How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down: Man staring into the distance

How to Communicate with Someone Who Shuts Down.

Are you trying to communicate with someone who shuts down? “He tells me whatever I want to hear so that we can stop talking about it as soon as possible,” Mary says, huffily, arranging the pillows of The Couples Counseling Couch behind her. It’s our second marriage counseling session, and she’s explaining, “I bring up anything, and immediately he gets defensive when I tell him how I feel. I don’t feel heard in my relationship, and it’s impossible to get him to talk about his feelings with me. It’s like talking to a wall.” She goes on. “If I really, really push it and go after him sometimes he’ll react, and we’ll finally address something, but it’s like I have to totally freak out to get him to go there with me. Then he says that I’m talking down to him, or that it feels like I have ‘anger issues‘ that are the problem in our relationship. I feel blamed when I’m actually the one being totally invalidated. It’s so frustrating. Yes, I get mad at him, and I don’t want to be that person, but I feel like it’s the only way to get him to listen.

Is Your Partner Someone Who Shuts Down During Communication? Do They Withdraw?

Can you relate to what Mary is saying? If so, you’re not alone. It’s incredibly common to have one person in a relationship shutting down during conflict, which increases the frustration and loneliness (and often the volume) of the other. You might be tempted to think that this is a “man thing.” Not true: a significant portion of relationships have women who withdraw in tense moments, and male partners who pursue. This dynamic also happens in same sex relationships with both men and women.

… he gets defensive when I tell him how I feel.

Whether you’re trying to get through to your guy or your girl it can feel like the harder you try to communicate, the harder they try to avoid. Sometimes they defend themselves — invalidating what you’re saying in the process — and sometimes they simply refuse to participate in the conversation.

All you want to do is for them to listen to you. Hear you. Respond to you. But whenever you try to communicate, they clamp down like a clam under assault. You try harder: raising the volume, raising the intensity, and getting more passionate. But the harder you try to connect, the harder they work to block you.

When Communicating with Someone Who Shuts Down Becomes a Pattern

If this communication style turns into a pattern, you might stop believing that you’ll ever get through. You might eventually give up on trying to connect. And that is a very serious problem. Because relationships fail when people stop believing that their partner can be who they want or need them to be.

Let’s not do that. Instead, keep reading for some new ideas to think about, and some different communication strategies to try.

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If You’re With Someone Who Shuts Down, and You Want to Get Your Withdrawn Partner to Open Up:

1) Stop Being Scary

I say this a bit humorously, but seriously: It’s often the case that “pursuing” partners can get… intense. (I know I certainly can when I’m not able to get my point across). And it’s totally understandable — when you’re feeling frustrated, shut out, unheard, and uncared for it hurts. It’s the most natural thing in the world to get more intense and “passionate” in an effort to make yourself be heard. But consider how you may appear when you get that way.

It may be difficult for others to come towards you, and maintain soft, caring feelings about you, or fully appreciate your needs when you’re yelling at them. Interacting with obviously angry people feels threatening. The louder you get, the less people can hear you. Take a breath, tone it down, and you’ll get better results.

The louder you get, the less people can hear you.

2) Practice Vulnerability

If your partner is someone who shuts down, help your partner move towards you by allowing them to see your pain. Dig under the anger and connect with the hurt or fear that is fueling it. When you can express to your partner that you are feeling lonely and miss them, that you are feeling overwhelmed and need their help, or that you’re feeling frightened and need to know that they care — they will see you as softer and more approachable. It mobilizes their love for you, rather than their survival instinct.

3) Be Diplomatic

People like to be praised. Focus on the positive exceptions, and encourage more of what you want. If you must address something you don’t like, sandwich it in at least two positive comments and make sure it’s a “request” and not a “criticism.” Does this skill feel challenging when you’re angry? Consider your options when you’re feeling annoyed that your partner is checking out and not following through with household tasks (for example):

  • Option A: “I need to tell you what an inconsiderate a**hole you are, and I want you to sit here and agree with me.”  [Not going to end well.]
  • Option B: “I really appreciate everything you do around here, and I especially liked the way you took out the trash this morning. Would you mind helping me with dinner tonight to? That way we’ll have more time to hang out tonight. I like it when we can just enjoy each other and relax in the evenings.”

Which option would go over better with you?

4) When Your Partner is Someone Who Shuts Down, Focus on Solutions

Grinding away at complaints about things you don’t like makes people feel overwhelmed, and defensive. When you get clear about what you DO want before coming into a conversation, and ask for that in a positive way your partner will be much better able to hear you. Furthermore, when they know what you want, they can give it to you.

5) Get Support When You’re With Someone Who Shuts Down

Sometimes, no matter how kind and gentle you are with someone who shuts down, they will still shut down, avoid, and defend. This is especially true if a negative cycle has overtaken your relationship. Even if you are changing, they still expect you to be the same (and react to you accordingly).

It may also be the case that they are engaging in old, entrenched ways of relating that existed long before you came along. If you suspect that either of these things are happening, it may be wise to get both of you in front of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you untangle the impact of past relationship patterns, and focus on how to relate in a healthy way going forward.

I hope these ideas help you reconnect if you’re in a relationship with someone who shuts down and avoids conflict. For more detailed, in-depth advice on how to communicate with a withdrawn partner and get things back on track, check out my communication podcasts:

Improve The Communication in Your Relationship

How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner (Without Pushing Them Further Away)

How to Communicate With a Partner Who is Upset (This one can really help your withdrawn partner understand YOU, and what happens to you emotionally when they refuse to talk or engage with you).

Wishing you all the best on your journey of growth together…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One fantastic, low-key, low-anxiety way to begin opening up lines of communication is to do it without actually talking. (Really!) Take our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and send it to your partner to take too. (It’s set up so you can send them an email invitation from within the quiz). Then you can share your results with each other.

Just be prepared to learn new things about how your partner has been feeling about your relationship! Pro tip: Even if you learn that there are aspects of your relationship that don’t feel good for them right now, it’s a positive thing because they are giving you the chance to learn and grow together. If you respond to their disclosures with empathy, curiosity, and responsiveness it might start to restore emotional safety and begin turning things around. Here’s the link to get access to the quiz. xoxo, LMB

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164 Comments

      1. Thank you for sharing Deloris. I have some “avoider” tendencies too. I’ve found that giving myself some time to calm down, and then coming back to the conversation, helps me “stay in the ring” when things get heated. All the best!

    1. I’m the pursuer. My other half always tells me her behavior is only a reaction to mine or others…. We argue and all is fine if it’s over quick. But if it is a long day and we are just at eachother cause we’re being turds it can get ugly. By then I’m still wanting to talk and figure out why and she clams up and gets seriously angry. Then if I keep pursuing then she blows and then it’s over and I leave it alone. I feel that she controls how much and how far our talks go and that is frustrating to me. I get tired of feeling like I’m the reason she feels the way she does. By the way she is very stubborn and does not express herself at all. Always been difficult for her. So when she does it’s extremely rare.

      1. Tracy, thanks for bringing up this important point. Yes, power and control and abuse (narcissistic or otherwise) is absolutely NOT what we’re talking about here. The communication strategies I suggested in this article are helpful to improve garden-variety, normal communication problems that many (if not most) couples experience from time to time. Abusive relationships are a completely different thing.

        If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, couples therapy is not appropriate. The best course of action is to seek the services of a competent, local mental health provider with experience in domestic violence recovery. (As an individual. Not as a couple). More resources and information on this important topic here: https://www.thehotline.org.

        Good conversation everyone! Thanks for being so kind and supportive to each other. I really appreciate your perspective, and our vibrant community!

        Dr. Lisa

    2. I am definitely avoider in my marriagemy husband’s intense reactions to issues with me have left me feeling ridiculed criticized and Miss understood also unappreciated I love him but I don’t think that were compatible I have become completely emotionally shut down I know that I’m not trying anymore but it’s all that I can give I don’t know what else to do whenever we try to get to the bottom of issues it’s always a long list of problems I have and things that I need to fix but nothing for him leaves me feeling like I wish I would have never tried to have a conversation in the first place reminds me of why I choose to stay quiet Im never truly heard

      1. Crystal, sounds like you marriage is not in a good place and I am sorry for that. These things do not resolve on their own, but rather tend to get worse over time (without intervention). I hope that you consider getting involved in some high-quality marriage counseling. Caveat: Many therapists who do NOT have specialized training in couples counseling will be very happy to meet with you for couples counseling and they will not be able to help you. They may actually make it worse. When you’re ready to get help for your relationship please look for a licensed marriage and family therapist, ideally with training in either The Gottman Method or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — two extremely effective, evidence-based forms of marriage counseling. Here are a few such providers in our practice: About Us.
        These issues are solvable up to a certain point. But listen, relationships can past “the point of no return.” If / when that happens it’s going to be too late to fix. As a marriage counselor, I’ve seen couples put this off and but the time they finally show up in my office it’s very, very hard to fix. Sometimes, not fixable. [More on this subject: “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage.] I hear that you still care about your marriage and are hoping it could get better. Don’t wait Crystal!!

        Good luck,
        Lisa Marie Bobby

    3. I’m the pursuer. Definitely.

      My girlfriend immediately shuts down but her reasoning is that I have issues too frequently. And that i bring things to her too often.
      My thought is that it’s so frequent because we never get to the end of a conversation to actually resolve things because within 2 minutes she’s shutting down. And nothing gets resolved or changed in real life. So I experience the same issue and it happens daily. How do I bring change in our relationship if I can’t communicate long enough to convey what is needed?

      Her belief is that if I’m not bothered by things. I won’t be bringing them to her and she won’t lose her peace. So my only option is to just get over it and by it, I mean everything that could upset me. Is that my only option?

      1. Mike, when things like this keep happening over and over, despite your best efforts, it’s a sign that it’s time for couples counseling. What you’re doing isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean there is “no other option.” Just because you don’t know how to fix this doesn’t mean it cannot be fixed. I would highly recommend your seeking out couples counseling or relationship coaching with someone who understands this dynamic. I bet that there is quite a bit your GF might share if she felt emotionally safe enough to do so. Meeting with a third party can create the environment where she can hear you in a different way, and where you can hear her in a different way. Only then can you create meaningful and lasting change in your relationship. Go to couples counseling Mike — no need to keep beating your head against a wall. Good luck, LMB

    4. I am the pursuer. I have been with my boyfriend for 11 years. Anytime there is a issue in our relationship he shuts down. He puts his head down and never looks at me when I’m pouring my heart out to him. I can’t get more than a few words out of him. If I talk for more than 15 minutes he goes bananas!! He gets loud and screams at me how he’s tired of talking!! But… How are u tired of talking if you literally haven’t said more than two words?!! I’ve tried everything!! I always tell him I’m trying to save our relationship and how much I love him and want it to work and even cry while he’s looking down at the floor… Its like he has no heart at all! Then if I keep talking even after he has his screaming fit… He will start blaming me for why he acts this way. He is constantly walking away from me in mid sentence, hanging up on me and even goes to bed while I’m crying for him. It is a big mess. I don’t know what to do anymore. 11 years and he hasn’t married me I feel like a fool. Things are only good when he’s in a good mood. When he’s in a bad mood he’s disrespectful, mean , shuts down and doesn’t care about anything concerning us. Please help!!

      1. Kiki: You’re describing a really hard relationship dynamic. I cannot help you here, in the comments section of a blog post. What could help you is getting involved in some excellent, high quality couples counseling to see if this can change or not. If your partner refuses to go with you, you have your answer.

        Eleven years is a long time, and I would hate for you to spend more of your precious life in an unsustainable, toxic relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable and verbally abusive towards you.

        If couples counseling winds up not being an option, at the very least I hope you get involved in some good personal growth work to help you heal from the damage you’ve probably sustained in this relationship, figure out what is best for you and your life, and how to create healthy, positive, affirming relationships going forward.

