Communication can be the fatal flaw or the saving grace of any relationship, so it’s no wonder that we crave it so much. Hiding thoughts and feelings can create a distance that can’t easily be made up. While most of us want open and honest interactions, we are all too often mired in misunderstood subtext, words we’re afraid to say, and truths that remain unspoken.
I interviewed 15 people about what they wish the men in their lives would vocalize in their romantic relationships. What I found were some extremely common needs and some common discrepancies between what people wanted to hear and what their guys are saying. There were also some accounts from those who felt they had gotten communication right in their relationship, and they shared the work they did and still do to get there (because it doesn’t come naturally).
The kind of nice news is that communicating well is a skill that couples develop and fine-tune together. It’s an obstacle that can be overcome, and with more practice and open-mindedness, any pair can become better at sharing their lives with one another.
WE KNOW WHAT’S MISSING
Partners don’t feel that men withhold information maliciously, rather that it is done more for protection of one or the other of them. However, most people can sense when their guy is holding back and would rather know what’s going on than be kept in the dark.
Some common sentiments were some like these “I think he wouldn’t tell me anything that he felt would upset me, or something he didn’t want me to find out,” “I think he hides insecurity, feelings of insecurity,” and “He would keep things from me when he is struggling with personal issues or is irritated with something that I did.”
Others felt a bit more dismal about how their men shared their thoughts and feelings. “I feel like he keeps most things to himself. He doesn’t like to burden me or others with his feelings,” and “To be honest I question whether or not he even has feeling. He never gets emotional. So I think he hides everything that is not related to his career. I have to drag things out if him.”
While every guy has his own unique tell-tale signs when he’s hiding something, every guy has tell-tale signs when he’s hiding something. Usually those closest to him can read his best cover-up. Survey takers felt that aside from when there were distractions like tiredness, anger, travel, or intense focus on unrelated matters, they didn’t know what their partner was thinking when he acted a certain way.
Many listed unusual quietness, lack of eye contact, distracted behavior, and terse answers to questions as markers of their man hiding something. One woman described how she doesn’t know what a guy is thinking “When his personality changes around me. He usually gets more quiet. I know something’s up at that point.” Someone else elaborated, “I usually felt that way when he was quiet, convo is short, or he was agreeing with everything I said. That usually made me question what was going on in there.”
Another woman described how her husband uses frustration and anger to cover up deeper feelings. “I want him to say what is really bugging him or making him angry, not what at that moment is frustrating him. The deeper/original issues.”
WORDS JUST WAITING TO BE SAID
We want to hear everything, so just about anything a guy we’re with isn’t sharing is an unwanted void. From a long list of general topics, some pleasant and some disturbing, twelve of the fifteen survey takers wanted to hear everything. Two of the exceptions didn’t want to hear if their men had cheated on them. The other specified that at the beginning of the relationship hearing too many fears and too much negativity might scare her away. However, as a whole, people definitively felt like they wanted to hear all of the following:
(a) things that bother him about you (b) things that bother him about your relationship (c) how much he likes you (d) things that he likes about you (e) things he likes about your relationship (f) what he is scared of or worried about (g) what he wants (h) what he wants from you (i) ambitions (j) failures (k) past relationships (l) that he cheated in the past (m) that he cheated on you in the past.
“I would want to know all of them. Anything! The key to any relationship is communication and being able to talk about the good and bad things,” one survey taker said, thinking of his boyfriend. “I like to know those things. It helps you understand the person. I feel like anything that happened before me is just that. His past doesn’t define who he is with me.”
One girl added as she reflected on a relationship which had recently ended, “I want to know all of it, the most important thing is honesty and being able to be completely open with those things. That’s what makes us us, the mistakes and successes we made and the future we want. Even if it hurts to hear, at least you don’t end up questioning every thing else that comes up. His many secrets and withholdings made me crazy with trust issues and that’s where the downfall began.”
The pool of survey testers was split between those who were satisfied with communication in their relationships and those who weren’t, but nearly everyone had an answer to the question, what would you like your (husband/boyfriend/guy you’re dating) to say without prompt? Most people wished for acknowledgement. Whether they desired a complimentary comment about looks, effort, work, or attraction, people wanted to know that they’re guys were proud and happy call them their own. If they didn’t mention this in their answer to this particular question, it came up somewhere else on the survey.
Other people wished to hear about plans for activities she liked, relationship statuses, desires for their future together, and understanding for what she was going through.
WE NEED TO KNOW THIS
Some communication may seem superfluous, but in a few circumstances it can be crucial to someone’s peace of mind. Breakups, defining the relationship, and those tricky personal questions that are hard to approach are all instances where proper communication is vital. There are also some things that need to be said during the course of the relationship that may seem small but actually carry a lot of weight and are important for a person’s self-esteem and confidence.
