The Honest Truth Behind Why Your Guy Shuts Down Emotionally

Here's how to help him understand your emotions.

Last updated on Jan 05, 2024

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"Emotional unavailability" seems to have reached epidemic proportions these days. It's the biggest complaint I hear from women in unhappy relationships.

Here are five signs of emotional unavailability and the truth about what's going on in his head.

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YOU FEEL: He shuts down when you act insecure in the relationship.
HE THINKS: "Jeez, she is freaking me out, and making me insecure. I am anxious that she might leave me. This is scary being in an emotional place. I have no clue how to act. I hate feeling incompetent like this. How am I supposed to know what to do? Jeez, I hate being anxious like this. I'm just going to go into my shell to protect myself."


YOU FEEL: He doesn't soothe your worries.
HE THINKS: "She's worried, and I don't have a clue why. How can I fix this? I have to soothe my anxiety around her anxiety by doing something. I know, I can tell you what to do. That will soothe me and make me feel like I am being a man. I have no idea what she needs right now. Why can't she just suck it up?"

YOU FEEL: He accuses you of being smothering.
HE THINKS: "I feel smothered. I can't breathe. I can't move. I feel completely emasculated. I am trapped. This is scaring me. Get me out of here!"

YOU FEEL: He runs or shuts down when you cry or get emotional.
HE THINKS: "Her emotions are too intense. I can't handle them. I am afraid. I don't know what will happen next. I feel threatened. I can't do anything. I am no good. What did I do wrong? Why am I always the one that gets blamed? This is too hard. I don't like the anxiety I feel around all of this. It must be my fault. I can't fix this."


YOU FEEL: He dismisses your feelings.
HE THINKS: "Whoa! Way too intense. Gotta ratchet this down. I can't handle this intensity 'cause it scares me. Maybe if I just ignore it, it will go away. Yeah, just ignore it. It's meaningless. That's the way I can protect myself."

Do you notice the common theme through these inner dialogues? In every instance, your man was feeling anxious, fearful, incompetent, and frightened of your emotions. Your normal female emotions triggered strong negative emotions in him. What you interpreted as being emotionally unavailable was really just him being scared to death.



Worse, he didn't even know it; he was completely unaware of his unconscious reactions.


The lesson: He's just as emotional as you are!

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Both of you are on an emotional ride. Your need for soothing and security triggers his fears of incompetency, worthlessness, and abandonment. He deals with his emotions through denial, avoidance, and escape because that is what his family and society have conditioned him to do.

He becomes emotionally unavailable so he can protect himself, and by doing so, neither of your needs in the moment get met.

The Solution: You have two choices. Either will work and, if done correctly, will transform your relationship.


Here are your two choices:

1. Ask for what you need

This is weird. You need emotional soothing and him to be present for you. You want, need, and desire that more than anything else. Then why not ask for it? What's he going to say, "No!"? Well, if he does say "No," how is that worse than his emotional unavailability? Here's how to do it:

"John, I am feeling insecure right now. Could you do something for me?"

John is already scared, "Ah, sure Mary. What do you want?"

"Could you just be present for me? I don't need you to fix me. I just need you to hold my hand, hug me, stroke my hair, and just open your heart while I go through this insecurity. It's not about us; it's just about me. And you are the only one I feel safe around."


Maybe he will hug, and maybe he won't. However, if you ask for what you need, you are more likely to get it from a loving partner than not. My wife taught me this. I now love it when she is emotional and asks for exactly what she wants. I don't feel clueless or incompetent. Nor am I fearful of screwing up.



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2. Soothe him first so he'll know what to do for you

This is harder because you have emotional needs to be met. However, sometimes if you soothe him first, he can find a way to soothe you back. By modeling exactly what you want, you will coach him subtly in what you want from him.


"John, I am really feeling insecure right now," you say. John begins to withdraw into his shell. You've seen it a million times before.

"Oh, John, you are feeling anxious about this and nervous. When I get insecure, you get a little scared."  Wait and watch. If he trusts you, he will nod his head.

"My crazy emotions scare you, and you think you are screwing up." Wait and watch again.

When you get a head nod, a sigh, slumping shoulders, and some verbal response like "Yeah, yeah," stop. You nailed it. He will be relieved and gratified that he felt understood.

By the way, where did your insecurity go at that moment? Hmmm, disappeared didn't it?

You still have a need to be loved and validated. I guess that you don't have the driving need to be soothed at this moment. If so, ask John if he would be willing to do the same for you.


"John, could you help me?"

"Sure, Mary. What do you want?"

"I just want you to tell me how I am feeling, like 'Mary, you are insecure right now.' Could you do that?"


"Ah, I guess so. Mary, you are feeling insecure right now."

"Yes. What else am I feeling? I'm not sure. Could you help me by just guessing at what is going on with me?"

And you are off and running.

Don't expect this to work perfectly, or even work at all the first time. However, if you have a relationship worth working on, this is the work to do. You will be amazed and overjoyed at the bliss this type of listening will create between the two of you. Emotional unavailability will be a thing of the past.

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Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA is an author, speaker, and professional mediator helping people solve difficult problems. He is the author of De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less.