Silence isn't always golden. It can be grating, isolating and downright hurtful. At its worst, a man's silence can push his leading lady into extreme behaviors that result in relationship failure. When there is a silent partner in the relationship, the following exchange will be familiar.
"Don't you have anything to say?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know. Anything would be nice."
I can't tell you how many times I've heard a female client say, "I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. I get nothing back." More often, it is the man who is the silent partner, and the woman blames the man for his silence. And yet, when I ask, "Was he this quiet when you first dated?" the answer is usually, "No, he talked much more then." So now the key question is, "What has changed?" My answer, which most of my female clients initially deny, is that it is the woman, not the man, who has changed over time.
If your man has morphed into a silent mate, you might be the problem. In researching for my bestselling book "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In," I interviewed hundreds of couples, and when I talked to the silent male partners alone, they revealed four significant reasons for their weak verbal involvement. If your mate is silent, heed my fix-it advice (adapted from "Fight Less, Love More"), and I promise you will get the conversations flowing. The best way to get your mate to communicate is to change the way that you communicate.
Reason 1: "I'm not interested."
"Sometimes I don't say much when my wife talks because I'm not interested in the topic. If she has a 10-minute conversation with her mother, she'll spend 20 minutes telling me all about it. I tune her out. It has nothing to do with me."
This is a response I've heard from men countless times. I'll be brutally honest here: There will be times when your mate doesn't care about what you are saying. And he shouldn't have to. You should not force his attention to minor details about general things that don't affect him or the relationship. If you want to talk about such things, call a friend. Or, if the topic does affect both of you, then talk about it, but limit your descriptions, and start the conversation with the main point and/or the question you have for your mate.
Reason 2: "I want to avoid a fight."
"I do have things to say, but I don't say them because I've learned that saying, 'Yes, dear' avoids a fight. She doesn't like it when I have an opinion that's different from hers."
Many men hold their tongue in order to keep the peace. They'd rather have a quick fight about why they don't talk than a long fight about anything else. How can you know if your mate chooses silence as a defense? Think about how you respond when he disagrees with you. Do you try to persuade him to see it your way? Do you keep talking until he fully accepts that you are right and he is wrong? If you treat a conversation like a win-lose debate, you are forcing your mate into the silent corner. To counteract this cause of silence, tell your mate that you want to hear his opinion, especially when it is different from yours. Admit that you usually criticize his opinions and explain that you are working on being more respectful and tolerant. Promise not to pressure him to agree with you. If he feels safe, he will start talking.
Reason 3: "I hate the tangent talk."
"How do you have a conversation with someone who repeats herself, talks endlessly and never gets to the point? She relates anything to everything and goes off on tangents I can't follow. I want to shout out, 'Shut up, please!' Instead, I force myself to grin and bear it as I wait for her tedious stories to end."
A tangent talker might start a conversation with, "I met the rudest customer in the store today." The listener would think he is about to hear what that customer said. Instead, she'll tell you about everything that led her to the store, including which co-workers were with her during the lunch break and why her closest friend didn't go with them. Then she'll tell you about the type of sandwich she bought, and include that she was in a hurry because she had to get back for a meeting. If you're lucky, she'll circle back to what the rude customer said on the check-out line.
Tangent talkers are self-centered. Rather than stay on a single topic, they link to other topics because they enjoy being the center of attention, or they are simply clueless. To be a good conversationalist, you must learn to focus on a single point, then close your mouth. End of story, literally. Give your counterpart a chance to respond, and then move on to another topic.
Reason 4: "I get interrupted."
"My partner interrupts me all the time. I don't talk because she doesn't let me finish a sentence. She assumes that she knows what I'm going to say. If she's so good at mind reading, then I'll just let her do it and say nothing since she doesn't want to listen anyway."
The longer a couple is together, the more both partners fall victim to the mind-reading habit. This faulty sin of talking for your mate is a serious blockade to keeping love and romance alive. Even if your mind-reading talent allows you to correctly predict his comments 70 percent of the time, you will be wrong 30 percent of the time, and you will never hear those new ideas. That's a real loss to the relationship. If you don't want input from your mate, then have a monologue with yourself in front of a mirror. A conversation requires a give and take between two people. Interrupting your mate is rude and disrespectful. It's a bad habit that overtakes many good relationships. Don't berate yourself for this habit; instead, be alert to your verbal hijackings and consciously keep your mouth closed when your mate is talking. Try an experiment of letting your husband talk. You will find that your moments of silence are filled with his words -- ones that you would not have predicted.