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?
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,