        Respectfully,
        Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

    5. The pursuer. I try and try and try and no response. On the rare occasion I do get one, it’s to appease my feelings. Only twice did I get real, raw emotion. Enough to validate my concerns at the time, but not enough to heal what we’re going through. I know with no intervention, our relationship will not last…

      1. Sam, thanks for sharing. Based on what you’ve said, I think you might be right. I know that it is so frustrating when you try and try, and it’s like banging your fists against a closed door. In my experience there’s probably a lot on the other side of that door that might feel overwhelming to your partner, and they are likely just as confused and frustrated as you are.

        I sincerely hope you two do get some help to work through this impasse. One low-key way to get started might be for you both to take our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” online quiz. Not just for the quiz itself (although even answering the questions can be instructive), but because I’ve created a bunch of follow up videos that talk through the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships in key domains, including communication and negative behaviors.

        You can take the quiz and then invite your partner to do the same (they’ll get an email with a link to the quiz.) My hope is that if you can get them engaged with this, and get them to watch those videos, it might help them to understand how their shutting down and refusing to communicate is impacting you and the health of this relationship.

        Sometimes (and I do wish this were different) it takes hearing a professional talk about the impact of these kinds of behaviors on a relationship to help a withdrawer / avoider understand how toxic these behaviors actually are. (Which I know is totally annoying, because I’m sure it’s exactly what you’ve been saying for so long). But people who tend to withdraw and avoid often feel like they are being virtuous or even protecting the relationship by doing so, or like they’re taking the moral high ground by “not engaging.” They really don’t know how harmful this stance can be to a relationship.

        Anyway, see if you can get your person to take the quiz and watch the videos. I’m a big believer in education: Nobody gets “taught” how to do relationships. We just muddle through them. Sometimes all it takes is learning a few new ideas, and then people can begin to open up and experiment with new things.

        If watching the videos is not enough to activate change, perhaps getting the “inside scoop” around how relationships change and grow, and some advice from a marriage counselor will warm your partner to the idea of going to talk to someone. (And if you do that you’ll have a head start — send in your quiz results and you two can hit the ground running).

        Anyway, my two cents. I’ll be hopeful for you — let me know how it goes!

        All the best,
        Lisa Marie Bobby

        1. My husband and I both have had significant childhood trauma which I am certain contributes to our communication issues. I have sought professional help. He refuses. He tells me his over the top reactions are my fault and I “make” him do it.
          So as per his rules I modulate how I’ve approached him about things which upset me. Turns out that no matter the approach he gets angry, shuts down, walks away.
          I’ve recognized this results in fights never resolving. He prefers to walk away and then pretend everything’s okay in a few days. Inside I’m still hurt but I don’t want to start a fight so I let it go and the next time we argue it all comes out. I recognize that’s not the best way to deal with it.
          He’s the love of my life on his good days but almost a fussy stubborn child when things aren’t his way. However he says everything has to be my way.
          He wallows in misery about life’s circumstances such as large tax bills but procrastinates about paying so if I try to jump in he says I’m “bossing” him. We struggle financially and he pays child support for four kids and two are adults (24 and 21–one is married!) when I gently approached him about filing papers to drop the two adult children off child support since he’s always complaining about finances, he gets mad and says it’s not my business. I earn more than him and contribute all of my money to our account so i say it’s my business too.
          I’ve asked him what approach i can take to talk to him that will get better results and he says he doesn’t know but has taken the time to diagnose me via google with “morbid jealousy”. I love him but I’m worn out with his defeatist, victim, anger-prone attitude

          1. Oh and he’s been diagnosed with PTSD for years since his military service and now he’s a police officer. I’ve been trying to help him get connected with the VA and he has such anxiety about the VA that he lashes out at me and says I’m “bossing” him. We all walk on eggshells because the kids making loud noise, door slams, anything out of place in the house is cause for him to overreact. If I try to mention it he gets angry and defensive and says “I know I’m a crazy SOB!” I don’t think he’s crazy. I’m a police officer too and know what PTSD is. He prides himself on being passive and non judgmental of everyone but he’s extra hateful to me. I’m suffering extreme burnout at work but there’s no time to deal with that considering all his issues that need attention

    6. Persuer.

      Not sure how these ideas will help.

      Being vulnerable in front of my husband absolutely does NOT make him more willing to show softer feelings towards me. Or any feelings at all. It in fact does exactly the opposite.

      He puts his foot down and simply states the conversation is a waste of time and that the only problem is that I care about my feelings, when I shouldn’t because he doesn’t care about them, they aren’t real, aren’t his problem. He says I’m simply imagining things and spending time on it at all is ridiculous.

      Yet he says he loves me and has no signs that I can tell that he’s getting that emotional connection from someone else (no lost time where he disappears, no secretive phone calls, he spends all his time home) so I have to assume this is just how he views love and he has zero need for emotional connection.

      He says he feels closeness from me through sex.

      So now I’ve come to realize that some marriages just simply cannot have emotional fulfillment as a requirement. At least mine can’t. And since I want to stay married I’m going to have to accept that and get emotional connection somewhere else and redefine what love and marriage and sex means to me.

      Hard to figure out where to get emotional connection and caring though because I’m shy, isolated, and don’t have friends or any activities that involve others.

      We tried counseling and it was useless. We learned all these ways to communicate, but he refuses to use them. He refuses to do any of the activities at all. Which, honestly is fine by me. It felt pathetic to have to have a literal doctor give my husband ASSIGNMENTS in order to have him tell me loving or kind things. To have him then completely ignore those assignments was just a slightly worse topping on an Insult Sundae, so to speak.

      Wish there were more articles out there with advice for how to have a decent marriage when your husband has zero interest in emotional connection with you.

      I love him, he is a very good provider, I’m sure no catch, I’m lucky he puts up with me at all. He at least seems to be sexually attracted to me, so that’s nice. I have no interest in divorce. It is what it is, I guess.

      1. Hi Gen, I can hear you’ve thought a lot about this, and put in a lot of effort to work on it. It also sounds like this is a complicated dynamic with many years under the bridge contributing to it. You seem settled on staying married and making the best of it. Unfortunately, the question you pose on how to do this isn’t one I can sufficiently address in a comment thread. What I think would be more helpful is to meet with an individual therapist to explore this to the degree it deserves. My warmest regards, Lisa

  1. I have tried all your suggestions and none of them work. I start out sweet, vulnerable and with a plan. None of it makes any difference. I am now leaving the house and staying away until I am not animated. Let’s see, so far I average 8 hours Counselers assuage the avoider and villianize the commnicator.

    1. Thank you for reaching out. What a hard situation! I fully agree, it can be much easier for a counselor to point the finger at the partner who is more vocal. However, any good marriage and family therapist should recognize that in the “emotional algebra” of a relationship, the equation is always balanced. The person who is getting elevated is doing so in direct proportion to the extent their partner is shutting down, stonewalling, and avoiding. I am sorry that your counselor made you feel that this was your fault — it is not. I am glad that you are finding ways to de-escalate the situation by taking breaks. Two other things: First, your comment reminded me that I never made the podcast discussing the other side of this “How to Handle a Partner Who Gets Upset.” That is on the way, and I hope it helps you! The other is that given the “stickiness” and frustration of this relationship, it might be helpful for YOU to get some support and figure out what the best course of action is, and / or how to stay in a good place emotionally even if your partner is not willing to participate in a healthy relationship with you. This is a tough situation and I wish you the best of luck. LMB

  2. I don’t know what to do. My ex and I have been broken up for two months now. I want him back. I caused him lots of pain in the past and he has shut me out. We have a six month old son. I don’t know what to do anymore. Any suggestions??

    1. Kristina, what a difficult situation. It sounds like the place to start is to see if getting back together is even possible. If it isn’t, I would highly recommend that you begin the process of grieving and healing emotionally so that you can build a healthy new life for yourself and your son. I developed my online “Heal Your Broken Heart” to help people with exactly this sort of thing (in a format that is more convenient and affordable than private coaching). I hope you check it out. http://www.breakup-recovery.com. All the best… LMB

  3. My husband is ex-army and will not talk about how he feels. He hates being out the army and hates civilian life. He loves me and we’ve been married for 13 years.
    He had an accident at work last year which ended up with the Dr’s finding a blood clot in his heart. He got the sack a month after the accident, no one will touch the case and he’s now on benefits. He has never been out of work before or off work sick either.
    I’ve noticed that he’s now putting weight on, will not attend heart rehab classes or talk about how he feels until a bust a vein! I found out last night that a small part of him has died and he won’t talk to anyone about how he feels, I’ve tried in the past but he will just sit there and not say a word, but create an atmosphere of awkwardness.
    How do we move on from here?

    1. Frankie, thanks for reaching out. What a difficult situation! While it would be totally inappropriate for me to speculate about his emotional state (knowing nothing about him aside what you shared) I do know that many people, particularly men, who are going through major life transitions like the loss of a career, loss of health, etc. may often experience depression as they work through everything. You might check out a recent podcast I did on the subject of Depression to see what, if anything, may relate to your experience? I have also had numerous requests from people to do a podcast topic about how to help partners who are 1) not okay and 2) not open to getting help. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I can only imagine how much your patient love and compassion must mean to your husband while he’s going through this dark time. I hope that you are finding ways to take care of yourself emotionally too. Hugs to you both. Lisa

  4. Dr. My husband and I have been together 23yrs. He has become very distant and has shut down he blames me in so many ways. Not to long ago I found him speaking to another woman. He claims she is his friend because she understands him. He leaves me in the dark. I made him stop talking to her and now he is even worse than before. He has completely checked out of our marriage. Every time I try to talk to him he is not ready to talk about our marriage…
    I am lost and lonely..

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about this situation. I can understand how you’d be feeling lost, lonely, and (I’d imagine) hurt and scared too. Emotional affairs are so hard. Here’s a link to a recent article I did on the subject, if it helps. Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair. From what you are saying it sounds like your husband may not be open to doing marriage counseling with you. However, you might consider starting marriage counseling on your own. You might be able to work with the therapist to find ways of reconnecting with him, and — if you can re-establish connection — at some point he may be willing to join you. I hope that is the outcome for you. All the best…. LMB

  5. ive been dating my boyfriend for almost four years, i do realize i can get very emotional and that might be the cause for him to go into his shell, but even when im calm and collected i try to talk to him about emotions mine or his and what he wants and he still doesnt fully communicate he says he doesnt have much feelings but he knows he loves me and that he cares but that is difficult to comminicate hes the youngest of his 3 siblings and his mom left when he was 3 he says this doesnt effect him at all but idk what to do i have tried

    1. Hi Moni, thanks for getting in touch with your question. I speak to many people, particularly women, who feel persistently frustrated with their partner’s difficulty with “emotional communication.” You are not alone! I’m about to record episode 3 of my “communication” mini-podcast series soon and I will address your question fully there since the truth is complex, and I don’t think I can do it justice as a “response.” (And it is a great question that deserves a full answer!!) Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you may also find some useful information in the podcast I recorded with Dr. Helen Fisher: “Understand Your Relationship, Finally.” All the best, LMB

  6. As promised, here’s a podcast (Part Two of my “Communication Problems and How to Fix Them” series, that discusses the “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples fall in to, and things that the WITHDRAWING partner needs to understand — particularly about the impact of their emotional withdrawal on their partner. (i.e., You). If you can get your withdrawing partner to listen, it may help them understand your pain and why it’s so important for them to stay in the ring with you. Hope it helps! LMB

  7. My husband half listens to what I’m saying until he finds something in my retelling of an event through my day that may benefit his eldest child. Then he stops listening to me and pursues trying to get something for that child. Hence he doesn’t finish listening to my story. I get upset naturally, his only concern is what his son can get out of it! I walk away. He pursues asking me how my day went and I turn cold, I don’t want to talk about it anymore b/c the way I see it he got what he wanted. Then he turns the table on me and makes it my fault and he withdraws, I then pursue b/c I’m angry. He shuts down, then I shut down. For days we can’t talk, I feel completely detached from him, although I go through with all my duties as his wife and still maintain being the bread winner of the marriage. He can’t manage his money and is constantly asking me for more, I work 2 jobs, he has one; I pay the household bills he only pays his bills. Yet I end up with more at the end of the week/month whatever. He blames the bank for this or that, and only calls me when he needs money or something else. I love him but feel this marriage is for his convenience only.

