What should you do when your spouse won’t talk? How to get a spouse’s attention so that he or she will talk with you is an issue that mystifies many couples. Spouses report trying many techniques, such as trying to talk rationally and logically, watching to see when a spouse is in a good mood, and waiting for a time when the television is off. They also share stories of begging, pleading, threatening, and finally, yelling and screaming.
If you are having problems getting your spouse to talk to you and to share feelings and opinions, here are some additional things you can do to facilitate communication. First, you have to grab your spouse’s attention, which is what these tips are designed to do.
1. Lower your voice
When you’re talking to your spouse and start getting overly-emotional, lower your voice instead of raising it. This breaks the pattern of tempers escalating, followed by loud yelling. If your spouse asks what you’re doing, just say that you read that lowering your voice was a way to defuse anger. Maybe your partner will decide to try it, too.
2. Tell them how you feel
Tell them your feelings, requests, or ask questions. Tell them that not talking about or resolving the issues is affecting you. For example, you might say, “When you call me horrible names, I feel like I’ve been betrayed. I don’t want anything to lessen my love for you, but I know that if this continues, I won’t feel the same way toward you. Can we please agree not to call each other names (or can we make an appointment with a marriage counselor, etc.)?”
3. Buy a cute, funny, or clever greeting card
And include a note asking if you can schedule a time to talk to him when you both will be uninterrupted. Some spouses have an easier time talking to their partner in a restaurant over dinner, so you could suggest making plans for going out for a meal.
Obviously, you wouldn’t want to discuss your most emotional issues in public, but maybe you could use the occasion to handle some relatively routine things. And then agree on a future time to talk about the more sensitive topics.
4. Include a small gift that they would like
When you give your spouse a card or note asking if you can schedule a time to talk, include his or her favorite candy bar or a package of chewing gum—some small item that shows you pay attention to what your partner likes. With a candy bar, you might attach a note that says, “To my sweet Sweetie—could you please let me know when we can schedule a time to talk? Thanks so much. Enjoy the candy!”
5. Make a written list of your questions
Wriite a list of your questions and include a “yes” and “no” box next to the question. Also include boxes that say “Undecided” and “Need More Details.” Be as specific as you can. For example, you might make a list of possible activities and places to go on a “date night” and ask your partner to respond.
In that case, you would put a category of “Other suggestions” at the bottom so your spouse could include additional ideas. Or you could make a list of possible times during the week that the two of you could reserve for private talks. Another idea is to make a list of things you think are important to resolve, and see if your spouse agrees or disagrees.
6. Look for something to “trade” with your spouse
Try offering to take the kids to a movie so your spouse can have friends over or enjoy some private time to relax. In return, negotiate for an uninterrupted time to discuss pertinent relationship issues—maybe a relative can keep the children or they can spend a weekend afternoon with friends. Or you might offer to do a certain chore that your partner detests doing in exchange for some “talk time,” which your spouse may equate with being slowly tortured. Make a creative trade-off.
Just because you think the tips won’t work, don’t prematurely discount them. I have worked with numerous clients in marriage counseling who have tried these tips or variations of them, and the results have often been amazing. Spouses who don’t normally express feelings verbally sometimes respond in writing, much to the astonishment of their partners. In other cases, spouses who receive letters have initiated conversations about how the letter has opened their eyes to things they didn’t realize before.
Use these seven tips to jumpstart your thinking about different ways to open communication channels with your spouse. And if one attempt falls flat, try another. That’s what all successful researchers do—and they don’t hide behind the words, ‘It’ll never work.” Experiment with an open mind and you may be surprised at the results.
About the Author
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-creator of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says “I don’t love you anymore!” which is available at Amazon.com as a Kindle book which you can download in seconds.
Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples who want to overcome relationship problems and create a rewarding, loving partnership.