My husband is an introvert who loves people. I look at his face when he walks in the door. I can usually tell when his word bucket is so full it’s oozing down the sides.
I can find myself caught in that dance between finally processing my day and all I’ve been accumulating to tell him and just meeting him where he’s at. Which may not yet be ready for a 13-minute monologue.
I don’t just want to connect with him for me. He has rich thoughts—as a complex, stunning person—rumbling beneath the surface. I want to both know him and be known. I want, in our conversation, to be naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25).
And preferably not just one of us.
But that can be tough if he doesn’t engage. How can we draw out the men we love into conversation that fills us both?
A few ideas:
1. Talk less.
Him talking more may mean me talking less. When in doubt, I sometimes count five whole seconds after he speaks. I’m surprised by what he adds!
For all of us, that also means putting the kibosh to
- Interrupting or jumping in, even to reassure
- Steering the conversation our own direction or turning the conversation to our own experiences (except briefly, to show you understand)
- Finishing his sentences
Note: Sometimes—not always—I find the amount of exchange in our conversation to be proportionate to my selfishness.
Am I taking from my husband, using him for my ends, or truly loving him? Or is conversation a chance to give him my presence, comfort, and ear … and a chance to talk, too?
By the way—our spouses weren’t designed to pull all of our emotional weight. Are we maintaining vulnerable, intimate friendships with other women so our husbands aren’t our only go-to’s?
2. Communicate closer to his language.
Sometimes the effort required for guys to listen to us talk through our meandering bunny trails can leave them scattered and exhausted. Without the energy to want to tell their own stories. Guys’ ideal sense of connectedness may not be sitting at a coffee shop for an hour (I know. #Mindblown).
So my husband has asked me to tell him my end point first. And then recount the back story. This feels less open-ended. (Where’s she going with this? How long will it take? Could she play a theme song when she’s getting close, like the news—or maybe have a little box over her shoulder with the headline?)
If I can condense a bit and pause before launching into another anecdote, it drains less of his conversational energy. It also leaves space for him to interact.
In fact, when I do this, he asks more questions about what caught his interest. (That’s instead of giving me that deer-in-the-headlights look.) In this way, I cross “cultures” a bit into what my husband values in communication.
But your husband may be different. Conversation isn’t about applying a universal-husbands rule. It’s about finding your spouse’s own conversational style.
3. Ask permission to come in.
There’s a level of respect to simply asking if we can engage someone right now, or if we can press in on something vulnerable.
- Is this a good time, or are you in the middle of something?
- So, can I ask you a question about that?
- Can I push back on that a little? (If you disagree)
Sometimes, if my husband might feel ambushed by my idea, I say, “I’m not sure you’re going to like this idea, but …”
(Bonus: It can have a bit of a reverse-psychology effect on him: Well, you never know! I might like it!)
4. Find your rhythm.
A lot of guys emerge from work needing time to let the day filter through in order to receive more words and be ready to talk again.
It’s counterintuitive. But if you want to converse, first give him some down time so he can feel like he’s got his whole brain back.
He might feel overwhelmed by a day when more ground was lost than gained. In this respect, consider asking questions that aren’t so open-ended when he gets home. “What are some wins you had today?” “Any highs or lows?”
Can you find a conversational rhythm that meets both of your needs? Hint: It may involve asking for what you need and interweaving that with his best times for conversation. (Which may not be at the end of the day.)
Perhaps you can plan a catch-up time alone over decaf for 15 minutes after the kids go to bed. Maybe you’ll have the music off when you drive together so you can chat. Or perhaps you’ll have alone time to talk on Friday nights. Maybe you’ll pick a regular date night or “date in.”
5. Ask questions that invite him in.
Use those sunny social skills and warm conversation to gently, patiently mine his depths. Ask questions to help expose the heart of things: his desires, his fears.
- What was that like for you?
- What are you afraid will happen?
- What do you hope will happen?
- What do you wish would happen?
Gently try to come into his world.
- That sounds intense.
- That would catch me off guard.
- That sounds like it would be really hard.
- That sounds like a big win.
- When I think about [a related experience from your past], I’m thinking this would be [adjective] for you. Is that what it was like?
Then insert a questioning look—“Am I right?”And then? Silence. Let him fill in. (Find out if you’re a good listener to help even more.)
6. Be safe.
To be a safe place, you are …
- Not needing to prove yourself as a good wife or his best friend. (Your focus is on him, not you). Image-management gets in the way of good listening.
- Receiving him compassionately when he discloses a way he’s lost or failed. Remember—it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
- Affirming him. Waiting to address his weaknesses until an appropriate time builds him up and extends grace (see Ephesians 4:29). (But be courageous, too!)
- Refraining from “fixing”/giving advice (especially pat answers), especially until he feels understood and received by you.
- Sometimes just being with him in the middle of life’s unfixables.
- Creating time to listen, undistracted and completely present. (Put down your phone or that laundry you’re folding).
- Creating conversation where, through your nurturing questions, he might even come away understanding himself better (i.e. not how you understand him or see the situation).
- With a low voice and soft expressions, asking questions which might otherwise feel bold.
- Showing you’re not upended by his realness, even if it’s ugly at times. Your tone has the power to communicate, We’re in this together.
This incredible podcast (“What if My Husband Doesn’t Deserve Respect?”) communicates the power of a husband feeling like you’re on his side—even when he royally blows it. Rather than ready to indict or problem-solve.
And guess what? That’s restating the gospel to him: You are more than the sum of your weaknesses. You don’t have to perform to get close to me. It’s not us against each other. It’s us against the problem.
7. Communicate your desire rather than controlling him.
The longing we have to connect is deeply good; it’s even God-like.
But personality type or “love language” isn’t an excuse for greed or selfishness in conversation or energy levels. Just like it’s not an excuse to hole up, plug in, and tune out.
Look for that sweet spot where you’re both getting needs met and laying down your wants. That’s marriage, right?
Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker and frequent contributor for FamilyLife. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to the U.S., where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.