We’ve all heard it, from friends, colleagues, our own inner voice. Unhappiness is so often expressed by one partner due to the lack of intimacy yearned for with the other. To be seen and deeply known and to so know the other, this is the human connection that makes livable all the inevitable ups and downs of any close relationship. Some suffer in silence, others become vocal, even demanding. Counseling with a skilled professional often seems the logical approach and some partners do agree to take that path, although if feeling blamed, one may only do so reluctantly, or even refuse.

I was anything but immune.

Years ago, my husband was quick to give me the responsibility for drawing him out when I asked for greater sharing of his feelings about whatever was going on in his life. I was urged to ask the right questions, at the right time. I tried. It didn’t work. And he was missing the point, or at least so I thought. These disclosures had to be freely given.

We were once offered some communication exercises, basically told to repeat what the other had said so as to assure that each of us had indeed been heard. That lasted less than a week.

Here is what did actually work. Not revolutionary, and just one possible approach, but for us a definite change for the better. When I asked a question to elicit feelings about one thing or another, I chose a time when there were no obvious distractions and there was enough time to talk for a while. TV commercial breaks won’t work, half-time maybe. The best time for us was sitting opposite each other at breakfast out at a restaurant or traveling in a car in light traffic. He couldn’t get up and drift away, start identifying the birds on the feeder or cross the room to answer the phone (before the ubiquitous cell phones of today).

But most important, I learned that once my question was in the air, I needed to stop talking. Not ask another question. That was the key. So many women, hungry for intimacy (and in my experience it seems to be mostly women), don’t wait long enough for a response. Some men, I suspect many, need to formulate their thoughts before they speak, unlike many women for whom the thought and the spoken word are almost simultaneous.

Psychological and even evolutionary theories abound about why some derive satisfaction and pleasure from being self-disclosing while others find such exposure uncomfortable or even threatening to their sense of well being.

But whatever the gender of the intimacy seeker, experience taught me to carefully pick the time, ask the question, and then remain calm in the quiet. The reward for patience was a thoughtful response.