Every time you try to speak with him about something important, he shuts down. Why does he leave the room when a sensitive topic is brought up?
Guys are notorious for withdrawing. We like to go into our man cave where we can control the tempo of things. We understand that when conversations move to sensitive subjects things can get pretty tense and we prefer to live in our own little drama free world of peace and quiet. In their bestselling book, Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking when Stakes are High, the authors explain that most of us, men and women, tend to rely on silence (withdrawing from the conversation) or violence (name calling and other various forms of abuse) when we get involved in a tough conversation. Giving yourself the option of choosing between silence and violence is described as the “Fool’s Choice.”
When you withdraw from your spouse, you are walking on some dangerous ground. Withdrawal is an indicator that helps researchers predict divorce with surprising accuracy. In their book Fighting for your Marriage, the authors teach that “withdrawal and avoidance are different manifestations of a pattern in which one partner shows an unwillingness to get into or stay in important discussions.” Perhaps we justify using withdrawal as a way to prevent ourselves from falling into one of the other danger signs that predict divorce, escalation.
The habit of withdrawing is a vicious cycle. The more one spouse pushes for an opportunity to resolve conflict the more the other will resist by withdrawing deeper and deeper into themselves. The authors of Crucial Conversations suggest ways that will help you engage in a tough conversation while avoiding responding with silence or violence. They encourage readers to present your mind with a question before you start your conversation, “How can I have a candid conversation with my husband about [insert topic here] and avoid creating bad feelings or [getting into an argument]?” This will allow your mind to come up with clever ideas that rise above the Fool’s Choice.
Here are a few ideas that might help you stay peacefully in the conversation:
Start off on a positive
You may be tempted to just jump right in with a desire to fix the problem. Be patient. Start off by telling your spouse what you love about him. Talk about the wonderful experiences that you envision yourselves having in the future. Talk about how resolving the issue will help both of you find greater happiness in your relationship.
Have fun with it
There are a myriad of ways that you can resolve conflict and have fun doing it. I have heard of one family that uses opera as a technique to resolve challenges in their relationship. Every time they need to have a tough discussion, they do it in an operatic voice.
The speaker listener technique
Developing communication skills is vital to overcoming obstacles in marriage. One of the best skills that I have learned is the speaker listener technique. Each person takes turns speaking while his or her partner listens and paraphrases what the speaker said. This allows a couple to discuss tough topics in a respectful way that encourages mutual understanding.
Be patient with your spouse. Be patient with yourself. Your marriage can be a beautiful refuge from the chaos of the world. Instead of choosing between silence or violence, take the higher road and start off with something positive, have fun and use proven communication skills.