How can I get my husband to reply on-topic?
October 12, 2015 12:59 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I work different schedules and communicate a lot by text message... but he constantly changes topics and doesn't reply to mine?!

Neither of us work a traditional 9-5 schedule, but with my long hours and his weird hours, not to mention the fact that I'm a lark and he's an owl, we end up communicating by text message quite a lot. This has been the case more than usually ever since about six months ago when the new work situations started.

It's overall really wonderful and convenient - I don't process very fast, so it's kind of nice to have some time to consider what I want to say, and it allows us to be constantly "checking in" and feeling close even when we barely see each other awake for a few days at a time sometimes. The thing is, I'll often write him a message about something, and he will totally ignore it and just start talking about his own topic. It's usually nothing crucial, just something funny I saw, or how my day is going, or something I read in the news I'd like to discuss... but it hurts my feelings that he just blows past it to talk about his own interests without even replying or acknowledging what I said.

He also uses this with regards to requests he doesn't want to answer about right away (for example, please take out the trash before you leave today, or would you like to go out for dinner tonight) if he can't say yes or no, he just says nothing at all, as if the request was never made. I'll press him and he'll act like it's the most obvious thing in the world that his silence means "maybe, I don't know right now."

I've brought this up with him before, and he has admitted that it happens, but doesn't really see it as a huge cause for concern - from his point of view, he read my message and has thus done all that is expected. He doesn't seem to see it as rude. I know he genuinely doesn't, because I've childishly returned the favor and he barely noticed and it certainly didn't bother him.

Again, this only really happens via text. In person or on the phone, none of these things occur.

Any tactics I can use to feel more heard?

Possibly relevant: We are the same age in our late 20's and have been married for less than five years, but been together for more than that.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him again, in no uncertain terms, that this bothers you and makes you feel like you're not being heard. He doesn't see it as a cause for concern? That's nice, but it is, because it bothers you. And if he keeps doing it after you tell him this, calmly and plainly, then that alone makes it rude.

Or if you're done talking, and want to go another route: repeat your message until he replies to it. Yes, it's a pain, but his behaviour has been a pain to you, so there's that.

It's not too much to ask that he acknowledges what you say to him. That's a reasonable thing to want and you get to ask that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:20 AM on October 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

Maybe you could develop a repertoire of symbols with your husband. One can mean, 'yep, hear ya, will do'. Another could mean, 'need to think about it, get back to me' or 'I'll get back to you'. Text doesn't permit body language so it may be useful to find other nonverbal/non-literate means to communicate via text. Using only words all the time can be tiring.
posted by Thella at 1:53 AM on October 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

I text my husband "RSVP" at the times I need to be heard.

With stupid android v iPhone and busy-ness it neatly signals I'm about to get jittery or shitty. I don't do it all the time. Just when I need to.
posted by taff at 3:06 AM on October 12, 2015 [22 favorites]

Maybe using text to communicate is more your style than his? I love text messages for some things (and hate phone calls for most things) but I find sustained conversation via text to be annoying. Maybe he'd prefer not so much texting, and is expressing that poorly.
posted by jzb at 3:10 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Keep repeating yourself.

You: Babes can you take the trash out before you leave for work.
Him: Hey I just saw a really cute dog! I love dogs.
You: Yes dogs are great, can you take the trash out before you leave for work?
Him: Do you know where my ukulele is?
You: No idea, how about that trash, it's completely full, afraid the raccoons might get into it. If you can't take it out can you let me know, maybe I'll call our neighbour and see if he can do it for us?
etc. etc.


You: boss is wearing mismatched shoes today, haha
Him: Traffic was a nightmare this morning!
You: They're not even close. One is black with a heel and the other is flat and brown.
Him: I found a new podcast it's great!
You: Have you ever done that, mismatched your shoes?
Him: It's really hot in the office today

He may get annoyed. But you deserve to be listened to, and it's annoying for YOU to be ignored, and your annoyance is just as valid as his.
posted by cilantro at 3:10 AM on October 12, 2015 [11 favorites]

Honestly? The people that I know who do this are just that way. They're not big text message people in that they don't see it as the equivalent of a conversation, so regular conversation rules don't apply. It's not an emotional check-in for them. It is totally annoying for the rest of us. You've tried to explain and he doesn't get it, so I would work on radical acceptance rather than trying to get him to change.

