Understanding the Silence: Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

by Gideon Hanekom
June 22, 2023

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This blog post focuses on understanding the silence many women often face and why men withdraw in relationships.

Withdrawl can have a profound impact on relationships, often leaving partners bewildered and searching for answers.

Whether it’s a temporary withdrawal or a prolonged bout of silence, the effect can be disorienting and often leave the other partner questioning what went wrong.

While both men and women may experience moments of withdrawal, this blog post will delve into the psychological reasons why men, in particular, tend to go silent in relationships.

Understanding the underlying factors that contribute to men’s withdrawal is crucial for fostering healthier, more communicative partnerships.

By shedding light on these psychological dynamics, we can gain insights into men’s behaviors and promote empathy and understanding within relationships.

Emotional Avoidance: Unveiling Vulnerability

Men tend to pull back in relationships because they often don’t want to deal with their feelings.

The truth is that men have always been under a lot of pressure from society to be tough, emotionless, and silent. Consequently, they often feel discouraged by these social norms from showing their real feelings and being vulnerable. which makes it hard for them to be emotionally open (there are cultural differences, of course).

Boys often learn from a young age to “control” their feelings and try not to look weak or helpless. Many a man today will be familiar with hearing the words “there’s no reason to cry,” “just walk it off” or “it’s fine, you’re not gonna die,” in their younger days.

Because of this, many guys grow up without the emotional vocabulary they need to talk about how they really feel in general, let alone in a relationship.

Thus, men may hide their feelings simply as a way to protect themselves from being judged, turned down, or seen as less manly, while it’s got nothing to do with you (partner) or the relationship.

Instead of risking emotional exposure, they may choose to shut down and stop talking, which feels safer for many men.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

However, although that may be the case, emotional avoidance still affects more than just the person doing it. It also the way the relationship works as a whole.

If you can’t share and talk about your feelings freely, it makes it hard to communicate and get close to each other.

Consequently, if it happens as a rule, it can end up making partners feel confused, alone, or even likely to blame the one withdrawing into silence for all the issues in the relationship.

So, to create a supportive and nurturing setting in the relationship, instead, it’s important to know and understand the social factors that make men avoid showing their emotions.

And by going against these social norms and encouraging emotional honesty, partners can create a safe place where men feel comfortable being vulnerable.

For communication that is open and doesn’t judge as a default approach, breaks down emotional walls over time, leading to a deeper relationship built on trust and emotional openness.

Fear of Conflict: Navigating Communication Challenges

Many men may pull back in relationships because they want to avoid conflict.

Some guys can’t stand the thought of arguing or disagreeing with someone, so they choose to keep quiet to avoid any possible conflict instead.

When it comes to fixing problems or conflict, men and women often talk about things in different ways.

Men may feel like they need to be in charge or avoid getting upset, which can make them shut down and stop talking. They may pull away because they want to keep the peace and don’t want to cause problems.

They might think that keeping quiet is the best thing to do in these times to keep things from getting worse or to keep the relationship from getting hurt, but that’s often not the result.

This silence more often than not drives a wedge between partners and makes the other person feel ignored, forgotten, and confused, especially of that person is a female.

Biological females typically resort to emotional expression, verbal communication, and seeking resolution through collaboration, whereas men do not.

When it comes to conflict resolution, males and females are unique from each other, in general.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

But, nevertheless, to deal with communication problems and overcome the fear of confrontation, both partners need to work together.

Strategies like active listening, empathy, and support can help make a safe place to talk about differences and solve problems.

Men can be reassured that disagreement doesn’t have to be a threat to their relationship if they are encouraged to have open conversations and told how important it is to communicate in a constructive way.

Women partners can also help the situation by not forcing a man to communicate until he’s had time to reflect and think about things before having an open conversation.

However, getting expert help, like couples therapy, and learning how to deal with conflicts can also be helpful.

Couples therapy gives you a safe place to talk about problems, improve how you talk to each other, and find answers that you both agree on.

Men typically feel more comfortable talking about their thoughts and worries if disagreements are talked about in an open and constructive way.

That subtle change makes it possible for partners to understand and connect with each other more deeply, which makes the relationship stronger and lessens the need for withdrawal and silence.

Stress and Overwhelm: The Weight on Men’s Shoulders

Stress and feeling overwhelmed often cause men to withdraw and go into their mental “caves.”

Work, money, and personal problems often make men feel like they have a lot on their shoulders, perhaps even more than for women, which can make it hard for them to talk about how they feel or what they need.

Men often believe, simply as a matter of being hardwired that way, that they are expected to be providers and to take on most of the weight of financial responsibilities.

