How Do I Get Through To Him?

Dear Karen,

 Why is it that I just can’t get my husband to talk about the issues we’re dealing with?  Every time I tell him we need to sit down and talk, he either starts joking (which infuriates me!), or he suddenly has to go take care of something he forgot about.  It’s getting to the point where I just don’t think I can do this any more! – Sandra, AZ

 Dear Sandra,

 Ah, the old “I can’t get him to talk about our relationship” issue.  I’m hearing it quite a bit lately, so it must be something lots of women need to talk about.


 We’ve all heard that humans have a mechanism built in to us that causes us to respond to threats – whether they’re real or imagined – in a predictable and instinctual way: fight or flight.

 Scientists have recently discovered that there’s actually a difference in the way men respond to threats versus the way women do.  The “fight or flight” is true about men.  Women, on the other hand, do something that scientists have dubbed:  “tend and befriend”.  We move closer as a way to feel better.  We connect.  We take care of others.  It helps us to feel more grounded and less stressed.

 Why is this so important for us to know? Because when we’re upset about something in our relationships, we’ll try to create more connection with our man as a way to soothe ourselves.  We have a physiological response to that connection by having the level of our stress hormones coursing through our bodies go down. 

 Men, on the other hand, in that same situation of upset and stress, will flee. 

 Some will fight, but for the most part, since men do not want to hurt women, they’ll split before it gets too out of hand.  And that same process that causes our stress hormones to go down (to talk, to connect, etc.) actually causes the stress hormones in men to go UP!


 If you’re a woman who doesn’t believe that there’s a difference between men and women, other than what is socialized, then I’m really hoping you’re taking this in.  If you continue to treat your man as though he’s doing something he’s aware is hurting you, and you’re sure he’s capable of doing it differently, you’re going to be in a perpetual state of misery, aren’t you? 

 If, on the other hand, you see that there’s this fundamental difference in the way we handle things that feel threatening to us, you’ll be more likely to approach your man in a way that will help both of you feel safer. 


“Honey, we need to talk”.  That sentence strikes terror in most mortal men’s hearts.  And I’ll bet you know that about your man, even if you have no clue why that’s true.

I thought I’d offer some basic truisms about men as reminders to all of us about what we’re dealing with in our relationships (warning: these are generalizations, and of course there are exceptions to everything):

 MAN 101 (a short list – about your particular frustration)     

  • they need to feel as though they will prevail/succeed at what they take on;
  • they’re “risk-averse” in their relationships with women, because they don’t often “get” what makes us tick, so they don’t know how to navigate the terrain successfully;
  • they communicate most comfortably through their actions, rather than through words;
  • they take longer to process thoughts than we do;
  • they are “mono-trackers”, where we are “multi-trackers” (for a very funny, and oh-so-true overview of this, watch this 5 minute video:


 I learned a really valuable thing from a psychologist who was one of the speakers at the “Boys and the Boy Crisis” conference in Washington, DC I went to a couple of summers ago.   He was talking about the dramatic difference he saw in working with male clients when he shifted his approach from the more traditional “eye-to-eye” sit-down-and-talk-about-your-feelings model, to getting outside with these men and being more “shoulder-to-shoulder” as they walked, or worked on projects.  His patients opened up alot more, got way more value from the therapeutic relationship, and all because this man allowed himself to honor the way most men prefer to relate: while doing something active.

 Haven’t you ever noticed how much more talkative and open your man seems to be when you’re walking outside, or even driving the car (unless he needs to concentrate – then forget it!)?

 So, if you’ve got something serious you want to talk with your man about, try this: 

  • First ask him to go for a walk with you, when it works for him (note of caution: if you’re really at your wits’ end, and you make the mistake of demanding that he go for a walk “right now”, you won’t get the desired results);
  • Once you’re on the walk, start with sharing what’s going well, and what you appreciate about what he’s doing, etc.  He’s going to be pretty much all ears at this point, because you’re saying things he wants – and needs – to hear from you.  Remember they want to do a good job, and you’re letting him know he’s doing a good job;
  • Then, introduce the thing that is just a little “off” (if you present your issue like it’s a disaster, he’s going to go into “fight or flight” mode, and fast)…let him know how you feel, as well as what you need;
  • Ask him what he thinks about what you said, and give him time to gather his thoughts and to respond thoughtfully – be patient, and don’t prod him, or you’ll clam him up, and defeat the purpose.  If he tells you he needs more time to think about it, respect that, and ask him when he thinks he’d be ready to talk again.  If he says “never”, stay calm and grounded and let him know this is really important to you, and you’d appreciate a set time so you can feel better about this;
  • Try to end the walk with some lightness and affection (hold hands with him…a great connecting tool).

 My bet is that if you adopt this technique for communicating with him when you’re dealing with something that’s challenging, you’ll feel way better…and so will he.