Now are there other ways you can feel acknowledged by him during the day? Can you call at lunch for 5 min?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:24 AM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

The thing that bothers me most about your story isn't that he doesn't acknowledge your messages (though I think it's reasonable that that bothers you!). It's his casual dismissal of your concern as not a big deal. HE doesn't get to decide what matters or makes a difference TO YOU.

"Hey, BF, I hear you that this isn't a big deal to you, but it IS a big deal to me. Can you change the way you interact in this context to help me feel more connected?" His response will be revealing.
posted by spindrifter at 4:01 AM on October 12, 2015 [18 favorites]

It's usually nothing crucial, just something funny I saw, or how my day is going, or something I read in the news I'd like to discuss

My mother does this. She texts me things like:

>(local newsanchor of news I don't watch) had her baby girl today. 8lb2oz
>Saw a picture of our trip when you were 12. Good memories!
>Wet out!

And for texts like this that there is literally no way I can respond to her other than "ok" or an emoji. I do that, but it's a response born from obligation, not out of desire to converse about those subjects.

I'm just not a small-talk texter. To me, those are things that can wait until I talk to her on the phone, or see her once a week.

As for him ignoring questions/requests, I'd push that aspect more, just by adding a Y/N at the end to indicate you expect an answer. I suppose someone will bring up the awful Ding Training concept, but just keep pressing for an answer in your responses, like cilantro's first example.
posted by ladygypsy at 4:02 AM on October 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

When my friend didn't respond to some messages it turned out that he only answered actual questions and kind of just nodded along when reading non-actionable messages.
posted by meijusa at 4:17 AM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

To the people who keep saying "press for an answer" - have we established that these are things that can't be discussed in person? Maybe it's not just a "Y/N" answer?

Can you do $thing that requires *immediate attention* ("take out the trash please?") is one thing. It sounds a lot to me like there's a barrage of things going on via text here, and maybe the husband would prefer to have a conversation rather than "Y/N?" (Example "do you want to go to dinner tonight?" may not be Y/N it might be "maybe, depends on how I'm feeling, what were you thinking?" which turns into a round of 25 texts and.. ugh.

This mode of communication may not be working for her husband very well. Yes, he should probably say so, but maybe hasn't figured out how to articulate that. Please consider that possibility.
posted by jzb at 4:18 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I just repeat the same message over and over if it's a question. Like, word for word. You could also try telling him that you don't feel close to him when he ignores you and it IS a problem, and get a little shirty and pissed about it.

Who cares if it's not "natural" for him? It takes 2 seconds to "haha" or "wow!" or "let me get back to you, hon". It took me 30 seconds to write that last sentence! Could be that I am a genius text outlier, but I doubt it. He's being a big lazy butt whether he realizes it or not.

He needs to do the work to keep your relationship going. And yes he still has to do it even if he experiences it as "work".
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

He's right, texting rules are different from phone rules. Next time that you want or need a response, text him, "Please call when you get a moment!" and talk to him on the phone. Someone who is busy at work doesn't always have the head space to remember to text back "maybe" or "I don't know."
posted by myselfasme at 5:59 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I learned about "bids for attention" and Gottman's research on them, it made me much more responsive to my husbands random comments about the state of the world. I learned to understand that he was saying "I want to have a moment of connection with you." Before that, I felt a little annoyed because I didn't understand why he was telling me such random stuff. Your husband might benefit from learning about the bid for attention concept.
posted by CMcG at 7:10 AM on October 12, 2015 [31 favorites]

Is the "got it, thinking, can't answer one way or the other, but I hear you" message enough for you? If so, then some sort of shorthand for that would be great. I felt enormous pressure from my partner about a year into the relationship when he'd ask things like, "Want to go to dinner tonight?" at 10am, when I wasn't in any way ready to think about dinner out, so I'd stall. But we eventually got to the point where I could say, "It's morning, plz ask later!" and that's made all the difference in those conversations. He knows I'm reading him, I know he got an answer, and we decide on dinner when both of us can think of such a thing.
posted by xingcat at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Be explicit that you need him to acknowledge what you say but also offer an easy solution. Like he can text the ear emoji and it means "I heard you" (or ear and heart: "got it, I love you!")
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:31 AM on October 12, 2015

Does this have to be text? Would switching to e-mail be possible? With e-mail you could have separate threads for each topic which allows each of you to respond as necessary on each topic and still feel free to start new topics without fear that the pre-existing topics will be ignored.
posted by mmascolino at 7:41 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

SMS can also be weirdly asynchronous, and sometimes a network can sit on a message for hours before it's received (or sometimes, it just disappears entirely). While it sounds like there's another communication problem here, a missed text can cause all sorts of angst through no fault of the user.
posted by scruss at 8:15 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

If we're talking about general topics of conversation ("OMG, just saw the cutest puppy!" or the like), I think the only way you're going to get what you want is to ask for it. Tell your husband it bugs you when you text him about your day and he doesn't engage with what you said but instead replies with a non sequitur.

