Q/A Communicating with a Quiet Spouse
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
Q: My spouse comes from a family that does not share their feelings with each other. He is quiet which makes it difficult to communicate. I come from a family that shares everything. How can we better communicate with each other?
A: Opposites attract, and I can see why you were drawn to one another. If you learn to meet in the middle, a beautiful balance can be obtained. Not knowing the full situation, I will give one word of caution. Sharing “everything” is not the norm for healthy relationships (depending on what you mean by “everything”). Once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back and there are some things that are sacred between husband and wife that need to be treated as such. When it comes to sharing information about our own life, we can take liberties, but we need to seriously discern if information about our spouse is ours to share. A good test for this is imagine your conversation with a parent or friend is being video-taped. Would you want that videotape being replayed for your spouse? Would he be happy with what you revealed? If not, we need to hold those conversations to ourselves. Otherwise, trust issues will arise between the couple, which causes a quiet spouse to become even more quiet.
Regarding your question in getting a quiet spouse to speak, open-ended questions are a great way to offer a person a platform for conversation. For example, asking a person if they like or do not like something is asking for a yes or no answer. Whereas, asking what a person thinks is an open-ended question. The spouse cannot answer with a yes or no. They will be prompted to share their feelings about the situation. If your spouse is not quick to respond, he may be a slow processor. He needs time to think about your question and formulate his answer. This is when you need to practice reflective listening. Sit quietly while your spouse takes time to answer. When he speaks, repeat back to him what he said. This demonstrates you are actively listening and allows him to clarify his point if there is any misunderstanding. Many times, the talkative spouse will ask an open-ended question but lack the patience to sit quietly while the quiet spouse thinks, contemplates, and formulates his response. If the talker asks a question of her spouse, then proceeds to offer her own thoughts, and answer her own question, then the quiet spouse will sit quietly while the talker just continues to talk. He may even wonder if his opinion or counsel is desired or if the talker just needed a sounding board. Talkers often ask questions, give their opinions, and come up with their own answers, all before the spouse has a chance to answer. Before the husband can speak what he has formulated in his mind, the talker has moved on to another subject. Bringing conversation cards to date night is a fun way to have guided opportunities for connection.
Conversation questions could be things like:
1) What motivates you? What stirs your heart?
2) What does it mean for you to feel nurtured?
3) What is a favorite memory from high school?
4) What would days 1, 2 and 3 of your ideal vacation look like?
When it comes to a quiet spouse verses a talkative spouse, the talker needs to learn to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with yes and no. The talker also needs to learn patience by sitting quietly after she asks the question, giving her spouse time to answer.
Patti Hatton, MA, LPC