Talk to Me
● Published by Style
All couples go through periods when communication breaks down, and many couples experience consistent challenges in this area.
This month, I give you the follow-up to my first “five reasons” and suggestions highlighted back in Style’s January 2010 issue.
1. Maybe your partner is actually depressed.
Is your partner actively and positively engaged in other areas of their life? If they’ve been mildly or moderately depressed for a long time, you may have gotten so used to it that it seems normal. But if they have disengaged from most people (not just you), and they have a pessimistic, hopeless attitude in general, depression could be the culprit. Email me if you want some recommendations for a couple of great books for couples affected by depression. I have come to believe that undiagnosed and untreated depression is a significant hidden cause of divorce.
2. They might be intimidated by your verbal skills.
Any chance you’re a verbal whiz compared to your partner? In general, most women score higher than most men on tests of verbal fluency and skill. And folks who have jobs that require verbal dexterity get daily practice. If your partner can’t get a word in edgewise or doesn’t have the quick verbal comebacks that you do, they might just give up! If that’s the case, slow down and give them time to formulate their thoughts. Keep it simple and resist turning your communication into demonstrations of your cleverness!
3. Location and timing are critical!
You’ve heard the expression location, location, location? Keep it in mind for communicating and add in timing, timing, timing. Some couples get into the bad habit of bringing up the most important issues at the least appropriate times. Rushed for time? Almost ready for bed? On the way to a family gathering? Irritated by a day when everything went wrong that could? It’s ironic that when we’re emotionally aroused, we might “feel” like we just have to talk right now. But put your “thinking” brain in charge and make your “emotional” brain put on the brakes.
4. Past resentments are getting in the way.
If your partner is harboring past resentments, they may be unable to see past them. No matter what you’re trying to communicate about, they may be filtering the conversation through the lens of a past hurt. For example, let’s say you want to talk about your son’s problems with his teacher. What if your partner had learning challenges and hated school and always felt embarrassed and humiliated by his teachers? What if he is still blaming them for failing him? How likely is it that he will want to communicate with you about this sensitive topic? But of course you had no idea, right? If a particular topic shuts your partner down, gently explore whether it is bringing up old memories. You might need to have that conversation before you can proceed to the current situation.
5. They are emotionally out of the relationship.
When folks have given up on a relationship, they have little reason to communicate. They may be going through the motions, but have no emotional investment left. They are likely to keep all communication vague, sparse, and noncommittal. Conversations may have a strained, tense edge that never goes away. Avoidance of contact - physical, emotional, and verbal, is the norm. This is a frightening prospect to face, but there’s no upside to ignoring it and the downside is that you are left unprepared and vulnerable should your partner abruptly bolt. With reason number three in mind (choose the time and location very carefully!), share your concerns with your partner and simply listen for now. Give yourself time to digest the information you’re given and consider talking with a counselor if your partner agrees that they have one foot out the door.
Dr. Debra Moore is a psychologist and Director of Fall Creek Associates, with offices in Roseville and Carmichael. You can reach her at 916-344-0900, firstname.lastname@example.org, or find more information, articles and questionnaires at sacramentopsychology.comsacramentopsychology.com.