    1. Bettina, thanks for reaching out. It sounds like you have many complicated factors creating stress in your relationship. I’m hearing that you’re in a catch-22: Communication is extremely difficult because of hurt feelings due to unresolved problems, but also that it feels impossible to resolve the problems because communication has broken down.

      Two ideas: you might consider listening to the recent podcast I did, “What Can Make or Break Your Marriage” that discussed the necessary skills and agreements couples need to create in order to have happy marriages. But also — and I say this as a friend — in these types of highly emotional situations where communication keeps breaking down it can be very hard to dig out without the support of a good marriage counselor. Here’s the link to schedule a free consultation with someone on our team. Good luck to you… LMB

  8. I’m struggling trying to keep my relationship going… we have been together for almost 15 years with a 9 month break. We got back together this last march.. I have been angry with her drinking and hanging out with her single friends every weekend since we got back together sometimes staying out until the sun comes up.. I admit I said some mean things out of anger because of this.. I don’t approve and she knows it but continues to do it.. it took me awhile to realize my approach was wrong with the anger. So I backed off told her I was worried about the drinking.. she said she was also.. she won’t tell me what’s going through her head, says I won’t understand.. when I try and explain my anger she gets mad and says I’m making it all about me. I’m totally lost and have no idea what to say or do…

  9. Here is my story – I just lost the most beautiful kind hearted woman because of 2 things financially and lack of communication. We have kids from seperate marriages. She worked on making a family I didn’t. She paid for near everything and I would shut down with no communication sometimes for a solid week if I was upset with something. Finally she gave up. I had to leave our relationship. I have been away for 6 weeks really uncovered a lot about why I do things. I’ve bettered and worked hard on improving and I’m happy to say with constant work I’m at a point now where if things are getting not good I can identify and communicate. Problem is to little to late. We still talk a communicate on almost a daily basis. I love her I think she loves me. We split up on a good note. She is very distant and wants to find herself. Do you think it’s possible and how do I get her back if at all!

    1. Hi Brian, thank you so much for reaching out. I think I’m hearing in your story a very common (very sad) situation — that after losing your relationship you regret making the mistakes that contributed to it’s ending, and are now very motivated to make changes that you weren’t able to before. I’m so glad that you have taken this opportunity to start doing important personal growth work. Whether or not you are able to repair your relationship, the work you are doing now will allow you to have more positive and successful relationships in the future so it’s very worthwhile either way. I hope you stick with it, for yourself!

      As for the possibility of reunification… I’ve seen it go both ways. Sometimes, when a person is done, they are just done. They have stopped believing that change is possible. Even if they still care about you as a person, the part of them that was attached to you is simply broken and cannot be repaired. And, it is also true that it may not be too late IF you are able to SHOW (not tell — show) your Ex that you have grown, and that she can trust you to be a better partner to her than you were in the past. That may take a long time, so be patient! (You might check out this podcast about how to repair trust in a relationship, to get some insight on what will be involved with this work).

      Because what you’re dealing with is such a common (heartbreaking!) situation that many people find themselves in, I’ve actually devoted the entire first class of my “Heal Your Broken Heart” breakup recovery program to helping people determine whether reunion can be possible, and if so, how to achieve it. I am not telling you this to be self-promotional, but rather offer you a resource that might help you find direction in a difficult situation. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://www.breakup-recovery.com

      All the best to you on your journey of growth Brian…. LMB

  10. Hi William! I’m taking your comment to mean that you felt that this article speaks to your experience, and that it may help other people understand how you feel. I’m so glad for that. I hope that you share it with your partner or loved ones, to help give them insight into your emotional experience that may be difficult to communicate. I wish you all the best! LMB

  11. PLEASE I NEED HELP!! I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years. He Is that kind of person that shuts down. At first i was very agressive about that but with time i learned to relax and adress issues but just talking. The problem was that when tried tu discuss with him things about our relationship in a calm and relaxed way he often just said ok , or i dont know what to say. I felt desperate because it was like talking to a wall. So I started to get loud and angry and he would also get angry to the point he would tell me what he really felt. I was so sad that he would only talk about issues after he was angry and exploded. I often told him that why would he only talk after a fight and not while we were calmed. 3 Days ago he broke up with me because he was tired of the fights , but a lot of them were because i got desperate trying to talk to him , I am really blaming myself and i dont know what to do please help.

    1. Hi Dana, sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds like you’ve been doing a great job of reflecting on your own interpersonal process and are looking to make some changes to how you communicate. I also hear how upset you are that the relationship has disintegrated to this point. I don’t know if he is open to working on this with you or not, but if so a great place to start might be for you both to listen to my “communication” podcast series together.

      Communication 101
      When Your Partner Withdraws
      Dealing With an “Angry” Partner (HE should especially listen to this one).

      It will help you understand each other. THEN, it will be important for you two to connect with a good couples counselor who can help you break these old communication patterns in your relationship and start interacting differently. My hope for you is that if he starts understands the situation differently, and has hope that your interactions with each other can be different going forward, he might be willing to give things another try. (Here is a link to check out the bios of the different couples therapists on our team. They are all amazing, and have lots of experience in helping people resolve communication issues in their relationships.) I hope that it all works out the way you want it to. All the best, LMB

  12. Hey
    I am a college student living with two housemates. I have been living with roommate A for about 3 years. Roommate B joined us in the second year, and we have all been living together for one year.

    Roommate B and I have noticed that when roommate A is gone (taking a trip, more then 3 days) roommate B and I start to get antsy and are more likely to get overly emotionally invested in any situation involving communication with the other.
    That aside, communicating with roommate B has been what feels like a constant struggle. They say things that are hurtful in the heat of the moment and later realize this and never say the words “im sorry”, but still are able to get the sentiment across. They constantly refer to the things they said in a joking manner, laughing. Sometimes the things that are said hurt me and sometimes i tell roommate B.

    The thing that bothers me most: when i am open and honest with my feelings and how their actions and words do or do not play into my feelings, roommate B shuts down. Honesty and directness seems to make them shy away.

    However, i am not always good at being subtle, and even if my point has gotten across, roommate B gives no sign as to if they have heard my message.

    To add to everything, roommate B is the messiest person i have ever met. They constantly mess up the couch in the shared space, cover multiple tabletop surfaces in trinkets, items, leftovers and garbage. Asking them directly to clean up has never worked. Saying honestly that living like this makes me anxious and unhappy doesn’t work: they always say that this is how they grew up and they are used to it. (Seeing their mother’s house, i am inclined to believe them) Their room is the worst. They even shut their door even when they are only inside for a moment, i think to hide it for some reason?

    I feel like im complaining too much, but there is more. Two more things.

    One, they talk about our friends when our friends are not present with us. I have also overheard them talking about me. The person being talked about is usually put in a bad light. I usually try to say nice things, while still being honest. In particular, roommate B seems to focus bad talk on one of my romantic partners (partner A) and his fiance, my metamour. As roommate B has gotten to know these people better, this talk has decreased. Maybe new things are scary and therefore put in the ‘bad’ category?

    Two: roommate B will often blame a mental illness or a disability for their actions. Sometimes, i think it makes sense. Sometimes they think about it and later go back on their words. For example, they are horrendously bad at doing chores. Dishes. Roommate B does in fact have pretty bad excema. Touching water activates it. However, they could wear rubber gloves, right? We have bought a dish soap that is supposed to be kinder on their skin. We have a dishwasher. I would think with all of these factors combined, roommate B could successfully avoid the pain of excema? However, they constantly miss their turn for dishes, leaving a huge pile for the next person. I have tried asking them to clean a specific dish within the week. The dish was left for a month, when i decided to clean it. We have made multiple dish washing schedules, hoping that might help.

    The only instances i have seen them be clean are: 1. Company arrives 2. Roommate B says they are not depressed that day. They then clean the whole house and make breakfast for me whether i want if or not, never asking.

    1. Oh, also, they are severely depressed. They usually cope by making depressive statements or ‘jokes’ and laughing. We have had conversations about this. They know why they do it. I would not have a problem with it if it did not directly activate my own depression. I have not asked them to stop directly, as directness and honesty do not seem to work in past situations. Also i am afraid of revealing just how vulnerable this behavior makes me feel to roommate B. I dont want them to take advangage of it.

      1. Alissa, sounds like a tough situation. What’s coming up for me as I read your story, is that it takes a long time to get to know people. And what you’re describing sounds like as you get to know these people more intimately, the relationships do not feel safe, or even sustainable to you. It’s hard (if not impossible) to “vett” for these types of things before you move in with roommates. Experience is the only way to learn. But I hope that you listen to what your emotional guidance system seems to be telling you: That this might not be the best environment for you, long term. You are worthy of having respectful relationships, and a healthy living environment! Find them! LMB

  13. hi what do i do if i have tried everything here and he laughs when I suggest therapy? he thinks psychology is a joke and doesn’t understand that it is real and works.

    just argued with my other half as he is being increasingly negative lately and i tried to explain that it was making me feel inadequate and he managed to antagonise me to the point that i was shouting at him i am pretty sure that’s what he wanted so he could say i was overreacting so now i feel like an idiot for rising to it and for letting him get me there. my feelings have very much been ignored and his are as always locked tightly away I just wanted him to tell me what was wrong and that i was not the focus of his bad mood. i even told him that but he changed the subject to what he was last moaning about. i feel like we will keep arguing about his feelings until we break up or destroy each other emotionally.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for reaching out and sharing your story. It sounds like you two are locked in a really negative communication cycle. I can understand why you’re starting to feel hopeless about the situation. I am glad that you’re listening to the “communication” series of podcasts, in order to help yourself understand what is going on. Any chance that he might be willing to listen too? Sometimes people who are resistant to going to couples counseling will at least listen to a podcast. That might be one way to get back on the same page together. But if he’s really not interested in working on things, another article that might help you is this one, “Are you in a codependent relationship?” (While not an exact match to what you’re describing, it does outline a path forward for YOU.) If your partner will not work on himself, it may still be worth getting involved in your own personal growth work. There may be some things that you can change on your side of the “communication equasion” that could help. (Or not, but it’s worth exploring). At the very least you’ll have a supportive relationship that can help you figure out what is best for you, and your life, under these difficult circumstances. All the best, Lisa

  14. i feel caged not to be myself..i tey to communicate and talk thru issues..if i am silent about them he is happy.. if i have courage to talk he gets angry and shuts down.. not for an hour but days then weeks. we dont live together and the fear i have makes me refuse to agree to cohabiting. i am 45..he is 39. i feel he is i mature and i want to shake him to wake up. its now crunch time. the fear..the build up of my own worth has been affected and now having tried the softly softly approach and the distance tactic ..i really dont know what else to do but run from this relationship. 5 years of being patient has taken its toll on me as a person.. and i am not who i use to be.. feeling exhausted, timid and unhappy. what else can i do ?

    1. Annie, ugh. This sounds so hard. It sounds like you’ve done everything to try to get him to talk to you, and have a more connected relationship with you… and that you keep getting disappointed. One thing that I find myself talking with clients about often is the idea that at some point… maybe this IS the experience of being in a relationship with this person. If so, what would that mean for you? Hard question, but I can’t imagine that thinking about it is any harder than what you’ve been doing for the last five years. Here’s a recent article that might resonate with you: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship? It talks about what can happen when someone starts prioritizing their own needs and feelings, and deciding what is best for them. I hope that it inspires you to do the same. Keep in touch with us here on this forum, and let us know how it goes for you. All the best, LMB

  15. Hi Dr. Lisa,

    I’m curious if you have advice for the person who is the withdrawn partner. I’m in a same-sex gay relationship just a little over a year. It’s going really well but I tend to shutdown whenever my guy says even the slightest thing critical. I don’t want to be that way and I don’t want him to feel like he can’t come to me if he has an issue. Or I don’t want him to think I can’t handle it. But I find myself withdrawing, not talking, feeling introspective and sensitive, feeling mopey, and finally resentful. Everything he said was extremely fair but I think it is my own issues with criticism where I can’t have a conversation about how I feel. I think I take it too much to heart even small little things.

