I’m married to a woman who doesn’t want to talk about anything important. My wife was raised in a family where issues were swept under the rug, while I was raised in a family where we talk about everything. How are we ever going to meet in the middle if she simply refuses to talk about anything important? What can I do?
The issue you raise is so common that a name has been given to it – stonewalling. In fact, it’s such a critical issue that one popular author, Dr. Gottman, has named it one of the primary indicators of a relationship in severe distress.
Stonewalling – generally understood to mean emotional abandonment – may begin as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions, but ultimately leads to a pattern of responding. It’s different than a temporary time-out you use to collect your thoughts and emotions; stonewalling is prolonged in spite of the emotional pursuit by a partner. It results in passive-aggression because the impact is always hurtful. Silence can be one of the deadliest forms of communication.
The “stonewaller” may delude herself and believe she is causing no harm by her silence. However, while we are certainly to be careful with our words, we are never taught to punish a mate with silence. “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:23).
So what can you do about your wife’s tendency to stonewall?
Create a safe environment to speak. You can’t expect your wife to share her heart if you haven’t first made it safe to do so. Create an emotional atmosphere where the sharing of her honest thoughts and feelings is welcomed and valued. Are you doing everything you can to make your mate feel safe so she can share her heart?
Invite your wife to talk about her thoughts and feelings. An additional way to create safety is to ask your spouse to share her thoughts and feelings. Patiently listen and thank her for sharing them with you. It’s possible your wife is shutting down in an attempt to avoid criticism and judgments.
Ask gently probing questions that lead to deeper conversation. Your wife may not know what you want to hear. She may believe that when she reports facts, she’s sharing – when in actuality you long for deeper, gut-level communication. You may need to gently model the kind of communication you seek. Create regular opportunities, ideally daily, where you will share intimately with each other.
Confront ‘stonewalling.’If you’ve created an environment free from criticism and judgments, and made it clear you desire deeper, ongoing communication, yet you still feel emotionally abandoned by your wife, you must have a heart to heart conversation with her. You must now let her know the impact of her behavior on you. Share from your heart, emphasizing feelings and avoiding judgments.
Agree together to maintain a safe environment where thoughts and feelings are always valued. Marriage is an emotional dance; you’ll step on each other’s toes at times. Yet you both need to agree that retreating into silence is not an option and won’t be tolerated. Strive to show your mate you value her honest emotions and differing opinions and thoughts.
In summary, stonewalling is a destructive habit that can be overcome. You are in this relationship together and the quality of the relationship is the responsibility of you both. Strive to eliminate retreating into stony, cold silence and cultivate warm, effective sharing.