The psychology of why men go silent and what women can do when he withdraws

by Gideon
December 6, 2021

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In this post, we’re looking at the psychology of why men go silent and what women can do when men withdraw into their man cave or disappear to the golf course.

If you’ve ever been in a romantic relationship, you’ve probably experienced the man silence and withdrawal.

A lot of men will suddenly fall silent for no apparent reason, but what is really going on here, and how can you tell whether it’s something to be concerned about?

There are a variety of reasons when a man suddenly goes silent in a relationship.

And recognising what they are and knowing when things like this should be taken seriously and when not is important for any woman in a relationship with a guy.

For example, when a man goes silent on you and appears to be stressed out all of a sudden, there can be various explanations.

Most likely, he probably has a lot on his plate and mind at the moment and may not have the energy to cope with any other issues at the moment.

The best course of action in this situation is to assist him in relaxing and de-stressing.

You basically want to make sure he’s not overly anxious, even if he seems super frustrated when walking through the door.

Now, that’s a good thing to know about why men go silent, especially when being married to one.

On the other hand, if a man who has been happy and content suddenly becomes cold and starts holding back his love, something else may be going on.

Again, this could be due to a variety of factors, ranging from feeling unsure or stressed about something to wanting to break up but being unsure how to do so without hurting you.

The list can be quite long.

why men go silent

Whatever the case may be, if a guy suddenly appears to have changed and he’s never even hinted at anything like this before, it’s probably time to take a step back and examine your situation.

Is he unresponsive to your wants and needs?

Is he beginning to be emotionally inaccessible to you?

Is he holding back his love?

Is he giving you the silent treatment?

Does he suddenly not like to talk?

If this is the case, you should probably examine the issue a tad further and see what’s up before anything unexpected happens.

Understanding a man’s silence

According to Shane Brown-Daniels of Pairedlife.com, many men tend to be less communicative than women, especially when it comes to extremely emotional matters.

It is possible for a woman to get completely perplexed by a man’s silence to the point of going insane.

However, what a woman may need to understand is that he thinks differently than she does.

Despite the fact that there are a variety of challenges and scenarios that could cause anyone to be vocally non-communicative, there are a few dynamic causes that can result in a man remaining silent.

Additionally, according to Shawn T. Smith of Ironshrink.com’s article, “Five Reasons Men Go Silent, and What to Do About It,” men are most inclined to withdraw at the sense of an oncoming confrontation.

In light of this, it is possible that a man’s response in a love relationship will follow a predictable pattern.

For instance, if you say, “Honey, I need to speak with you about this morning,” you can almost surely count on him remaining silent and entirely disregarding your comment, despite the fact that you are confident he heard it.

Talking about emotions and feelings provokes the impending fear of shame, causing most men to either withdraw or seek an escape.

Fight or flight is the basic response in this situation.

Women, on the other hand, are different.

Being able to talk about their feelings and things openly fosters a sense of belonging and security, and as a result, they actively seek out this sense of belonging and security – including from their male partners.

Unfortunately, men do not respond the same way to the concept of having an honest conversation about feelings.

The very idea of talking about things causes the release of cortisol, which leads to feelings of stress and mental overwhelm, and finally to fleeing-like behaviour.

Let’s examine four particular reasons why men go silent before discussing some strategies for dealing with him when he gives you the silent treatment.

Four dynamic reasons why men go silent

Firstly, men and women are built differently which means the reasons why men go silent can be confusing for many women.

However, although there could be a whole range of reasons why guys go silent in a relationship, I want to highlight 4 specific and dynamic reasons below why men go silent.

Understanding these could really make a huge difference in a relationship and give you as partner other things to consider as reasons for his silence rather than just believing that he does not like to talk.

Men go silent because they prefer to be silent to process things

It’s inconvenient, but it’s important to understand that most males process information in a different way than women.

Men tend to be more visual and tangible thinkers, whereas women are more vocal, imaginative, and abstract in their thought processes.

Instead of telling your husband what to do when he appears preoccupied or uninterested, show him what to do instead.

why men go silent

Demonstrate your emotions to him, or tell him a story about a previous time something similar happened to you and what transpired as a result.

Women are born with the ability to connect with others on an emotional level, but men require something tangible to hold onto.

She may be able to process things internally through verbal dialogue, whereas he may be able to process things internally in solitude within his ‘psychological cave.’

Simply said, women may prefer to discuss things in order to work things out intellectually and emotionally, whereas males may prefer to think and work it out alone in order to sort things out.

Those are the kinds of situations in which a man may choose to withdraw and remain silent.

This list of things that he wants to figure out and repair can include everything from deciding what to get her for her birthday to figuring out how to make her happy when she is sad.

It’s critical for women to recognise that a “quiet man” does not necessarily imply apathy, indifference, inactivity, insensitivity, or being irritated with their partner.

Sometimes it signifies the polar opposite of what you think it means.