In the case of breakups or ending relationships, it’s important to talk about what didn’t work between you or what went wrong. Rejection is never easy, and not knowing what you did wrong or what happened that changed someone’s mind. Also, not knowing whether or not you’ll still see each other or how you will approach the future is a lingering question. There are a gazillion things going through peoples’ minds during breakups, and most of them are negative. So any clarity or lessons you can give or open yourself to get during the split are crucial to someone’s recovery.
When a relationship is just beginning, women want to hear what the man is looking for both from them and their relationship. With the stigma of being nagging, overly emotional, and needy, women have a hard time asking some questions that they need answers to. Therefore, men are in a position of advantage to take control of the define-the-relationship and next-step-forward talks. “It comes down to would I rather know the answer or would I rather be cool, so it’d be so much nicer if he’d just tell me before I have to make that decision,” one woman said about asking a guy what he wanted from their relationship. Men can also create an environment where both people in the relationship are comfortable talking by being open to conversation and by starting intimate conversations. Women in this survey wanted men to broach topics of moving in together and “where this is going.”
Many people felt that they could ask someone they were with any question they thought of, but there were some who had burning questions that they felt they were dying to ask, but never would. Some of these had to do with his past (i.e. how many girls before her, his previous “type,”), but many of them were about work. Could she work with him? Would he transfer? Could she use his connections? Partners felt that these were things they couldn’t ask for, but probably needed to be offered. The question one person was dying to ask was “Why he chews food the way he does. The way he eats bothers me soooo much but I don’t talk to him about it. There have been a couple time where I have politely said he was chewing with his mouth open or being a little loud while chewing, but mainly don’t say anything…just cringe and bare it.”
While those burning questions can be about either big or small things, so can the things men don’t say that their partners need to hear. I asked what things hurt that he doesn’t tell you. The first thing that came up had to do exes and other girls. When he’s seen an ex and doesn’t mention it or when he’s made plans with a female friend and not mentioned it. One girl explained, “I just don’t like to be left in the dark. (The girl he invited somewhere) didn’t end up going, but it was strange when we went out and they were talking about it. Plus it hurt a little that i wasn’t invited.”
People are also hurt when their partner keeps things that define who he is to himself. His dreams for the future, life events that happened before they met, and problems and issues he is having. These things effect partners whether their actual details come out or not. Guys really hurt their partners when they hide this side of themselves.
Others felt like it hurt the most when their man holds back his feelings about her. If he doesn’t tell her that he finds her attractive, that he cares for her, that he’s upset with her, that he notices her, and that he loves her. “I think sometimes it hurts not to hear little affirmations. Like good job here or there. Complimenting on little things.” Another person said it hurts when she doesn’t hear “the good things, because we can build on the good things. And it’s not that he never says that. Just…more often.”
WELL, MAYBE WE DON’T WANT EVERY THOUGHT
Most people couldn’t think of a significant thought or feeling they wouldn’t want to hear from the man they are with, however, some brought up some interesting caveats to the tell-me-everything rule. The few things mentioned were “if he thought I was disgusting,” “if he finds another girl attractive,” “if he’s fantasizing about someone else,” “his bowel movements,” “if he compares our relationship to someone else’s,” “negative thoughts about random things that don’t matter” or “how crazy my family is.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Some women seemed like pros when it came to communicating with their men, who were usually their husbands. They shared their experience and expertise.
“We’ve really worked on being open & honest with each other. At the beginning on our relationship, (my husband) would hold in his frustrations & feelings, but now he doesn’t. Lots of ups & downs & long talks about the same issues… Church, prayer, relationship books, & both of us made changes. For example, he started taking on more responsibilities around the house & I started showing him more affection. It made me respect him more.”
“I just think that being open and honest about things is the best. Because when you don’t things don’t go as smoothly. It’s gotten a lot better. We’ve learned you have to communicate and talk about things. We’re both pretty good about getting things out. When we were first together, when we were first living together, we really had to make an effort. We still have to put effort into it. At times you don’t like hearing things, but you deal with it and try to make it better for the next time. It’s a constant learning deal. I think when you’re dating you don’t fully trust that person yet. You don’t want them to know certain things yet, but when you’re married, it’s like oh well, you’re stuck with me. “
The takeaway here, is that it’s natural to feel uncomfortable breaching some areas of communication. It’s normal to struggle with expressing thoughts and feelings in a relationship, and it’s not selfish to want and ask for more information from your partner. In fact, facing these difficulties and finding a solution that works for the two of you is a marker of growth for your relationship. In the end, both you and your relationship will be stronger when you find the courage to say what needs to be said.