When Your Husband is Reluctant to Talk
by Johnny Hunt
Long ago I lost count of the number of emails and letters I have received from wives concerned about their husbands. These women knew their men were struggling, but they could not get them to open up and speak with anyone about it.
In my mind, I can still see the note. A wife had written to express her appreciation to me for encouraging her husband to start sharing his deepest secrets. Did it hurt her to learn of those secrets? Of course it did. But something about his vulnerability and transparency drew her to him. Even in the midst of her pain and hurt, she was able to accept her husband for who he was at that moment in his life’s journey, and then join with him to help him and watch him become more than a conqueror.
Why are so many men reluctant to speak about the sensitive areas of their lives? It seems that whenever anyone gets too near to an area that feels especially “close to home,” many men shut down the conversation in an attempt to keep that area of life private or hidden.
In my years of ministry, I’ve come to identify at least three sources for a man’s reticence to talk:
• father’s example
• cultural norms
Let’s briefly consider each one:
Researchers have discovered numerous differences between the male and female brains. They process thoughts differently, and there are structural differences that influence the ways they communicate, including the fact women tend to have more connection between the verbal portions of their brains and their feelings. This doesn’t excuse men from talking when they should, but it does help inform us on why men generally tend to stay silent about their innermost thoughts, while women are more willing to share them.
The role models we grow up with tend to shape our actions to one degree or another. If a man had a dad who didn’t talk much at home, chances are he too will become a man of few words. So he will need to work at overcoming this early training and realize the benefits of being more open about what’s on his mind.
All of us are the targets of certain messages from society. For men, from the time they’re young, those messages include:
• Crying is for girls.
• Real men don’t waste their words.
• Man up and shut up.
• A man doesn’t ask for help
Over time, these and other similar messages tell men to clam up. They suggest that men are to be strong, silent types, and that there’s something wrong when a guy wants to open up and talk about issues that are more personal in nature.
In my book Unspoken, I identify some reasons men are reluctant to talk about certain issues, and two key ones are fear and pride. Perhaps they’re afraid of rejection or some other negative response. Or they don’t want to admit they have a weakness or that they’re wrong.
Whatever the case, what can you do, as a wife, to help your husband when it comes to communicating about those concerns that are buried deep within his heart? Here are three suggestions:
Listen. While men are generally silent about sensitive issues or their feelings, they do, every now and then, say things that provide a brief glimpse into what is weighing heavily on their minds. Most likely you know your husband well enough to know his “conversational comfort zones.” When you hear him say things he doesn’t typically talk about, it’s time to pay attention. Focus on listening. Don’t necessarily interpret his momentary openness as meaning that he is seeking an answer or solution from you. Instead, let him talk. And you can almost never go wrong by saying, “How can I be in prayer for you about this?” What’s important is that you communicate you care about him, and you’re on his team. You don’t want to intrude, but you do want to give support, and by offering to pray, you’ve given him an opportunity to open up without feeling like you might become critical of him or respond in some other negative way.
Pray. From an information standpoint, you might not have much to go on, but God knows your husband’s needs with perfect clarity. With that in mind, commit yourself to praying regularly on your husband’s behalf. Ask the Lord to give him wisdom for whatever issues he’s facing—whether that wisdom comes from Scripture, a male Christian friend, a Sunday sermon, a book or whatever. As a spouse, you have the privilege of being your husband’s most dedicated prayer advocate. And anytime your husband chooses to speak up about something that’s obviously private to him, you can let him know you’ve been praying. That will mean a lot to him.
Encourage male Christian friendships. When it comes to the things men don’t like to talk about, if they feel a need to open up, they’re more likely to do so with another man who has already gone through that same challenge. For your husband, the best source of good counsel is going to be a mature brother in Christ. So encourage your husband’s every interaction with other Christian men. Maybe you would rather he not go fishing or golfing this weekend, but if it’s happening in the context of male Christian friendship, that’s important. As those friendships grow, he will experience spiritual growth too—and ultimately you’ll benefit as your husband learns, from mature fellow believers, how to deal with and resolve his struggles.
Even after you’ve listened, prayed and encouraged male Christian friendships, it is possible your husband still might not speak up as much as you would like him to. But when you show that you care, you can be assured that he knows he can count on you to be at his side when a moment of need arises. By gaining his confidence, you increase the likelihood he will communicate more, even if most of the time it’s done through nothing more than simple prayer requests. And though your husband might not verbally say so, he will appreciate that you are showing your love in this way. For in doing this, you fulfill God’s calling for you to live as a true partner, a true helpmate to your husband.
Portions of this article are excerpted from Johnny Hunt’s new book Unspoken, from Harvest House Publishers.
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