You talk about work. You talk about the kids. You talk about rush-hour traffic. But you don’t know how to get your spouse to communicate with you about things that make you a couple.
You live in the same home, sleep in the same bed, share the same anniversary. And yet, your communication has lost its luster, and your intimacy is paying the price. When did your fervor for mutual self-disclosure and secret-sharing go the way of “superficial” and “just the facts”?
If you recognize your marriage in the above description, you are far from being alone. Every couple can remember the early days of courtship and honeymooning — the time when there was only one person in the world whose thoughts mattered.
The very thing that draws partners to one another and forges their I-have-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you bond is the very thing that is most easily lost. You would think couples put everything worthwhile on the table before marriage. Apparently it becomes the “price of admission” into the dream of connubial bliss.
Over time, however, that commitment gets taken for granted. The stories that made your partner so fascinating at one time are now eye-rolling in their annoyance when repeated. And when kids and work force you to add extra pages to your Daytimer, it’s only natural to trim away what isn’t essential. Without warning, you are left wondering how to get your spouse to communicate with you.
Unfortunately, the perception of “what is essential” gets muddled in the monotony of day-to-day responsibilities. It also gets buried under the weight of unfinished emotional “stuff” carried into the marriage. And before you know it, intimacy — true, emotional intimacy that surpasses sexual intimacy — takes its foot off the gas and coasts to a halt.
In an interview about how wives can get their husbands to open up, Pastor Kevin Thompson shares an important perspective about men. He says that one of the most consistent complaints he gets from women is that men won’t talk.
The surprising reality, as he states, is that men actually want to talk more than they do. They genuinely want the intimacy connection.
Whether you are the wife or husband, the tips for how to get your spouse to communicate with you are mutually relevant. Here are some important starters.
- Be honest about your desires.
Do you really want your spouse to talk more…or listen more? Communication is a healthy reciprocity of both. But if you’re feeling locked out of your marriage’s potential because of poor communication, it’s important to be honest about your needs.Women who complain that their husbands won’t talk often really want their husbands to listen. Not just in-one-ear-and-out-the-other listen, but hearing-with-the-heart listen.
- Create safety.Anything can be shared when the environment for sharing is safe. That’s why working with a therapist can create such breakthroughs when you don’t know how to get your spouse to communicate.
The absence of communication is often a sign of fear. It is therefore imperative that you never, ever use your spouse’s words against her/him. You took vows to love, protect and cherish. When and how did you think you would have to live those vows if not when you are communicating?
Be your spouse’s safe place to land. Take good care of your spouse’s heart…and see what comes forth when you do.
- Embrace your differences.We can joke all day about how different men and women are. But if we don’t learn from the differences and apply the lessons, we’re just wasting valuable information.
When it comes to communication, men and women not only have different styles, but different needs. Women crave empathy, men crave respect. And their communication styles reflect those differences.
Wives, it may be second nature for you to maintain eye contact during conversations. You may also weave your conversations, sometimes overlapping or interjecting in a cooperative way.
Men, you may be more comfortable talking while doing something — walking, fishing, gardening. Sitting face-to-face may create tension for you, which is why sitting side-by-side and taking turns in conversation may be more comfortable.
The important thing is that you each seek to understand the other. Learn your spouse’s love language…and speak it.
- Listen with intention.Listening isn’t a waiting game. It’s a learning mission. You are seeking information that will help you know and love your spouse more intimately. You won’t observe or hear the nuances of information if you are simply waiting for your spouse to stop talking so you can say what you want to say.
Listen quietly. Listen compassionately. Listen without judgment. Don’t override, pounce, or fill in the silent gaps. Even reassuring comments can stop your spouse’s flow and her/his trust in the safety of the conversation.
If you don’t know how to get your spouse to communicate with you, work on being a good listener. Just. Listen. Your spouse is gifting you with her/his vulnerability. Treat it with care. Learn. And be grateful.
- Ask open-ended questions.“Are you OK?” will likely get you a “yep” in response. “How did you feel listening to the Clarks talk about their retreat?” opens the door to a real discussion.
By asking open-ended questions, you are more likely to learn just how much your spouse really wants to share.
- Timing, timing, timing.Don’t bring up heavy topics when you are both tired. Communication is successful when partners set it up to succeed. Be considerate of one another and choose your timing accordingly.
- Don’t expect (or pretend to be) a mind-reader.“He should just know” or “she can figure it out” sets your relationship up for failure, especially when there are expectations attached to the assumptions.
It’s incredibly unfair not to take responsibility for communicating what you are wanting or needing if you expect the other person to fulfill it. Inevitably your spouse won’t read your mind correctly, and both of you will end up resentful.
In The Four Agreements, the one agreement that is deemed to be most transformative is “don’t make assumptions.” And mind-reading falls into the category of making assumptions.
- Be the spouse you desire.The adage that “you teach people how to treat you” joins forces with the Golden Rule in this tip. Model the behavior you want from your spouse. Assume the risk of being the first one to do the right thing.
Listen longer. Make safety unequivocal. Speak your spouse’s love language. Set your relationship up to succeed by expecting only of yourself and trusting your spouse to respond in kind.
Learning how to get your spouse to communicate with you has less to do with your spouse and everything to do with you. After all, you are the only one you can control.
Healthy communication starts with awareness of its importance. That awareness opens the door to intention, which then sets the stage for positive changes in behavior.
Make healthy communication a priority. It can revitalize, reinvent — and even save — your marriage.