The Secret is Shutting Up?

While I was at boot camp, some of the mealtime discussions touched on marriage and wives. One fellow said he asked a man married 30 years his secret to a happy marriage. The man said, “duct tape” and pointed to his mouth. The secret to a good marriage, according to this man, is shutting up. I said “What about a woman’s desire to connect, to hear from her husband?” Several at the table felt you shut up until she asks you to talk.

No talking © Jandrie Lombard |

I suspect the ladies reading this must wonder how any man could think this is what women want. Yet, many (most?) men would see “keep your mouth shut” as good marriage advice. Why?

Anything you say can and will be used against you

It is common for a man to think anything he says to his wife will eventually cause him trouble. It feels like each word he speaks gives her ammunition for a future argument or complaint. I do not think this is the case for the vast majority of wives, but I do understand why men think it. Men generally talk less than women do. When we talk, we use fewer words to communicate the same idea, and we tend to give fewer peripheral details. For many men, a conversation with their wife feels like a water fight where he has a squirt gun and she has a fire hose. He cannot say as much as she can, and he finds it difficult to hear and process all she says. He feels he “cannot win” so not engaging seems like a safer option.

Dial it back a bit, and thank him for talking

If you want to encourage more talk, try to avoid flooding him with words. Learn to hold back on some of the less important details. Allow some silences so he can catch up and think of ways to respond. Make him aware you appreciate him talking with you. Finally, watch for and avoid things he might see as his words being used against him.

~ Paul – I’m XY, but I’m a talker

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8 Comments on “The Secret is Shutting Up?

  1. If you are communicating effectively what you say will be used for the benefit of all rather than against you. I just love to listen to my wife. She is abounding in so much wisdom and common sense. If I don’t listen then how can I know what is on her heart and mind. I’ve always aimed to listen first.

    Often women have a desire to share with us their heart but don’t need us to jump the gone and give a solution.

    FYI Alan Pease in his book Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps states that the average woman speaks 25,000 words per day to our 10,000.
    Dr Richard Norris recently posted…Who Cares What Other People ThinkMy Profile

    • Effective is the key, but there are gender issues there. I could say something to you and you would know what I mean – say the same to a woman and she might get a very different message. Same for women. Learning how to communicate what I mean to her is the challenge.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Scratch the Adventure ItchMy Profile

  2. I tend to be the talker and deep thinker in my union. For us, it is not that my wife has more words but that her words have a greater range of underlying emotional meaning. I have learned to keep up most of the time, however, there are days where I have to ask what she is feeling behind her words. It is though her map extends beyond mine. I can do a lot of walking, but much of it is in tight analytical circles. There are places of emotional nuance that my wife can go that I cannot today. It makes her all the more intriguing and beautiful to me.
    Nathan N. recently posted…Seasonal VisionsMy Profile

    • I talk more than Lori. That is a combination of my mind being to busy and her learning not to talk as a kid to avoid trouble.
      And yes, there is a much greater range of emotion under her words.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Scratch the Adventure ItchMy Profile

  3. My husband IS a talker… more so than I. ;)

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Dr. Norris. The kind of talking that would benefit from a piece of duct tape is “unsolicited advice” = jumping the gun to give a solution.

    One day (I have no idea where he got the idea!) my husband decided to start asking me if I wanted to know what he thought about ______? Did I want him to offer a solution? His strategy has been such a blessing to our marriage. Sometimes I DO want to know what he thinks, and I DO want him to offer a solution. Other times, I’m still talking through the situation and trying to process it myself — so not yet ready for unsolicited advice or problem solving.

    • Guys are all about problem solving. A group of men around an open hood is an example – they all throw out suggestions on what might be wrong and how to test/fix it. It is group problem solving. Not offering anything makes one look/feel bad!
      I like what your husband is doing – very wise!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Scratch the Adventure ItchMy Profile

  4. My husband uses this option a lot, saying, “I just need to keep my mouth shut” if I don’t agree with every comment or opinion. I thought a conversation was about sharing yourself, information, ideas, opinions, etc. When I’m attempting to communicate with my husband all I want is acknowledgement that I have been heard and what I said is validated, WHETHER OR NOT HE AGREES with it. The whole “winning” element seems like a damaging mindset and the “not engaging,” well, that seems rude and cowardly, certainly not a way toward growth in marriage. Duct tape hurts both parties and, I would venture to say, is not what most women desire from their man. Perhaps this is the action of a hurt little boy, not a mature man. Your biggest adventure lies in examining yourself and growing from what you find.

    • It could be as you suggest, but I suspect it is something else.
      He may struggle with understanding you, never sure what you mean or if he has it right. (He does not decode female, you do not speak male.)
      He may feel he cannot argue with you as forcefully as he does with men, and feels he will either hurt you or have to accept an unfair position.
      He may feel unable to keep up with the number of things you want to discuss, and opting out of all of it seems his best option.
      All of these are rooted in gender differences and misunderstanding. Years of habit have set them in concrete. Next month I am going to do some posts based on Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ Love and Respect series of DVDs. He covers a good deal of this, and does so very well.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Who put that in my Bible?My Profile

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