George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Talk to me...please!"In many relationships, communication is viewed so differently between the spouses and often times we as men ‘think’ we are communicating, but our partner feels left out, unappreciated, and even rejected.

Men and women communicate so differently and have varying expectations, and it is easy to be misread by your spouse.

When a woman feels distant from her partner and feels as if he is pushing her away, it’s common for her to feel rejected and unsure of how to get him to open up.

When you find yourself feeling this way, consider these points.

Give him some time – When your man seems cold and distant and doesn’t want to talk to you, it could be that he fears combat and expects a fight. It may be that he is trying to avoid escalation of an issue by not talking now, but would be willing to discuss the issue after some time goes by.

Allowing a ’cooling off period’ during an argument or heated discussion may be a wise move to prevent something from being said that could cause more harm to your relationship.

Seek a non-combative environment – If there is a particular problem that needs to be discussed, create a non-combative environment where he feels comfortable sharing and opening up with his feelings. He may anticipate you becoming defensive or accusatory, and if he feels confrontation is imminent, he will likely shut down.

If you both have a history of combative discussions, you may try saying something like, “I know in the past I have gotten defensive and we usually end up fighting, but I really feel it is important we talk this out and I am willing to listen to your point of view without interrupting you.”

Provide opportunity – One reason your man may shut down and not discuss important issues is the simple fact that he feels you do the majority of the talking, not giving him an opportunity to get more than a word or two in, or that you really don’t want to hear what he has to say. (this point was suggested by my wife, from a woman’s perspective)

It may be true that in previous discussions you (or he) have dominated the conversation and the other spouse doesn’t feel their opinion matters, so a simple solution is to allow equal uninterrupted time to both partners.

When we were going through marriage counseling ourselves, our counselor gave us an assignment. I was to give Debby time every day to talk, about whatever she wanted to talk about, and I was to listen without interrupting and without getting defensive.

It was hard at first, but became an important part of our day as time went on and we learned to trust one another with our true feelings.

The key was to provide time to talk without fearing interruption, combativeness, or rejection. Encouraging your spouse to open up and talk and assuring him that you will not interrupt or criticize his feelings may help ease his fears and trust you with his feelings.

Conversation starters – Sometimes a conversation starter is all you need to get him to open up. Rather than only talking about current problems, financial issues, or parenting challenges, make it a habit to talk about things that interest him and engage in lighthearted and fun conversations.

By developing a habit of talking on a regular basis, it eases the anxiety he may feel when you need to discuss something of importance or something potentially threatening.

Keep in mind that these conversation starters are designed to help you get to know one another better and to initiate discussions, and are not meant to cause division or arguments. If you sense the conversation turning negative, simply redirect the conversation using a different question.

Here are some examples of conversation starters:

  • What is one of the most adventurous things you’ve ever done?
  • If you could store up only one hour’s worth of memory in your mind, which hour of our marriage would you want to remember?
  • When do you feel most loved?
  • Which strengths in your life bring you the greatest satisfaction?
  • What is the best way for me to encourage you?
  • What time of day is best for us to talk?
  • If we could just stop what we’re doing right now and go do something fun, what would you want to do?
  • If we won $1,000 how would you want to spend it?
  • What can we do as a couple to change the world as we know it?
  • What goals to you want us to accomplish in our marriage this year?…in the next 5 years…in the next 10 years?
  • What are three values we want our children to embrace?
  • Which cartoon character would you want to be, and why?
  • Which historical figure would you want to meet, and what would you ask him/her?
  • If you could have anyone in the world over for dinner, who would it be?
  • What do you think people will say about you at your memorial service after you die?
  • If you could live in any other time period, past or future, which period would you choose, and why?
  • When making decisions, do you put more trust in facts or in feelings? And are there any decisions you regret making?
  • What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God?
  • Whose marriage do you consider to be a model, and what is it about their marriage that you admire the most?

These are just a few conversation starters you might try using to get your spouse to open up. You will find that the more you talk about non-essential things and the more you feel comfortable talking to one another about your dreams and experiences, the more at ease you will feel when the really important conversations need to take place.

Try these out for starters, and then develop a list of conversation starters on your own. There are several great books available with conversation starting ideas if you get stuck.

Above all else, make him feel valued and respected when he talks, and let him know that you truly value his opinions and feelings. Many times we tend to clam up if we think our partner really doesn’t care what we have to say or isn’t listening.


About the authors

Jason and Debby Coleman are marriage mentors, speakers, and the authors of “Discovering Your Amazing Marriage” (Seraphina Press).

They have survived infidelity and many challenges in their marriage and have been married now for over 23 years. They have four children and reside in Federal Way, WA.