    1. Hello TK! This is such a fantastic question, and I’m really glad that you brought it up. This is something that many people struggle with, and I will absolutely be addressing this at more length in an upcoming podcast. (Thank you for the suggestion). I’ll be sure to ping you when I do that.

      First of all, I would like to applaud you for your self-awareness. It is so, so easy to blame other people for “making you feel” a certain way. But what you are describing is an enormous level of self-awareness around your own process. You can observe yourself feeling hurt, sensitive, and withdrawing, and at the same time recognize that your reaction may be out of proportion to what your partner actually said. You are not blaming him or lashing out at him, but rather noticing your own reactions and wanting to work on them. This is a significant strength of yours. (And one that can be easy to overlook, which is why I wanted to call attention to it). [For more on the subject of how to use self-awareness and self-acceptance to create positive change in your life, you might check out this article: The Path To Personal Growth]

      With regards to the reaction itself: In my experience there are typically three types of life experiences that can contribue to the “sensitivity” (to use your word) that you described.

      One is if you grew up in a family that was harsh, critical, and emotionally unsafe. In this case you may have had feedback that you weren’t good enough, or nothing you ever did was quite right, or there was “joking” that had a sadistic undercurrent, that was not balanced out by warmth, affection, and unconditional love. Or, you may have been outright verbally, emotionally or physically abused. If you spent your childhood feeling like a cat in a hailstorm, with few emotionally safe harbors, it is very difficult to feel safe in your relationships as an adult. The default, automatic assumption then (understandably!) becomes that others have bad intentions. The hard part here is that you can react emotionally to this “threat” even if, rationally, you know it’s not true.

      Another reason that people may feel the type of sensitivity that you described is if they grew up in a family that was very low conflict, even to the point of being emotionally distant. In this type of family, people don’t openly address important issues in a healthy way. Conflict is generally avoided (even though you can still “feel” someone’s displeasure loud and clear). This leads children to play the fun game of “guess how I feel?” with their parents, and can create a lot of anxiety. Then, later in life, when you have relationships with people who are able to talk about things honestly and directly, it can feel extremely threatening — even catastrophic.

      Lastly, if you grew up in a family situation in which you were lavished with praise and you could do no wrong, it can create an internal dynamic where you become emotionally dependent on positive feedback from others to feel okay about yourself. (Because you did not have the chance to develop healthy self-esteem). If you’re overly reliant on the good opinions of others in order to maintain your sense of your self, it can feel very threatening to have feedback from others that maybe you are not perfect. (Which is bound to happen in any normal, healthy relationship, at some point).

      There are other reasons why people feel the way you do, but the three I described here are the “usual suspects.”

      At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter “why” you feel the way you do (although understanding yourself is the first step in growth and change). What matters is that you use your super-power of self awareness to find ways of soothing yourself through the anxiety that comes up in conflictual situations with your partner, so that you can stay in the ring with him emotionally and work through whatever needs to be worked through with honesty, respect, and compassion for both of you.

      I hope that these ideas give you some clues into the reactions you described. To continue moving forward, I would recommend that you seek the support of a really good counselor or coach who can partner with you on the journey of growth that you’ve already begun. I hope you stay in touch with me and let me know how it goes! All the best, LMB

  16. Anyone able to help. I started a relationship with a woman. We spent 7 months getting to know each other then about a month where we were intimate. All her past relationship ended as soon as any issues came up. I knew this going in.
    I went to her home and that day I had a migraine so I was quite. Did not communicate with anyone just stayed to myself and tried to deal with it. I didn’t tell her this because of several issues she was dealing with at the time. A minor car accident and some other things. I didn’t want to add to her already stressful day. I did after about 3 hours like this finally tell her my issues. The next day she tells me the relationship is over. She says whenever she sees a red flag come up that that’s it. She shuts down and feels nothing and there is no way to undo it. No way to fix it the feeling are dead and that’s the end. I’ve tried talking but it has just made it worse. I care about this woman and want to fix this if I can. I know that’s not possible if she’s not willing but if anyone has any advise on how I might get her to talk this out I could sure use it.

    1. Timothy… wow. I’m so, so sorry to hear that this happened. I can only imagine how traumatizing it must have been for you to not be okay for like, ONE DAY, and then be totally rejected by someone that you care very much about. I don’t know if she said this out loud, but in case she didn’t I will say it for her: It’s not you, it’s her. I have no idea what is going on with her, but her reaction implies that it is very, very hard for her to feel emotionally safe with people.

      But she’s not here asking me for help, you are. I want you to know that if anyone you’re involved with is demanding you to be inhumanly perfect in order to be in a relationship with you, that is not okay. You are a human being, with needs, rights and feelings, not a robot. If she cannot tolerate your humanity, she may not be in a space where she is able to have a relationship with anyone right now. It’s so hard when you connect with someone who is legitimately not emotionally available, but I fear that may be true in your case. I am not sure that there is anything you can do to “talk her out of it.” I think that the only thing that will help her break this pattern would be to get involved with some high-quality counseling or coaching in order to heal whatever pain and fear is preventing her from staying connected with an actual human being. And, unfortunately, that is nothing you have control over.

      My best advice to you would be to consider the possibility that you were just “released” from a relationship that would have — in the long run — not been fair, respectful, or satisfying to you. To endure this relationship you would have had to hide your feelings, pretend like you didn’t have any problems, and didn’t need any emotional support or consideration from her. That is not okay. You deserve to be with someone who appreciates you for who you are, and who can not just tolerate your “imperfections” but have empathy and respect for them, and love you through good times and bad. You have been set free to find that relationship, and I sincerely hope you do. All the best to you Timothy. Lisa

  17. I’m very glad that I found this forum! My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 2 years. I’m 34 and he’s 44. He’s a wonderful person and we love each other but he has been trying to establish his own business that is taking an awful lot of time. Because of this, we are now living in different countries, he cant afford to come visit me, I visit him every 2 months but he feels bad that he’s making me pay for my flights so he tells me to be patient and wait for him until he figures out his life. This frustrates me so much and when I want to share my feelings with him, he gets very defensive, he thinks that I’m attacking him, then he completely shuts down. I am the type that prefers to clear issues as they arise and look for solutions, close the case, and move on. He’s the avoidance type and my life right now is hell and I dont know what to do or how to communicate with him.

    1. Hey Lensa, sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds like your BF is going through a lot right now, and as a result, you are too! It’s hard to be in limbo like this, isn’t it. I can understand how it would be even harder for you under these circumstances because it feels like you can’t even talk about it with him.

      You know, in my experience many men, especially very nice, responsible, and caring men, really struggle emotionally when they feel like they are letting others down. It sounds like he feels badly that he can’t pay for your tickets, or be more available, or make a long term plan right now. Many times, when guys feel like they’re not measuring up about themselves they can experience even the mildest talk about the situation as an attack: Not because YOU are attacking, but because they feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, or even shame that they have for themselves. They want to be able to “fix it” and make you happy, but when they can’t it’s upsetting and makes them feel worse. I can’t help but wonder if this might be the case for your boyfriend too?

      If this may be the case, one option you might consider to help you improve the communication (even if you can’t improve the circumstances right now) would be to use the power of empathy to create more emotional safety for him. Check out this article on empathy, and let me know what you think: Empathy- The Key to Connection and Communication All the best Lensa. LMB

  18. I am the guy who completely shuts down when my gf tries to talk to me. I did a lot when I felt like I was being attacked or I knew my opinion/feeling wasn’t going to get understood. I got to the point I would get quiet or I would just agree with her. Of course she knew exactly what was going on, she’d confront me about shutting down and I was short with how I felt.
    We broke up for a small bit, the breakup was completely my fault. I was lucky enough for her to take me back, she’s still upset and angry. I completely understand and its justified. It has just gotten to the point that at least once a week she has a random ptsd and will completely get cold on me then bring up everything again as if it just happened again. She will get hostile and come at me with the same questions every week. Its turned into me giving her the same answers and the same apology. I’ve now started to shut down whenever she brings the past up again. She called me out on it again and I don’t have an answer to it, well I do but I know telling her how I feel when she brings it up will make it seem like I’m putting all the blame on her. I know I messed up, there is only so much apologizing and reassuring her I can do. Its giving me gray hairs going from acting like we are on a honeymoon one day then quivering in the corner.

    1. Hey Cello, thanks for getting in touch. First of all, I would like to commend you on your self-awareness, and your taking ownership here. It sounds like you are well aware of they dynamics at work in your relationship and your part in them, and that you would very much like to change them. That attitude is the first step of any successful personal growth work!

      Second thing: I don’t know if this is true but something about what you’ve shared makes me wonder if there was a betrayal or breach of trust in your past with her, which is part of the reason for the dynamic you described? If that is so, please check out this podcast, “Repairing Your Relationship After Infidelity.” It will give you some insight into why she is acting the way she is, and what the path forward can look like.

      If my hunch is not right, and it’s just hard for you to work through conflict together productively, it may be helpful for you guys to get involved in some couples counseling together. My hope for you is that she may be able to learn some strategies to communicate her feelings in a more constructive and less agressive way that will enable you to respond to them. I’d also hope that good couples counseling can help you feel less threatened by conflict, and able to “stay in the ring” with your partner, so that you can both arrive at actual solutions as opposed to just apologizing.

      When a couple can find and then practice positive new behaviors that lead to both people feeling cared for, understood, and respected…. there is just no longer anything to apologize for. That’s the kind of evidence based couples counseling we practice at Growing Self, anyway. I hope that reality is in your near future Cello! If you want to get involved with one of Growing Self’s expert couples counselors (either in person, or through online couples therapy) just schedule your free consulation with us to get started. All the best to you both, Lisa

  19. You did give me a laugh this morning. I compliment, I praise and I say thank you. In return, I now have a husband who ignores me except when he wants to talk. If he asks me a question, he will answer it before I have the chance. He decides what I mean, what I am about to say and then attacks me verbally. He claims to have a poor memory but can repeat what I said perfectly. He tells me I am perfect (which I am not) and then insists on teaching me lessons to prove I am not perfect.

    Bottom line…he has changed. Don’t tell me I should have done this or that or the other thing. I have been with him through work issues, including moving multiple times, health issues, including a heart attack, and the only outcome is EVERYTHING IS ALL ABOUT HIM. He is cold and indifferent and can find fault with anyone.

    My email and name are not your business. However, you need to wake up and understand one thing….a spouse can move a mountain to help a spouse. When a spouse attacks the very foundation of a relationship no amount of showing vulnerability or being diplomatic will help. He stopped caring about anything but his world being perfect years ago.

    1. Hey there, thank you very much for sharing how you feel. I appreciate honest dialogue. I thought that you brought up such an excellent point, around feeling that everything you do is futile. I think I’m hearing that this article felt offensive to you, as it implied that you may have some control over the reaction you get from your partner. I completely agree, there does come a point when a relationship is too far gone, OR you’re with someone who is actually irredeemable. That does happen. While many times, people who come here for relationship advice are in situations where there is hope to create a differnt outcome, that is not always true. I appreciated your perspective so much that I addressed it on an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast: “Should We Break Up or Stay Together.” I hope you check it out, and that it provides you with the validation you deserve. All the best to you, Lisa

  20. Hey, this article really helped me. I did my best to give her some space as the person who usually pursues. But this time, after shutting down, she is now saying I don’t want to talk to her at all?

    1. Dominick, I think I’m hearing that since you stopped pursuing her, you got her attention and now she’s much more interested in talking to YOU. Well done sir! Certainly, you don’t want to take it so far that you freeze someone out, but I’m glad you’re experiencing the difference of having her want to talk to you, instead of chasing her around to communicate. That must feel refreshing for you, and I sincerely hope that it’s the sign of more good things to come in your relationship. All the best, LMB

  21. I completely shut down when I am feeling attacked or belittled by my wife. We can be having a tough and honest conversation about the challenges in our marriage but when she makes generalizations about my behavior or accuses me of things that are not true then I am done with talking. If I feel like she is unreasonable I can go from wanting to work things out and talk about them to completely shutting down. It seems like a waste of time to keep talking. I can feel my body go numb as every emotion disappears from me. I am not sad or angry – just empty. Also, when I shut down I have no empathy for my wife (who I love very much). She can be crying her eyes out in front of me and it is impossible for me to feel anything toward her. I feel like I am a detached spectator watching two strangers. I feel like it would be better to divorce my wife and go live by myself because I have this colossal flaw. I know it is related to early childhood trauma, but I cant control it. Sometimes when my wife comes at me the wrong way it seems inevitable. I think I am a good husband but I am worried by my tendency to shut down.

