It’s common for each spouse in a marriage to have his or her own style and preferences for communicating, especially when it comes to expressing our feelings. At times, this can create major barriers in getting through to one another. But if we’re able to work together to overcome those barriers, we’ll cultivate a closer, more loving marriage.
A matter of hard-wiring and personality
Sometimes, communication barriers are an issue of gender and physiological wiring. Research shows that men, in general, tend to have difficulty putting their feelings into words. Many men don’t have an innate need to make their feelings known. And when pressed, they might not actually know how they feel right away.
In contrast, women are more likely to have a larger vocabulary for describing how they feel. Generally speaking, women feel validated when they talk about their feelings and describe them. It’s not uncommon for a wife to express frustration over the fact that her husband won’t verbalize his emotions; in fact, she may actually think he’s deliberately withholding that information.
Gender doesn’t determine every communication clash, though. Issues with communication can also be tied to our personalities and preferences. Some of us are extroverts who need to process our feelings through analysis and communication. Others are more comfortable working their feelings out in private–and in silence.
If you tend to verbalize your feelings more often, be careful not to project them onto your spouse. And if you feel overwhelmed and want to process how you feel before you talk about it, let your spouse know you’d like to take everything in before you talk. And whether your personality or your gender determines the communication styles in your marriage, the solution is universal: be patient and understanding with each other.
If you’re afraid to speak up
It can be scary to express your feelings, especially if you’re upset with your spouse. Maybe your spouse has even picked up on the fact that something’s wrong–and they’ve asked you what’s going on multiple times. You feel guilty for saying, “Nothing,” but you’re really afraid to answer honestly.
Some of us are hard-wired to value harmony in our relationships. The thought of bringing any kind of conflict to the surface makes us sick, even if we’re justifiably upset. It’s upsetting to put a feeling out there that could create negative consequences in our relationship.
Here’s the thing, though: telling your spouse that nothing is wrong just frustrates them. They don’t know how to make your relationship genuine if you don’t feel free to speak your mind. And maybe they also know that conflict actually leads to a closer, more intimate marriage.
If you can’t be honest with your spouse, you’ll always be stuck in a level, pseudo-relationship. Why? Because you’ll be pretending to be in sync when you’re really not.
To get more comfortable with expressing difficult feelings:
- Tell your spouse you need to process everything before you talk
- Express your feelings in writing instead of verbally
- Let your spouse know you’re afraid, and you don’t want to do or say anything that upsets them
Change–even necessary change–is painful in a relationship. So as you walk through this together, remember to be honest, authentic, and genuine with one another.
If your spouse won’t express their feelings
If you believe your spouse may be withholding communication about their emotions from you–grief, anger, anxiety, joy–take a moment to recognize that it’s their right to be private about how they feel. It’s not uncommon for men and women to choose to work through their feelings on their own before they discuss them with their spouse.
We all have different emotional processes. For example, when we’re grieving, some of us might like to be touched and hugged. We might want to talk about everything we’re going through, and feel connected and supported. But others might prefer to be given space. In cases like these, it’s important not to push your spouse to communicate the way you might in a similar situation.
If your spouse craves emotional space, especially during difficult times, you can:
- Create ways–like small handwritten notes–to let them know you’re here for them
- Help them create or recall happy memories around their loss
- Let them know you want to respect their space and ability to process feelings in private
Do you and your spouse struggle with communicating your feelings? How do you tackle the problem when it arises? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.