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Lessons from a Relationship Coach: Talking to a Withdrawn or Sullen Husband

Posted Jul 03 2008 4:12pm
Have you ever been frustrated in your relationship because your husband got upset and emotionally shut down? Maybe you were misunderstood or spoke out at a time when you didn't have good control of your own emotions. The more this pattern repeats, the more damage will be done to the relationship.

Today, a coach gives us the following relationship advice for correctly handling this situation to keep the relationship moving forward.


1. Calm down yourself--You need to tell yourself that this is not an emergency situation. It is as normal for your husband to have emotions as it is for you to have them.

2. Put things in perspective--This is not the beginning of the end. This is your husband's way to regulate his emotions and keep from getting out of control.

3. Don't be quick to intervene--Allow his coping skill to do it's work of calming him and helping him to feel more secure.


1. Don't try to "fix" things--Although your desire may to fix things and get your husband back to normal, these goals may have more to do with your own discomfort than with helping your husband.

2. Make understanding, not talking, your goal--Seek to discover why your husband has shut down. You want to help your husband to learn that it is safe and helpful to talk to you.

3. Tell your husband that you want to hear what is bothering him and that you are not going to try to change his mind. Do not repeatedly ask him to open up. If he is still not ready to talk, try again later.

(If it remains too difficult for your husband to talk, suggest that he email you or write you a note. If the behavior remains prolonged, seek professional help. Prolonged sullenness indicates a higher level of emotional problems that may be because of a gradual worsening in the marriage or because of previous emotional baggage that has created a low tolerance for emotionally difficult situations.)


Listen for anything you can agree with--When your husband does begin to talk, your response is critical. It will either encourage him to continue to open up, shut him down again, or agitate him. Your goals should be to look for points of agreement and to control your tongue otherwise.


Husband: "You are never satisfied with what I do. You make me feel worthless no matter how hard I try."

Wife's INCORRECT Response: "That's not true, I like the things you do. You are really skillful." (This is argumentative and prematurely seeks to provide reassurance).

Wife's CORRECT Response: "You are right that sometimes I don't seem very satisfied. The things I say really seem to hurt you." (Although you may be satisfied, you obviously don't seem satisfied from your husband's perspective. He really does feel hurt).

Husband: "You make me feel worthless."

Wife's INCORRECT Response: "No I don't--that's just your imagination." (Argumentative and belittling).

Wife's INCORRECT Response: "I'm sorry you feel that way." (Shifts focus back to yourself).

Wife's CORRECT Response: "I can see what I say really makes you feel worthless." (True statement).

This style of communication is an example of an advanced communication technique taught by relationship coaches. The best way to get good at this is to practice it with a relationship coach or someone trained in the technique. The effect of this technique is that your husband will feel understood and will not need to withdraw.


*Remember that agreeing with your husband does not commit you to any kind of behavior change.

*Agreement of 1% is agreement with something.

*Do not say what you disagree with.

* Every statement has some truth in it--look for it.

* Do not falsely agree. This will sound sarcastic and will just make your husband angry.

*DO NOT add any reasons, "buts," or counterarguments.

To build a great relationship, you must have a greater desire to help your husband than to defend yourself. People who are secure do not need to defend themselves.

Continue to listen and agree honestly until your husband has no more to say. You have now gotten your husband to come out of his shell and have set the stage for mutual communication and relationship building. Feel good about yourself for setting good goals, for using a productive method, and for following through.

About the Author:

Jack Ito PhD is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach. Download hisFree Guide to Great

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