“A busy, vibrant, goal-oriented woman is so much more attractive than a woman who waits around for a man to validate her existence.”
~ Mandy Hale
Over the years I realized a commonality that kept showing up within my relationships with men – friendships and romantic relationships – that made me wonder, caused me frustration and frequently led to misunderstandings.
It was this phenomenon of men withdrawing on a regular basis. I can totally see you move your head in agreement. It’s a very common female complaint when it comes to relationships overall.
Now, I am not a relationship expert or even a dating/marriage coach; however, I am an expert in the field of human individuality, transformation, sociology and emotional intelligence which gives me a unique insight into the deepest places of our being.
In the beginning of my relationship with my husband we created many exciting goals and visions for the next few years ahead.
I was so happy to see that we were on the same page in all major areas of life together as a couple. That was a reason to celebrate.
I got all fired up, made detailed plans to accomplish these huge goals. I am more of a go-getter, whereas my husband tends to lean back and let things unfold. This ability to let things unfold can be a great skill to have, or it can be a really frustrating trait – at least for the other party involved.
One day I had a call scheduled with my coach. She asked me what I wanted to work on for that day. I was quiet for a second before I began to unload all my emotional frustration of my husband shutting down at times, that we couldn’t get anything done because of it and that I am getting very tired of having to be the forward pushing force in this relationship.
Her response was profound and life-changing at the same time.
With a soft and loving voice, she told me to get off his path and focus on my own. I can’t deny that I was a bit angry at her in that moment because I wasn’t at fault here, right?!! I questioned her answer by stating that if I were to do that, then we wouldn’t be able to create a life together. We would live emotionally separated from each other.
She continued to explain to me that this isn’t true. A life lived together only works if we acknowledge our separate pathways. It is more about letting the other person live and experience life on their own terms, rather than demanding how we think things should work out. Ahhh, yeah… who else can relate to the control-freak within? I am sure it is not just me.
My coach encouraged me to imagine being on his path, in front of him, pulling him along with a rope attached to us both.
Within this exercise, I could feel the heaviness and emotional strain that resulted in my way of thinking. After a while she made me stop and had me cut the rope that connected us. As you can imagine, I was hesitant because even visualization has immense power.
However, I trusted her and so, I did. Immediately I could see him bounce back – away from me. I could feel panic creep up. I really didn’t like this exercise. After a few minutes my coach encouraged me to envision stepping off his path and back onto my path.
Once I did this I discovered my real intentions.
By trying to stay on his path, evaluating all of his behavior and finding fault in his periodic withdrawals, lead me back to my own insecurities and my desire to remain in control of everything and everyone. At least control felt safe. But, as you may know, control is an illusion. It only serves ourselves but not our relationships as a whole.
In that moment, I surrendered and it was tremendously powerful and exhilarating. For the first time in months I felt like I could breathe, and I experienced a sense of freedom and peace. I also recognized the power of acceptance.
Accepting someone else’s own path does not mean that you can’t create a life together.
What it does mean though, is that you embrace the individuality and individual needs of each person involved. It also means to accept that we all need different space to grow and evolve as a person and therefore as a couple, friends or even family.
I believe, often we take other people’s reactions and actions way too personally. In most cases it has nothing to do with me or you, but with the other person.
To enhance your relationships, consider these few points:
- All parties have to understand the importance of learning and practice communicating clearly their individual needs in a respectful, non-demanding way.
- Make requests when necessary. For example, if you need help with something, ask them to be present just for that moment. Be ok no matter the answer and if your request is denied, follow up with a time when it would work better.
- Share, share, and share again your experience of life openly without judgment or criticism. Those are the moments where you create your lives together.
There is never just one way to create a successful relationship.
The way you think it should work may not necessarily work for the other person. It doesn’t mean that you should not or cannot be or hang out together. With acknowledgement comes acceptance. With acceptance comes freedom and with freedom comes joy.
When we embrace our individuality, we can create impactful relationships that last and create lasting change.
Isabel Hundt, Coach and Author – www.isabelhundt.com
Why does he shut down?
