The Shut Down


Is this often unconscious habit destroying your love relationship or marriage?

There's no doubt about it...

A love relationship of marriage can be a fragile thing. No matter how long you and your partner have been together and regardless of how deeply you love one another, careless and sometimes unconscious habits can destroy the connection and relationship that means so much to you.

The shut down is one of those destructive habits.

Actually, the shut down can happen in a couple of ways in a relationship-- both ways can lead to conflict, tension and even a breakup or divorce.

Here are a couple of examples of the shut down...

1) Josh and Cindy are out on a date. They've been together for a few months and their relationship is starting to get serious. Both are wondering if the other could be “the one.”

When Cindy excitedly tells Josh about her dream to start her own bakery business, he interrupts her only a few sentences into her description of her aspirations. “There are already far too many bakeries in this town, Cindy. You'd just be throwing your money and time away, ” he tells her.

Instantly, Cindy's enthusiasm deflates. She becomes very quiet and focuses on her dinner. Josh can't understand why she's acting this way.

2) Beth and Roger have been married for about 15 years. They have weathered some troubled times in their relationship, but they're still together. Beth's jealousy has been one cause of their marital problems. She's working on her jealousy, but it's taking longer than either she or Roger would like.

When Roger walks in the door after being out of town for a few days on a business trip, Beth welcomes him with a kiss and a hug and lots of questions. She examines everything in his bag and looks closely at his clothes.

Roger says nothing about her all-too-obvious and familiar jealousy and closes himself up in the den watching a baseball game. The romantic “welcome home” evening that both of them wanted does not go as planned.

The shut down happens when one person dismisses, discounts or undercuts the other person's idea, belief, perspective or way of being. If you've ever been shut down in this way, you probably know how frustrating and emotionally painful it can be.

The shut down also occurs when one or both people close to one another in the face of stress, conflict or triggers. Communication stops, body language is cold and contracted and connection is strained.

The thing about the shut down is that just about every single one of us, at one point or another, does it.

You might have a valid point or what your partner is saying seems ridiculous to you and so you interrupt and undercut-- and feel justified for doing so. You may feel powerless to say or do anything to change your partner in a particular way, so closing down and silently fuming appears to be the only thing left to do.

The shut down-- in either form-- can be deadly to a relationship. Here's what to do instead...

Notice the ways that YOU shut down.

What your partner does is probably quite obvious to you. After all, it hurts to be interrupted and told that your idea is silly. It's annoying to be given the cold shoulder by your mate.

When it's apparent that your partner is shutting down or shutting you down, try to pause before you react. What normally happens is a shut down behavior is met by a shut down reaction from the other person.

As you can guess, this only intensifies the annoyance, irritation and disconnection. If this is NOT what you want more of in your relationship, stop yourself from reacting.

Notice the specific ways that you shut down (or shut your partner down). This might require you to take a second look at your habits.

Offer yourself an alternative response.

Once you know what you tend to do, it's far easier to make different choices. As we mentioned above, the shut down often happens unconsciously and is usually a reaction to some trigger.

Take the time to recognize your own habits and then, when you notice yourself starting to shut down, interrupt yourself. In advance of a stressful situation with your partner, come up with some alternatives to what you usually do.

This might be actual words or phrases that can help you communicate in new ways. Substituting “I feel____ when you ____ ” instead of “You always ____” is one example you can try. Alternatives could also be different behaviors, such as staying in the room when you want to bolt as a conversation gets heated.

If it's helpful, write down these alternatives and then remember them when you notice the shut down within you or coming from your partner. Pay attention to the alternatives that seem to bring you two closer together sooner and start to make those words and behaviors your new habit.

Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the passionate relationships they desire. For more relationship advice and information, visit