompt your husband to keep going by asking a relevant question. You don’t want him to feel threatened so stick to one or two questions that lead on from what he has just said - more than a couple of questions can make him feel as if he is being interrogated. You want to loosen his tongue, and not make him afraid he will say the wrong thing.

6. Do not try to get the last word:

Especially if the conversation is centered on differences which are not resolved during dialogue, it may be tempting for the wife to want to leave her opinion as the last thought on her husband’s mind. Resist that urge to get in the last word. You want your quiet husband to walk away from the conversation feeling as if he is being heard, and that his words are on YOUR mind. Push for it to go the other way, and you probably won’t get another chance to debate the same topic again.
These six, simple steps can make a big difference to how long a "non-talker" keeps talking. If you and your husband typically exchange only a few words at a time, and you long for longer, more meaningful conversations, consider changing the conversation environment. The responsibility for implementing the change falls on the "talker" in the relationship. While this is usually the wife, it could as easily be the husband who leads in conversation. These steps help to encourage a quiet wife to open up, just as effectively as they encourage the quiet husband to contribute to the conversation.


  1. Any post helping the overall communicative process is a boon to the community. Old Fashioned Marriage you are truley a great resources for DDers and even just relationships period.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Ward. Relationship building is hard work - it helps to share what we learn, so not everyone has to "re-invent the wheel" every time they hit a rough patch. We live and learn - and we share a little of what we learn as often as we can. We also enjoy learning from what you and June share.

  3. My husband always evades conversations about real issues. I see now that I may be to blame for that. I need to work harder at creating the kind of atmosphere where he will WANT to talk. I think perhaps I tend to dominate the conversation too much?

    1. Thanks for sharing. No-one is a perfect communicator. We all need to work on some or other aspect of communication. I think a marriage has great potential for growth when one or both spouses are determined to become better communicators. Have fun encouraging your husband to talk more.

  4. My wife is generally argumentative. Any time we have something important to talk about, she turns it into an argument. I would rather not talk than argue all the time. Is there anything I can do to prevent our conversations from degrading into arguments?

    1. Thanks for your comment, John. Passionate debate that helps both partners develop a better understanding can be a good thing. Arguments that focus on criticism or which veer away from the problem that needs to be solved can be destructive. You as the HoH and leader have the responsibility to terminate a marital argument when you recognize it has started. It's not good for your marriage and its not good for you and your wife to argue. I will try to share some ideas of how to stop an argument (practical suggestions) in a future blog.

  5. If you receive more than one of my comment, please kindly put up the most intelligent sounding one. Blogger is being a little bit temperamental today.

    I love this post. Communication is an area where are marriage was nearly starved to death. I had become exceedingly bad at it, and Ian was shut down almost completely. We communicated okay on the things that we shared responsibilities and interests in, like the children, business, etc.....but actually talking about us, and our feelings - did not happen.
    Since beginning dd, Ian stops and scolds me when I interrupt him. I had no idea how often I did that! Now that I am correcting that behaviour, there are times when you can't get a word in with my husband.
    When we realized how little we were communicating, Ian in his role as HoH, instituted a nightly meeting, when we get into bed we cuddle up - my head on his chest and he talks. I listen. He ask questions, and I answer. Actual good conversations about us are had! He always gives me an opportunity to "have the floor" and say what I am thinking or if there is something on my mind, but it has to be about us. No kids. No work. Just Ian and I.
    We both look forward to it, and once or twice Ian has said "can't wait for our meeting" and I always feel the same.
    Communication is everything.
    Wonderful post, OFM

    1. Thanks, Lillie. I really like your "bedtime meetings" - splendid idea. It's so easy to get wrapped up in all the other demands of life, and neglect the couple and the marriage. It's a bit like the instruction on the aircraft - if there is a drop in cabin pressure, don't be a hero and try to help everyone else BEFORE you put your own mask on. It makes perfect sense when we are thinking about oxygen keeping us alive - we can't be much use to others if we are killing ourselves. Yet we all fall prey to being the hero in the home or work place. We make it a priority to help everyone else, and our marriage ends up being starved of what it really needs: one-on-one communication. Your "bedtime meeting" is a brilliant way to get a good dose of what you both need. Thanks for sharing it, Lillie.

  6. I do not know, but through reading several books I discerned my problem may be PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Lots of reasons why, too many to go into here. I have elected to not get help because, frankly, I can't afford what it would cost me. I read books mainly and try to just remember I only have to get through 24 hours at a time. My husband values efficiency and high energy, neither of which I have in abundance, and it is a cause of a lot of problems.

    He's not one to discuss the issues or be there for me when I get an anxiety attack. I go through a lot of panic and anxiety issues on a daily basis, and I have to deal with them the best way I know how. Talking about them with my husband is a big no-no. In his opinion, these problems I have get in the way of the raising of the kids and their activities and education. These are paramount, and I am just being selfish and spoiled. This is not too different from my family of origin; when I had a panic/anxiety attack, I was obviously just looking for attention and was ignored -- or corporally punished, if my problems annoyed others for too long.

    This is awfully difficult to handle, because I am basically "winging" this without any help, counseling or medication. Several of the books I have read say that sometimes cases of PTSD can be handled with good family support and medications can be avoided, but I know if I went to get help I would bankrupt us. We've already weathered some rocky financial waters and one of my anxieties is that we might get into debt again someday. I know I need family support, but also realize that it's in my best interests to be realistic. It's just not going to happen.

    I eat a lot of chocolate, though! :-) That does help....a little bit. Other times, I just come to a few blogs like these and live vicariously...

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Anonymous. One of the most powerful forces available to humans is HOPE. Realism sometimes puts our focus on our circumstances and sadly it helps us forget that we all have access to "hope" (the expectation of something better). You may not have the kind of family support you need right now, but it could happen later. If you deny that possibility exists, you also blind yourself to recognizing it when it does happen.

      If you have been following this blog, then you also know I am not shy about challenging readers to step out of their comfort zones. Today I have a challenge for you. I challenge you to make a difference in your own life, instead of waiting for your family to provide what you need. How do you do that?

      I don't know what your religious standpoint is, but many churches do host support groups (at no cost). Research that possibility in your area. Start with joining a ladies Bible study group - some churches provide daycare for the time that the ladies meet, so your children will be looked after while you are making some new friends. Many of the ladies will be homeschooling moms, or stay-at-home moms, so you may meet people who face similar challenges to your own.

      You obviously enjoy reading, and you seem comfortable sharing about yourself in writing. Buy a journal, or get a google account and start your own anonymous blog. You may feel you don't have time for that? How long does it take to eat a bar of chocolate? Trade the snack for writing a short paragraph. Every time you get the urge for a choccie, pick up a pen or go to your computer to write. Writing (in a private journal or a public blog) is an amazing therapy - it allows us to explore our feelings, and test out solutions to problems. And in time you may actually grow a virtual blogger family - perhaps a poor substitute for a real family support structure, but better than no support at all.

      Oh yes, one last challenge: keep creating opportunities to talk with your husband. Make the effort to listen well. And when its your turn to talk, keep the focus on what you love about life. Your husband may be overwhelmed by not being able to help you more, and actually needs your encouragement to eventually be more helpful to you.