“Communication” is usually the number one problem for a couple sitting on my comfortable counselling couch.
A significant feature of this communication issue in the relationship is when a man stops talking. Many men remain silent for too long and this greatly contributes towards the relationship suffering.
Silence is not golden
Silence happens in a variety of ways. Here’s a few:
A guy listens to his girlfriend’s repetitive complaints about her job. It’s been weeks that he’s been hearing the same problems about her boss and co-workers.
In their daily debrief he zones out, avoids eye contact with his partner, doesn’t speak and keeps looking at his phone. He’s relieved when she stops talking and continues on Facebook.
A husband avoids saying anything to his wife about his frustration with her untidiness and disorganisation at home. He has said nothing about this for weeks.
Instead he reluctantly completes domestic tasks like cleaning up, cooking dinner and putting out the garbage.
He does all this in a silent, sullen mood which turns him into a grumpy and irritated partner. His grumpy irritability soon turns into resentment and anger.
Just as he lays his head on the pillow at night a guy’s wife begins talking about her day and opens up a thorny topic about their son’s social media use.
He tries his best to keep his eyes open, nodding and making grunting noises until he can no longer pretend, and falls asleep. He wakes up next morning oblivious to the conversation.
A man comes home from a long, hard and stressful day at work. He enters the house, throws down his coat and car keys, let’s out a huge sigh and slumps on the couch, kicks off his shoes and puts the sports channel on the TV.
His partner asks “ What’s wrong?” He replies “ Nothing”. For the rest of the evening he is silent, unresponsive and lost in the TV.
A man feels loving toward his partner. He initiates physical affection and sex is regular and amazing. It’s reciprocated and fun. She openly expresses her love for him and glows in the intimacy.
He says nothing about how he feels about her. He assumes she knows exactly how he feels.
These snippets all contain a form of silent withdrawal of men. It’s part of the choreography of an intimate relationship. It’s a kind of dance move!
Relationship experts describe how partners dance in relationships! These ‘dance moves’ take the shape of actions, behaviours, verbal and non-verbal expression.
Understanding your dance move of relating is an essential ingredient of improving your relationship.
Making sense of the silence of men is vital and can be found in one the most powerful and damaging of relationship dance routines, the ‘Pursuer/Withdrawer’.
Pursuit and Withdrawal
The Pursue/Withdraw is one pattern of communication adopted by one or both partners.
Here’s what happens in terms of emotions and behaviours.
Pursuers tend to cling. Withdrawers push away.
Pursuers can be demanding or nagging. Withdrawers turn away.
Pursuers can attack. Withdrawers retreat.
Pursuers may be intrusive. Withdrawers put up barriers
Pursuers can be controlling. Withdrawers can surrender.
Pursers think they’re right. Withdrawers feel they’re wrong
Pursuers lead. Withdrawers follow.
Pursuers feel helpful. Withdrawers feel helpless.
|Pursuers will often feel:||Withdrawers will often feel:|
The Pursue/Withdraw interaction keeps relationships stuck and distressed. More importantly if this dynamic gets left unchecked emotions become heightened and intense.
Men and women can take the role of pursuer or withdrawer or even both at various times.
In general, blokes tend to withdraw more often than women.
Why is this happening for Men?
From an evolutionary perspective man as hunter-gatherer cared only about the physical and practical nature of finding food and protecting his family from harm.
The male brain developed accordingly with little need or capacity for talking!
At a social and psychological level the withdrawing is a protective mechanism from fear of being hurt. It’s origins lie in the emotional environment of early childhood in families, schools and broader communities.
Boys and men have been taught not to talk about their feelings and quite literally some guys struggle to find an emotional language.
Guys don’t enjoy the silence. They get confused and stuck.
If we drill further into men’s expectations today, we can see how debilitating the withdrawing role becomes.
Warning! Some of this will sound illogical!
4 Reasons Why Men Stop Talking in Relationships
1. Men don’t talk feelings or relationships
It’s that old chestnut that emotions are not manly and heaven forbid, if a man were to expose his feelings, he may be seen as a wuss.
The silence is an attempt to resolve the fear of being exposed as not being manly enough.
2. Men get angry with their feelings
For some blokes talking out their unhappiness, stress, anxieties, dissatisfaction, or other negative feelings make them irritable. They feel frustrated or angry at having these feelings in the first place. Remember, men don’t do feelings!
Many guys have trouble with anger. They are fearful of disrespecting and hurting the person they love.
Silence is an attempt to protect them, and their partner from causing more damage. Yes, it’s not logical, it’s emotional!
3. It’s an unwinnable competition
Many guys hate failing and feeling inadequate. They often don’t have the speed of words to compete with their partner in a conflict. Men’s emotional processing capacity is often much slower than their partner.
Whilst being silent is a sign of a man’s need to process it is also a way to avoid the feelings of defeat.
4. A Man’s measure of fulfilment is their partner’s happiness
Lot’s of guys pay so much attention to their partner’s happiness that when there is conflict or their partner is unhappy it affects their mood negatively.
Silence seems to shield men from openly feeling disapproval and disappointment in themselves (and from their partner) that they can’t please their partner.
Men can be silent when they’re angry, happy, fearful, or sad! It’s confusing for everyone.
Partners, mainly women, experience huge concern, confusion and anxiety when they experience the silence and withdrawal of their partner.
They are often left:
- Guessing what their man is thinking and feeling
- Assuming the worst.
- Feeling rejected
Silence in men is usually an attempt, if a clumsy one, to solve problems in their relationship.