    1. Lia, Thank you so much for sharing. I have to say, your insight into yourself is really a strength of yours. You have SO much self awareness, and that is always the first step of creating real and lasting change. The fact that you understand that your shutting down is related to early childhood trauma is also extraordinary. I hope that you can find a way of communicating this to your wife so that she has empathy for what you are going through in these moments, so that she can be more sensitive and understanding of you.

      Helping her understand what’s going on with you can also buy you some time to get involved in really good, evidence-based treatment for healing your trauma. And by that, I mean working with a psychologist or licensed mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of trauma using evidence-based therapies such as EMDR, Trauma-Informed CBT, and / or Prolonged Exposure Therapy. If you go to a therapist (or God-forbid, some sort of life coach) without this specialized training I WILL REACH THROUGH THIS SCREEN AND POKE YOU IN THE NOSE because it will not help you. I’m taking a hard stance here because I hear that there’s more than a bit of hoplessness already, and it would be a terrible tragedy for you to reach out for help to someone who doesn’t know enough to help you and then come away feeling more flawed and unfixable. What you are dealing with is absolutely a solvable problem in the hands of an experienced trauma therapist.

      My hope for you is that if you get effective help to resolve your old trauma you will be able to stay in the ring with your wife, without your old triggers leading you to shut down. Even better, if she is able to understand what is going on and be a supportive partner to you in your healing process, you can both come through this as a stronger, more deeply connected couple. I’ve seen this happen Lia, and I have every confidence that it can happen for you, too. Be a good husband by working on yourself! Even the fact that she sees you working on this could be a huge, positive thing for your marriage.

      All the best to you on your journey of growth — let me know how it goes!

      Lisa

  22. My problem isn’t with a “partner” in the romantic sense, but my best friend. We can talk about all kinds of things, but when it comes to us and our friendship, it’s another story. She is the avoider and I’m the pursuer. When I’m unhappy with her or how our friendship has been and try to talk to her about it, she shuts down. A couple years ago this led me to end our friendship because I felt I couldn’t be friends with her at that point anymore. We both have mental illnesses and we both have toxic families and chaotic childhoods that have led us to be the conflicted people we are, but I feel that’s no excuse for suddenly being a terrible friend. She checks out, becomes very distant when she’s overwhelmed with things and when I’ve tried to talk to her about it, each time she says she sucks at communicating, that she’s depressed, that she’s sick, and this and that are going on. She doesn’t listen and doesn’t seem to understand my point: that I’d just like to be clued in and listened to as well. It bothers me when she sort of pops in, says a few things, then I don’t hear from her for hours or a day, and she barely acknowledges what I’ve texted her. This especially hurts when I’m in distress and need someone to talk to and not only is she not there for me, but she replies with a few words or doesn’t seem to be paying attention.
    We just had a fight about this and now she’s told me that she’s “done” with “this” [our friendship]. That it’s not worth it and I’ve “taken too many of [her] tears.” (Which, once again, sounds like “me-me-me-me” to me and very internal, not even addressing me. It sounded like she’s speaking aloud, almost). We didn’t even get to talk through anything. She simply told me she’s done speaking and pretty much that’s that. She always does that; instead of letting us talk things out, she says she “can’t handle it” and runs away. The problem with that is that she NEVER can “handle it”–so am I supposed to just hold in my unhappiness or hurt all the time because she can’t handle hearing it so we can continue being friends, or what?
    The whole “argument” this time was simply because she was falling into her old pattern of distance and part-time friend. I got the message that she had stuff going on and quit writing so much. She noticed and asked about my quietness. I replied rather off-handedly that I didn’t see the point in saying much and she read way more into it than I intended and said that she’s upset that I felt “this” way about our friendship and continued on in somewhat of a rant. It just escalated from there. I know it sounds bad, but I didn’t really see the point in babbling about random stuff if she’s busy and not going to reply or pay attention. I mean, I’m going through a lot of physical problems that are leading to getting behind in my studies and causing anxiety, and it’d be nice if my best friend was around to talk to. I have stuff going on, too, but I still make time to talk to her; it’d be nice to have the same courtesy. I feel like that’s what friends do. I tried telling her it’s not that she sucks at communicating, as she puts it, so much as opening up. But what I don’t understand is that it hasn’t been a problem until this week, so I don’t understand why she keeps saying she suddenly can’t talk about to me anymore about what’s going on in her life. I repeatedly told her I don’t understand this, but it’s like she skips over that and goes on the defensive. We can’t have a rational discussion; it turns into a huge deal when it doesn’t need to be. She takes it as an attack when I’m not intending it to be. I know she’s been having emotional problems and her medicine isn’t working, but I hate when she makes that sound like an excuse. It’s not like this is the only time, either.
    It’s not that I expect her 100% time, attention, and devotion. But just to be there. I’ve tried telling her I don’t care so much about the time between my text and hers so much as what she says, but she doesn’t seem to see that. She doesn’t acknowledge my feelings; instead she gets defensive and I feel like I’m in a boxing ring because she lashes out and then withdraws. This hurts me even more because my intention isn’t to hurt her, but hers clearly is because she feels threatened, so she deliberately attacks me and then shuts down, which isn’t fair because I’m left reeling and wanting to address her attacks and what she’s said. But at that point, she’s “done.” I’m not saying I’m perfect and blameless and handle everything flawlessly, but I’ve tried several ways to approach this and nothing works. I’ve tried to argue “properly” by using “I” statements but I’ve never had success with that with anyone. It’s also really hard to maintain in the face of accusations and character attacks. I have a hard time believing she really wants to end our friendship just like that, especially when she’s obviously angry and hurt, but it still freaking hurt that she went there. And she turns into a very mean person, which, admittedly, instigates my anger. Just because she doesn’t like or agree with how I feel doesn’t mean she can start treating me like dirt. And just because I feel a certain way doesn’t make me correct or right, or that I’m trying to make her feel bad or something. It’s just my perspective; but she doesn’t seem to want to see my perspective. It’s very frustrating. I feel like she gets so wrapped up in her own perspective that she gets very close-minded about others’; namely, mine. Like how it feels on my end and what it looks like to me. It’d be nice if she acknowledged how I feel, like “I’m sorry I made you feel that way” or something. Instead, she told me that feeling that her reasons for being distant were a cop-out was “bullsh**.” Which is completely disrespecting and disregarding how I feel. Was it a nice thing to say? No, I admit that. But is it how I feel? Yes. I simply meant to express that since I can’t understand her reasoning and logic, that’s how it comes across to me. (especially when her reasons for things are because she does everything for everyone else and doesn’t take any time for herself. I think she gets annoyed at me for thinking this. Sometimes I want to shake her and say, “Your boyfriend is nearly 30 years old. He does not need a babysitter! You are not his chauffeur! You do not need to do everything for him! Your mother is a raging alcoholic! You KNOW this! Babying her and literally tucking her into bed when she’s too drunk to get there herself and taking care of all her responsibilities and enabling her is not doing either of you good! Why would she need to pull herself together when she has you to do everything for her??” But I know that wouldn’t do any good.)
    Then I start second-guessing myself. Am I asking too much? Am I being the difficult one? Am I being selfish or unreasonable? Should I be more understanding? But then…I start thinking and I feel like I have legitimate intentions and concerns. I feel that best friends should be able to speak up to each other when one has upset the other. I feel that best friends should be able to speak about any problems in their friendship without it becoming a huge blowout that hurts both. I feel that best friends should be able to resolve their problems and should want to resolve them.
    All I really was asking for was for her to let me know what’s going on. If she can’t reply or get back to me, that’s fine. She seemed to read more into the less important parts of what I expressed to her and less into my main point. I don’t know if that’s deliberate or not. I’m not asking for her to get back to me right away; I’m not asking for her to divulge all her secrets; I’m not asking for her to tell me everything that occurred that today or every emotion she felt; I’m simply asking for her to let me know that hey, she’s going to be driving all day and won’t be able to reply. Okay, so I’ll keep that in mind and not try to start up conversations she won’t be able to respond to. Or, you know, she’s at lunch with her family and will talk to me later. And then it’d be really nice if she actually talked to me and not just write a few words or ask a question that I’d already addressed, because then I feel like she’s not really paying attention, and if I wanted that, I’d go talk to my mother. She seems to expect me to understand that she’s been busy and going through stuff and doesn’t feel very talkative, but how am I supposed to know this if she doesn’t talk to me? Or give me details? Sometimes she makes things sound like a small problem and not the huge one it actually is, so yeah, I probably do sound inconsiderate to her when I complain about things, thinking something’s no big deal, if that makes sense.
    What sucks even more is that I want to prevent something becoming a bigger problem down the line, so I try to address it with her. That’s when it becomes a big problem immediately. So I feel like I can never address anything ever.
    She just visited me for a week and a half for Thanksgiving (she lives in another state across the country). One of the reasons why I got concerned about this past week of distance (which probably doesn’t seem long to others) is because this is what happened last time we spent a consecutive period of time together. She started becoming distant, and I didn’t think much of it, knowing what she was going through. But then it got worse and she kept canceling our plans, which damaged my trust in her word. Then she became moody and so depressed she was constantly putting herself down and acting like everything and everyone is against her (and not in our usual joking way). She had excuses for not seeing a counselor/therapist (granted, it was mostly about money, but she found one that gave her discounts and she still had reasons why she couldn’t go). There were a lot of things that eventually added up for me. I tried to hang on, but I started losing trust and faith in her. And what’s a friendship without trust? I couldn’t talk to her about it because she’d blow up on me. Being mentally ill and having so many of the same issues she goes through, I can understand, commiserate, sympathize. But it got to a point that I couldn’t anymore. All that just turned into irritation whenever she acted yet again as if she was a victim of something. I can’t fix or help someone who doesn’t want to be fixed or helped. If someone wants to be or acts like a victim, they’ll continue to be victimized. Especially if she allows people to take advantage of her. And I can’t keep pretending to care or like I’m not secretly ticked off and hurting inside just so I don’t upset her. That led to me trying to talk to her for the final time and when she only lashed and and it escalated, I had to say I was done. And in the 8 months we didn’t speak, I looked back and saw a lot more, all the signs I ignored in the year I struggled in our friendship, all the behaviors and patterns I’d missed or didn’t think much of in the course of our 9 years of friendship…and I realized, “wow, this is a habit of hers. She yells at me and then runs away whenever I tell her she’s upset me for whatever reason or whenever she feels offended by me.” (Like when I had expressed my opinion on her dogs not being spayed or neutered and were reproducing; this is a topic I feel strongly about, because it’s irresponsible of owners, and millions of animals are killed every year because there’s too many homeless animals, and it’s just not right. When I looked back at those instant messages, I realized she misunderstood my comment as criticism of her and her family, and not the general statement I had meant it as.) It only developed into a problem when she was overwhelmed by things and fell into deep depression. And I wondered if I was being a horrible friend, if I betrayed her, if I should have stuck it out longer; after all, she didn’t abandon me when I’d gone through a year of depression. But then I thought, no, I still tried to be a friend. I may not have always been a pleasant person, but I still always tried. It takes two to make a friendship, and she definitely wasn’t holding up her end. I have some boundaries and principals that I can let stretch pretty far, but I have a breaking point where things just aren’t acceptable anymore.
    In the end, I think our “break” was a good experience for both of us. Extremely difficult and depressing, but a learning and growing experience nonetheless. I had emailed her to tell her about my dog’s illness since they were close and she’d replied briefly, then I contacted her last October when my family and I were evacuated from our house due to a wildfire; we talked a bit before drifting off, then last December she told me her stepdad died of cancer. We talked about non-consequential things a bit. I made one last final attempt to repair our friendship by sending her a song I felt said exactly how I felt, and she responded via a long email a week later. We eventually got back to where we were up until last Sunday. Now I don’t know what’s going on and how I should try to fix it, if I should fix it, or if this will be a repeated problem in the future. It seems like there’s issues of her own she needs to get help for in order for our friendship to not hit this point again and again.
    I’ve rambled a lot. But at least I’m not crying anymore.
    It’s really annoying that there’s not more support for friendships. I keep coming across relationship articles that seems like they would help me but they’re tailored for romantic relationships or work relationships and some of the suggested solutions don’t apply. I feel like my friend and I could benefit from friendship counseling–that’s what we need!