It’s possible that he’s in his mind because of you.

He’s probably thinking about how he can be a better father or husband, or how he can help you feel better when you’re going through a difficult time.

Men go silent because they communicate differently

Men and women have distinct perspectives on the purpose of communication.

As Stephen Rodgers points out in his post on Rodgerscounseling.com, communication for men has a single, straightforward purpose: to provide information to another person.

That’s all there is to it.

Several psychological studies, according to Rogers, have confirmed that women in relationships frequently talk just to bond with one another rather than with the aim of communicating any sort of important information.

Men, on the other hand, believe that whenever someone speaks, they should say something that is novel, informative, useful, and rational in nature.

They should present a problem or give a solution, as well as communicate an opinion or point of view. And so on.

A man won’t say anything if he doesn’t have anything meaningful to add to the conversation.

So, while it is considered manly to talk about politics, the latest sports team selections, or the mechanics of a car engine, discussing the mechanics of a relationship is not.

In other words, males speak in order to make a point or solve an issue, and they do it with a strategy and a goal in mind.

Interestingly enough, many men also shop in this manner – they will go right to the store, straight to the item they want, and then they will go home.

Women are more likely to go to the store in search of item A, end up meandering about aimlessly, and eventually return home with either nothing (rarely) or items B, C, D, and E.

why men go silent

Furthermore, men, in contrast to women, do not regard communication as a tool for analyzing feelings, discussing unpleasant emotions, or increasing intimacy in a relationship.

Communication is a mechanism for conveying information and solving problems.

If there are no problems to be resolved, there is no need for communication (unless for sharing information).

Men go silent because they try to control their emotions and sharing their feelings is hard

Women frequently fail to recognise the tremendous difficulty men have in expressing themselves.

Until she learns what a man is feeling, it is critical that she refrain from jumping to any conclusions about his reason for what he is saying.”

Myles Munroe

Men, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, enjoy a good challenge (to various degrees, but still).

As a result, many men are confident enough to fight another man in a cage, leap out of planes, spearfish when sharks are present, and drive at incredible speeds without showing any signs of fear.

When it comes to communicating feelings with their wives, however, a large proportion of men have a very different experience.

The idea of a man sharing certain feelings with his partner may seem strange to a woman, but from a man’s perspective, sharing certain feelings may cause him to feel vulnerable in front of his partner, and men generally do not like the idea of giving her the psychological advantage by being vulnerable in front of her.

Consequently, as John Gray writes in his best selling book “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus,” when a man feels emotionally “exposed,” he chooses to retreat into a psychological, and if possible, a physical “man cave” when put under duress to protect himself from his emotions.

A man can reduce his stress levels by diverting his focus to other activities such as watching sports on television or going to the golf course, among others.

In fact, it is possible that men are biologically programmed to shut down when under stress, which is referred to as “emotional overwhelm.”

According to Rick Nauret, associate professor of psychology at Rocky Mountain University, in the PsychCentral article “Men Respond to Stress by Shutting Down,” when men and women were asked to gaze at images of facial expressions, men displayed a lower brain response to afraid and furious facial expressions than women.

Sometimes a man can be shut down and silenced based on the woman’s actions or vibe

Given that men need to believe that they are knowledgeable and capable problem-solvers, there is a great possibility that they will withdraw when their wives offer them instructions rather than suggestions.

In the role of acknowledged “expert” at home (or at work), a guy will shine, but as soon as his wife starts teaching him how to do things, he will fade into the background.

why men go silent

According to psychologist Shawn T. Smith, a man prefers to believe that he is capable of effectively dealing with his own problems as well as those of his wife.

However, if his wife provides any feedback that criticises his problem-solving abilities, he may withdraw out of anger, hurt, and unappreciation for his abilities.

In a similar vein, if a woman accuses a male of something, she will receive the same reaction.

Because women cannot reverse what men have been taught since infancy or change the way their brains are wired, they can reduce the risk that a man would withdraw, according to author Christian Carter in the Self Growth article “Why Men Withdraw, and What to Do About It.”

The most effective approach to accomplish this is for her to manage her own fears in or about the relationship and to prevent them from building up into a verbal diatribe that has a negative tone and contains several accusations or criticisms.

This WILL cause him to become deafeningly silent and retreat, while simultaneously flooding the woman with even greater feelings of loneliness and insecurity.

It is common for women to vent because it is how they cope with their feelings, but it is important to consider his point of view – venting will induce stress and withdrawal, even if he is completely innocent of the circumstances.

If you need to vent, talk to a friend, sibling, or mother first before approaching your partner.

And when you do, make sure he understands that he hasn’t done anything wrong and that you are simply looking for a safe space to vent.

He doesn’t even have to do anything to make things better.

Just take a deep breath and listen.

What to do when a man goes silent and withdraws

As a result of all of the foregoing considerations, a woman’s actions are extremely important in any relationship with a man, particularly in situations where a male partner is a silent-type man.

