My boyfriend won’t talk to me. We started off 6 years ago living together happily but have slowly grown apart. I don’t know him or his feelings and he won’t have long conversations with me anymore. I can’t get him to open up. This makes me so lonely and so frustrated. He just seems like he is no longer interested. I love him but can’t see a future for us if this continues. At what point do I give him the ultimatum?
– Burned Betty
First, please know that you are not alone. This is one of the most common problems that drive couples into therapy. Usually but not always, I see the woman dragging a silent but compliant man into my office. He typically is content with the relationship, wonders what the fuss is all about, and agrees to attend in the hope that counseling will make her happy.
But it sounds like you are starved for closeness and warmth. My guess is that you are actually trapped by your own strength and talent, which is verbal communication.
Look, women have been historically shut out of expressing themselves through worldly achievements. As a result, we developed the SuperPower of relational expression. Men have been busy bonding with one another and expressing themselves through everything from creating armies and conquering the world, to making poetry, art and architecture. While men built civilizations, we nurtured them. Stuck at home for millenia, women learned to excel at talking as a means to build family, community and culture. Our dependence on verbal skills is intense because we had so few outlets!
But now that we have unleashed ourselves into the world and joined the guys, we mistakenly assume that they all share our SuperPower. Guess what? They don’t.
I’d like to invite you to put your SuperPower to the side, and learn a bit about how guys generate emotional connection. It sounds incredulous, but their channels of communication, bonding, and self expression are way more multi-channeled than women think. We mistakenly assume that they don’t communicate well simply because we don’t recognize the channels they use.
The good news is that you can master these channels and get more of what you need from your boyfriend. But for now, please consider saving the talk channel for those who are most energized by it, such as your female tribe.
I’d like to offer a few tips. We’ll start by remembering that 80% of communication is non verbal. Under no circumstances, ever, would I ask you to give up your voice. But I do want you to take your voice into a new dimension. I suggest a serious but weird project. I want you to conduct a field experiment for half of your shared time each day, for two weeks: pretend that you are mute. Deliberately use generous amounts of time in silence as a tool to get close. Be creative. A wink, a touch, a toss of your head will draw him to you more than words.
Also remember that we can form deep, but different, bonds by doing things together. Bonding can occur in silence through action. So do lots of fun stuff with him. Your mutual body language (which contains the poetry of your couple’s soul) will be signaling, “I’m happy right now” more powerfully than speech. This is foundational for warmth and closeness.
Remain playful, curious, and partially nonverbal. Be attentive to his signals. The more that you engage in his channels, the more his defenses against your SuperPower will melt. Be prepared to respond non verbally as he starts tuning into you. As you practice this new language, your rapport will grow in new and unexpected ways. If, after two weeks, you still want him to learn verbal communication skills, seek counseling. You will have earned the right to ask for this, because you took the effort to learn his language.
This column is for educational purposes only and is not online counseling or psychotherapy.
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