Do you ever have side by side conversations with your spouse? Maybe you hadn’t thought about it. We hadn’t earlier in our marriage. But it can actually be a highly effective form of talking to each other. It’s not that you will go into great depth in your conversation, but it certainly has its place.
The question was recently posed to us:
“What do you do when you attempt conversations with your spouse but are met with either a very brief answer or a simple ‘I don’t know’? Sometimes, even met with a sense of annoyance and being dismissed. When gently pushed and encouraged for an expansion on the response, I get more of the same. It makes it difficult to get to know him on a deeper level. Are there ways I can get him to open up more?”
So, we thought we’d share portions of the response we gave to her (and a bit more). We pray it will also help you in your marriage. It comes from some things we learned earlier in our married life.
Side by Side Conversations
I (Cindy) was frustrated trying to get my husband Steve to sit down and talk about subjects that interested me. I found the same thing was true when with our sons. But then I told this to a (wise) friend, and she pointed out the option of side-by-side conversations. I tried this and it worked! Eventually, this opened the door to face-to-face conversations. But even if it didn’t, that would be okay. It’s important to figure out what works and go accordingly.
So, what are side by side types of conversations? Here’s a little bit of insight Graham Chastney gives about this:
“I was out for a walk with a friend the other day; as we walked and talked my friend said something along the lines of: ‘The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.’ I agreed wholeheartedly. There’s a phrase that I use, which is a quote from someone, but I don’t know who: ‘Women talk face-to-face; men talk side-by-side.’ This isn’t a rule, but more of an axiom that I see playing out regularly. What better way to be side-by-side than to go for a walk?”
More on Side by Side Conversations
Sheila Wray Gregoire talked about this in her article, “My Husband Doesn’t Spend Any Time with Me.” She wrote:
“Remember that men tend to communicate side by side, rather than face to face. They like talking while they’re doing something. They don’t tend to like just sitting around and talking face to face, the way we women do. So, the more you can find things to do, the more you’ll likely communicate. And if you start laughing and finding things to do together, he’ll probably want to be with you more.
“So rather than attacking him with accusations that he doesn’t want to spend time with you, or that you want him to do something that you want to do, try to find things that he enjoys doing that you can do with him. Do this, even if you have to stretch yourself or go outside of your comfort zone. The best thing that you can do for your relationship is just to learn to be friends again. So, try that out!”
And that’s what I did (and still do). It’s amazing how well this works! I regularly suggest this to women that are frustrated with their “non-talkative” husbands. And yes, I realize that sometimes it’s the wife who has an aversion to face to face conversations. All we can say is if that’s true in your marriage, then go with it that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the husband or wife who isn’t as comfortable talking face to face. Get creative!
There’s support for this conversation “style” in an article posted by the Marriage Dynamic Institute. They write:
“Sociologist Harry Brod points out that men often prefer a side-by-side shoulder orientation for conversation. ‘Numerous studies have established that men are more likely to define emotional closeness as working or playing side-by-side, while women often view it as talking face-to-face.’ So, walking may provide a more natural and comfortable setting for husbands to enjoy conversation with their wives. And what better reason to hit the road, or the trail together!” (From the article, “Walking Together for a Better Marriage”)
They also suggest,
“A twenty-minute walk provides the perfect time frame for catching up with one another. You might share events from your day, relate a conversation you had with the neighbor, or touch base about a home project. Or you could use the time to check in emotionally if you’ve noticed your spouse is stressed or frustrated. All marriages benefit from regular conversation time, especially the kind of unhurried conversation you can enjoy walking together.”
Relationship coach, Alisa DiLorenzo gives this insight on this type of conversing:
“Being side by side allows the two of you to still be connected but without the intimidation/fear factor of having your spouse stare at you. Intensely. Without blinking. Looking for every gesture. For some it will be a regularly scheduled time. Maybe it’s the first thing Saturday morning so that you kick off the weekend together? Or Maybe Monday nights to kick off your week. But it starts with heading out your own front door together. It doesn’t require a certain amount of time either.”
Additional Side by Side Conversation Insights
And then Julie Sibert gives a little extra insight into this communication style:
“Side-by-side communication is when you talk (sometimes quite vulnerably), yet you are not facing each other. It can be a more comfortable way to open up, because it can feel less awkward than when you are looking at each other.
“A walk is an obvious example of when side-by-side conversation is ideal, but it also can happen when you are working on a project together or when one of you is doing something and the other is simply there as well. For example, my husband sometimes works on cars, so while he is working on a car, I could be there as well. Though I am of no use with the car work, my presence can give us an opportunity to talk.
“Now, don’t get me wrong — there is a deep necessity for face-to-face communication as well. Side-by-side communication complements the communication process in marriage, it doesn’t replace anything.”
But perhaps it does for a time. And perhaps it’s a good steppingstone leading into face to face
And then here’s a link to an article, that we encourage you to read, that also supports this type of conversation:
You may want to try this method. Perhaps it will be a better method to open up the opportunity to talk together. Ask the Lord to show you when and how to do this.
Additional Conversation Tip
Keep in mind that timing can be important too. Steve and Lisa Goldberg give the following insight:
“Choose together WHEN and WHERE would be best. I have a hard time focusing and listening when there are distractions around. So, Steve will make a point of asking for my full attention or for us to remove ourselves from a room in our home that distracts me. After 9 pm, Steve’s brain is pretty much checked out. That’s not a good time for me to bring up a difficult topic. Together, decide when a good time is to talk and where you will be most effective at sharing and listening.”
So, the challenge here is to become a student of your spouse. See what works to ease into having conversations with your spouse. Start lighter, and then perhaps your spouse will be comfortable to go deeper at some point. Just be creative. I’m not sure if this will help, but we hope so, pray so.
The point is to realize that each person is different. Some spouses don’t respond to the same setting, as far as having conversations. Or maybe they need steppingstones into being comfortable with those type of conversations. Whatever works—it’s sure worth a try.
We encourage you with these words: “Let the wise hear and increase in learning…” (Proverbs 1:5) Look for creative ways to increase in your learning from the Lord and from your spouse. Your marriage will be all the richer, as a result.
“May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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