Question: How can I get my spouse to open up and talk with me? We’ve been married for almost two years, and I don’t understand him any better than I did before our honeymoon.


This is a common problem in marriage. Meaningful interaction is vital to the health and survival of any relationship, but all too often there’s one partner who feels that the efforts to communicate are completely one-sided.

Sometimes this is purely a matter of gender differences. It sounds like a stereotype, but women are generally far more verbal than men. Many husbands take the view that they demonstrate their love primarily through action – working hard – rather than through words. It’s important for a caring wife to understand this perspective. But she should also find gentle and nurturing ways to help her spouse realize that actions alone aren’t enough.

The Ten-Minute Plan

How can this be accomplished? We’d suggest something we call "the Ten-Minute Plan." Ask your spouse if he or she would be willing to try this exercise. Three times a week you’ll spend four minutes reading a recommended marriage book together. After that, you’ll take four additional minutes to have a positive discussion about what you’ve read (no criticism allowed). You’ll finish with a two-minute prayer.

It won’t be as easy as it sounds, of course. Even the simplest plan of action can’t succeed without commitment and dedication. But if you persevere, we predict that your decision to adopt the Ten-Minute Plan could become a turning point in your marriage – the key to enriching your life together and making a good relationship great. By setting this time aside each week, you’ll create a context in which it becomes comfortable to talk. This in turn can easily lead to a desire for more interaction and even more minutes together.

Five principles to remember

If you still have trouble encouraging your spouse to open up, it might be helpful to keep these five principles in mind:

  1. Remember to communicate your need for conversation in a clear, respectful and forthright way. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you’re thinking.
  2. Be sure to take notice when your spouse does make an effort to talk with you. Reinforce this behavior by expressing your appreciation with sincerity and kindness.
  3. Commit yourselves to the Ten-Minute Plan of reading, talking, listening and praying together. Don’t give up even it’s difficult at first.
  4. In addition to the Ten-Minute Plan, look for opportunities to turn a routine activity – shopping, visiting yard sales or preparing a meal together – into times of conversation.
  5. Maintain a sense of humour about the unexpected challenges that may arise during the course of your conversations. Be patient and persistent.

If you find yourselves struggling, it might be beneficial to seek professional assistance in your attempts to implement these ideas. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. They’d also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can call our counsellors here at Focus on the Family Canada Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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