If we're talking about actual questions you need the answer to ("How do you feel about tacos for dinner?"), just keep sending followup texts until you get the information you need.

I don't think "just don't text" or "texting isn't for this" is apt, as, yes, this is how many people use text messages in this day and age. Also it seems odd that OP's husband would engage in these sorts of mild check-in text messages (even if only to reply with a non sequitur) if he secretly hated texting. It would be one thing if the dude NEVER texted and she couldn't get any replies, but it sounds like the problem here definitely is not that her husband doesn't like texting and would prefer a phone call.
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 AM on October 12, 2015

If you think you're going to change your spouse's communications methods and habits, you are in for a LONG LIFE OF AGONY and UNHAPPINESS. And so is your spouse.

You cannot hang your relationship communication on text. I get it, and your situation is pretty tricky, but you are not going to be able to hammer him into getting what you want. You have already asked, and you have not gotten what you wanted. So do you want to now escalate that? So that you can then begin to harp on each other and snipe?

NO. Just don't. Run towards happiness.

Remember, when things get bad, revert to the pet-training method: Reward good behavior and ignore the bad.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:25 AM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I see two things going on here, which are creating an unnecessary conflict.

1. You're using text messaging to send random/unimportant observations and comments to your husband and getting mad that he isn't responding to them. I mean, I get that you don't want to be ignored but maybe he just doesn't have anything to say in response to "ooh, I saw the cutest puppy today!" And that's okay. Don't waste your energy getting upset about this.

2. You're also using text messaging to start conversations that ARE important, like "what are your thoughts on this article?" or "what should we do for dinner?" Do you see how this creates a confusing situation when coupled with use case #1 above? Your husband isn't getting a strong signal about whether your text messages are things that require a response or not.

My husband is the same way and I have learned over time to only use text messaging for silly, non-important conversation. If I really need a response to something I call him. And he knows this - whenever I call he says "what's up? it must be important if you are calling me." And as a result, I get his full attention.

It's also possible that your husband finds it uncomfortable or annoying to type out a conversation. Smartphone keyboards aren't exactly the most ergonomic interfaces. Again, phone calls or waiting until you see each other in person may be better for these situations.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

The worst thing about text is that people think it's some sort of leash that can be yanked for immediate response. Maybe he isn't responding about the taking out the trash because he doesn't like getting nagged via text (or at all). If the trash is his chore, then you can trust him to manage that task. If the trash is a shared chore, then just take it out yourself when it's full.

I don't see anything in your questions that he likes this interaction. You are getting constant check-ins. Has he ever said he values this communication? Based on his behaviors, he doesn't seem to find this as helpful as you do.
posted by 26.2 at 10:02 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

> yes, this is how many people use text messages in this day and age.

This fact does OP no good if her husband is not one of them, and that appears to be the case, according to my read on things.

You know how when you email someone over and over, and finally you call them and they say "Oh, email's a bad way to reach me," so you start calling them instead for things? That's what has to happen here-- SMS is not a great way to elicit information from the husband, therefore stop using it as the primary avenue for requesting information. If he's actually hard to reach every which way, that's a problem, but if he answers phone calls, emails, telegrams, letter post, and carrier pigeon, well, maybe picking a different method of communication is in order. Those first 3 look good, though telegraphy is no longer cost-effective.

Sure, true, some people who say "email's a bad way to reach me" don't actually answer the phone, either, and need to contacted by an arrow fired into their office or smoke signals, which generally means that they're dodging you, but hopefully that's not the case between husband and wife.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:03 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

There seems to be a couple things at play here. And I will preface this in agreement that you can't necessarily change someone's communication style super dramatically. So, I'm going to ask some questions that you should be asking to your SO and then how I (personally) would feel or have felt.

- What do you each want from this type of communication? It seems you really want deep conversations? And he wants.. what? To check in? To say hi? Figure out what you each expect from this.

