What to do when your guy clams up and you're tempted to force him to talk.
Without a doubt, one of the most infuriating things in a relationship is when your guy gets quiet and won’t talk.
You know he had a bad day and he refuses to talk about it. His response is, “I’m fine,” when you ask. Or you’re sure he’s angry because of something you did, but he won’t talk about it. You can almost see the tension build up in him and you just wish he’d admit how he’s feeling.
But he won’t.
When your partner clams up, it’s irritating and it’s worrisome too. You want to clear this up so that you two can move on and enjoy loving one another again. You want to know what you can do to support him or make the situation a little bit better.
But you are at a loss because he’s not talking.
Women do this too, of course. The sense of helplessness and frustration are just as intense whether it’s a woman or a man who is not communicating, even when it’s clear there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
In an excruciating situation like this, the impulse for many is to push.
Your intentions are good. What you want most of all is to support and help and you probably also want more peace and connection in your relationship too. So you put on pressure to encourage your partner to open up and tell you how he feels and what is really going on.
And this almost always backfires. Because your partner is already bothered, upset or feeling uncomfortable, pushing usually brings out one of two responses: 1) Your partner closes down even more or 2) He gets defensive and angrily lashes back at you.
The result is NOT more peace or connection in your relationship. Instead, it’s more distance which isn’t healthy and can even lead to a breakup if the pushing and withdrawal continue.
Remember that there is a HUGE difference between pausing and stuffing down how you really feel and what you really think. The idea here is for you to notice your impulse to push your partner to open up and to wait. Don’t do anything besides breathe and sit there for a few moments.
There are very few situations that require immediate action so remind yourself of this. When you can pause and refrain from what you are itching to say or do, you are more likely to help instead of making things worse.
Think about this as giving yourself (and your partner) space as you decide what would be most beneficial.
During your pause, breathe and clear your mind. If you’re telling yourself a story that’s making you even more worried or angry, set that aside for now. Instead, bring yourself back to the facts you know. Try not to take his quiet or withdrawn behavior personally because, chances are, it has nothing to do with you.
Think about what your partner has literally said to you. For example, “It was a crappy day and I need to be left alone.” This is pretty straight-forward. He’s asking you to give him some room to process whatever happened. (Hint: It’s best to honor his request.)
If he’s not said anything but is acting uncharacteristically quiet, tune in to what is most important for you. Do you need reassurance? Do you crave connection with him? Do you feel an urge to fix this for him? Be honest with yourself about not only what you really want at this moment, but also what the motivations are behind your urge to make him talk.
Communicate without pushing.
When you do open up your mouth to speak, choose your words wisely. If your partner is upset or irritated, he’s already in a sensitive place. Use words that don’t put him on the defensive or feel blaming or manipulative. Try not to assume that you know what he’s thinking and feeling...or even what’s best for him.
He’s more likely to really listen to you, open up and to move closer to you (instead of farther away) when you say...
“I love you and am here for you.”
“How can I help?”
“I’d like to know what’s on your mind and will listen when you’re ready to talk.”
“I feel worried when you get quiet. Will you tell me what’s going on for you?”
Be real, be kind and be available to support and love him the way he needs you to right now.