The Man You Love Is A Withdrawer – 5 Ways To Help Him And Your Relationship
Do you feel helpless in knowing how to help him and your relationship when he emotionally shuts down? Does your helplessness turn into resentment and feelings of being unloved? Like you’re not enough? Do you sometimes feel abandoned? Is the anxiety that you carry in your body ever present? It’s likely the man you love is a withdrawer.
Do you find yourself feeling like a needy child when you’re in his adult presence? Begging for some attention, validation or affection? Are you baffled that he doesn’t see how much you need him to notice you? To care? Or to notice and comment on how empty and anxious you feel?
What happened to the man who showered you with affection when you first met? Why does he seem like a caveman, wanting to do nothing but work, eat, sleep and play games?
This is so painful. And I do feel your pain.
I sit with women like you (and their partners) all day, four days a week. And I am a man who, in the past, was a withdrawer who shutdown emotionally. I was unaware of how my emotional withdrawal deeply affected my wife.
But as a relationship therapist I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve helped thousands of men and women get out of the trap of emotional isolation. And the feelings of rejection that it creates.
There are many reasons why your guy behaves the way that he does. Though you don’t see it he struggles too. In another article that I wrote titled 5 Reasons Why Men Withdraw, I hit those high points. Of all of the blogs I have written this one has by far been read the most. So you are not alone by any means.
This blog will give you a big picture of what you can do for yourself and for the man you love who is a withdrawer. Insights that will restore your sanity and serenity. Things that will return to you a quiet confidence that you are both beautiful and loveable.
If what you are currently doing to get his attention is not working, keep reading. One or all of these 5 ways to help your withdrawing man, and your relationship, may be just what you’ve been looking for.
1. It may never make total sense why the man you love is a withdrawer.
So here you are. The man you love is a withdrawer. I understand that you can’t make sense of why he is so emotionally shut down. And that he runs from your emotions. Many withdrawers are with what we call anxious pursuers. And though withdrawers and pursuers all want the same thing in the end, they go after it very differently.
So really understanding what makes your withdrawing man tick may be difficult and frustrating. You may understand it at a head level, but when it comes to communication between the two of you, it may seem very irrational. I wish that weren’t true.
For the anxious pursuer, understanding this behavior is like trying to make sense of a foreign language. You can of course learn this language. But it is so different than the language that you speak that it will take time and his cooperation to teach you its nuances.
You will not be able to be taught in the anxious state that you are in. And while you are as anxious as you likely are, he will not volunteer to teach you why he is so self-protective. I know it’s hard. All humans seek answers. There will be a time you will understand him. But you will have to wait till he sees that you are safe enough to engage with. And to let you know how inept he really feels.
Be there when he does open up.
2. When your man is a withdrawer, express your hurt, not your anger.
Anger is an easy emotion to express. Especially when you are hurt. But anger begets anger. It creates nasty negative cycle arguements that will leave you both more hurt. It’s important to express your hurt rather than your anger. Since you are hurt, why not let him know how hurt you are as a result of what he has done to him. The more you can express your vulnerable emotions of hurt, sadness and fear, rather than anger, the better the chances are that the man you love is going to be able to give you the love and compassion that you are seeking.
Some anger is OK. Betrayals and lies warrant some initial anger. When you express your anger keep it also about your hurt. Avoid trying to make him hurt more by pointing out his inadequacies as a person. This will not help him to open up to you. And it will tempt him to do the same thing back to you.
3. Tell him what you need in order to heal.
Some women, when they are hurt, want to be held. And others don’t. Most women want their partner to be validating and compassionate. You might have to teach him this. Spell it out. Not in a harsh way. There’s a good chance that he doesn’t understand how to be validating and compassionate.
Most men grow up being taught to stuff emotion and to be highly competitive. This gets them by in competitive sports. But it makes them difficult to live with day in and day out. The bottom line is that things they should have learned in kindergarten often need to be learned in marriage. This is a great opportunity to help him and your relationship .
He may know how to give you words of affirmation but may get suck at connecting those words with loving emotions. So when he says it like Data on Star Trek he sounds like an alien life form. Rather than tell him that he is one, teach him what a loving affirmation sounds like and looks like. Voice tone and facial expression say more than the content of the communication.
He will likely feel awkward trying to speak to you in soft voice tones while looking you in the eyes. His whole MO may be gruff and direct. Under the skin of every barbarian is a prince. But princes are not born princely. They get years of training. If you married the brute you may need to teach him how to emotionally communicate. Modeling patience and compassion is the key to teaching him how to do the same.
4. When the man you love is a withdrawer do not judge.
There is a scripture in the bible that warns not to judge others lest judgment be returned to you. Your judgment is an accusation of why he treated you the way he did. You’re telling him that you know what his motives were. And that his motives were bad. And implicitly or explicitly, that he is bad.
This does not work. It will make him feel bad and probably will give him a shame attack. Shame is that terrible feeling of not being enough as a human being for the person or people that we love. Shame is never helpful. And it’s never a good strategy!
Your withdrawing man may have done bad things. But he is not a bad person, unless he is intentionally doing bad things to hurt others. If that’s the case, you probably need to run rather than doing any of the things that I am recommending here.
So given that he really is a good person who has done bad things, don’t make him feel worse about himself than he already does. It just is not helpful.
You may be tempted to want your partner to hurt as much you do. But it really does not serve a constructive purpose to create more hurt. Do not use your emotion in cruel ways to injure him back.
What you are looking for is that he is indeed hurt and extremely sorry about how his withdrawing and emotionally shutting down deeply hurts you. You need to create safety and space for him to feel this and communicate it to you.
5. Be clear about your sexual boundaries.
Every month that a couple does not have sex more damage is done to the relationship. You may be able to shut off your desire. Often his desire is much more physical than yours. It nags him and makes him feel miserable until he finds relief. You want yourself to be the solution to this nagging. And not porn, or other women.
Depending on how he has hurt you, you may need to take a short break from sex in order to heal. Working with an experienced trauma therapist is really a good idea to help you through this.
Remind your guy that sex is important to you and ask him to be patient with you while you are recovering. Keep letting him know that you appreciate his being patient and giving you time to heal. When you are ready to reengage let him know if you need to move slowly. And work with him to get into some kind of regular pattern of coming together. He’ll likely be thrilled to begin again, even if he doesn’t know how to show it.
It’s a start, take it slow.
Women, if the man you love is a withdrawer here’s a good place to start. These 5 things can help him, and your relationship. But it’s going to be a journey, a chipper. Remember, your guy has not adapted this style of relating to you overnight. He’s “practiced” being a withdrawer for many years. Your willingness to help him is a big step to seeing change.
If it feels like you’re getting nowhere don’t wait to get some professional help. Depending on your situation that may mean one or both of you getting some help with developmental trauma. Or maybe there’s been an affair that has one of you just stuck in your tracks, unable to heal and create new bonds with each other. There are therapists specialized in helping with that.
Maybe it’s a matter of not understanding what makes for a healthy lifetime relationship. Healthy relationship foundations may have not been taught in your homes. And there’s help for that.
You may want to check out our book, Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. We’ve also created an online course where you’ll learn what healthy communication looks like.
I wish you courage and willingness to go after an incredible relationship. Even if the man you love is a withdrawer. Let me know if I can help.
I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT supervisor, seeing clients within California via the Internet. I help couples understand healthy communication and unhealthy emotional withdrawal. My wife Paula and I co-authored the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love and developed an online course teaching relationship foundations.