The Real Reasons Men Shut Down — and How to Get Them to Open Up
Chalk up throwing his pants on the floor, screaming at the quarterback like a bad pass is a personal insult, and never remembering to buy milk to the fact that he’s a guy. What we can’t understand is how to get him to talk when you most need him. So we asked real men and the experts to help us understand what’s really going on inside when the lines of communication go radio silent. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.
His feelings matter, too
“Our feelings are just as important as your feelings. We shut down if we don’t feel like we matter or that your agenda is more important than ours.” – Chris, 38, Rochester, NY
Get him to open up: “Feelings mean different things to each of the sexes. Guys often feel by doing, women by saying,” says Dr. Pollack. “It’s a matter of translating one language into the other. Try saying, ‘I’m really sorry. I know that your feelings are important, but I’m not clear what they are. Can you help me understand?'”
Give it to him point-blank
“Sometimes my wife wants something, but skirts around the issue and uses subtle clues rather than being direct, and it leaves me in the dark about what she really wants. Then it turns into a conflict because she ends up not getting what she needs and I feel like I’m not doing anything right. I shut down when I feel like she’s not being completely honest and to the point.” – Joe, 42, San Francisco, CA
Get him to open up: Though you may be thinking, “Why are you so slow?! I made it pretty obvious,” try actually saying, “Oh, I thought I was being direct. I wasn’t trying to withhold stuff, I just didn’t want to tell you what to do. Tell me where you felt like I didn’t say things directly.” Asking for concrete situations will help you make changes in your approach next time.
Put romance in the air
“Men like to give you romance, but we also want romance and surprises. If I feel like I’m the only bringing romance to the relationship, then I feel drained, shut down, and don’t want to do anything at all.” – Aaron, 42, Liverpool, NY
Get him to open up: “A lot of men complain that they are the only ones who take the action in their relationships, and it sounds like he wants her to make the first move sometimes,” says Dr. Pollack. When your guy is pulling away, you likely don’t feel like being romantic, but to keep him from further retreating, say, “Honey, I’m feeling a little disconnected. How come we’re not close now?” He may share that he feels he’s initiating sex or bringing you flowers and he wants similar things in return. Acknowledging his desire will encourage him to open his heart.
A little praise goes a long way
“I need compliments, and to know that she’s proud that I’m her husband. When she gives me that love, I come out of my shell very easily, but if I don’t feel that loyalty and pride in our relationship, then I kind of check out emotionally.” – Rich, 39, Winter Haven, FL
Get him to open up: “This is a complaint you hear from both sexes. Like women, men need not only compliments, but to hear that the woman is proud of them and really loves them,” says Dr. Pollack. Your guy probably won’t tap you on the shoulder and tell you that he needs you to spew kindness because he feels too ashamed. “But if you ask him why he’s being distant and he says he needs you to say nice things to him, then you can make a mindful effort to do it more often, and you’ll notice how his attitude changes.”
Encourage him to be himself
“It’s nice to be able to be 100 percent yourself with your wife, to be able to be completely vulnerable and show her everything. If you feel judged, you shut down.” – Khiel, 38, Marcellus, NY
Get him to open up: “Men may act invulnerable, but they are not,” says Dr. Pollack. “You can stop and say, ‘Was there something I said that made you retreat?'” Then he can say, “Well, when I talked about that thing at work, it seemed like you were being critical.” You might respond, “I didn’t mean to be. If you ever feel like I’m being judgmental, please tell me and I’ll stop.” When he knows that you’re willing to make adjustments, he’ll be more likely to open up.
Give him the time he needs
“My wife pushes me to talk even if I’m not ready. This can lead to resentment, and me feeling like I’m not connected. Then I don’t want to open up.” – Mike, 37, New York, NY
Get him to open up: If he isn’t ready to talk about something, pushing him will be the kiss of death. “You shouldn’t wait six weeks to address the issue, but allowing him an hour or even half a day to calm down will make your conversation more productive,” says Dr. Pollack. Once he’s cooled down, tell him that you’d really like to address the problem so you can work on it together. If he still pulls away, say, “I understand it may take some time, but when is good for you to talk about it?” This allows him to choose the time and the place on his own terms, meaning he’ll feel more in control and be more likely to share his feelings.
It’s a game of give-and-take
“Maybe it’s an emotional defense mechanism, but when our relationship starts to feel too one-sided, it makes me less likely to open up to her.” – Dave, 40, Syracuse, NY
Get him to open up: Try saying, “You seem more distant. What’s up?” This shows that you realize that he has been present in the past, and gives him an opportunity to state that he feels he has been taken for granted. Instead of giving him the laundry list of all the things you do to take care of the household and the family, try addressing his feelings by saying, “Can you tell me when you feel like I stopped giving my half?” “Doing this keeps him from being defensive, and gets him to talk about it so he feels like you’re part of a team again,” says Dr. Pollack.
Don’t try to change him
“I shut down when I feel like she wants to change who I am and my core values. I open up when I feel that who I am is why she fell in love with me in the first place.” – Lawrence, 36, Baltimore, MD
Get him to open up: “The best way to get a man to change is to not ask him to change, but to say, I love the fact that you do this and this – things you know he sees as his core values – and then mention something that he doesn’t do, but that you’d like him to do without directly asking that he do it,” says Dr. Pollack. If he’s shutting off, one of your interactions can be, “I love what you usually do [insert something that reflects who he is here], so why did you stop?” He may say, “Well, you always want me to stop doing this and be someone else and you don’t like me as a person.” You can respond, “I love who you are as a person, and that’s the most important thing to me.” By telling him what you adore and appreciate, you’ll encourage him to take a risk and try something new without shutting down.
Try to see where he’s coming from, really
“I shut down when I feel frustrated that, no matter what I say, she will not see my point of view, and when I feel that if I keep on talking it will only make things worse. I back away to cut my losses and to keep the conversation from going even more wrong than it already has.” – Dan, 42, Newburyport, MA
Get him to open up: If you’re having an argument and your husband pulls away, wait a few minutes and say, “What’s up? Why have you stopped talking?” If he can’t explain it, do something together that he enjoys, and amidst the activity, say, “Maybe your point and mine are a little different, so let’s talk about it.” He’ll be much more open to another point of view when he is in action mode – rather than sitting around and chatting.
Give him what he wants — and needs
“I begin to pull away when I’m not getting my needs met even after I’ve expressed to her what I want. If she tells me what she wants and needs, I’ll do all that I can to give it to her, so I want her to do the same thing for me.” – Kyle, 34, Jersey City, NJ
Get him to open up: “He may think he’s expressed what he wants, but she may not know it because he may not have been speaking her language,” says Dr. Pollack. “This man is more vulnerable than he wants to feel, so you have to reach out across the divide.” If he starts to pull away, ask him whether there’s something he wanted but isn’t getting, and let him know that he can tell you what he desires. He’ll realize that it is still just as good if he gets what he wants after vocalizing it – rather than you trying to read his mind – and eventually you’ll understand more easily, and be able to give him more of what he needs without him having to say it.