Pressuring Your Spouse into Communicating Can Be Toxic

Worried man trying to talk to sad womanIt’s a classic dynamic in nearly every relationship: One partner tends to be the more vocal, outwardly emotional communicator, while the other partner is stoic, bottled-up, and emotionally reserved. Sometimes, one partner can be both. When the communicator tries to get the bottle to open up, the result can be a tug of war that ends in criticism and distancing. In a recent article, licensed clinical social worker Terry Gaspard describes why the “pursuer-distancer” pattern can be lethal to your marriage. Gaspard says that even though the pursuer partners, usually women, have nothing but good intentions when they try to coerce their spouses to crack open their emotional vaults, they approach it the wrong way.

Harassing and nagging a reserved person to communicate will usually cause that person to close up more tightly. They can become avoidant, angry, defensive, and even hostile. The nagging partner will then escalate the nagging, maybe throwing in a little criticism as a negative motivator, all with the goal of creating a more intimate union with their spouse. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman also warns against pushing your relationship into this downward spiral. He believes that gender differences are at the core of how partners communicate. He suggests that if communication issues are developing in a relationship, the couple should examine how they are addressing those issues before they find themselves in the pursuer-distancer­ vortex.

Gaspard notes that our culture is partly responsible for perpetuating this destructive dance. “The irony of the pursuer-distancer pattern is that it’s reinforced by popular self-help books and websites to save your marriage,” said Gaspard. Even therapists encourage their clients to develop healthy communication strategies. But without proper guidance, couples can enter into a dialogue without boundaries that can quickly take on a life of its own. Gaspard suggests that couples remain open with each other and think of communicating honestly as a way to share information with each other. Learning more about your partner’s feelings should be a pleasure, not a chore.

Gaspard, Terry. (2013). How the pursuer-distancer pattern can destroy your marriage. (n.d.): n. pag. Huffington Post. Web.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • stephen y

    March 25th, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    I want to know more about how my wife is feeling, but she tells me to stop nagging her, that she will talk to me when she is ready.

    But I want to know now. I am ready to know now. Why I should have to wait on her to talk to me when I am ready to open up those lines of communication now? Why should I always have to be the one who is made to wait?

  • bertha

    March 25th, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    hate it when I am trying to be alone and my husband wants me to talk. why cant I be left alone for some time? some things are better left unspoken!

  • stephen y

    March 26th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    Because bertha, a big part of marriage should be all about being able to talk to each other and tell each other all about what is going on. I know that there are times when I don’t want to talk either, but inevitably I always feel better after I do. Why do you want to hold everything in on the inside when there is obviously someone there who is willing to help you talk it through? I don’t want to pressure my wife, but I know that there was a time when I was her sounding board, that she came to me when there was something going on, and now? That all feels like it has gone away and I don’t understand why.

  • kate

    March 27th, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    I think relationships in which one partner wants to talk about and discuss every little thing and the other partner is different are bound to have this problem. Mine did too. But how we overcame that was me writing down all of my thoughts on a paper and my husband (who is someone who my not necessarily want to talk about things immediately) would go through it when he is more comfortable. He would then write a reply or we would talk about it.

    Each of us does put in an effort here – I’m holding back my requirement of an immediate answer, and he is overcoming his unwillingness to talk. But the result is a much healthier relationship with lesser conflict and heartburn. I hope this helps at least a few couples out there.

  • elle

    March 27th, 2013 at 8:11 PM

    I totally get what Stephen is saying. I’m the pursuer. And I always think it’s not fair that I’m the one who has to gives up My needs because You don’t want to talk. It is just as hard for me to Not talk as it is for you To talk. So can we have a 50/50 split? Make a chart…when we talk right away I get a check, when we wait, you get one. ha! OR…let’s say, we wait half te amount of time between right now and whenever You want to talk. Oh wait, except we’d be waiting til half way between now and never. haha (kidding)

    In reality, the writing things down does work sometimes. And if I write it down it sometimes seems like less of a big deal when I read it. So there’s that. Also, sometimes, it helps to talk to the mirror. You know, the way we all do (don’t deny it) when we’re practicing a conversation. :)

  • Ann

    April 10th, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Stephen, would you mind taking a different direction on why your wife may not want to always talk? While I agree with you on the importance of communication, Bertha has a point too. Sometimes I don’t want to talk something out right away or at all for that matter. I can’t speak for Bertha, but sometimes I’d like to figure things out or even “fix” things myself. Men are known for always wanting to “fix” problems. Sometimes it’s quite helpful, yet it is just as helpful to do it on my own then I would be happy to discuss with my partner what I’ve decided or not. I know if I’m being nagged to talk, I will clam up because I need to process in my thoughts what or how I’m feeling. I’m not hiding anything it’s just how it is for me, and maybe your wife.
    Everyone is entitled to alone time, to collect our thoughts and to figure things out. I’m not a believer of hashing everything out, sometimes you have to let things go, choose your battles, not sweat the small stuff ya know? My partner is the complete opposite and it puts unnecessary distance and stress on us.
    I hope things work in favor for both of you…

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