September 21, 2018

How To Communicate With Him When He Shuts Down – 7 Fascinating Tips + Insights Revealed Inside

How To Communicate With Him When He Shuts Down

“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

# Consider the below points

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 –

# Evaluate how you are engaging with him during serious discussions

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.

Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT –

# The idea is to discover together why the shutting down is happening

This can be a difficult situation

There are many reasons why he might be shutting down.  Maybe, growing up, people would yell to communicate.  He cannot handle the yelling, so he shuts down.  Maybe he is intimidated by a stronger personality.  Maybe he is sad or not ready to talk yet.  Maybe he is worried he won’t be accepted or avoiding an argument.

If a person is shutting down, they are experiencing something negative or fear.

So, If you approach them in an aggressive manner or pushy way, it will probably create either anger or additional withdraw.  No one wants to feel as though they are being forced to do anything, especially revealing something sensitive.  So becoming angry with them shutting down will not be productive.  If you start to feel angry with them, then take a few minutes to gather yourself and try the discussion again. 

You want to create a safe supportive place for them to want to open up again

Let them know you are there for them but do not hover.  This can easily be taken as intimidating or power dynamic.  Let them know you are available when they are ready to talk. 

Let them know you understand how difficult it may be to discuss what your trying to communicate

Ease them into the conversation, observe how they respond to the topic.  If you notice the shutting down beginning, then ask if they notice the same thing.  Ask them why they are shutting down.  

Be understanding or you may increase the speed at which they shut down.  Stop the topic you were attempting to have and discus the shutting down.  Then go back to the topic once the shutting down is addressed. 

The idea is to discover together why the shutting down is happening

Once this happens then together you can face the fear and eventually not shut down any longer. 

We all have fears and insecurities. Respect the person and their fear.  This will allow for a deeper relationship and understanding. 

Katherine Woodworth, LPC, CRC –

# Follow the below tips
Margalis Fjelstad

Give him some time

When your guy has gone quiet and shut down, that can be a sign that he’s overwhelmed—by the topic, by his feelings, or even by you. It’s a good time to back away for awhile and give him time to process his thoughts. You may be anxious to get an answer or resolve the issue or just reconnect but take a breather, and get your mind off things for a while. You may even find that you start to see things in a more objective perspective as well.

In a few hours, or a few days, slowly reconnect before jumping right into whatever you want to discuss.

Re-connect with touch first

Research shows that it’s easiest for women to reconnect verbally first, but for men the reconnection is most comfortable through touch. I’m not talking about sex here, but rather I mean gentle touches—shoulders, arms, hands, accompanied by sweet, gentle eyes. Let him know that you’re willing to be accepting of him and his feelings.

Approach quietly

Don’t jump right into the discussion you may be dying to have. Instead, talk about everyday things first. Use a gentle voice. Show that you’re safe to approach. Then bring up the situation he shut down over. For example: “I’d like to hear your thoughts about our disagreement the other night if you’re willing to share them.” I suggest using the word thoughts rather than feelings because that’s usually less intimidating for a guy.

Be willing to listen more than you talk

Whatever he’s willing to share, be open to hearing it. Then ask him more questions about what he’s said. Use an attitude of curiosity. This isn’t a discussion to necessarily solve the issue. You can work more on the problem after you’ve made a heart to heart connection. This is a conversation to learn more about what he thinks and feels, and a deeper picture into who he is as a person—his values, world view, interests, and needs. Your goal is to see and know more about him, and to quietly share your deeper feelings as well.

Talk about yourself, not about him

Give him plenty of space to share before you share your perspective. Talk about yourself rather than about him. He’s there to talk for himself. Don’t analyze, accuse, or bring up the past. Just stick to learning about him and sharing about you.

Share your feelings about the issue or situation

Share your feelings, not your solutions or your opinions about him. Sharing feelings is simple but not easy. After teaching hundreds of couples to communicate more deeply, I’ve found that too often people really want to talk about the other person, e.g. “I feel that you are rude.” This is NOT a feeling. It’s an opinion. Sharing a feeling only takes 3 words: “I feel________,” e.g. angry, hurt, confused, sad, unloved, etc. Look on line for lists of feeling words so you can describe your feelings more accurately and effectively.

Tune in to how much time each of you is talking. In intimate situations, women usually dominate the conversation. Try to match your sentence length and talking time to his. Then he’ll feel more comfortable.

“I’m wondering …..”

If you want to get him to talk more or you’d like to offer a suggestion, start your sentence with “I’m wondering… you feel about, what you’d like, how you see this, what ideas you have about, etc. Then, don’t argue with or discount his ideas. Simply say, “I’ll give that some thought,”

Be open to not finding a solution right now

Most issues don’t get resolved in one conversation. Think about this conversation as a time to get to know him. The next conversation could be more about what you’re thinking and feeling. After you’ve both had time to think through your own feelings about what you’ve heard, then you’ll be ready to discuss solutions.

Three conversations about the same thing, you may ask? Since many deep issues can linger for years, this isn’t too bad. Besides, one conversation is about him, one about you, and then you probably only need one about the issue.


Is his shutting down a consistent pattern?

All of the above pertains to relationships where you both want to connect and communicate on a deeper level and resolve differences so you’re both satisfied. If his shutting down is a consistent pattern, and he doesn’t respond to any of the suggestions I’ve made here, then you probably need to understand that his shutting down is a personality pattern that isn’t likely to change. Instead of trying to force him to talk, look at his body language for clues. And you may have to learn to find solutions or take the actions you want on your own without his input.

Does he use withdrawal as a punishment?

If he uses withdrawal and not speaking or interacting with you as a form of punishment to get what he wants, then take a long, hard look at what you want to do about a relationship in which the guy you love is willing to punish you to get what he wants.

Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT –

# Follow the below tips

If you want to keep your relationships intact and strong, there is something you must consider.  How effective are you as a communicator?  

Communication is the most important element of a successful relationship.  Good communication should build trust, improve your physical and emotional connection and enhance your intimacy.  However, if communication is poor, it can do just the opposite and destroy the foundation that holds a relationship together.

One partner is usually the one to initiate open communication so that the other person is encouraged to talk.  This takes patience, but the outcome is usually very positive.

The following are some things you can do to open the door to effective communication with your guy, especially when he appears to be shutting down.

  • Be empathetic, which means you understand how he feels and can respond appropriately. Respond to what you hear by saying, "It sounds like you feel…" and paraphrase his apparent emotions.  This indicates you heard and understood what was said.  Be open to his correcting you to make sure you heard everything properly.  This give and take dialogue opens the door to trust, clarity and enhanced mutual understanding.
  • Learn to understand non-verbal cues to tap into feelings that are not expressed.
  • Try to attack the problem, not the person.  Your partner is still lovable and good, but it is the behavior you may not be happy about.
  • Give yourself a time out if you are unable to remain fair and logical during a conflict.  Always state a time and place to continue discussing the issue at hand.
  • Keep your sense of humor.  Many times situations are so absurd that you can laugh about it, easing the tension and even anger.

Communication is a two-way process that involves listening and receiving information.  

Everyone deserves to be heard and not discounted for how they think and feel. Understand that the opinions, attitudes and judgments of one person may be different than yours, but it does not mean it is wrong.  To develop mutual understanding and respect, your insight and objectivity about how you communicate can go a long way to creating harmony.

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC –

# Follow the 5 tips below
Jacklyn B

It can be frustrating when you are trying to communicate with someone who is shutting down on you.

It can be even more frustrating, painful and confusing as well, when this someone is a person you care a lot about such as your man. It is important to remember that everyone has a different style of communication. Some styles are healthy and effective and some are not. 

See below for some helpful tips on how to communicate effectively with the man in your life.

#1: Use “I” statements such as “I want, I feel, I need”

#2: Try to limit how much you use the word “You” and the reason for this is that when a person hears the word “you” coming at them and especially in a frustrated tone of voice, they will put up their guard and the conversation will either end up in an argument because they feel attacked or they will shut down/stone wall. Either way, the conversation will not be productive.

#3: Write down everything you want to tell him using “I” statements and practice not using “you” statements.

So let’s say you approached your man to start a conversation and he is not interested in talking. As a persuasive conversation starter, you can try one of these following examples.

“I feel confused when I am trying my hardest to express my concerns and I get shut out” OR “I need to be able to have open conversations with the people I care about because I feel that communication is an important part of any relationship” OR “I want to be heard when I express myself especially because I feel vulnerable when doing so, which takes a lot of courage for me to speak my mind since normally I shy away from expressing myself on a regular basis”.

These are just a few examples of how “I want, I feel, I need” can be used. Notice how the word “you” was not mentioned at all.

#4: After you have made your conversation starter statements, try some more specific statements.

Here are some examples. “I feel hurt when I get yelled at” OR “I want to be spoken to with respect” OR “I need to feel loved”.

#5: Make sure to add in “because” whenever possible.

So for example, “I want to feel heard in a conversation because that makes me feel important”. Explain why you want, need or feel something so that what you are trying to communicate becomes more persuasive.

Remember one very important thing. No matter how well you communicate with someone, it does not guarantee that they will be able to communicate back to you just as effectively

These tips can increase the chances that he will respond in a positive manner, but they do not guarantee it. If his communication skills are so faulty that he completely shuts down whenever you want to discuss an important topic with him, then it is important to realize he most likely grew up in a household with the same communication style and this is called learned behavior which can be very difficult to unlearn if he does not see any flaws in his way of communicating or he is unwilling to make changes.

Communication is a crucial part of any relationship and it is important to be able to have healthy and effective conversations with your significant other in order for the relationship to blossom and grow stronger.

Jackie B, LCSW –

# To create a safe environment, you need to manage you own emotions so that you don’t get defensive or escalate into a fight

Much has been written about the differences between men and women and a lot of that focuses on communication styles

In my years of practice counseling couples I can make some generalizations but they are just that.  People are different in many ways regardless of gender.  This is to say don’t make assumptions based on gender stereotypes.

People shut down to protect themselves

It’s a coping mechanism probably learned in their families of origin.  Kids have to learn strategies because they don’t have any power.  Some kids get aggressive and some pull away. Unfortunately those strategies often continue into their adult relationships where they actually do have power.  Shutting down limits your ability to have influence over the relationship.  It’s frustrating for the partner who often doesn’t know what’s wrong or what the partner wants.

While it can be hard to get somebody to open up, it’s not impossible

By opening up I don’t mean deep emotional conversations.  I mean just talking about what you think, need, want or feel.  If you convey an attitude of non-judgment, hopefully your partner will begin to realize that communication between you is safe.

It’s important that he know that you are not going to punish him even if you don’t like or agree with what he has to say.  All of us need a reasonable expectation of safety in order to speak honestly and openly.

To create a safe environment, you need to manage you own emotions so that you don’t get defensive or escalate into a fight

You need to demonstrate communication that avoids criticism and stonewalling. You need to really show that you want to hear what he has to say even if you don’t agree.  It’s not easy to stay non-reactive when you don’t like what you hear, but it’s important to develop that capability of you want a relationship with open, honest communication.

While you can’t make someone open up, you can become a partner that someone might want to open up to.

Sally LeBoy, MFT –

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