My husband won’t talk with me. I don’t want to become a nag, but I am afraid that is exactly what is happening to me. I am so frustrated. How can I get him to talk with me?
It is likely that you and your husband are locked into the “pursuer – distancer dance.” This is fairly common behavior between a man and a woman; a dance with some fairly predictable steps to it.
You want more closeness and intimacy with him and so you pursue him with questions (which he doesn’t answer) and then you get critical of him.
He wants more space from you, less of your controlling efforts to bring him in close, and so he withdraws from you with the silent treatment.
You pursue, and he distances.
Rules of thumb can be helpful, but they can also be dangerous.
In this case the rule of thumb is that men are more threatened by being controlled than are woman, and woman are more threatened by abandonment and loneliness. There may be some genetics involved in this generalization. Think about it.
Men have been the hunters for tens of thousands of years.
The last thing you want to lose when on the hunt is your freedom to act. Picture a group of men some ten thousand years ago out together trying to bring down some big wild game. The women couldn’t do this because such behavior was beyond them during pregnancy.
The more muscular man developed the skills it took to feed his family and tribe. Men would communicate between each other, not about their intimate feelings, but about the strategies and tactics of the hunt. Men still get together and talk about strategies and tactics, and seldom about feelings.
Women were the gatherers.
They could wander out in groups with the kids and gather nuts, leaves and roots. They were the ones who nurtured the kids, tuned into them with their intuitive feelings, and developed a sixth sense for how well each was feeling. Ten thousand years ago the only diagnostic system for medical problems was likely a woman’s intuitive feel for what was wrong.
Hormones got involved. Ken Wilber, the philosopher and pundit, puts it rather bluntly. “Woman have the hormone oxytocin, which says ‘relate to it, relate to it.’ Men, on the other hand, have the hormone testosterone, which says ‘kill it, or f**k it.’” That is sort of blunt, isn’t it? But Wilber sure hits the nail on the head. There is a fundamental biological difference between men and women.
But let me add that sometimes the pursuer – distancer dance is done in reverse.
When a woman stops pursuing her husband, and in turn doesn’t distance herself, he often stops and turns to face her. I have seen this over and over again. When she stops and holds her own hand (instead of insisting that he hold her to make her feel secure) well then he is no longer threatened by control from her and he turns, however gradually, to see what she is all about. Hence, my advice to you in this situation is this: Get a life!
Get your own life.
Tell him something like this: “John, I’ve been trying to get more going between us for some time now. I’ve turned into a nag and I don’t like it. I want a warm and intimate relationship with you but I realize that you don’t want that with me right now, and I am supposing that is because I have become a nag. The more I try to get you to talk with me, the less you do. So, I’ve decided that I am going to stop as of right now.
This is it.
I am going to talk with myself, with God, with my friends and family, but yes, mostly with myself. When you want to talk with me, you come right on and get my attention and start talking. I’ll do my best to listen. But I am not going to chase you around anymore because I don’t want to be that sort of person.”
Then, you follow through.
Get a handle on yourself.
You are either a Ready Adventurer, Loyal Caretaker, Authentic Idealist, or a Careful Thinker.
However, there is also the situation that is marked by some clear pathology. Some people just don’t talk. That is, they don’t self-disclose very much at all. You can follow all the sage advice in the world, and he still wont talk. I’ve seen it, and it is incredibly frustrating. Something inside of him is frightened, hurt, damaged, and he has built some serious defenses around himself to protect himself from real, or imagined harm.
Sometimes the fear of being re-injured is so severe that a man chooses, consciously or unconsciously, to never go near that injury again. In order to be safe, he distances. It is like the child who got a mouth full of water while swimming, got scared to death, and decided to never go near water again. Yes, it is almost like a phobia of intimacy.
There is a “schizotypal personality disorder.” That sounds more frightening than it is. Someone with this disorder has been burned and they aren’t going near the fire ever again. They have detached into their own world. This sort of distancing is more than a dance. It is a survival strategy that is being employed even when there is nothing real to fear.
So, the general rule when the pursuer – distancer dance is going on is this: Stop and get your own life, hold your own hand, and tell the big guy that he has a new woman to relate to! YOU! But you are getting on with your life. With him, or without him, you are going to have a great life.
If he is willing to go to a Marriage and Family Therapist, then by all means, take the steps necessary to make that happen. With a neutral third party present he might open up, break old habits, and get the relationship moving again. Give this a real try.
But for sure, remember that nagging wont work!
Recommended Books on Marriage
- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
- One New Habit To Fix Your Marriage: 10 Simple Steps To Put The Joy And Intimacy Back In Your Marriage
- The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope