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Talk, So Your Husband Will Listen

Like most couples, Tamar and Vince need to work on their communication skills. A big complaint from women is that their husbands simply don’t listen to them, while many men say their wives are constantly nagging them. The end result is that no one gets what they want and the relationship suffers, says Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of The Squeaky Wheel.

“Men approach ‘relationship talk’ with dread and avoidance,” he explains. “Yet, a couple’s ability to discuss relationship dissatisfactions is crucial for the relationship’s long-term survival.”

So, how do you talk so your husband will actually hear what you’re saying? Simply follow Dr. Winch’s tips.

Invite your husband to talk. Men don’t want to feel forced into a serious discussion, so let him know there’s something on your mind and then ask him if it’s a good time for him. If not, then you can negotiate a time that works best for both of you. “This way, you’ve both agreed to have the talk—it’s not just the woman making the demand,” says Dr. Winch.

Think about what you want. Before the talk, think about what you would like the end result with your spouse to be. Do you want more help around the house? Is your husband not taking care of himself? Is he spending too much? “Preparing for the talk will ensure that it’s productive,” says D. Winch.

Choose one topic. While women might like to discuss anything and everything on their mind for long periods of time, most men don’t feel the same love for drawn-out discussions (and no matter what you do, you’ll never change that!). Dr. Winch suggests talking about just one topic at a time (the kids, the house, the family vacation, etc.) and using just one recent example to back up your point. “If you bring up multiple subjects and things that happened five years ago, then you’re going to overwhelm him and put him on the defensive,” he says.

Let him speak. Be sure to match the verbiage of your man when having the discussion. That means not over talking, not talking over him, and giving him a chance to speak. “This isn’t a lecture, it’s a discussion,” says Dr. Winch. And what about those long silences that often happen after you’ve finished a thought or asked your man a question. Don’t try to fill them in, says Dr. Winch. “Men often need to think things through before they respond, so give him a chance to do that—even if it means returning to the discussion at a later time.”

Make it positive. Instead of just listing what your man hasn’t done right; let him know how he can make the situation better. This way, you’re not just criticizing, you’re also offering up a way to make things better. Say something like, “In the future, I’d like it if you could (fill in the blank).”

Think about email. According to Dr. Winch, some men are more responsive over email. If that’s the case, you might be better corresponding via email or even text. “It works just as well as a face-to-face discussion if it’s done in an effective way.”