Personally anything beyond a yes, no, maybe type conversation doesn't happen over text. And I LOVE chatting. But if someone texted me a news article or something and expected anything other than a "that's interesting" over text then I'd be super annoyed. I mean, it's hard work to text that much stuff and it's not like you can have a good intelligent conversation about something deep over short texts. He might as well just call you on a five minute break or something if you actually want to TALK.

- Is it even possible for him (or you) to respond right away or have deep conversations when these things are happening? Is he the type to get focused on something and ignore his phone? Is he busy?

I could text my husband all day, but he has to stay super focused at work and is actually busy with, well, work. I can't expect him to respond to everything so most things I text I expect to go un-replied. He usually sees it but doesn't reply. It used to be annoying but he's gotten better at paying attention to his phone so I at least knows he reads it or would answer in an emergency. (Not to mention many workplaces frown on using phones beyond listening to music on them or using work-related apps.)

- Is asking to do chores through text an effective use of communication for either of you?

It sounds like not. Either take out the trash yourself if it's important, or ask if he does it but don't expect a reply and trust him to do it. OR have a schedule, so he takes the trash out every other day BEFORE he leaves for work. It seems like you're adding an extra level of annoyance with this whole chore-texting thing when you could just eliminate it.

- Is this type of texting where you expect a response and conversation even worth having a huge discussion about, or could it be replaced with something else?

So, could you accept that you don't really respond to each other, but you "check in" via text but then you each can take a five minute break and give each other a call. Or can you schedule a few minutes when you're both home each day for real conversations?

I personally, although I love texting for jokes, or quick updates or questions, etc. I just don't expect it to be my main way to keep in touch with someone. Even though my dad and I text each other every day, if it's something longer than a couple sentences I just call him. It's way easier.

I think you need to figure out what you each want, need, and the best way to get there. I don't think texting is going to be that way, though.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have started communicating by text more often. It's useful, but I really have to have reasonable expectations. My wife does best when she is concentrating on a single task, and that's the way she prefers to work. Her job also requires this kind of sustained focus. I do more flitting from task to task and my job allows me that flexibility. Moreover, I'm the type who likes to respond to every message at least to say "got it" while she simply has more important things going on, and her taking time to respond would be a major drain on her because flitting from task to text and back is not how she works.

IMO it would be really, really inappropriate for me to demand that she use texting the way I use it. It's basically demanding that she take breaks in her day like I do, and that's not at all how she works. I would be making a pretty substantial demand on her to ask for these little acknowledgements. So I have to accept that she may or may not see my texts, and if she sees them she may or may not respond. I wouldn't find it very reasonable of me to demand that she respond when she wants to keep focusing on her job.

So this is purely my opinion of relationships, but I don't think it’s reasonable to ask someone to always respond to texts. It’s too easy to overwhelm them with messages when they’re trying to get something done - it’s low effort for me to send a text to my wife when I’m already thinking about it, but it’s much higher effort for her to take time out of her day to think about my text (even a silly one) and send a response because she has to mentally switch contexts from work to my text.

My system is: I can send her anything by text, but I never, ever get to expect a response. If something is really critical then I need to call and leave a voicemail. I also need to accept that while we are each others’ first priorities on average, during the workday there are times when work is priority #1 and it’s unreasonable for me to expect her to read or respond to me. Once a distraction hits, it takes as much as 25 minutes to get back into the flow of work, so even a single text is potentially a big hit on productivity.

I will temper what I’m saying by agreeing that if you aren’t feeling heard by your husband, it’s reasonable for him to try to understand that and make you feel heard. But there should also be an understanding on your part that what you’re asking might be a major burden on him, and so you two should try to find something that works for both of you, even if it's not exactly what you initially had in mind. A compromise might keep both of you happy.
posted by Tehhund at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

For this sort of thing my husband and I sometimes use inside jokes or "argot" to get a point across. I like it better than just getting annoying about a point or nagging, because at the same time as it is conveying a message that could be 'naggy', it's using an inside joke to do that, so it's a reminder about something that links us together. It seems to help make the difference between a response of "oh.... ALL RIGHT." and the response of a smile and "if you say so, dear" or "aaaaaassss yooooouuuu wiiiisssssshhhh" (as the case may be)....

Perhaps you can find some kind of little joke you can respond with when he does this (not cutting sarcasm mind you, it has to be something that you both think is funny) and it might help either train him out of his habits or at least prompt him to respond the way you're hoping for at the times when you want or need him to do so.

posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:18 PM on October 13, 2015

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