Readers ask Monica Gabriel Marshall, Verily’s relationships editor, and Zach Brittle, certified Gottman therapist and founder of forbetter.us, to weigh in on their most burning relationship questions.
Have you ever asked your guy about his day and gotten a one word answer? Or maybe a better question is, have you ever asked your guy about his day and not gotten a one word answer? It’s a rare man who willingly launches into the nitty gritty of his day, satisfying our desire for details. Most men reply with a perfunctory “good” and expect to be on their merry way. Ha! Not a chance.
If this sounds like you and your guy, you already know that the end of day reunion can often be a source of conflict. It’s not just that he responds with “good” when you were hoping for his feelings and thoughts about how his day transpired. Part of the problem is that he seems to want to zone out or retreat and you want to share and connect. This can be hurtful, and it’s hard to know how handle the situation. I mean, if he doesn’t want to spend quality time with you, then you aren’t going to make him. Right?
Verily reader Jen can relate. Her husband is a man of few words after a long day, and she really wants to connect over conversation.
Jen: My husband, Jim, and I have been married for almost five years, together for seven. We met when I was 26 and he was 32. Mike is an attorney and early on, before we were married, when we were talking he told me, “I argue in court all day at work, and the last thing I want to do is come home and argue.” At the time I thought, “This sounds great! I don’t like arguing either!” But I’ve come to realize that what he really meant is that the idea of having any sort of serious discussion exhausts him after a day of talking. We can joke around about things or sit peacefully on the couch and watch TV, but he has a very hard time talking about his feelings with me—which is hard for me, since I love talking things out.
Monica: I hear so many women complain about this same problem. She wants to connect and discuss thoughts and feeling after a long day and he want to retreat into his mental equivalent of a “man cave.” The most important thing for you to keep in mind is that he is not withdrawing to hurt you or because he doesn’t like you. His retreat after a long day might be checking his emails, watching TV, reading a book, or just sitting in silence. But this is his way of unwinding after a long day, not an intentional retreat from your relationship—although I can understand it can feel like that.
Zach: I can totally relate to Jim. As a therapist, I spend my whole day listening to people, empathizing with them, connecting with them. The last thing I want to do when I get home is get into another deep conversation. That said, that’s really unfair to my wife who loves me and who wants and needs to feel connected to me. Sure, I’m a therapist, but I’m a husband first. We can’t forget that. No matter what our jobs demand of us, we have a responsibility to cultivate intimacy with one another.
Jen: That sounds amazing, but it’s just not happening. I really do need to feel connected. How, exactly, should I expect my need to be met after a long day?
Monica: His desire for quiet and TV is something he is going to have to compromise on, too! I think the most important gift he can give you is a greeting, as soon as he walks in the door. I know my husband feels hurt when I don’t at least look up from my computer and cheerfully greet him as soon as he comes in. It makes him feel acknowledged when I put down my computer and give him a big hug and tell him how much I missed him or that I love him. Those words of affirmation make him feel loved and cared for. After we have greeted each other properly, I finish up whatever work I was in the middle of, and he knows we will catch up again over dinner.
Ask Jim if he would make a point to greet you warmly when he comes home and then set a time for quality conversation a bit later. Appointing dinner time as time to talk is a helpful approach. Having dinner together, with the TV turned off, is a great opportunity for quality time and it allows your husband an opportunity to unwind quietly before and after. I know I love the moment I can sit on my husband’s lap when the meal is over and sip the last drop of wine from a glass or share dessert! If you have time to talk over a meal you won’t feel slighted when he goes back to TV and light conversation.
Zach: I’m a big fan of having couples label their conversations, when needed. For example, could you agree to a specific end-of-day conversation where you and Jim connect for 20 minutes? The conversation would have specific rules. Three questions. No solving. Ends with a kiss. You could even set a timer so that it didn’t last one second longer than 20 minutes.
There are a ton of benefits to a conversation like this. First, it can allow you to connect in a meaningful way at the end of the day. Second, it can help manage expectations. If I know I’m going to have my wife’s undivided attention for 20 minutes a day, I’ll stop chasing ten separate two-minute conversations. Third, every single time you have the conversation, it puts another brick in the trust wall—it’s a way to build trust, which is the foundation of intimacy.
You’ll be surprised how many labels you can put on your conversations: discussion, decision, argument, stress reducing, storytelling. I know I’m a lot better at having a conversation when I know exactly what I’m talking about. Bonus points if I know exactly how long it’s gonna take (thus the timer).
Monica: I think I may give that a try, too! Label and time your conversations (maybe plan to have them over dinner, everyone needs to eat right?) and let us know how it goes!
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Photo: Britt Rene Photography