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You Asked: How Do I Get My Husband to Express His Emotions?

Dear Sugar,

I have been married for about a year and a half. When we first started dating, my now husband got a kidney transplant as a result of an accident he had some five years before. He has told me the overall story — he fell from a tree and not only suffered kidney complications but also had trauma to his back for which he's had numerous surgeries, but yesterday after I asked more details about it, he got defensive and said he doesn't like talking about it.

I just don't know how to react to that. In general, he has a really hard time talking about things that I consider important, and I guess this is only the tip of the iceberg. I have opened up to him about my own issues and feel that if he is avoiding that subject, it will just keep hurting his confidence and self-esteem (he had to drop out of college temporarily afterwards). I want to support him and love him for who he is. Am I overreacting? How do I approach this again?

— Communicator Caila

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Dear Communicator Caila,

While opening up and expressing your feelings may come easily to you, you have to realize that it's not so natural for your husband. As frustrating as it may be for the rest of us, some people are just not comfortable vocalizing emotions that may bring up feelings of sadness or, in your husband's case, pain. Though I tend to agree that avoiding these issues will only make things worse, you can't force him to talk about something that he doesn't want to.

What your husband went through and continues to go through is traumatic. Learning to live with physical pain, as I'm sure he deals with, can take a toll on a person and requires a certain level of understanding from those around them. Thus, instead of pressing the issue, make it clear that you're ready and willing to listen when he's able to talk about it.

It's perfectly reasonable to let him know that his inability to open up to you is hurting you and making you feel cut out of his life, but know that change overnight is unlikely. This is probably something you'll both have to work through over time and with each other. Start opening up the lines of communication about smaller issues that you encounter. As he learns to express himself and trust you as a listener, he might be more inclined to delve into some of these darker memories.