    1. Jae, thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m glad that you used this forum as a place to process some of your thoughts and feelings. I totally agree, there is NOT enough helpful info out there around how to deal with turbulence in a friend relationship. Noted! I’ll put some thought into this and come up with some resources for you. (Stay tuned for an artice or podcast about friend relationships on the Growing Self blog!)

      In the meantime, I think that there are a lot of relationship counselors and coaches that would probably be open to working with you and your friend. You are always welcome to schedule a free consultation with any of the counselors / coaches on our team to talk about this.

      If you did this with anyone in our group, I’d advise that you make an appointment for relationship coaching and then attend the consult with your friend. FYI, if you just go on your own to the consult it may make it harder for your friend to engage with this, because she may feel like you “poisoned the well” by sharing your perspective first. My two cents.

      This sounds like a really important relationship to you, and I hope that she is open to doing this with you. All the best, Lisa Marie Bobby

  23. Hi .. I’m not sure how to handle certain situations with my girlfriend.. she gets irritated with me so fast especially if I ever try to talk about what is bothering me between us … she gets annoyed and shuts down .. doesnt fare what I have to say and I make it worse by trying to talk to her about it and discuss whatever happened at the time .. she just wants to ignore it and 20 minutes later it’s like its forgotten about but I’m tired of just ignoring the issue .. she is mad that we fight and bicker over little things far to often but wont work with me to fix it .. I really do love her but I dont know how to handle this situation..

    1. Doug, you too are describing a situation that is not likely to change unless you two get involved with some great couples counseling. Clearly, you care about your partner very much. But the communication pattern here is not one that is sustainable. Take it to a great couples therapist, and be open to the process. A really good couples counselor will create an environment of emotional safety, but will also actively prevent you two from engaging in the old, unhelpful patterns. Instead they’ll ask you both a bunch of questions, and get you both to practice hearing and understanding each other in a new way. Then you can create solutions.

      An old, wise supervisor once told me, “The only time people don’t make sense is when you don’t have all the information.” I can hear in your post that you do not understand why your girlfriend is acting the way she is. It is mystifying. (You’re probably confusing to her too). I hope that you get her in to couples counseling where you can begin having the types of conversations with her where you start to understand the needs and intentions underneath the behavior. With that knowledge you can begin doing a different “dance” together — one that will bring you closer together instead of pushing each other further away.

      I hope you do Doug, because unless something changes here you’re not describing a situation that is going to work for either of you long term.

      My best to you both,
      Lisa Marie Bobby

  24. If I do something wrong that affects her. It’s my fault and I do everything I can to address it and work on it and give her what she needs to feel better. When she does something wrong that affects me. It’s my fault that I let it get to me and my fault that I bring it to her. Even in a place where I just describe an action or remind her of an agreement we have made. I’m still at fault in her eyes because I’m making her lose her sense of peace. How does one get into a place where issues can to be addressed without her shutting down and blaming me for bringing them to her?
    I either need to sit on my feelings and experiences for a long enough time that she doesn’t feel like it’s so often. Or I need to just live my life affected. Trying not to affect her. What do I do? Is it the type of thing where I just have to come to terms with the fact that I will have a partner that hurts me? Or just have to just stop being hurt by the things she does that hurts me? Is that a slippery slope that will lead to her future infidelity that will be my fault because I am bothered by it?

    1. You know, emotional enmeshment is something that takes down many relationships. You are spot on – when you are each so reactive to what either of you is or is not doing, and NEED for each other to be a certain way in order to feel okay… that’s just a race to the bottom. It’s really imperative that you both learn how to stand emotionally on your two feet. So if she’s being a weirdo one day, it’s not going to destroy you — and vice versa.

      I would highly, highly recommend couples counseling here: This dynamic is only going to get worse over time, without intervention. Depending on how reactive you each are, and whether or not you are able to regulate your feelings to the point where healthy interactions are possible, your couples therapist may recommend that you do some individual growth work as well. It may be the case where you both have to work on yourselves before a different kind of relationship is possible together.

      However, I’m a big believer in the growth process, and the first step of change is understanding what the problem is. You seem like you have a lot of clarity about the nature of the problem and that is a great start. Now, do something with it! Get thee into couples counseling! LMB

  25. My fiance and I have been together for a year. In that year he has been in a mental hospital (put there by his spouse at the time), jail (put there for defending me from said spouse after she physically assaulted me), and has been through a lot emotionally. Throughout all of this chaos, we remained strong and powerfully in love together. Facing each obstacle as a team. The world around us saw how happy and strong we were. He shut down once after his longest, 3 week stay in the hospital and was depressed for about a month. At that time he did not have a job so I didn’t push him to come out of it. I knew he needed that time and he had a bit of savings to survive on. Throughout that month, however, he spoke with me regularly. Was able to feel good with me. Recently, his divorce is finalizing and it seems the paperwork overwhelmed him. He shut down, stopped going to work, but this time, stopped talking to me as well. I panicked and went through every stage of emotions you can. I regret some of my behavior. I don’t know how else to cope with the pain and hurt I am feeling from this shutdown. No matter how I communicate it to him, he seems just dazed and lost.

  26. The problem with me and my boyfriend is that he can’t communicate at all. When I say that the food was a bit salty, or a little less spice would make dinner perfect, he feels like I’m personally attacking him or bringing him down. When we are out and I don’t agree with him on something (could be as simple as: ah, no I don’t feel like having dinner there), he sometimes feels the same way. However, he doesn’t say anything. His reaction is treating me badly by ignoring me in the way of not showing me any kind of affection: no kiss, no hugs, not wanting to hold me or hold my hand, never giving any compliments. I seriously don’t remember the last time he said something nice about me, but it would probably be about 5 years ago. But I have to tell him how wonderful he is all the time or he behaves that way to punish me because i happened not to agree with him on something… And he starts “little” and then goes worse to the point where friends tell me there is no human or warm feeling from him at all. When I ask him after a while, he says: yes, but you had some comments. My first reaction is of course: why didn’t you tell me? I know what he’s like, so I try to be less direct and sometimes ask him if it’s ok what I say. His answer is: sometimes I don’t mind, other times I do… I’ve tried to explain to him that I can’t guess when it is and when it isn’t and that we’re both adults so for me it seems perfectly ok for me to say when I don’t agree with him, just like it’s perfectly ok if he says that he doesn’t agree with me… I can of course work on how I say things if I know he doesn’t like me to be too direct. He also says there’s a difference: if he asks me what dinner is like, it’s apparently ok for me to say something, otherwise it’s seen as an attack. I seriously feel like that’s is a very wrong way of thinking, is that wrong of me?
    He has a very troublesome relationship with his parents, mainly with his father and stepmother, and always he blames everyone else for everything, but never looks at himself. His father never calls him or meets him, so that’s everyone’s fault – but he never picks up the phone himself to give his father a call either… When he lived with his mother, he would go away for the weekend or come home late and not even inform her about it. When we just moved in together, he would do the same with me: just inform me that the next morning he would go camping, but not tell me where or for how long and then not send me any message during his trip… This at least has gotten better.
    Either way… I’ve done everything, calm speaking, getting angry, I’ve started crying because I felt so lost (he just left the room), I’ve given examples, I’ve acknowledged that I’m not perfect either, and I don’t want him to be, but if he doesn’t want to communicate at all, there is nothing that can change or get better and I just can’t live with being treated this way anymore.
    Usually when we speak, he ends up admitting to not being able to talk and that it is a problem (we often have to sit for 1 hour with him staring blankly in the distance before he says one sentence… or before I give up…). When I ask him what he will do about it, there’s silence again, and then the next morning he says he’ll be home late the next day…
    We went to therapy a few times a few years ago and there we agreed that he needs to work on his communication and that he would says something when something bothered him so I know about it, and also that he would see a therapist by himself to work on his issues… He never did anything with it and when I ask him now he just ignores me.
    I just don’t understand, we’ve built up a whole life, we’re living together and still he treats me like i’m not even worthy of a little bit of respect or his time or some “human warmth”. The first time we had a disagreement, he said: ah well, this isn’t working then, if you disagree or have a fight, you just have to break up. He seriously seemed to never have heard about the fact that life isn’t always perfect and that you can talk to solve issues.
    I honestly am wondering if he’s just being an asshole, I’m finding it hard to believe that you would say: yes i have a problem, it’s messing with any kind of relationship I have with people, but i refuse to do anything about it… I’ m tired of living with someone with the emotional intelligence of a 3-year old (sorry for this way of wording), I wish I could do something, but i have no idea how we can solve this if he isn’t willing to do anything.

    1. You’re right! There is no way to solve this if nothing changes. I would strongly encourage you to get into couples counseling with a marriage and family therapist. You said you did “therapy” in the past and he was advised to improve his communication. However, in my experience the majority of “couples counselors” out there happily offering their services to a vulnerable public do not actually have specialized training and experience in couples counseling. It’s an outrage. If you want to take another run at this, here is more information about how to choose a marriage counselor. Whatever you do, do not go to a “relationship coach.” You need a licensed, experienced marriage and family therapist. (Preferably one who utilizes Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy or The Gottman Method of marriage counseling).

      But you’re totally right. The situation you’re describing is not sustainable, nor will it change without intervention. So your choices are 1) file for divorce or 2) try marriage counseling with someone competent or 3) continue doing this and grow into a bitter, resentful old woman.

      If he refuses to go with you, go by yourself. At the very least you will have emotional support and guidance to help you figure out what you need to do for yourself, if no change is possible within this relationship.

      My best to you both,
      Lisa

  27. I’m the persuer because my partner makes me feel emotionally invalidated. I try to explain to him why I feel hurt by what he said, that I feel dismissed, and he usually answers with “I don’t understand why you’re feeling this way. You’re overreacting. I don’t get it.” Then he completely shuts down and is either silent or keeps repeating he doesn’t understand me. After a situation like this I just cry and feel ashamed of going too far in my frustration.

    I try to explain to him over and over again that I’m not angry, I’m hurt by his invalidation of my feelings but he still doesn’t understand. Once he left me sitting next to him on the sofa, crying my eyes out without saying a word or without touching me at all. I don’t know, maybe I’m really overreacting, but I think it was very cruel. I was really upset that night. I also once told him he doesn’t have to understand, all he has to do is respect my feelings. It helped for some time but not for long. It makes me really sad because in other aspects of life, he is a wonderful, kind, loving person. But sometimes he withdraws to the point, where he becomes cruel.

    It’s so strange. I was never in a relationship like this. I never felt this strongly and never cared this deeply about how my partner treats me. With other people, I never felt hurt to this point. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    1. Natalie, thank you for sharing your story. I can understand how this would feel like a really difficult situation, and one that is not sustainable for you long term. I recently recorded a podcast episode about “When To Call it Quits In a Relationship” that you might want to listen to. I talk through different situations, including ones like these, and what to do when really hurtful things are happening and you’re feeling hopeless about whether or not it can change. It sounds like you love your partner very much, and I hope for both of you that positive change is possible. I hope you listen to this episode and that it provides you with some direction about how to find out, one way or another.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Dr. Lisa

  28. Thank you for sharing Deloris. I have some “avoider” tendencies too. I’ve found that giving myself some time to calm down, and then coming back to the conversation, helps me “stay in the ring” when things get heated. All the best!

