Jesse P. Johnson and
Melva J. Thomas-Johnson
A very common complaint that we hear from women in our counseling office is that their men often "shut down" and will not talk with them about important issues. In fact, it is estimated that between 40-50% of married women complain that their husbands will not talk to them in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, far too many wives feel ignored by their husbands, and the "silent treatment" is one of the top 10 complaints they report regarding their relationships. Therefore, if you are one of those wives who have been trying without much success to get your husband to talk to you, you are not alone. This very common problem causes many women a great deal of distress. We would like to share some of the many reasons why husbands "shut down," and some strategies to get them to open up.
Probably the #1 reason that many husbands shut down is that they complain that no matter what thoughts or ideas they attempt to share with their wives, they are likely to respond by being critical and challenging their ideas. Not only do they report that women are judgmental, they indicate that they take over the conversation and begin to give a multitude of reasons to prove the man wrong. "Why," many men ask, "should I open myself up to a barrage of lengthy complaints about why I think the way I do? If I don't say anything, then I don't have to hear it!" Many husbands simply do not understand why they cannot have their own thoughts or feelings without their wives "pouncing" all over them and saying that they are wrong. What men who feel this way don't understand is that often, when some women—not all—reach the point of criticizing, judging, or attacking, it is because the men failed to hear or respond to their initial attempts to reach out in a more positive way. It is also true that when many women reach out to connect with the men they love, they may express their message in "feelings words" that don't make sense to the men because they have been socialized to ignore their emotional feelings.
Some husbands have reported to us that the reason they often shut down is because their wives are far too controlling. (We do understand that the term "controlling" is an interpretation of an experience that may or may not be accurate.) They would like to tell them to "Stop trying to get me to do anything! Give me the time, space, and freedom to decide what I want to do, how I want to do it, and when I want to do it." They avoid saying this because they fear it could trigger a huge fight, so they retreat and give their wives the "silent treatment." Many men also resent their women's attempts to manipulate them into following their agenda and timetable. Rather than responding with an angry outburst, they simply shut down and don't respond. While this may be a "passive-aggressive" way of responding, most men would rather just not respond than to get into a fight. Most men hate fighting!
Another reason why husbands often refuse to talk is because they fear their wives will mention a multitude of past grievances. Most men simply do not want to hear for the "15th millionth time" a "laundry list" of every hurt and transgression they have caused. For example, some women may start off complaining about one thing, but before long, they have brought up every "wrong" they believe that their men have ever committed. Unfortunately, what men don't understand is the reason why women often keep bringing them up is because they probably have never been discussed and resolved completely. They probably still feel some emotional pain that they need their men to understand before they can move forward. Until these issues are addressed and resolved, they are likely to keep coming up. The problem is that most couples do not know how to resolve them, and cannot get past arguing.
IMPORTANT: We would not be surprised if some women take issue with these reasons. In fact, we would expect that a great many women would be quite upset with these reasons why men shut down and won't talk. Our goal is not to "put women down," but rather to help spouses open up and communicate with each other. This is critically important to a successful relationship. Therefore, we urge women to make a conscientious attempt to understand what men are attempting to communicate. We want to support you in being able to open the door so your man will open up and talk to you. If that's what you want, then you might find the following suggestions helpful.
Sometimes, wives bring up things that they have been thinking about for days, weeks, or months, if not longer. The problem is that most likely, their husbands have not been thinking about these thing and probably will need time to "think it through." If you expect an immediate answer, you're probably not going to get one. A man may need time to go into his "man cave" to think about his response before he is ready to give you one. Yes, it's going to take a little more time than you would prefer, so ask early enough to give him the time he needs. Moreover, when he does respond, allow him the opportunity to share with you his entire thought without interrupting, asking interrogating questions, or interjecting your ideas. This brings us to our next suggestion.
If you really want to know what your husband thinks about something (in contrast to attempting to get him to agree with what you have decided already), then LISTEN TO HIM! We mean that you must really listen to what he has to share without interrupting, interpreting, questioning, or belittling his ideas. To do that, it is essential that you control your urge to react before you hear and understand his complete message. He needs to know that you really want to hear what he has to say and that you truly value his opinions. If he senses that you are not really listening or are not interested in his opinion, he is likely to shut down. Be aware that men, like women, want to be heard.
By your attentiveness, demonstrate to your husband that you appreciate him sincerely and value his ideas and opinions. You must perceive each other as valuable, important, and essential allies who share and respect each other's ideas. By embracing the ideas that both of you are sharing seriously, you are able to make better decisions together rather than separately. Remember the old saying that "two heads are better than one." All of us want to be appreciated and respected. When we are, it motivates us to want to do more. If not, it diminishes our desire to be a fully functioning partner.
Thus, if you want your husband to really open up and talk with you, consider these ideas when you communicate. A different approach can truly produce different results.
Learn more about them by visiting their website, www.jesseandmelva.com!