12 October 2012

Why Won’t My Husband Talk to Me?

The strong, silent type makes for a fine hero in a romantic novel, but how well does this "type" of man manage in a real marriage? A man's silence may seem sexy and mysterious during courting, but when the silence stretches into marriage it can confuse and hurt his wife. If she finds talking to be a soothing and enriching experience, it may be difficult to understand why her husband avoids it all costs. Does he do it to spite her or is he a prisoner within himself, frustrated and unable to give her what she needs?
A recent post drew some heartfelt comments about husbands that simply won’t talk to their wives. This code of silence imposed by some husbands on their confused wives causes significant pain and leaves emotional scars, so why do husbands with the physical ability to communicate verbally subject their wives to a wordless marriage? Is it only because they are unloving and selfish and want their wives to feel isolated and confused, or could there be another reason they hurt their wives with their silence?

Grantley Morris, in his article “
Improving Communication in Marriage: Understanding Your Partner’s Different Attitude to Talking” provides an extraordinary window into the world of the silent husband. Obviously, not all husbands are the silent type, just as not all wives are chatterboxes. In some relationships, the husband is the dominant talker, while the wife is more comfortable saying less. Morris acknowledges this, but focuses his article on silent men who frustrate their wives when they refuse to talk and retreat into silence without explaining why they do it.

Morris makes a bold statement that aligns well with the ideals of old fashioned marriage and the traditional marriage roles: “For a man to reveal his heart he needs to feel masculine.”
What makes a man feel masculine?

Husbands put themselves through the filter of what society and their wives expect of them, and guess what? They find themselves falling far short of expectations. The husband sees all his shortcomings, his weaknesses, caught in that filter and his confidence as a man, a husband, and the home leader, plummets. He convinces himself that he is less of a man than he needs to be. His sense of masculinity is attacked by his own sense of self-esteem. The thought of exposing all those weaknesses to the very person (his wife) who expects so much of him is intimidating. It is far easier to hide behind the veil of silence. The silence allows the husband to hold onto his dignity. As Morris puts it: “Strength and silence travel together because silence is needed to maintain the illusion of strength."

But is the silence really only the result of an insecure man who is too focused on his deficiencies and afraid to expose them? “Often a wife’s attitude and expectations have contributed to her husband feeling defeated about how hard it is for him to talk. Many a man has gained the impression that his verbal limitations are yet another thing his wife dislikes about him – or even that she is angry at him for having these limitations,” says Morris. Wives may be a big part of why men retreat into silence, if these wives do not clearly communicate (not just through words, but at all levels of communication) that they love and accept their men unconditionally. Husbands need to know, and truly believe, that their wives do not expect them to measure up to the fantasy heroes found in romantic novels, in the same way that wives need their husbands to assure them that they are beautiful and loveable despite not looking like a runway model. 

A man who is aware of his weaknesses, and fears the criticism of his wife will hesitate to expose his vulnerabilities to her. After all, from his perspective sharing with her will only provide her with ammunition to criticize him more harshly than she already does. He does not need to be reminded that he is not enough of a man for her. To protect himself from further verbal abuse and humiliation, he puts his heart (weighed down with its sense of unworthiness) behind a protective barrier.

There are indeed countless treasures that a wise wife can extract from her silent husband. It will take patience and it will take some significant skill, but most women have what it takes to develop this patience and skill. “
Improving Communication in Marriage: Understanding Your Partner’s Different Attitude to Talking” contains some gems of understanding that can help wives make sense of the behavior of their quiet husbands. In the spirit of exploration and discovery, we invite you to join us as we dig a little deeper into this article in search of ways to encourage communication in wordless marriages.


  1. Thanks for the link. I will definitely have a look at that article when I have free time. I appreciate your thoughtful response to my comments.

    1. The article referred to above is very easy reading, but it is long. It might be a good idea to print it out and enjoy it with a cup of tea when you are taking a little break.

  2. Hi :)
    This is a very interesting post. Six months ago, I would have described my husband as the strong, silent type. After 6 months in dd, I would describe him as the bossy, spanker type.
    I know now that I had shut my husband's communication skills down, but now I can't seem to shut them off. :(
    I guess a pendulum swings both ways, but now we need to meet in the middle.
    Thanks for the information.