  29. I have tried all your suggestions and none of them work. I start out sweet, vulnerable and with a plan. None of it makes any difference. I am now leaving the house and staying away until I am not animated. Let’s see, so far I average 8 hours Counselers assuage the avoider and villianize the commnicator.

  30. Thank you for reaching out. What a hard situation! I fully agree, it can be much easier for a counselor to point the finger at the partner who is more vocal. However, any good marriage and family therapist should recognize that in the “emotional algebra” of a relationship, the equation is always balanced. The person who is getting elevated is doing so in direct proportion to the extent their partner is shutting down, stonewalling, and avoiding. I am sorry that your counselor made you feel that this was your fault — it is not. I am glad that you are finding ways to de-escalate the situation by taking breaks. Two other things: First, your comment reminded me that I never made the podcast discussing the other side of this “How to Handle a Partner Who Gets Upset.” That is on the way, and I hope it helps you! The other is that given the “stickiness” and frustration of this relationship, it might be helpful for YOU to get some support and figure out what the best course of action is, and / or how to stay in a good place emotionally even if your partner is not willing to participate in a healthy relationship with you. This is a tough situation and I wish you the best of luck. LMB

  31. Noted! Hope to have it out to you soon. In the meantime thanks for participating, and letting me know what you’re most interested in learning more about! 🙂 LMB

  32. I don’t know what to do. My ex and I have been broken up for two months now. I want him back. I caused him lots of pain in the past and he has shut me out. We have a six month old son. I don’t know what to do anymore. Any suggestions??

  33. Kristina, what a difficult situation. It sounds like the place to start is to see if getting back together is even possible. If it isn’t, I would highly recommend that you begin the process of grieving and healing emotionally so that you can build a healthy new life for yourself and your son. I developed my online “Heal Your Broken Heart” to help people with exactly this sort of thing (in a format that is more convenient and affordable than private coaching). I hope you check it out. http://www.breakup-recovery.com. All the best… LMB

  34. My husband is ex-army and will not talk about how he feels. He hates being out the army and hates civilian life. He loves me and we’ve been married for 13 years.
    He had an accident at work last year which ended up with the Dr’s finding a blood clot in his heart. He got the sack a month after the accident, no one will touch the case and he’s now on benefits. He has never been out of work before or off work sick either.
    I’ve noticed that he’s now putting weight on, will not attend heart rehab classes or talk about how he feels until a bust a vein! I found out last night that a small part of him has died and he won’t talk to anyone about how he feels, I’ve tried in the past but he will just sit there and not say a word, but create an atmosphere of awkwardness.
    How do we move on from here?

  35. Frankie, thanks for reaching out. What a difficult situation! While it would be totally inappropriate for me to speculate about his emotional state (knowing nothing about him aside what you shared) I do know that many people, particularly men, who are going through major life transitions like the loss of a career, loss of health, etc. may often experience depression as they work through everything. You might check out a recent podcast I did on the subject of Depression to see what, if anything, may relate to your experience? I have also had numerous requests from people to do a podcast topic about how to help partners who are 1) not okay and 2) not open to getting help. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I can only imagine how much your patient love and compassion must mean to your husband while he’s going through this dark time. I hope that you are finding ways to take care of yourself emotionally too. Hugs to you both. Lisa

  36. Dr. My husband and I have been together 23yrs. He has become very distant and has shut down he blames me in so many ways. Not to long ago I found him speaking to another woman. He claims she is his friend because she understands him. He leaves me in the dark. I made him stop talking to her and now he is even worse than before. He has completely checked out of our marriage. Every time I try to talk to him he is not ready to talk about our marriage…
    I am lost and lonely..

  37. I’m so sorry to hear about this situation. I can understand how you’d be feeling lost, lonely, and (I’d imagine) hurt and scared too. Emotional affairs are so hard. Here’s a link to a recent article I did on the subject, if it helps. Telltale Signs of an Emotional Affair. From what you are saying it sounds like your husband may not be open to doing marriage counseling with you. However, you might consider starting marriage counseling on your own. You might be able to work with the therapist to find ways of reconnecting with him, and — if you can re-establish connection — at some point he may be willing to join you. I hope that is the outcome for you. All the best…. LMB

  38. ive been dating my boyfriend for almost four years, i do realize i can get very emotional and that might be the cause for him to go into his shell, but even when im calm and collected i try to talk to him about emotions mine or his and what he wants and he still doesnt fully communicate he says he doesnt have much feelings but he knows he loves me and that he cares but that is difficult to comminicate hes the youngest of his 3 siblings and his mom left when he was 3 he says this doesnt effect him at all but idk what to do i have tried

  39. Hi Moni, thanks for getting in touch with your question. I speak to many people, particularly women, who feel persistently frustrated with their partner’s difficulty with “emotional communication.” You are not alone! I’m about to record episode 3 of my “communication” mini-podcast series soon and I will address your question fully there since the truth is complex, and I don’t think I can do it justice as a “response.” (And it is a great question that deserves a full answer!!) Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you may also find some useful information in the podcast I recorded with Dr. Helen Fisher: “Understand Your Relationship, Finally.” All the best, LMB

  40. As promised, here’s a podcast (Part Two of my “Communication Problems and How to Fix Them” series, that discusses the “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples fall in to, and things that the WITHDRAWING partner needs to understand — particularly about the impact of their emotional withdrawal on their partner. (i.e., You). If you can get your withdrawing partner to listen, it may help them understand your pain and why it’s so important for them to stay in the ring with you. Hope it helps! LMB

  41. I’m the pursuer. My other half always tells me her behavior is only a reaction to mine or others…. We argue and all is fine if it’s over quick. But if it is a long day and we are just at eachother cause we’re being turds it can get ugly. By then I’m still wanting to talk and figure out why and she clams up and gets seriously angry. Then if I keep pursuing then she blows and then it’s over and I leave it alone. I feel that she controls how much and how far our talks go and that is frustrating to me. I get tired of feeling like I’m the reason she feels the way she does. By the way she is very stubborn and does not express herself at all. Always been difficult for her. So when she does it’s extremely rare.

  42. My husband half listens to what I’m saying until he finds something in my retelling of an event through my day that may benefit his eldest child. Then he stops listening to me and pursues trying to get something for that child. Hence he doesn’t finish listening to my story. I get upset naturally, his only concern is what his son can get out of it! I walk away. He pursues asking me how my day went and I turn cold, I don’t want to talk about it anymore b/c the way I see it he got what he wanted. Then he turns the table on me and makes it my fault and he withdraws, I then pursue b/c I’m angry. He shuts down, then I shut down. For days we can’t talk, I feel completely detached from him, although I go through with all my duties as his wife and still maintain being the bread winner of the marriage. He can’t manage his money and is constantly asking me for more, I work 2 jobs, he has one; I pay the household bills he only pays his bills. Yet I end up with more at the end of the week/month whatever. He blames the bank for this or that, and only calls me when he needs money or something else. I love him but feel this marriage is for his convenience only.

  43. I’m struggling trying to keep my relationship going… we have been together for almost 15 years with a 9 month break. We got back together this last march.. I have been angry with her drinking and hanging out with her single friends every weekend since we got back together sometimes staying out until the sun comes up.. I admit I said some mean things out of anger because of this.. I don’t approve and she knows it but continues to do it.. it took me awhile to realize my approach was wrong with the anger. So I backed off told her I was worried about the drinking.. she said she was also.. she won’t tell me what’s going through her head, says I won’t understand.. when I try and explain my anger she gets mad and says I’m making it all about me. I’m totally lost and have no idea what to say or do…

  44. Bettina, thanks for reaching out. It sounds like you have many complicated factors creating stress in your relationship. I’m hearing that you’re in a catch-22: Communication is extremely difficult because of hurt feelings due to unresolved problems, but also that it feels impossible to resolve the problems because communication has broken down.

    Two ideas: you might consider listening to the recent podcast I did, “What Can Make or Break Your Marriage” that discussed the necessary skills and agreements couples need to create in order to have happy marriages. But also — and I say this as a friend — in these types of highly emotional situations where communication keeps breaking down it can be very hard to dig out without the support of a good marriage counselor. Here’s the link to schedule a free consultation with someone on our team. Good luck to you… LMB

  45. Here is my story – I just lost the most beautiful kind hearted woman because of 2 things financially and lack of communication. We have kids from seperate marriages. She worked on making a family I didn’t. She paid for near everything and I would shut down with no communication sometimes for a solid week if I was upset with something. Finally she gave up. I had to leave our relationship. I have been away for 6 weeks really uncovered a lot about why I do things. I’ve bettered and worked hard on improving and I’m happy to say with constant work I’m at a point now where if things are getting not good I can identify and communicate. Problem is to little to late. We still talk a communicate on almost a daily basis. I love her I think she loves me. We split up on a good note. She is very distant and wants to find herself. Do you think it’s possible and how do I get her back if at all!

  46. Hi Brian, thank you so much for reaching out. I think I’m hearing in your story a very common (very sad) situation — that after losing your relationship you regret making the mistakes that contributed to it’s ending, and are now very motivated to make changes that you weren’t able to before. I’m so glad that you have taken this opportunity to start doing important personal growth work. Whether or not you are able to repair your relationship, the work you are doing now will allow you to have more positive and successful relationships in the future so it’s very worthwhile either way. I hope you stick with it, for yourself!

    As for the possibility of reunification… I’ve seen it go both ways. Sometimes, when a person is done, they are just done. They have stopped believing that change is possible. Even if they still care about you as a person, the part of them that was attached to you is simply broken and cannot be repaired. And, it is also true that it may not be too late IF you are able to SHOW (not tell — show) your Ex that you have grown, and that she can trust you to be a better partner to her than you were in the past. That may take a long time, so be patient! (You might check out this podcast about how to repair trust in a relationship, to get some insight on what will be involved with this work).

    Because what you’re dealing with is such a common (heartbreaking!) situation that many people find themselves in, I’ve actually devoted the entire first class of my “Heal Your Broken Heart” breakup recovery program to helping people determine whether reunion can be possible, and if so, how to achieve it. I am not telling you this to be self-promotional, but rather offer you a resource that might help you find direction in a difficult situation. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://www.breakup-recovery.com

    All the best to you on your journey of growth Brian…. LMB

  47. Hi William! I’m taking your comment to mean that you felt that this article speaks to your experience, and that it may help other people understand how you feel. I’m so glad for that. I hope that you share it with your partner or loved ones, to help give them insight into your emotional experience that may be difficult to communicate. I wish you all the best! LMB

  48. PLEASE I NEED HELP!! I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years. He Is that kind of person that shuts down. At first i was very agressive about that but with time i learned to relax and adress issues but just talking. The problem was that when tried tu discuss with him things about our relationship in a calm and relaxed way he often just said ok , or i dont know what to say. I felt desperate because it was like talking to a wall. So I started to get loud and angry and he would also get angry to the point he would tell me what he really felt. I was so sad that he would only talk about issues after he was angry and exploded. I often told him that why would he only talk after a fight and not while we were calmed. 3 Days ago he broke up with me because he was tired of the fights , but a lot of them were because i got desperate trying to talk to him , I am really blaming myself and i dont know what to do please help.

  49. Hi Dana, sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds like you’ve been doing a great job of reflecting on your own interpersonal process and are looking to make some changes to how you communicate. I also hear how upset you are that the relationship has disintegrated to this point. I don’t know if he is open to working on this with you or not, but if so a great place to start might be for you both to listen to my “communication” podcast series together.

    Communication 101
    When Your Partner Withdraws
    Dealing With an “Angry” Partner (HE should especially listen to this one).

    It will help you understand each other. THEN, it will be important for you two to connect with a good couples counselor who can help you break these old communication patterns in your relationship and start interacting differently. My hope for you is that if he starts understands the situation differently, and has hope that your interactions with each other can be different going forward, he might be willing to give things another try. (Here is a link to check out the bios of the different couples therapists on our team. They are all amazing, and have lots of experience in helping people resolve communication issues in their relationships.) I hope that it all works out the way you want it to. All the best, LMB

  50. Hey
    I am a college student living with two housemates. I have been living with roommate A for about 3 years. Roommate B joined us in the second year, and we have all been living together for one year.

