“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
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.