    1. Thanks, Lillie. I guess we all go through seasons in our journey as communicators. It sounds like Ian had found a new way to express himself, and is doing some catching up :) It always amazes me how much communication is a two-sided activity. It's easy to think we are great communicators if we speak easily, but communication is also about being a great listener. (I think the referenced article highlights that.) I have learned that sometimes it takes more effort and skill to listen well than it does to speak our minds, and that developing these skills is an ongoing process.

  3. I am excited to check out the article. I work very hard to build up my husband and only encourage him. He is also one that must, MUST have time to process all information. This is VERY hard when we are in a very tough situation. I am learning (trying to anyway) to be patient and give him time to process.

    1. Thanks, Dana. I want to explore that article a little more, and look forward to you sharing your ideas, too. Patience is truly a powerful force in enriching a marriage - it's great to hear you are focused on using patience to create the ideal environment in which your husband can open up and share his thoughts.

  4. I find it terribly uncomfortable to talk to my husband at any level. I fear his anger, basically. Last night we had a guest over and I heard things from him I thought I'd never hear from him. When we have this guest over, he is much more comfortable discussing things, and so am I.

    My husband and I have never really been intimate in any sense of the word. We do have a number of children, but I think they were "flukes" to a greater extent. He never has really been interested in me as a wife, and last night I was, quite frankly, floored at the advice he was giving this friend in regards to their teenage son -- I almost felt like saying, "I had no idea you even thought about this stuff," which of course would have been very dangerous. I prudently kept my mouth closed on that topic. But I couldn't help but recall a few times when I thought the door was open to discuss delicate and personal subjects, and he quickly informed me that it was untoward and inappropriate to discuss them, so I shut my mouth fast.

    So I felt comfortable at last in front of these guests to contribute to the conversation in declaring that there were certain things I finally felt comfortable saying in front of others that I would never DARE mention to him while we're alone. I mentioned how most of the time I am too nervous and uncomfortable with just him and fear his anger, but that it seemed in front of our guest I could talk about anything I wanted and not have to fear him.

    After our guest left, it was dead silence once again. My husband is talking about going on a certain trip this summer -- when we first took this particular route for a car trip, our oldest children were just babies. Now they are old enough to enjoy the sights, so he's talking about retracing all our steps. The thing is I don't want to, because the car trip of yesteryear has a grating horrible memory; he became very angry at me and yelled and stayed angry for several hours. I remember this like it was yesterday and am terrified that it will repeat. I know what triggered it, and since my oldest daughter is old enough to help me now maybe I can keep it from happening -- back then I had two small babies and that was what triggered it, I think -- but I'm just debilitated with fear that he will raise his voice at me. I daren't discuss this with him. I timidly tried to discuss it with him once, and he told me angrily that I deserved his anger that day. Therefore all lines of communication have been shut down on that topic, but I am terrorized by the possibility. Is there any way I can reveal this to him without getting in trouble?

    1. Last night was a great opportunity for you: you got to see that your husband has a lot under the surface, and that is exciting because it means you still have a great deal to discover about him - just like he has much to learn about you. The prospect of all this discovery is wonderful motivation to start working on prying open the channels of communication that have been clogged for years.

      Unfortunately, I can’t give you a formula that will guarantee you immunity from your husband’s anger - no-one can do that. Relationship growing is always fraught with some degree of risk - to grow, we must make ourselves vulnerable, and yes, sometimes that growth will be accompanied by pain. If you want the rewards of good marital communication, you have to courageously take those risks.

      What would I do if I was in your shoes? Instead of jumping in the deep end and sharing with your husband how much you fear him and his temper (which he may perceive as cruel criticism, leaving him feeling threatened, defensive, and hostile), why not first lay the foundation every couple needs to promote intimate sharing?

      This may sound bizarre but if I were you, I might try something a little “out of the box”: focus on expressing gratitude to your husband, instead of sharing what pains you. For what, you may ask? After all, it feels like he is failing to give you what you need - why be thankful when it looks like he wouldn’t care either way? Gratitude has an uncanny way of breaking through the walls we tend to build when we get hurt. If you are hurt by years of limited intimacy and minimal communication, there’s a good chance your husband is also lugging around a lot of hurt, making him cold and hostile.