But it can be hard to handle all the pressure to do well at work, take care of family and their future, and live up to what they believe social norms are.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

These things can take up a lot of their time and energy (including mental energy), often making it hard for them to be emotionally engaged in their relationships. Or at least to the level that their partners often want.

So guys may shut down and stop talking as a way to deal with the pressures they face. We just can’t help it. It’s a way to cope. And feeling like we’ve got to talk about it, sometimes just makes it worse.

Therefore, during times of more-than-usual stress and being too busy, you might find that it can be hard for guys to put their feelings into words or talk to their partners about their problems.

They might even be afraid of putting too much stress on their loved ones or of coming across as weak or incompetent. And the worry of these things often wear men down emotionally, making it even harder for them to talk to their partners in a good way.

So, to help men through these hard times, their partners need to make a safe, nonjudgmental place where they can talk freely, when they are ready. THAT is the key!

Forcing a man to talk when he isn’t ready to open up will only result in him withdrawing even more, and even angry oubursts if you push it too far.

But partners can make it easier for men to talk about their feelings and find comfort in the relationship by recognising the effects of stress and psychological overwhelm on men and actively helping them. That can help make the emotional bond stronger and might make it easier to communicate in healthy ways.

However, partners can also make a big difference in reducing the stress many men experience by helping out in the real world. Men need to feel that they are part of a team that’s working together on achieving goals, whether that means growing a business or running the household. Women seem to be much better at multitasking, but men definitely withdraw more when they feel like it all falls on them to make things work (even when that’s not what’s actually happening in reality).

Also, getting your man to do things for themselves like exercise or hobbies can help them deal with the aformorementioned stress and improve their general health in the process.

Men need time to unwind before diving into whatever is required of them.

Women do too, of course, but you’ll find your man shutting you out far quicker when he’s got to jump from project to project when he’s already feeling overwhelmed.

Especially since we tend to internalise everything and rarely vent how we feel, except when we’re at boiling point.

Autonomy and Independence: Balancing Individuality and Togetherness

Autonomy and independence are important parts of a person’s identity, and men, like everyone else, value these highly even when in relationships.

You will often find men withdraw to give themselves space, pursue own interests, or re-energize emotionally. They rarely do this with other men, but rather in their own heads. Women typically find solice in others, which is why they often turn to their men only to be met with silence or a blank stare.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

It’s important to know the difference between healthy solitude and emotional disconnection, because healthy solitude can help a relationship while emotional disconnection can break it apart over time.

Firstly, keeping your own identity in a relationship is important for your own growth and happiness. I’ve talk about that in a previous post.

Men, like everyone else, have their own wants, goals, and interests that need to be cared for.

Taking time for yourself lets you think about yourself, set personal goals, and look inward.

And from that perspective, withdrawing is a good way to balance one’s personal needs with the needs of the relationship.

But it’s important to find a mix between independence while staying connected to your loved ones.

Complete emotional distance or long-term withdrawal can make it hard for people to stay connected with each other and make them feel neglected or abandoned. So, setting good limits and expectations are in important.

Nevertheless, respecting each other’s need for personal space while staying emotionally connected can create a helpful environment for partners and the relationship to flourish and grow.

It’s always crucial to keep encouraging open conversations about each person’s needs, goals, and wants.

That helps find a balance between independence and being part of a team.

Also finding shared hobbies and activities that respect each partner’s independence can help the relationship feel more complete.

In the end, the fear that withdrawal means dissatisfaction or lack of interest can be eased by realising, understanding and respecting the value of individuality in relationships.

By creating a place where independence is valued and healthy limits are set, partners can keep their own identities while building a strong, close bond.

So, withdrawal does not always mean trouble; sometimes it simply means the need for time alone, which is a good thing.

Communication Style Differences: Bridging the Gap

Different ways of communicating between men and women can also make men more likely to withdraw in relationships.

There are many things that can cause these differences, such as social expectations, biology, and upbringing.

In general, however, men often need more time to think about what they want to say before they say it. However, it is also usually in these moments of “silence” that women might misinterpret it as them withdrawing or refusing to engage.

But by understanding those differences in how men and women often communicate, and how to deal with them, can keep misunderstandings and frustrations from happening.

As a general guideline, men tend to think and analyse their ideas in their heads before putting them into words, while women may talk nonstop and think out loud. It’s simply how many males and females sort through their thoughts to make sense of things.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

But because of this subtle, but huge, difference, women might think that a man’s silence means he’s not interested or doesn’t care. yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Keep in mind that just because someone doesn’t respond in the same way you expect them to, doesn’t imply they aren’t interested or care.

