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Husband Not Talking

Husband Not Talking

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Dear Rachel,

My husband's parents are involved in a high conflict divorce. My husband has unfortunately been exposed to some very unpleasant realities about his parents, and I see how his stress is taking a toll on him. It's been a few months now, and I can't seem to get him to share his feelings with me about this whole thing. I've suggested therapy, offered to talk, and he just says he's fine and doesn't need to talk about it. Do you have any suggestions about how I can encourage him to open up?

Worried Wife
San Diego, CA


Dear Worried Wife,

I am sorry to hear of the struggle your family is going through. Coming to the realisation that our parents are human and fallible can be devastating. Throw a high conflict divorce on top of that, and that is downright overwhelming.

It is important to understand that everyone deals with stressful situations in different ways. Some people are really comfortable sitting down with a therapist and discussing and analysing their feelings. Others are more comfortable "blowing off steam" in non-verbal ways. In terms of stress reduction, it is important that your husband do something. That something could be as benign as a sports game with a friend, or working out at the gym, or going on a camping trip. The idea is to engage in some kind of recreational activity that gives his mind a little time "off" and simply makes him feel good. Most forms of exercise are extremely beneficial for promoting good health as well as stress relief.

While he may express no interest in talking about his feelings, it remains, undoubtedly, a very powerful way to emote and gain insight into oneself. What you need to understand is that his resistance to share his feelings may come from a genuine discomfort with putting words to his emotions, and/or, a lack of willingness to share those feelings with you.

Learning "unpleasant things" about ones parents is not only devastating, but it can be embarrassing as well. Perhaps he is uncomfortable sharing his feelings about his parents with you because he is uneasy about exposing you to the dysfunction in his family. Perhaps he feels that it reflects badly on him. Additionally, vulnerability is not a trait that is often attributed to men. Many men are very uncomfortable expressing vulnerability with their wives. So these two emotions, embarrassment and vulnerability, could be contributing to his unwillingness to open up with you.

I encourage you to be patient with him and understand that he needs to work this out on his own clock. Make sure he knows that you are there for him. Arrange for time alone together, to go for a walk, for example and express your support for him. Try to be non-judgemental with your feelings about his parent's divorce. He may have very mixed emotions and if he is going to sort through them, he is going to need an unbiased sounding board. Providing a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere may really help him feel comfortable to open up a bit.

Short of that, what he may need is some very casual friend-therapy. You can encourage him to connect with a close friend or Rabbi that he feels comfortable with and subtly suggest the possibility of discussing his stresses with them.

Our Sages explain that we need to teach each student according to "his way." Your husband needs to find his way, and you, as his helpmate can help him find it.

Many blessings to you both,
Rachel

“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sarah Zadok.

Sarah Zadok is a childbirth educator, doula and freelance writer. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, with her husband and four children.

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Discussion (16)
September 27, 2013
Husband Not Talking
AS, I appreciate your wisdom, but everyone has limitations. I admit trust is also an issue with me, and I only give of myself when there IS trust - no matter who it is I'm dealing with!

I don't believe a week is too short of time to give a husband "breathing space," but I also believe you can't have a marriage without open lines of communication.
This husband made himself "off limits" to his wife, and that's very sad. That's NOT what a marriage is supposed to be!
Lisa
Providence, RI
January 2, 2011
Husband Not Talking
Worried Wife from San Diego, CA, you should have only waited a week before telling your husband he HAS to talk, because marriage is based on trust.

He's NOT fine and can't solve his problems himself. If he refuses counseling, divorce him!
Lisa
Providence, RI
December 25, 2008
Pray together
All i can suggest is that u and hubby pray together whether he ends up talking about it or not. G-d knows all. He.ll know what needs to happen next. Trust Him. Take care. Wassalaam.
Habiba
November 2, 2008
Husband Not Talking
Lisa, you claim to be open but you are not so. Anything that you think it is beyond your limit is rejected by you. There's nothing special about being open within your own limitations. That's really easy. Being open means you are willing to broaden your perspective. I have encountered too many people in life that they claim to be open but they systematically reject anything that does not fit their system. You say you need a husband who is as open as you are, but you are really not open to anything that is not what you are used to! That's not being open! You are not really giving anything of yourself!
AS
November 1, 2008
Husband Not Talking
AS, thanks, but no thanks. I practice Reform Judaism, and I made a point of not doing anything I can't handle.

