the question: I have been in a very happy relationship with my wonderful husband for twenty years. He is a great father of our two children, a fantastic service provider and has been a great partner for me during these last years together. He mostly works from home, and I go out to work.
However, there is one very big fly in our field. As the years went by, he became more and more a speaker. He talks non-stop. He follows me around the house talking, talking while I’m on the toilet, sometimes talking when I leave the room! He takes over the conversations so that they become extremely one-sided and eventually boring. If I try to talk about something, I usually get a monologue and turn myself off. To be honest, it starts to exhaust me. I try to be kind about it, he’s my husband after all, but I feel so suffocated by my noise that I feel like the day is coming when I might lose my temper and tell him to stop in a way that could be bad to hurt his feelings.
I told him very little about this topic because I have a lot of friends and I see them whenever I can. My husband’s circle is smaller and he would see them much less often, so I attributed that he needed a way out – and that’s me. Even when I encourage him to go and see his friends, he is reluctant to do so. He prefers to stay at home, which is a great compliment, but sometimes it’s so exhausting that I can’t listen anymore.
This may seem like a very stupid complaint, but surely other people are going through something similar to me.
My question in the end is this: how can I make him stop talking so much? (In a way that won’t hurt, because I love him so much).
Alison replies: Every day I hear people who are afraid to tell their loved one how they feel because they don’t want to hurt. Unfortunately, avoiding difficult conversations is difficult for you and ultimately hurts the relationship, because the feeling of frustration and irritability will naturally grow.
When faced with challenging situations that do not suit you, and while considering the choices available to you, I always say “choose what is difficult for you.” The avoidance option has detrimental consequences, while confronting and turning to the problem is based on opportunities and hopes for change.
This is not a stupid complaint, the constant noise of someone who speaks “to you” in endless monologues that may not have a point is an unhealthy setting for everyone. Noise robs your nervous system, and your husband seems unconscious. He does not read the sign that you are moving away from the constant flow of chatter, and he enters your physical space, following you to the toilet.
First, you must take ownership and ask your husband to give you a moment to go to the toilet in peace. Most of us are aware that children do this, so I would suggest that we simply say so. Here’s the thing, I don’t hear any malice here, he doesn’t seem to be aware of the impact his constant conversation has on you, probably because you didn’t say so, but also because this isn’t unusual.
Scientist Daniel Ellis from Columbia University explains the importance of listening as a learning tool – something we automatically develop so that a child can distinguish the sound of fire alarms and birdsong. He explained that listening requires “complex hearing processing” and that this may be the reason why people who speak “no” to us may have difficulty learning how to communicate in a more empathetic rhythmic way back and forth.
I like that you understand that this is a complaint. Don’t make it personal, which is criticism, and it will only call for a defensive response or a response to exclusion. The complaint is specific – what is helpful is that then you can imagine how you will deal with it, in terms of your reaction and showing your husband where you start and where you end – the toilet is good to start with. If you take ownership of your borders and return them to him, what do you think you are telling your husband?
You have answered your question – start with what you said above. I hear you love your husband. List all his good qualities and point out the things he does – it is important to notice the good in your partner.
How do you think your husband is? Do you think he needs to go out more? Compulsive talking can be a way to push away real feelings that can be felt irresistibly. The early pioneers of this research were communications professors, McCroskey & Richmond, who coined the phrase ‘talkaholism’ for people who talk too much or monopolize conversations. They found that although others were aware that they were talking too much and for too long, the person himself was not aware of the influence they had on others.
Characteristics include never breathing, talking through others, interrupting, and if they are told to talk excessively, they do not make the necessary changes. This refers to understanding the complex nature of listening and the awareness that listening is a skill you can learn and that discipline is needed.
Houston came up with a great acronym called VAIT – Who Am I Talking, so when you’ve had a good conversation, maybe this might be helpful in catching and provoking compulsive talking.
Some advice might be to listen, but to have a time limit. Try to understand what he is trying to communicate with you and repeat this to him. If it starts again, you could say ‘sorry to interrupt, I’m trying to understand what you mean, is there a feeling?’ and asked him to stop and see where he felt it in his body.
Spend some time identifying how it appears in his body. Is it an impulsive feeling “I just have to say this”? How does it feel in silence? These will be difficult and sometimes shocking questions. Consistency of words means that you never sit with the emotions present.
Start saying what’s on your mind: “I feel like this is a monologue instead of a conversation, I love you very much, but this affects my participation.” Or if he talks through you when you try to explain the impact of his communication style, you could say I’m sure you don’t mean to interrupt or talk to me, but yes, let’s take turns to understand what’s going on for both of us. ‘ These types of scripts can help you navigate difficult conversations.
You can also set boundaries by introducing conversations with “I’ve had a busy day at work, I need a little silence now, thank you” or after you’ve been honest about your experience; say you would like to practice empathic listening and one way to do that is to become aware and aware of your talking and listening relationship.
Bringing a way of thinking about growth gives room for mistakes and growth. It is important to share how you feel with your husband. Clearly define what is right and what is not for you, and not only set these limits but maintain them – which is an inconvenient, but extremely useful part.
Alison regrets not being able to enter the correspondence. If you have a query that you would like answered in this column, please email email@example.com