The tension, silence, and things go through your head when your spouse doesn’t open up and talk to you. Sometimes, it’s personality and things you’re dealing with internally, or sometimes, you two have too many injuries for your spouse to believe what they say.
You can give your spouse a safe place to talk about what’s on their heart and breathing room by maintaining a few principles about yourself, your spouse and your calling to be a person of grace and understanding. Here are some things to do when your spouse doesn’t open up to you.
Understand how your spouse processes things.
Everyone communicates in their way, and everyone processes situations differently. Typically in marriage, your spouse is the opposite of you when it comes to if they process internally, meaning they withdraw and stay quiet, or if they process externally, meaning they want to talk things out. You need to figure out how your spouse communicates and thinks to get them to open up.
For example, some women think their husband is an “under communicator” regarding issues in their marriage. On the other hand, their husband would likely call them an “over communicator,” which can be just as irritating to them as silence is to their wife. If you combine these two communicators, one spouse is dying for peace, while the other is trying to squeeze more words out of the non-talking spouse. Most couples learn to see the humor in their differences but extend grace to each other when the talker wants to discuss, and the non-talker needs time to process.
Think about conversing with your spouse to understand better how they process life. You might say, “Do you think you process externally or internally? Which one do you think I do?” This conversation starter might open the door to a discussion, learning more about each other so you two can understand each other better and extend more grace.
Ensure that your spouse feels safe.
Communication is dicey, and saying what’s on your heart can feel scary to anyone who fears being misunderstood, rejected, or accused of stirring the pot if their words are misunderstood. Whether you give your spouse a reason to be afraid of this reaction or not, show compassion by acknowledging that trust is essential to open their hearts. Consider ways to let your spouse know that they can trust you. For example, when your spouse shares something you weren’t expecting, you might react in a way that makes your spouse feel threatened. However, if you let your spouse know they’ll be understood and heard, not discounted or debated, your spouse might feel safe enough to talk and open up.
You can ensure your safe place for your spouse is genuinely safe by committing to not verbally responding or reacting until your spouse has spoken. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that a gentle answer turns anger away, but a harsh word brings wrath. Meanwhile, James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak but quick to listen and slow to become angry.
Give yourself some time to process your spouses’ words before responding. The main thing is getting your spouse to talk, not you getting a chance to respond. Focus on their willingness and opportunity to speak and how you can make them feel safe so they won’t regret it once they open their mouth and heart to you.
Listen with a hearing heart.
Occasionally, we want others to speak so we can respond with our feelings. However, the danger in this is establishing a listening habit to respond. When we do this, we essentially stop listening because we’re creating our response, which is a no-no. Your spouse will know that you’re not listening, but you’re listening to plan your strategy or defense to repair. Your spouse may need you to listen, lovingly and silently, without an agenda.
Let your spouse know you’re listening by nodding, practicing eye contact and giving positive non-verbal feedback by staying compassionate and quiet. If your spouse’s words trigger an emotional response, count to ten and breathe, choosing your response wisely. It could be that the most thoughtful response at the time is to say that you need time to respond eventually. It’s fair and may stop you from becoming defensive or reactive and saying something you regret, which will only make your spouse close up even more, the next time you try to talk to them.
Reflect on the wounds that may surface.
Everyone on the planet is broken, and only God’s grace can remake, repair and restore us into a new and complete creation in Jesus Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 5:17. With that in mind, understand there is usually a deeper core wound driving an argument, problem, frustration or misunderstanding in your marriage. That core wound can also cause your spouse to go quiet. Additionally, the core wound can belong to your spouse, you or both.
Instead of thinking that your spouse is mad and doesn’t want to talk or doesn’t care enough to talk, think about the fact that you were unaware that your spouse struggled with finding the right words to say during these conversations. These thoughts can create understanding and compassion on your part instead of annoyance and accusation. It can also help you or your spouse recover from an injury that keeps you from communicating.
We often come up with inaccurate conclusions while our spouse is quiet and what we emphasize grows. If you emphasize what your spouse is doing wrong, that will grow. However, focusing on how your spouse is committed to your marriage like you are but struggles with keeping the peace will increase your awareness. It shows when you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, which may cause your spouse to trust you enough to open up and have a conversation.
Sometimes our spouses close up because we invite them to talk with words that cause them to get defensive. Instead, speak to your spouse in a complementary manner instead of a negative one. It would also help to watch your body language while discussing. Try to reframe your words to build your spouse up, not break them down.