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.