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gossipqueen gossipqueen 8 years
this is gonna sound really mean but.... why did you get married in the first place? shouldn't you have known him better? to a point...glowingmoon raises a good point...is this for your sake or his? is he depressed? maybe instead of prodding for an answer you should listen? If this is fairly recent, maybe he needs some time to understand what he feels himself.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
I think you're being selfish. You want him to open up for YOUR sake, not his. For some reason, you're insecure that he doesn't want to talk about his accident to you. It's an irrational insecurity, and it's YOUR problem, not his. If you truly love and respect him, then respect his boundary. He doesn't not want to discuss a past senstive, traumatic matter. He probably doesn't want to fill himself with that memory, as it makes him uncomfortable. As a loving wife, do not make your husband uncomfortable. As a loving gesture, back off, and spare him that discomfort. Truthfully, I find your behavior toxic. Figuratively, you're picking at your's husband's sensitive wound. You're intrigued by it, and you're picking at it, and in the meantime, he's squirming in discomfort. Do you take pleasure in that? If you truly love him, you wouldn't do that. You would leave the wound alone, and let your husband tend to it as he sees fit. IF he needs your help, let him come to you, and you would be available to him. Until then, respect his wishes, and back off. Sorry, but my eyes could not rolled further into my head.
gabiushka gabiushka 8 years
Oh and thanks dear Dear.
gabiushka gabiushka 8 years
Thanks guys. Yes, it would have been a good idea to bring it up before the marriage, but he had been and is open to talk about other issues relating the transplant and all that, it is just that the accident itself seems to be a tough theme to him so I just have the feeling that the situation affects his confidence, which to me does not make sense since he is healthy now and we are in a good place at least financially if an emergency came up. And no, I have never thought of going to his family to find out more because I know I am the person he trusts the most and I want to listen to him. Anyway I appreciate the comments a LOT.
Percy Percy 8 years
I feel your frustration and understand your desire to help him - that's what family is all about right?! Instead of expressing your need to help him, perhaps you could word it another way, "Look, I am worried and a bit confused by this - obvisouly because I haven't been through this myself so I asked you those questions before only because I wanted to try to understand so please be patient with my questions. I just want to tell you this and more importantly I am not going anywhere so whenever, or if ever you wanna tell me about it - am all ears..." Patience is the key. Granted, maybe this issue could have brought up before the marriage but hey - that's irrelevant now - you love and support your hubby through thick and thin right? Besides, it's never too late for anyone to learn to communicate maybe this could be your hubby's assignment and in return, you and your hubby will gain a deeper understanding of each other and solidify your marriage? Good luck!
LovebirdsFlying LovebirdsFlying 8 years
I need to "PS" what I said. Advice to the asker of the question is not to pressure hubby to "express" his feelings. He's doing it in his own way, and if he's anything like my guy, he'll open up at his own pace if he only has a sympathetic ear. I've learned from my hubby-to-be that just because a man is not showing or talking about his feelings doesn't mean he is repressing them.
LovebirdsFlying LovebirdsFlying 8 years
I am soon to marry a man of a very stoic personality type. He is not real quick to show any emotion of any kind. He lost both grandmothers within six months of each other, and if I didn't know him better, I would think it didn't affect him at all. This is completely contradictory to other men I've known in my life, many of whom would cry more easily than I do myself. So I'd been wondering how I was going to know he is sad and needs me, if he doesn't cry or mope or anything like that. The answer is, he will simply tell me. Even though he may not, by outward appearance, look or act sad, he does verbally say he is sad, and for him that is "expressing" his emotions. He has feelings. I just have to look a little deeper than usual to see them.
Jammi Jammi 8 years
huh, stupid thing cut me off. I also said that he might be feeling defensive if you're asking him about how the accident happened or why he was up in a tree. He probably feels bad enough as it is and if it was for something he knows would seem stupid to you now that he's no longer in the heat of the moment I'm sure he wouldn't want to talk about it when the reprecussions are still all too obvious. You obviously felt that you were able to communicate before since you decided to marry him, pushing the issue now will most likely just bring up painful memories for him and make him isolate you just to avoid that feeling. Unless the information he's not telling you is how much the surgery is costing him/you, then I don't see that there's any need to push it when it's obvious he doesn't want to talk about it.
Jammi Jammi 8 years
I agree with the above poster who said you going behind his back to his family would be extremely disrespectful and make it hard for him to trust you again. I don't see why it would come up in everyday conversations unless his surgery is about to come up? Sure you feel hurt that he's cutting you out but I don't think he is. I think he gave you a lot of information actually, what more do you need to know?
honeysugar28 honeysugar28 8 years
All you can do is just be there for him when he wants to talk about it with you he will but not if you pressure him to. Just let him know that you'll be there to talk if he ever needs to. He's trying to move on with this new life with you and doesn't want to remember the past. I'm sure he thinks about it but doesn't want to talk about it too constantly. So be supportive of that and let him come to you if he needs to open up at his own pace.
ilikeatea ilikeatea 8 years
I think you need to let him know it is important for you that he share his experience with you and let him know why it is important. That is a very personal expereinces so it may take a while you will have to work with him...maybea third party such as a counsellor will help as well?
ilikeatea ilikeatea 8 years
Um...shouldn't this be stuff you two should have chatted about before getting married if this is such a big issue? Surely his lack of communication is not a new thing and you knew this before you married him?
lickety-split lickety-split 8 years
if you felt he was healthy enough to marry and make a life with why suddenly is this an issue. he doesn't want to talk about it, jeeze, lay off. it's intrusive to ask about something when a person has told you it's off limits and yet here you asking how to bring it up again. not everything is your business.
cubadog cubadog 8 years
This was obviously a very traumatic experience for him that he is not ready to re-live. When he is ready to go into detail about it with he will. I do not think it is wise to ask his family and friends for more details if he was emotionally ready to tell you he would and going behind his back is not going to make the situation better it will only make it worse. I can only imagine how angry I would be if someone did that to me, I would never trust that person again. He needs to know you are there for him when he is ready to share that event with you.
jessie jessie 8 years
i simply feel that was just a horrible time for him. and for him to talk about it makes him relive it. maybe makes him feel less of a man in your eyes to him. continue to be open with your emotions, maybe over time he'll gradually open up. but realize that you're not gonna change him. don't badger him, you might be dredging up unwanted problems. this is something that i feel he needs to sort out by himself. not all things can be sorted out together. good luck to you and your man.
redemiami redemiami 8 years
I don't want to sound too judgmental, but this leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. I understand that guys can't be expected to express their emotions and innermost secrets on demand- but this "secret" is obviously still a huge issue in his life. Having an organ transplant and numerous surgeries is not equivalent to an ex-girlfriend who left you high and dry junior year in college- it's an issue that may require continued medical expenses and precautions and by not involving his wife, your husband is putting both of you in a disadvantage. He isn't receiving the emotional support that a husband needs from a life partner and you aren't being allowed into a corner of his life that could potentially demand lots of money and attention should the situation worsen (bodies only get worse as they age!) If your husband won't open up, I would try talking to his parents/siblings/friends to see if you can weed out any more information with regards to the accident and its implications.
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