Whether you just started dating or have been married for several years, a disruptive pattern is emerging in your romantic relationship, and you don’t know what to do about it. You felt so connected to him. Things were so relaxed and easy, and you didn’t have a misunderstanding or a fight. Nothing was amiss.
But then suddenly and with no warning, he shut down and went into silent mode. When you ask him about it, he just shrugs, mutters one-word answers, and denies that there’s a problem. If you’re lucky, he’ll say he’s tired or had a rough day at work. Something still feels off, but you don’t know why.
Don’t jump to the conclusion that his mood has something to do with you. Don’t assume that he’s angry at you or is seeing somebody else. Don’t believe everything you’re thinking.
If he hasn’t explicitly told you that he has a problem with you, don’t assume that he does. He needs to tell you what’s going on. You can’t do that for him. Imagining why he’s upset won’t do either of you any good.
Men go silent for many different reasons. Sometimes they’re tired. Sometimes they need to just be quiet and zone out. Sometimes they’re overcome by work-related stress. They may not know exactly what it is that’s bothering them, or they may know they wrestle with depression, a fear of intimacy, or anxiety about the future.
Ask and Listen
You may have been through this many times before, so you feel like you’re at your wits’ end. But a hard-line approach won’t work.
In a neutral voice, ask if he’s doing okay and observe his shift in behavior. Tell him it feels as though you aren’t as close as you have been. Call out specific behaviors—tell him if it feels as though he’s not making eye contact with you, or that it feels like he’s gone silent and doesn’t seem to have anything to say.
Then, listen to his answers. Don’t assume that you know what’s going on, even if he continues to insist that he’s just tired, frustrated with someone at work, or the dreaded “everything’s fine.”
Tell him it feels to you as though something’s going on. Reassure him that you want to help and that you’ll be there when he’s ready to accept it.
Don’t Assume Anything
Sometimes people are just upset or react to something without knowing what’s really wrong. Their defense mechanisms kick in to avoid potential danger. Just let things be for a while. Give him a chance to figure it out. If he’s making you anxious, tell him, but avoid pestering, pouncing, and nagging.
Then, leave him alone and focus on taking care of yourself. Call a friend, go work out, blow off some steam with your favorite music, or otherwise distract yourself doing something you enjoy. Let it calm you down enough so you can return to the situation anxiety-free.
Have you calmed down? What else would you need? Just because he denies that there’s a problem, or is telling you that he won’t talk about it with you right now, doesn’t mean that the ball’s in his court.
Think about where you’ve set your boundaries, and what you’re willing to tolerate. It may not be okay with you that he periodically shuts down, disconnects from you, and shuts you out. You have every right to tell him so. It’s okay for you to have a boundary against that type of behavior.
Have a Conversation
When you’re ready, check back in with him and see if he’s ready to talk. There’s no set amount of time that should pass before you attempt this. Sometimes it will be as short as overnight or half of a day. Sometimes it will take two or three days. You need to trust your instincts and experience in similar situations.
After you’ve calmed down and gained perspective, you’ll likely what would be appropriate. No matter what, let it be a two-way conversation. Stop and listen to his responses before you move ahead with your next thought. Avoid shifting into problem-solving mode, unless he asks for your input. You should be able to ask if he wants your help, but he may not be ready for it yet.
Returning to Normal
It’s reasonable for you to have requirements or expectations for when he checks back in before things return to normal. It’s frustrating and feels out-of-control when your partner suddenly checks out and just suddenly goes back to normal without explaining what was happening, acknowledging the issue, or checking back in.
Many women in relationships like this are afraid that if they react the wrong way their partners will just check out again, so they stand by, let it pass and allow things to move forward.
Most women appreciate validation from their partners that they disconnected. You may not need to know why he did. Or, you may want him to know what you think and how you feel when he shuts you out. Or, you may simply need him to communicate better in the future about needing some space or wanting to be left alone.
You don’t have control over him in this or any other situation. All you have control of is how you respond to him. He’s not obligated to tell you anything. But if he’s not meeting your needs in this context, you’ve hit a roadblock and need to deal with it. It’s up to you to choose how to do that.
Don’t assume that you’re the problem unless he says that you are. You don’t know him as well as he knows himself. Be accepting, curious, and open. Reassure him that you’re both on the same side, and you’re available if he needs you.