We receive many questions from people in relationships regarding communication problems. It’s one of the areas that many couples struggle with, especially after being together for a long time. Below is a question we received from a woman named Erin asking, "Why can’t my husband communicate with me?" and my answer.
My husband and I have been to a marriage counselor to improve our marriage. We have an ongoing issue that we cannot resolve. My question is....Why Can't My Husband Communicate With Me? He lies to me and hides things from me. Mainly pertaining to communication with his ex that he has children with. He has agreed to tell me when they contact him or share with me anything pertaining to their child support issues. However, he still does not tell me these things unless I stumble across them myself. Which I have, once again. When I ask him about it, he becomes very angry and says he does not share with me because I get so upset over it."
I tell him I am upset over the fact that he did not tell me about it and not the issue itself, but he refused to believe me. He turns it all around that I am always saying he is the one that needs to change and not me, because I am so perfect. And around and around we go. He has never apologized for keeping secrets from me and feels justified in doing so. This goes back to our problem of 'Who goes first?' Why should he when it's all my fault? Why should I when it's all his fault? It's a vicious circle that we can't get out of. I don't know how to change it. All I want is for him to share with me these communications, but he refuses and continues to lie to me and hide things. I don't know what to do about it." -Erin C
Erin and her husband are dealing with several issues. Determining how and when to discuss touchy subjects like an ex or finances is hard enough. But they have now gotten stuck in a power struggle over who is most at fault. This isn’t uncommon and can be very difficult to pull out of since neither person wants to admit fault. Below is the answer I gave them.
I’m sure a lot of couples can relate to your struggle with marriage communication, especially - "Who goes first? Why should he when it's all my fault? Why should I when it's all his fault? It's a vicious circle that we can't get out of… and around and around we go.” I couldn't have described this typical marriage communication dance any better.
One of the answers to your question of why your husband can't communicate with you is because he feels the need to protect himself from you. It can be seen in his defensiveness. This is common barrier in marriage communication.
If you can understand some of the reasons why he feels the need to defend himself, you'll find some ways to get your husband to communicate with you more. Try thinking about what could be going on for him, as well as what you could be doing, that are triggering his defensiveness.
Here are a couple of ideas to help get you started:
- SAFETY He doesn't feel safe to share things. This may come partly from your experience together, but it can also come from other past experiences as well. The origins aren’t as important as just being aware that he feels unsafe and that safety and trust needs to be built between you two.
- HISTORY Obviously you have a history of fighting over this topic. History has a way of becoming like a snow ball rolling down a hill. It gets rolling faster and faster, gets bigger and bigger, and becomes harder and harder to stop. Look for ways to start writing a new history of how you two deal with this issue without constantly fighting.
- IDENTITY He’s protecting his self-identity. Sharing details about his relationships with his ex requires revealing parts of himself that he’s probably uncomfortable with others, especially you, knowing. Use this knowledge to be more understanding of why he's uncomfortable communicating with you.
Still Wondering Why Your Husband Can’t Communicate?
It's not only wives that wonder "Why can’t my husband communicate with me?", husbands can ask the same thing about their wives too. Good communication in marriage is crucial, but it can be tricky. Without meaning to, partners can do or say things to one another that make talking openly about sensitive topics really difficult. If it seems like these problems get worse as your relationship grows, well they absolutely can.
At the beginning of a relationship we're eager to get to know each other. We may not reveal intimate details about ourselves yet, but from a communication stand point we’re happy to talk, learn about one another, and discuss nearly any topic that presents itself. As we go along and grow closer we hope that we can only get better at communication, but sometimes it is just the opposite.
Knowing someone well means that you know where they’re vulnerable and how they can be hurt. It also means they know what things can hurt you or cause you to be defensive. Unfortunately, either accidentally or purposefully, couples sometimes use these areas to cause each other pain. Although this can result in many things, a breakdown in communication is one of the biggest.
There are also other factors in life like children, work, and finances that start to consume our focus as the relationship grows. These things can start to take so much of our time and mental energy that we forget how to effectively communicate with each other. The years put into the relationship can get mistaken for a "they should just understand by now" attitude and actually communicating directly with each other gets lost or forgotten.
So if you find yourself in a situation like Erin and her husband, try taking a step back and looking at your relationship as a whole. Are there safety, history, or identity issues that might be getting in the way? As I told her, understanding your partner’s reasons for being unable to communicate will be an important part of making things better and keep you from having to ask the question "Why can’t my husband communicate with me?” like she did.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 30, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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