Q: After fifteen years of marriage, my husband and I know each other well. I can absolutely count on his love and support, and I am thankful for that. But lately, I've been feeling distressed because we don't really communicate. In fact, he doesn't like to talk much at all, and even when we do, it's not satisfying.

I'm a "searcher" who's always looking at new ideas, and sometimes I feel stifled by his lack of curiosity and depth. I know he believes in God and lives a giving life, and his work consumes a lot of his time and energy, but I also want and need more stimulation than I'm getting from him. I've tried to just see his positive qualities, but at the end of the day, I need someone to talk to and share things with. Although I have mentioned my needs to him more than once, he is unwilling or unable to meet them. I realize this is a "typical" male/female problem, but knowing that doesn't make it go away.
--Ellie from Tucson

A: You're correct that this is a common male/female problem, and in years of counseling couples we have seen many examples of this dynamic, even with the gender roles reversed--if a man loves to talk about his feelings and the relationship, he usually winds up with a woman who doesn't. The dynamic also exists in gay and lesbian relationships. But its presence is usually an indication of complementary strengths, not irreconcilable differences. It is helpful to recognize that your situation is not an aberration, although we understand that pointing this out does not relieve the distress you are feeling.

There's a tendency today to believe that individuals who talk, share their feelings, and know all the current, popular, spiritual concepts are also higher beings. This simply isn't true. In fact, many, if not most, of the deeply spiritual people we know do not talk about their spirituality. They practice it in daily life.

Marital distress around issues of communication usually comes from one of three mistakes: trying to control, wanting to judge, or needing to be right. So the first step is to give up trying to change your husband even a little. Letting go 100% is essential. Most people can reduce the pressure they apply, but they do not drop it entirely, and so they remain burdened with a useless struggle. It is fighting these running battles and not our efforts to let go that increases our preoccupation with a problem. The more you accept that today your husband is the way he is, the freer you will feel. The more you apply pressure, no matter how indirect, the more frustrated and preoccupied you will be.

Your husband, even if he won't talk about it, is aware of your dissatisfaction with him. And it probably feels like a criticism and a judgment to him. No one becomes a more sensitive and generous person by being judged. Relinquishing judgment not only frees him but it also frees you. However, this doesn't mean that you will suddenly be free of your need for communication and stimulation.

You don't want to move from fighting your husband's need for silence to fighting your own need to talk. Instead, acknowledge your need and be open, creative, and willing to experiment by seeking new ways to meet it. It is rare indeed that a relationship gives both people everything they want today and forever. People's needs change, situations change, even personalities change, and part of maintaining a healthy, strong relationship is accepting these changes when they occur, just as every loving parent accepts the changes in their children, and every loving friend is tolerant of the stages their friends go through.

Obviously, there are needs that should only be met within the relationship, but conversation isn't one of them. If you will open yourself to other people, groups, clubs, chat rooms, sports, and the like, you will find that your need to express your ideas, your humor, and your feelings can be met by a combination of sources rather than a single source. This will let you relax within your relationship with your husband and enjoy what he has to offer rather than focus on what he is not offering. You will move from feeling like a victim of what your husband does, or does not do, to feeling free to move into and out of situations as dictated by your peace rather than your discontent.

Above all, remember that your best friend is always with you. Talk often to the One who never leaves your side and never leaves you comfortless. Remember, in that relationship, you are always welcome.

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