“We were having a great time and then all of a sudden I could see her shutting down. What can I do when that happens?”
We hear this question all the time from the men in our community. Sometimes it sounds like…
“She spends so much time in her room not engaging with me or the kids, how can I help her to reconnect with us?”
It’s a common issue when a relationship is under pressure, maybe there’s a tension or a tentativeness that’s crept into your connection and suddenly all those thoughts that strike fear into your heart and put a knot in your gut start racing through your brain. Thoughts like:
Why is she upset with me?
Is she planning to leave me?
Does she find me attractive anymore?
Is there someone else?
What if she doesn’t love me anymore?
What if this means the relationship will end?
How would this effect the kids?
What will my friends and family think?
What if I can’t save this relationship?
It’s at this point that we men engage everything we’ve learnt and bring it to this, the most important part of our life.
We’ve never encountered a problem that we couldn’t fix before so with the right tools and application, the right focus and attention, we’ll find the source of the problem and implement the solution.
So we set to work.
But the problem is that relationships don’t work like that.
People don’t work like that.
We’re far more complex.
And a large part of our complexity comes from our emotions. Something us men have trouble identifying and talking about.
But when your partner is shut down, understanding your emotions and her emotions is KEY to opening up some space and releasing some pressure to allow for some open and honest communication to happen again.
I recently talked to Dr Alexis Shepperd about this in the video below:
“A man’s ability to create emotional safety is a catalyst for a healthy relationship, without it, she will feel unsure about opening up and sharing her sensitive emotions and thoughts.”
When someone is shut down in a relationship, it means they are dealing with thoughts and emotions that are causing intense stress to their body. We men do this too so for a moment, I want you to reflect on what happens when we shut down.
We have to work very hard to shut an emotion down once it is up and running, and in the process, we often get more agitated and tense. This is especially true in close relationships when the trigger for the emotion, your wife or partner, is still there giving us signals that get us all fired up.
It’s important to understand that emotion doesn’t stay inside us and invisible. When we try to shut feelings off, the people we are communicating with also get more and more tense.
When we are denying our feelings, our face shows our feelings way faster than the thinking part of the brain can shut them down. So she knows there is something going on when we say “Oh, nothing is wrong. I am fine.” And she also knows that we are shutting her out.
When your wife or partner can’t read your cues, they can’t predict your behavior. You say one thing but she sees another. It makes sense that she gets tense. This uncertainty puts everyone off balance and adds to the likelihood that the conversation, or even the whole evening, goes sour.
Emotions are fast. It takes about 100 milliseconds for our brain to react emotionally and about 600 milliseconds for our thinking brain, our cortex, to register this reaction. By the time you decide that it’s better not to get mad or to be sad, your face has been expressing it for 500 milliseconds. Too late!
The emotional signal has been sent. It’s like pressing “send” on your email before you double-check content and email address. Not only that, but when you deny the message, this is puzzling for your partner and makes it harder for them to feel relaxed and safe with you. You are suddenly someone who can shut them out as if they don’t matter!
Getting back to a shut down woman who’s withholding her emotions…
You have to understand how hard she is working to be shut down. It’s not something fun that she wants to do. It’s painful. But it’s less painful than what she fears might happen if she opens up.
Emotional safety is important to both men and women. Without it, we feel unsure about opening up and sharing our feelings and thoughts with each other. Fear of being judged, criticized, or ignored will shut down any hope of communicating at a deeper level on just about any topic.
This absolutely affects the ability of two people to connect on an intimate level.
Show me a man who has neglected his job in the emotional safety department and I’ll show you a man who has an unhappy marriage and an unsatisfying sex life.
I know because this was my story too.
So we’re unconsciously communicating our emotions and add on top of that that your wife or girlfriend is also naturally gifted with the ability and intuition to sense your INTENTIONS. This means that she will consciously or subconsciously react to your energy and intention.
It’s natural to feel panicked and fearful when our relationship is struggling. It’s natural to worry about what that might mean about us and our future.
But when we reach out to her from that place of fear, she FEELS that intention from us. To her it feels like “He’s not happy – he is insecure – I’ll never be enough for him – he just doesn’t get me – pressuring me is making it worse – I just wish he would stop pushing and be confident in himself.”
To create emotional safety with her, you have to stop needing her to make you feel OK in yourself.
She can immediately sense what your intentions are when you speak to her or about her, touch her, walk past her, and even when you close a door. It is up to you to understand this and choose to be intentional with your words, tone, and behaviors.
The words you use can convey either respect or disdain.
Your tone can make her feel loving appreciation or disappointment.
Your actions will communicate either resentment / anger or calmness / self-assuredness.
She FEELS these from you.
She will not usually be able to tell you this directly.
But you must understand the enormous impact that your negativity has on her ability to trust you, respect you, and be attracted to you.
It is entirely up to you to choose the messages you want to send her.
You have the ability to feel your own emotions AND while doing that, get curious about what she’s feeling.
It might sound something like “I’m scared that we’re so disconnected right now. Even if you think I won’t like hearing it, I want to understand what you’re feeling and thinking.”
With this kind of statement you’re communicating that you see her struggling and even though you’re struggling too, you still love her, you still want to understand what she’s going through.
You’re showing her your INTENTION is one of care for her and her wellbeing.
Not being able to be around your partner’s changing emotions, causes them to lose trust in your love for them. Your INTENTION is felt as needing to fix her emotions and what’s behind that is our own need to stop feeling our own discomfort.
It breaks trust when we don’t see each other with love or when we can’t show compassion for someone else’s pain.
The path to create an environment where she feels safe to open up is being able to hold onto your fears AND at the same time invite her to share hers with you. You do this with your words, your tone, your body language, your energy. She FEELS these from you but may not be able to tell you when you’re influencing her to shut down. In the past we have often got defensive when she’s tried to tell us.
She needs you to provide the emotional safety. In fact, when you become aware of and commit to this as your masculine role, you find something else is true…
The process of being that man is extremely rewarding and fulfilling, and, you have created an environment in which her loving feminine nature can emerge.
It can feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders when you understand and accept what is needed from you to create emotional safety for her.
Love her. Give to her without expecting something back.
Talk to her. Be open. Be vulnerable. Let her understand you and your fears. Cry with her.
But don’t stop leading! Lead YOURSELF first so you can lead her to a stronger marriage.
Accept responsibility. Expect more from yourself. Surround yourself with other good men like you who are on the same path.
Steve and I are those men in your life right now but we’d like to introduce you to a whole load more of these men.
If you want to find that consistently calm, confident and enthusiastic man inside you again you need other men who understand what you’re going through and who will challenge you to make the changes that you need to make.
The Men’s Live Coaching Roundtable is a powerful collection of men from around the world working together to transform themselves and their relationships. Dan Dore and I lead this community with 5 other professional coaches. We have live coaching video calls twice per month. The camaraderie in this group is something missing from the lives of too many men in the world.
Our online course How to Defuse the Divorce Bomb is a deep and intense dive into handling yourself when you hear, “I love you but I’m not in love with you anymore.” Tim Wade and Steve host monthly live Q&A calls with all the students in this course which includes many other bonuses as well. Find out more here.
We love teaching men these tools – how to be better, how to know who you are, what you stand for, what you want and how to CREATE it in your life through our Masculine Confidence coaching programs.
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