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How to Navigate the Quiet Contours of the Non-Talking Husband

How to Navigate the Quiet Contours of the Non-Talking Husband

Most relationships begin with a lot of talking and not so many frustrations. As the communicators continue in their relationship, complexity increases. Sometimes one of the partners becomes silent. He becomes quiet while the other partner is left to speculate on what happened. In this case study with Biff and Mable, they are at that place but not without hope. There is a way for them to navigate the quiet contours of the non-talking husband.

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Clarifying the Truth

He doesn’t talk. That’s what Mable said when she came to counseling. Biff was with her, but he was not saying anything. I asked, “He doesn’t talk? Really? Is he mute?” The real truth was that Biff does talk, but he does not communicate with Mable. He speaks to Mable, but it is only about business-type and scheduling details.

  • Where were you?
  • What did you do?
  • What took you so long?
  • How come dinner is not ready?

They have lived this way for so long that Mable began to believe the lie that he doesn’t talk. On one level, she knew he talked because she had heard him talking many times to other people about things he enjoyed. It felt better to say that he didn’t communicate rather than admit that he did not speak to her. It was too personal for her to ponder. She cast it off as “Biff being Biff” or “that’s just his personality.”

Other times, she would play the generational card: “His daddy was like that.” In time, she began to believe her self-skewed interpretations of Biff. Altering the truth became her new truth, which is a delusion. Since Biff was not going to engage his wife in meaningful conversation, she spun it so it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Anytime a person begins to make up stuff and is not called on it, they will drift from the truth and clarity of God’s Word. Mable had drifted.

Gospel Transformation

Mable resigned herself to a third-rate citizen on Biff’s “talk list.” She had convinced herself that it was okay. The truth was she had a stubborn and immature husband on her hands. Rather than trying to get him to change, she quit pleading, twisted what she was observing, let him be that way, and didn’t feel as badly about his daily rejections.

That strategy worked well until the disappointments in their marriage continued to mount, and she came to the place where she couldn’t take it anymore. The irony is that while they were dating, she would cover for Biff by saying that he was quiet. It was true; Biff is not a social animal, but it’s also correct to say he has not submitted his personality to gospel transformation.

The opposite of quietness is not necessarily becoming a talking head, but it is being less self-centered and more others-centered. Biff does not understand this need in his life. The gospel came to transform us into Christlikeness, and though we will be unique in our transformations, we will be the same in that we’re less selfish and more concerned about others. This motivation will spur us on to make the necessary changes to live well with others.

Silence Is Selfish

A non-talking husband is a selfish husband, which does not isolate itself inside one specific personality trait of an individual. If only my selfishness would isolate itself to one area of my life and not try to dominate other areas of my life. Selfishness is sin, and sin never isolates to a single location. Sin is the spiritual equivalent to cancer. You give cancer an inch, and it will take your life. You give sin an inch, and it may take you to hell.

Sin shows no regard for the soul but will seek to destroy it. The vigilant man or woman will go to war before that happens. After 17 years of marriage, Biff is feeling the ravages of his selfishness. He has not been able to contain his sin just to his tongue. His selfish ways have advanced to other areas of his life, which has worn out Mable.

She is crying for help. Though Biff does not like counseling, it’s the best thing that could happen to him at this juncture. He needs someone to help him break free from the bondage of his selective selfishness. He’s too preoccupied with himself to do anything about what’s happening.

(It would be unwise to think Biff is the only guilty party in this marriage. This article is addressing the sin of silence, but there is Mable. How has she contributed and tempted Biff to stop talking to her? Though his sin is not her choice or fault, many wives in a situation like this will be a complicating factor.)

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Start with the Lord

We know that Biff can talk, but he has been choosing for nearly two decades not to have meaningful conversations with his wife. Will he change? I am not sure, but it has to start with his relationship with God first if he does. A person who does not have meaningful communication with their spouse has an immature relationship with God.

God is a speaking God, and God created Biff in His image. Biff’s responsibility is to imitate God in specific ways, and communication is one of those aspects (Ephesians 5:1). If he chooses not to change, it will point to something wrong between him and the Lord that he professes to follow. If you are going to help Biff, you want to discern why God does not have more power over his tongue than whatever it is that’s hindering him in his other relationships—specifically with Mable.

You don’t want to ignore his other relationships, but you must prioritize the relational problems. More than likely, you will discover other things that have come between him and Mable. You will also learn that Mable is partly responsible for her role in the deterioration of the marriage. If you make this an exclusive Biff problem, you will not help him or them the way you intend. Prioritizing the problems while isolating the issues to work with the individuals uniquely are vital necessities if you want to restore this marriage.

Silence and Suspicion

Imagine if God did not talk to us. Wouldn’t it be a mess? Surely. There was a time between the Old and New Testaments where God was not speaking. These were the silent years; there were 400 of them. These were years when God’s people were not sure what was up. Silence will do that to you. If you live with someone who is not talking, you have no choice but to be curious about what is happening. Silence creates mystery, which can lead to unwarranted suspicion. Typically when a person is silent in a relationship, the other person will supply the interpretation. It can go like this:

  • Why is he silent?
  • I don’t know.
  • It must be because [fill in the blank].