      Gratitude is not like dynamite which can shatter rock in an instant - think of gratitude as a trickle of water that will eventually cut through a wall of rock as long as that water flows consistently. It takes time, but genuine gratitude opens locked doors and promotes healing. Take this road trip for example: instead of focusing on how much you dread it because of a bad experience in the past, make a list of all the positive things associated with it that you can look forward to. Your list might include things like: “the trip will give me a break from normal household tasks”, “the trip will give me the opportunity to watch my husband interact with our children”, etc. When you have given it some thought (aim for 10 things to be truly grateful for), you can communicate those points of gratitude to your husband - not all at once, but little by little (like that trickle of water), whenever the topic of the road trip comes up. Let him know you appreciate his thoughtfulness in choosing to take the family on this trip, and explain why you consider it so thoughtful. Perhaps you already make a point to show (with your words) your husband gratitude many times a day? Then simply step it up to the next level. Show EXTRA gratitude. Make every day a chance to construct a new list of gratitude points - things you are grateful to your husband for - and share those little gems when you speak to him. Your husband may not reciprocate any of this gratitude, so this will take a lot of courage on your part. My challenge to you is to show your gratitude anyway, even if he is rude and doesn’t acknowledge it.

  5. I wanted to give you an update: I took your advice. I have been writing him a note each day to express thanks/admiration for a particular character attribute or a particular thing that he does. He has been enfolding me in an embrace and kissing my hair, something that he is not in the habit of doing. He will just come up and take me in his arms without me coming towards him first. This is huge. I still feel like I'm in a dream and might wake up! :-)

    My husband is quite tall and I'm rather short, so it's like getting engulfed. I remember when we were first married (and before a ton of pregnancies!) I sometimes felt like I was going to get lost in his arms! What a feeling! The current baby is six months old and I still have a ways to go, but now I want to hurry up and lose the pounds so I can get lost again. :-)

    1. Thanks for the update. It's wonderful to hear it. Keep being the encourager with your show of gratitude - it's good for you and its good for your marriage.

    2. I'm continuing to do what you suggested, and the difference is incredible. I still think I'm going to wake up from a dream. I am so happy. I still write notes; I don't feel comfortable talking really yet.

      I even have more energy physically. I homeschool three of my children and the other three are toddlers and an infant. By noon I'm exhausted. But now I feel like I can get through a day.

      It's really incredible how one small thing can make you fall in love all over again.

    3. Thanks for sharing the progress, Anonymous. This not a dream - this is the real-life process of loving selflessly and relationship building. Of course there will be bad days when it will feel like everything is unravelling. There will be days when you will wonder if the effort is worth it (because it does take effort to express oneself through giving). On those days, it is important to remember that the little things ALWAYS count (like encouraging little love notes), and that one step back and two steps forward is far better than no growth at all. Focus on the little things for now, and later the bigger things that you desire (like deep conversations and enhanced intimacy) will follow. Love generously, and enjoy being loved!

  6. Anonymous1/7/13 05:41

    I'm not married for long but already I'm worried. My husband is the silent type and that scares me. I believe marriage should be based on honesty, respect, love, being your self and able to be free in front of your partner. I always believed my husband should be my best friend. I remember saying to people that if you can't talk to your partner you should not be with them and now I'm in a silent marriage. we are different but I always considered that as a good thing. you can't learn new things from a person who is 100% same as you are. but now I think I was mistaking. I think that difference that I liked about him made him dislike me. He wants to control me. He always has his opinions on how I should dress, how I should behave, how I should talk and I don't feel free to be my self around him and that makes me so unhappy. I know it all comes from him not being pleased of himself and he tries to fix me instead fixing himself. I've been so weak in front of him, cried a lot, asked questions and he stays silent and with a blunt expression or most of the times angry with me and always in the end I apologise for everything. He never apologises about anything. I tried his way and did it to him and when he said he doesn't like it I would ask: if you don't like it than why do you do that to me? He would say it's not the same. He doesn't need it and I do to grow as a person. Once I had enough and told him to stop criticising me and if he has nothing nice to say he should not say anything at all. So now he says nothing. I don't know what to do anymore. If I don't start a conversation or initiate passion he will do nothing. The only thing that is left is for me to stop trying and hope that will trigger something in him. I feel stressed all the time and sad. Don't know what to do anymore.