Men just need time to think things through. And being gentle and giving men space to say what they want to say in their own way (and time) can help men and women communicate with each other and understand each other better.

Active listening is obviously also a key part of being able to communicate well.

Partners should listen carefully and let each other share all of the thoughts and feelings they want to at the time. And by showing concern and asking for more information, not only do you stand a better chance of understanding your partner, but you can also help them from making assumptions and help them understand better.

However, there are occasions when intervention is necessary; for example, encouraging improved communication by creating shared conversation plans.

Additionally, the needs of both parties are satisfied when they discuss their prefered techniques, such as scheduling dedicated times for more in-depth conversations or opting for written forms of communication like text messages or emails.

By taking these steps, you’ll pave the road for more effective communication between you and your partner, and make it less likely for one you to withdraw or pull away.

Past Negative Experiences: Healing Emotional Wounds

When a man has had bad experiences in relationships in the past, it can change how he acts in the present and make him more likely to pull away.

Even though it has nothing to do with you, he may have built up a wall to protect himself from further hurt if he has been hurt or deceived in the past.

Even if you haven’t done anything to provoke it, this can manifest in future interactions as coldness and withdrawal.

He may emotionally close down out of fear of being harmed again or the belief that vulnerability brings suffering. Because of past hurts, he may be hesitant to fully commit or open up.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

So, in order for a relationship to be healthy, these old traumas must be talked about and dealt with.

For men, this includes making sure they have somewhere they can go where they won’t be condemned if they open up about their struggles.

However, overcoming past hurts sometimes requires repairing broken trust.

That involves patience, insight, and demonstrating your trustworthiness by consistently performing the same actions. We earn people’s trust. We cannot demand it.

Both people have to work together to build trust and slowly break down walls that were put up because of hurts in the past.

Getting help from a professional, like therapy or coaching, can also be very helpful when dealing with these problems.

A good therapist can help people heal and find healthy ways to deal with past issues.

Men can repair and renew their trust and emotional relationship skills by acknowledging and addressing negative past experiences.

The result might be a stronger bond based on mutual respect and support that can help them overcome their natural tendency to withdraw.

Lack of Skill or Confidence in Emotional Expression: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Men also often pull away from relationships because they simply don’t know how to voice their feelings or don’t have the confidence to do so.

That can make it hard for guys to talk about their feelings or explain what they need in a relationship.

As already mentioned, boys often learn from a young age to hide or downplay their feelings, which could limit their emotional language and makes it hard for them to talk about sensitive feelings.

Because of that, later in life, guys may find it hard to recognise and talk about their feelings, which can make them feel overwhelmed or confused and cause them to shut down instead.

Why Men Withdraw in Relationships

However, to stop this urge to pull away, a person needs to develop higher levels of emotional intelligence.

That means being able to recognise (have awareness), understand, and regulate one’s own feelings, as well as being able to understand and respond to the feelings of others.

Yet, emotional intelligence typically starts with self-awareness and self-reflection.

And men can gain from learning more about their feelings, how to recognise and name them, and how these feelings affect their thoughts and actions, if they are willing to put in work.

So, often, to help support them it doing that, it can be helpful to get help from therapists, counsellors, mentors, or courses on emotional intelligence.

Further, to bridge the gap between feelings and expression, you also need to get better at communicating.

Active listening, assertive communication, and sharing feelings in a way that doesn’t lead to a fight are all skills that can be learned and improved with practise.

And as already mentioned several times, partners can help guys by making a safe place for open and honest communication and encouraging them to talk about their feelings without fear of being judged or criticised, when they are ready to do so.

In the end, the point is that men can break out of the pattern of withdrawing and build healthier, more satisfying relationships if they work on their emotional intelligence and communication skills.

And while building emotional intelligence is good for the person, it also helps a couple feel closer to each other and understand each other better.

Conclusion

In a relationship, it can be hard to understand and deal with a man who shuts you out when you want to talk about something.

But by understanding the hidden causes of men’s withdrawal and silence, couples can respond to these difficult moments with empathy and calmness.

Many factors, including societal pressures and individual patterns of self-talk, might contribute to this kind of activity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to around it.

Relationships can be strengthened when couples work to improve their communication, increase their emotional awareness, and support one another.

But it takes work and attention from both parties for a relationship to grow strong and fulfilling.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a renowned relationship blog that ranked among the top 50 relationship blogs and top 100 marriage blogs in 2021. The blog is dedicated to providing valuable insights on cultivating healthy relationships and love in daily life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling almost a decade ago. In addition, he completed graduate and post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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