If you’re choosing not to speak, you’re putting the other person in the position to “fill in the blank.” You don’t want them speculating about what you’re thinking. Most of the time, they will be wrong about what they supplied for your thoughts. You have left them with no choice. The best thing for the silent partner to do is to fill in the blank themselves. Don’t leave your silence for someone to speculate about what you are thinking.

For example, if the speculator is insecure, they will likely fill in the blank according to their insecurities. What that means is someone will accuse you of something you didn’t do. It may dumbfound you as to why they would say such a thing. But if you had communicated with them, there would be no temptation to upload your silence from their ignorance.

Silence and Leadership

The cure is to step up and speak up, letting your spouse know what you’re thinking. Please don’t put them in that position of speculation. Teenagers do this all the time. They won’t talk, and the parents have to guess what is going on in their heads. It is unkind of the teen and lacks wisdom. They could stop a lot of problems from escalating by talking.

Speaking is a leadership matter. God leads us by His words. We cannot know anything about the Lord if He is not talking to us. Mercifully, He gave us 1,189 chapters of material to figure out who He is and what He wants from us. The reason we relate so well with God is that He’s a great communicator. He does not leave us in the dark. We’re apprised of what’s up and don’t have to worry about His thoughts, opinions, preferences, or commands.

Biff and Mable will have to decide if they are going to imitate God in their marriage. Biff will have to start by being verbal. More than likely, Mable will have to address any sinful patterns that have attached to her verbalness. If either one of them chooses selfishness over other-centeredness, they will impede their imitation of our communicating God.

It’s a Gospel Dysfunction

I’m not sure exactly how a man and woman quit talking to each other. It’s different for each couple. Most partners seem to start well—on the first date, and then it goes downhill from there. Maybe they tire of each other. Perhaps they disdain the daily mundane life, which tempts them to seek new adventures.

Regardless of how they arrive at silence, the solution is straightforward: it lacks understanding and application of the gospel in their lives. The gospel is about a person: Christ, who came from His place to our place to transform us. If a silent partner understood and applied this good news to their marriage, the silence would disappear.

The gospel-affected soul wants to “leave his place” and go to another place to help transform that person. Talking is a gospel activity. Typically, the silent person does not understand this basic practicalizing of the gospel to their lives. Biff will have to come to terms with this truth to find the motivation to speak with Mable in meaningful ways.

First Date Communication

If you could replay Biff’s early dating conversations with Mable, you will find traces of anti-gospel motivations inside of them. I’m not suggesting that these conversation topics are wrong, but if you don’t have the gospel on the tip of your tongue, you could progress down a path of poor communication and never realize how you got there. I imagine these were a few reasons Biff was a talker when he first met Mable.

  • He talked to her because it was stimulating.
  • He talked to her because he was checking her out.
  • He talked to her because he loved the conquest.
  • He talked to her because it made him feel good—to engage a woman.
  • He talked to her because it was fresh, new, and different.
  • He talked to her because he could get her to laugh.
  • He talked to her because he liked the idea of romance.
  • He talked to her because it was shallow, safe, and there was no hard stuff between them.

I’m speculating, of course, but it’s not hard to imagine these motivations for communication. At some point, the gospel must come front and center if they want to endure well to the end. Shallow, exploratory, and curious conversations are fun, but redemptive conversations provide the endurance needed for any lasting relationship.

Gospel Motivations

Biff, like the rest of us, needs a gospel motive adjustment. As that happens, he will begin to learn that life is not about him primarily but about putting himself in a position of benefiting others, especially Mable. There is a sacrifice to the gospel. Christ died for us, and we want to emulate this aspect of the gospel for others in an echo kind of way.

Biff will not have to die for his wife as Jesus died for us, but he will have to die to himself as he thinks about what’s involved in being a redemptive communicator in his marriage. Perhaps part of the issue is his stubbornness. Maybe Mable is a difficult person to have as a partner. It could be a combination, but regardless of the conflict, Biff cannot be silent all the time.

If you’re married to a silent partner, you can do little to change the person because repentance is a gift from the Lord. However, you can address whatever things you have done that have contributed to your relationship’s social distancing. The worst thing you can do is consider yourself a victim. The same gospel that must motivate Biff must motivate you to position yourself to transform your partner.

Call to Action

Biff and Mable must discern how to point each other toward the Savior. It will look different for both of them. But neither can take a passive role in their cooperation with the Lord in the sanctification of each other.

  1. Are you the silent partner? Be honest and answer why you are that way, assuming you are. What role have you played in self-censoring yourself? What about your spouse?
  2. What specific way will you change to begin the process of redemptively restoring the communication in your relationship?
  3. What is a specific thing you can do to help your spouse change, including outside intervention as Mable has done here?
  4. When you think about your communication problems, do you see them as an “all their fault” perspective? If you do, what areas have blinded you? If you’re not sure, will you ask someone to help you see what you’re not able to see currently?

If you’re unsure how to start talking to your spouse, perhaps these straightforward questions will help you. They are not complicated but require a high degree of integrity, transparency, and humility. If you want to model the transformative gospel, these questions will most assuredly transform your life and your spouse’s.

  1. What is God doing in your life?
  2. How is the grace of God working in a particular area of sin?
  3. What specific areas are you still struggling with changing?
  4. What have you read (listened to) lately that is helping you in your sanctification?
  5. Will you help me in this “specific” area of temptation in my life?
  6. How can I serve you in a specific area of sanctification in your life?
  7. What has God taught you recently?
  8. How have you applied it to your life?

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