The above type of dysfunctional style of communication is fundamentally preventable if a couple first recognises what is actually causing the communication struggle, which is biological and psychological differences, and then recognises that it is actually the retreat-pursuit behaviour pattern that causes the problem, not the individual person.

What that really means is that one partner seeks to discuss something (typically the woman), while the other partner wants to withdraw or flee (usually the guy).

That results in a chase and flee dynamic, which results in increased feelings of tension, frustration, and unhappiness for both partners.

By recognising and acknowledging what is going on in the first place, it is possible to interrupt and change the pattern.

Additionally, according to Brown-Daniels, with this understanding of how men process information and the difficulty they have in sharing feelings, a woman might choose to exercise more patience via understanding rather than “pursuing” her guy to open up and talk.

why men go silent

Furthermore, she can gain a deeper understanding of his silence by doing the following:

  • Inquiring about his thoughts and feelings (then giving him space).
  • Allowing him the space and time to share at his own pace and in his own time (rushing him when he hasn’t had time to process things will only result in a misunderstanding).
  • Avoid giving him the silent treatment as a punishment since it will simply serve to reaffirm his fears that he has done something wrong, has failed her in some way, or has not lived up to her expectations.
  • Expressing how important his feelings are to you and how much you value his point of view (again, giving him space to respond in his own time or at his own pace making sure that when he does, you listen and refrain from criticism).
  • Continuing to communicate her sentiments to him in an open and constructive manner in order to urge him to do the same (while allowing him the time he needs to digest things and come back to her when he’s ready).

However, as Audrey Nelson points out in her article “Silence: A Man’s Dilemma” on PsychologyToday.com, a man must also be aware that his silence or withdrawal can indicate to his partner that he doesn’t care about or is uninterested in her; that he’s simply trying to keep control and make her feel uncomfortable, even if, in truth, he is shy or uncomfortable communicating his feelings with her.

In other words, even if you as a man harbour no ill intent towards your spouse or think that nothing is wrong, you must recognise that your coping strategy of silence can have painful consequences for women and that it can inflict pain and even destroy your most important relationships, such as your marriage.

So, even if open communication occurs in a different way for you, show respect by meeting your wife or spouse halfway before she pulls a disappearing act on you.

If you are unable to discuss something with her at a particular time, tell her politely but firmly.

Ensure, however, that she is aware of you hearing her and that you are determined to talk things through with her once you’ve had a chance to process what has occurred.

Don’t even think of using the fact that you’re a man as an excuse to avoid having difficult conversations, for goodness sake.

At some time, you will have no choice but to sit down at the table and talk about your problems.

If you want to claim your “manliness” when it comes to communicating differently, you must also be a man when it counts.

When she needs you to step up, put down the clubs or video games and do so.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Summary

A lot of men will suddenly fall silent for no apparent reason.

How can you tell whether it’s something to be concerned about?

There are a variety of reasons why men may become distant from their partners.

Talking about emotions and feelings provokes an impending fear of shame, causing most men to either withdraw or seek an escape.

Women, on the other hand, are different.

Being able to talk about their feelings openly fosters a sense of belonging and security – and women actively seek out this sense from their partners.

A “quiet man” however does not necessarily mean apathy, indifference or inactivity.

Sometimes it signifies the polar opposite of what you think it means.

Men speak in order to make a point or solve an issue, and they do it with a goal in mind.

Communication is a mechanism for conveying information and solving problems.

Men are biologically programmed to shut down when under stress, referred to as “emotional overwhelm”.

And when a man feels emotionally “exposed,” he chooses to retreat into a psychological “man cave” rather than seek out comfort in other people (like women tend to do).

A man can be shut down and silenced out based on the woman’s actions or vibe.

If a woman blames a man for something, she will receive the same reaction if she accuses him of doing something wrong, i.e., criticism.

This WILL cause him to become deafeningly silent and retreat, while simultaneously flooding the woman with even greater feelings of loneliness and insecurity.

a big takeaway from this post is that women cannot reverse what men have been taught since infancy or change the way their brains are wired.

A woman can, however, choose to exercise more patience via understanding rather than “pursuing” her guy to open up and talk.

She can learn more about his silence by asking him about his thoughts and feelings, then giving him space and being physically supportive until he opens up.

However, men must also be aware that their silence or withdrawal can indicate to their partners that they don’t care about or is uninterested in them (even when that’s NOT the case).

So, as a man, if you are unable to discuss something with your wife or partner at a particular time, tell her politely but firmly – but ensure she is aware of you hearing her, as she needs the reassurance and validation of being heard.

If you have any personal thoughts on the matter, please leave them in the comments area below as I would love to read them.

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) which focuses on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He completed a graduate diploma in Psychology and is currently pursuing postgraduate Psychology studies at Massey University. He has been married to his wife for over sixteen years and is the father of two children. His articles have been published on Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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