Have you been trying to talk to your spouse about something and no matter how hard you try, they seem to avoid the conversation? They come up with excuses for why they can't talk like "the kids are awake," "I have to run to the store," "my show is on," and they perpetually tell you that you guys will talk later but it never happens. They say they don't want to fight but you know it's not about fighting, it's about getting something resolved. It's about not sweeping the issues under the rug. So you try again and again. Your spouse becomes a master at avoidance and you become the most annoying version of yourself just trying to have this conversation that you know needs to happen.
So how do you get your spouse to have these conversations?
1) Determine what you need them to do before you approach them.
This will take some self-reflection. Ask yourself what the goal is in this conversation and think practically about exactly what behaviors you need from your spouse. Do you need them to make a decision? Do you need them to just listen and validate your feelings? Do you need them do research and come back with their own thoughts? Figure out what you need from this conversation and when you approach them to have this conversation and tell them exactly what you need. This will make your spouse more willing to have these conversations if they know exactly what they need to do. If we don't know what the other person expects of us and we always seem to get it wrong, we'll start to avoid these conversations to avoid the failure. It might sound like this: "I want to talk about planning our vacation. I need you to look at me while I'm talking. Also, while we're talking about it, please tell me where you want to go on vacation. I'll tell you my ideas and you can tell me your's, then we can make a decision."
2) Put a time limit on it.
Decide how much time you need to have this conversation. Make it as short as possible without cutting anything out. This will be difficult to do at first, especially if these talks have been put off for awhile. It will be tempting to want to have a several hour conversation. We think if we talk for a long time it will show how serious of a matter this is. But it doesn't need to be like that and if that's what you normally expect, it's no wonder your spouse tries to avoid it. Tell your spouse how much time you need for this conversation when you approach them. "Honey, I want to talk about our vacation for 10 minutes."
We are always hesitant to start something when we don't know how long it's going to take. If I asked you to run a race with me, your first question is going to be how long is the race? If I told you to just start it and we will figure it out as we go, you would think I was crazy! It's the same with conversations. Your spouse has probably become a tough conversation avoidant ninja because these conversations always turn into a several hour marathon of emotions and tears. So set a time limit on the conversation and stick to it and they are going to be much more willing to do it.
I gave a pretty benign example of a vacation but this can be done with more serious conversations as well. "I want to talk to you for 10 minutes about your affair. I need you to listen to how I'm feeling and I just want you to say how hard this must be for me. I don't want you to offer me solutions, your feelings or what it was like for you, I just want you to listen to what this was like for me. Maybe at the end you can give me a hug and tell me you love me."
When we give direction and put a time limit on these conversations, they seem much more do-able and people are more willing to engage in them. Does this seem to simplify something that might be very complex? Yes, but sometimes we need a road map of the practicalities before we are able to move forward.
Corrin Voeller is a couples counselor in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives. She lives with her husband, children and extremely fat dog.
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