This can be a frustrating situation. If he shuts down every time you need to discuss something important, you might not get very far. If he is shutting down every time that the discussion gets serious, this might be his communication style and it might be difficult to overcome depending on his reason for shutting down. Some men do not want to argue with their partners because they feel like it is a no-win situation. A man might feel cornered by his partner and like nothing he says will be the right thing to say; so, he just stays silent.
Some men do not want to argue and do not like conflict. He could shut down because conflict might be too overwhelming for him. Some men do not know how to express their emotions and find it difficult to talk about their feelings. When pushed, he might tend to shut down because he lacks the tools to engage in the kind of communication you need from him. He could also stay quiet out of fear that he might lose control and say something he regrets.
Evaluate how you are engaging with your partner during serious discussions.
Are you raising your voice? What does your body language say to him? Does he have a history of childhood abuse or has he been abused by a previous partner? These are some things that could influence the way he communicates. If he was abused, shutting down might be his go to place because it is the safer strategy for him.
How do you ask him questions? Are you open to hearing about how he feels or are you more concerned with getting your point across and wining the argument? Are you using open ended questions or loaded questions when you ask him something? Is something triggering him to shut down? If so, what is it and is there a way to address it?
He needs to feel safe when telling you how he feels.
You can ask him if there is something that he needs from you to be able to feel safe expressing himself. Be mindful that you do not come across as judgmental when he discloses something personal to you. Be compassionate with your words and let him know that his needs are important too.
Don’t be in a hurry to discuss an issue. Hold a space for important discussions. Give him the time and attention he deserves in the relationship to be able to speak his truth. Don’t expect that you will like everything you hear. Behave like an adult and hold yourself to the same standards that you hold him to in the relationship. Don’t manipulate him or stress him out with drama.
How you react can influence whether he shuts down the next time.
If you come at him screaming because he gave you an honest answer, you are giving him an easy out next time. He can choose, as a result of your reaction, to just shut down and not address it the next time. Shutting down is a passive way of resisting. It is a way to avoid addressing an issue and being held accountable. It is his way of fighting back, especially if he feels that the situation is unfair to him.
Timing is important when discussing something serious with him. Make sure that he has your full attention and there are no distractions when you talk. Put the phones away and take time to think about what you will say and how you will say it. It is not just what you say, but how you say it that can determine whether he feels safe enough to express himself. His feelings are just as important as yours. If you don’t want him being mean to you, don’t be mean to him. Do not put him down and call him names and expect him to just take it.
He might shut down because of the topic.
It might be a subject that he is embarrassed or ashamed about and he does not want to rehash it. If you caught him watching porn, this might be embarrassing to him. Your tone and attitude are extremely important when addressing it with him. Don’t shame or belittle him, or he has a reason to withdraw and shut down. Don’t keep pushing him to talk once he has shut down. He will only withdraw and shut down further.
Remember that he could come out fighting if you push too hard and then it can get really ugly fast. Don’t keep pushing and give him some time. If he comes around to talk about it later that is a good thing so be open to what he has to say. If it seems like he shuts down every time and that the discussion will never happen, you might have a more serious problem.
Communication styles can always be improved, and it is important to know yours.
Admit where you need work and take steps to improve your communication style. Working with a couple’s therapist can help identify ways to improve communication within the relationship. If he is willing to work on it in counseling, that is a good sign. If he shuts down every time, you might want to re-evaluate the relationship. If he is not willing to work on it, there is a bigger problem at play.
Women often need closure and answers that he may not be able to provide. Again, it is difficult for men to express and articulate their feelings in a way that we can understand. It is important to let a man be a man. He is not going to express himself the same way you are and will not necessarily have the same feelings about everything you do. Be mindful that he may be giving you an answer, but you may not be hearing it.
It is important that communication be a priority in the relationship and that you are both working toward the same goal. Cultural backgrounds and upbringing can influence how people communicate and manage conflict. Ask questions and get to know your partner and what he needs to feel safe and grounded with you. Learn to listen to your partner and hear the subtleties in what he is saying. Be respectful that he might have a different way of communicating and don’t make him repeat himself to the point of frustration. Once you have an answer, accept it, make a choice and move on.