I'm not good with handling EXTREMELY stressful situations, and if I decided to change my mind and get married, it would have to be with someone as open as I am. I've learned NOT to keep quiet when I'm upset, and I couldn't marry a man who would "push me away".
Lisa
Providence, RI
October 29, 2008
Husband Not Talking
Lisa, you sound like a wonderful person who has overcome many difficulties in life. I honestly can tell you that people like you are the kind of people that I look up the most in life.

Marriage can be very rewarding even if your husband doesn't talk so much. I am sure there is someone special out there for you but you need to open yourself up.

Can I suggest you a book that has helped me a great deal in my personal life? This is the Tanya, but try to find a rabbi at your local Chabad House with who to learn it. This book has shown me that there's no limitations for anyone and I would really like to share it with you! Take care.
AS
October 27, 2008
Husband Not Talking
Thank You, AS. I was born with Asperger's Syndrome, which is High-Functioning Autism. I get therapy and take medications for depression and anxiety. I chose NOT to marry and have children, because I felt I couldn't handle the stress. Also, my mother died, and I no longer speak to my father. Instead, I go to my local synagogue and I've made wonderful friends and I take part in the various activities. My life is NEVER dull, because I meet all kinds of people. It's a much better way to spend my time than to have a spouse who WON'T talk!
Lisa
Providence, RI
October 16, 2008
Husband Not Talking
Lisa, I think marriage is something disposable for you. If your husband doesn't want to go into therapy, then "let's get divorced!" If he doesn't talk, "I won't have the patience to put up with him!" I don't blame you for thinking like that. Life in America has become so superficial that thinking otherwise doesn't make any sense. If you ever find yourself in a situaltion like this, I suggest you try to find a more meaningful approach to your life. I'm saying this as a friend. Take care.
AS
October 15, 2008
husband not talking
I go with the sensitive comments and letting him do it his way, being patient. My parents divorced when I was 13 and the pain lingers fifty years later.

I've been happily married for over twenty years, (Thank G-d) and am a therapist specializing in marriage. By giving space and being sensitive to what he may be feeling, you will provide a nurturing climate that he is likely to respond to in time. However, if you think that your marriage is being negatively affected by his silence, talk to a trusted objective friend, therapist, or rabbi to clarify whether you have real evidence for this belief. If so, then it is time for the two of you to see a therapist together so he can hear your concern in a safe environment. If he won't go, and you continue to feel troubled, then see someone on your own to help you deal with the situation as positively as possible.
Marcia Naomi Berger. LCSW
San Rafael, CA
myyeshiva.org
October 11, 2008
Husband Not Talking
A.S., I NEVER exaggerate! You clearly misinterpreted EVERYTHING I said! I'm 100% Loyal to loved ones, but I WON'T waste time with people who have problems and refuse to get the help they need!

My parents divorced when I was 13, and it was because my parents couldn't solve their problems themselves and my mother suggested therapy, but my father refused! You CAN'T stay married to anyone who refuses to admit to having a problem and refuses to get help for it!

This woman's husband WON'T talk, because he doesn't believe he needs to and he believes he can work it out himself, but he can't. Don't YOU think a few months is too long to wait? I would wait a week.

I would say: "If you love me and if you want to stay married to me, you WILL get help. I'll gladly go by myself, but it's NOT enough. You have to go with me. Otherwise, we'll have to get a divorce."

When you're a child of divorce, you try to learn from your parents's mistakes. I did.
Lisa
Providence, RI
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