    Roommate B and I have noticed that when roommate A is gone (taking a trip, more then 3 days) roommate B and I start to get antsy and are more likely to get overly emotionally invested in any situation involving communication with the other.
    That aside, communicating with roommate B has been what feels like a constant struggle. They say things that are hurtful in the heat of the moment and later realize this and never say the words “im sorry”, but still are able to get the sentiment across. They constantly refer to the things they said in a joking manner, laughing. Sometimes the things that are said hurt me and sometimes i tell roommate B.

    The thing that bothers me most: when i am open and honest with my feelings and how their actions and words do or do not play into my feelings, roommate B shuts down. Honesty and directness seems to make them shy away.

    However, i am not always good at being subtle, and even if my point has gotten across, roommate B gives no sign as to if they have heard my message.

    To add to everything, roommate B is the messiest person i have ever met. They constantly mess up the couch in the shared space, cover multiple tabletop surfaces in trinkets, items, leftovers and garbage. Asking them directly to clean up has never worked. Saying honestly that living like this makes me anxious and unhappy doesn’t work: they always say that this is how they grew up and they are used to it. (Seeing their mother’s house, i am inclined to believe them) Their room is the worst. They even shut their door even when they are only inside for a moment, i think to hide it for some reason?

    I feel like im complaining too much, but there is more. Two more things.

    One, they talk about our friends when our friends are not present with us. I have also overheard them talking about me. The person being talked about is usually put in a bad light. I usually try to say nice things, while still being honest. In particular, roommate B seems to focus bad talk on one of my romantic partners (partner A) and his fiance, my metamour. As roommate B has gotten to know these people better, this talk has decreased. Maybe new things are scary and therefore put in the ‘bad’ category?

    Two: roommate B will often blame a mental illness or a disability for their actions. Sometimes, i think it makes sense. Sometimes they think about it and later go back on their words. For example, they are horrendously bad at doing chores. Dishes. Roommate B does in fact have pretty bad excema. Touching water activates it. However, they could wear rubber gloves, right? We have bought a dish soap that is supposed to be kinder on their skin. We have a dishwasher. I would think with all of these factors combined, roommate B could successfully avoid the pain of excema? However, they constantly miss their turn for dishes, leaving a huge pile for the next person. I have tried asking them to clean a specific dish within the week. The dish was left for a month, when i decided to clean it. We have made multiple dish washing schedules, hoping that might help.

    The only instances i have seen them be clean are: 1. Company arrives 2. Roommate B says they are not depressed that day. They then clean the whole house and make breakfast for me whether i want if or not, never asking.

  51. Oh, also, they are severely depressed. They usually cope by making depressive statements or ‘jokes’ and laughing. We have had conversations about this. They know why they do it. I would not have a problem with it if it did not directly activate my own depression. I have not asked them to stop directly, as directness and honesty do not seem to work in past situations. Also i am afraid of revealing just how vulnerable this behavior makes me feel to roommate B. I dont want them to take advangage of it.

  52. Alissa, sounds like a tough situation. What’s coming up for me as I read your story, is that it takes a long time to get to know people. And what you’re describing sounds like as you get to know these people more intimately, the relationships do not feel safe, or even sustainable to you. It’s hard (if not impossible) to “vett” for these types of things before you move in with roommates. Experience is the only way to learn. But I hope that you listen to what your emotional guidance system seems to be telling you: That this might not be the best environment for you, long term. You are worthy of having respectful relationships, and a healthy living environment! Find them! LMB

  53. hi what do i do if i have tried everything here and he laughs when I suggest therapy? he thinks psychology is a joke and doesn’t understand that it is real and works.

    just argued with my other half as he is being increasingly negative lately and i tried to explain that it was making me feel inadequate and he managed to antagonise me to the point that i was shouting at him i am pretty sure that’s what he wanted so he could say i was overreacting so now i feel like an idiot for rising to it and for letting him get me there. my feelings have very much been ignored and his are as always locked tightly away I just wanted him to tell me what was wrong and that i was not the focus of his bad mood. i even told him that but he changed the subject to what he was last moaning about. i feel like we will keep arguing about his feelings until we break up or destroy each other emotionally.

  54. Hi Sarah, thanks for reaching out and sharing your story. It sounds like you two are locked in a really negative communication cycle. I can understand why you’re starting to feel hopeless about the situation. I am glad that you’re listening to the “communication” series of podcasts, in order to help yourself understand what is going on. Any chance that he might be willing to listen too? Sometimes people who are resistant to going to couples counseling will at least listen to a podcast. That might be one way to get back on the same page together. But if he’s really not interested in working on things, another article that might help you is this one, “Are you in a codependent relationship?” (While not an exact match to what you’re describing, it does outline a path forward for YOU.) If your partner will not work on himself, it may still be worth getting involved in your own personal growth work. There may be some things that you can change on your side of the “communication equasion” that could help. (Or not, but it’s worth exploring). At the very least you’ll have a supportive relationship that can help you figure out what is best for you, and your life, under these difficult circumstances. All the best, Lisa

  55. i feel caged not to be myself..i tey to communicate and talk thru issues..if i am silent about them he is happy.. if i have courage to talk he gets angry and shuts down.. not for an hour but days then weeks. we dont live together and the fear i have makes me refuse to agree to cohabiting. i am 45..he is 39. i feel he is i mature and i want to shake him to wake up. its now crunch time. the fear..the build up of my own worth has been affected and now having tried the softly softly approach and the distance tactic ..i really dont know what else to do but run from this relationship. 5 years of being patient has taken its toll on me as a person.. and i am not who i use to be.. feeling exhausted, timid and unhappy. what else can i do ?

  56. Annie, ugh. This sounds so hard. It sounds like you’ve done everything to try to get him to talk to you, and have a more connected relationship with you… and that you keep getting disappointed. One thing that I find myself talking with clients about often is the idea that at some point… maybe this IS the experience of being in a relationship with this person. If so, what would that mean for you? Hard question, but I can’t imagine that thinking about it is any harder than what you’ve been doing for the last five years. Here’s a recent article that might resonate with you: Are You Stuck in a Codependent Relationship? It talks about what can happen when someone starts prioritizing their own needs and feelings, and deciding what is best for them. I hope that it inspires you to do the same. Keep in touch with us here on this forum, and let us know how it goes for you. All the best, LMB

  57. Hi Dr. Lisa,

    I’m curious if you have advice for the person who is the withdrawn partner. I’m in a same-sex gay relationship just a little over a year. It’s going really well but I tend to shutdown whenever my guy says even the slightest thing critical. I don’t want to be that way and I don’t want him to feel like he can’t come to me if he has an issue. Or I don’t want him to think I can’t handle it. But I find myself withdrawing, not talking, feeling introspective and sensitive, feeling mopey, and finally resentful. Everything he said was extremely fair but I think it is my own issues with criticism where I can’t have a conversation about how I feel. I think I take it too much to heart even small little things.

  58. Hello TK! This is such a fantastic question, and I’m really glad that you brought it up. This is something that many people struggle with, and I will absolutely be addressing this at more length in an upcoming podcast. (Thank you for the suggestion). I’ll be sure to ping you when I do that.

    First of all, I would like to applaud you for your self-awareness. It is so, so easy to blame other people for “making you feel” a certain way. But what you are describing is an enormous level of self-awareness around your own process. You can observe yourself feeling hurt, sensitive, and withdrawing, and at the same time recognize that your reaction may be out of proportion to what your partner actually said. You are not blaming him or lashing out at him, but rather noticing your own reactions and wanting to work on them. This is a significant strength of yours. (And one that can be easy to overlook, which is why I wanted to call attention to it). [For more on the subject of how to use self-awareness and self-acceptance to create positive change in your life, you might check out this article: The Path To Personal Growth]

    With regards to the reaction itself: In my experience there are typically three types of life experiences that can contribue to the “sensitivity” (to use your word) that you described.

    One is if you grew up in a family that was harsh, critical, and emotionally unsafe. In this case you may have had feedback that you weren’t good enough, or nothing you ever did was quite right, or there was “joking” that had a sadistic undercurrent, that was not balanced out by warmth, affection, and unconditional love. Or, you may have been outright verbally, emotionally or physically abused. If you spent your childhood feeling like a cat in a hailstorm, with few emotionally safe harbors, it is very difficult to feel safe in your relationships as an adult. The default, automatic assumption then (understandably!) becomes that others have bad intentions. The hard part here is that you can react emotionally to this “threat” even if, rationally, you know it’s not true.

    Another reason that people may feel the type of sensitivity that you described is if they grew up in a family that was very low conflict, even to the point of being emotionally distant. In this type of family, people don’t openly address important issues in a healthy way. Conflict is generally avoided (even though you can still “feel” someone’s displeasure loud and clear). This leads children to play the fun game of “guess how I feel?” with their parents, and can create a lot of anxiety. Then, later in life, when you have relationships with people who are able to talk about things honestly and directly, it can feel extremely threatening — even catastrophic.

    Lastly, if you grew up in a family situation in which you were lavished with praise and you could do no wrong, it can create an internal dynamic where you become emotionally dependent on positive feedback from others to feel okay about yourself. (Because you did not have the chance to develop healthy self-esteem). If you’re overly reliant on the good opinions of others in order to maintain your sense of your self, it can feel very threatening to have feedback from others that maybe you are not perfect. (Which is bound to happen in any normal, healthy relationship, at some point).

    There are other reasons why people feel the way you do, but the three I described here are the “usual suspects.”

    At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter “why” you feel the way you do (although understanding yourself is the first step in growth and change). What matters is that you use your super-power of self awareness to find ways of soothing yourself through the anxiety that comes up in conflictual situations with your partner, so that you can stay in the ring with him emotionally and work through whatever needs to be worked through with honesty, respect, and compassion for both of you.

    I hope that these ideas give you some clues into the reactions you described. To continue moving forward, I would recommend that you seek the support of a really good counselor or coach who can partner with you on the journey of growth that you’ve already begun. I hope you stay in touch with me and let me know how it goes! All the best, LMB

  59. Anyone able to help. I started a relationship with a woman. We spent 7 months getting to know each other then about a month where we were intimate. All her past relationship ended as soon as any issues came up. I knew this going in.
    I went to her home and that day I had a migraine so I was quite. Did not communicate with anyone just stayed to myself and tried to deal with it. I didn’t tell her this because of several issues she was dealing with at the time. A minor car accident and some other things. I didn’t want to add to her already stressful day. I did after about 3 hours like this finally tell her my issues. The next day she tells me the relationship is over. She says whenever she sees a red flag come up that that’s it. She shuts down and feels nothing and there is no way to undo it. No way to fix it the feeling are dead and that’s the end. I’ve tried talking but it has just made it worse. I care about this woman and want to fix this if I can. I know that’s not possible if she’s not willing but if anyone has any advise on how I might get her to talk this out I could sure use it.

  60. Timothy… wow. I’m so, so sorry to hear that this happened. I can only imagine how traumatizing it must have been for you to not be okay for like, ONE DAY, and then be totally rejected by someone that you care very much about. I don’t know if she said this out loud, but in case she didn’t I will say it for her: It’s not you, it’s her. I have no idea what is going on with her, but her reaction implies that it is very, very hard for her to feel emotionally safe with people.

    But she’s not here asking me for help, you are. I want you to know that if anyone you’re involved with is demanding you to be inhumanly perfect in order to be in a relationship with you, that is not okay. You are a human being, with needs, rights and feelings, not a robot. If she cannot tolerate your humanity, she may not be in a space where she is able to have a relationship with anyone right now. It’s so hard when you connect with someone who is legitimately not emotionally available, but I fear that may be true in your case. I am not sure that there is anything you can do to “talk her out of it.” I think that the only thing that will help her break this pattern would be to get involved with some high-quality counseling or coaching in order to heal whatever pain and fear is preventing her from staying connected with an actual human being. And, unfortunately, that is nothing you have control over.

    My best advice to you would be to consider the possibility that you were just “released” from a relationship that would have — in the long run — not been fair, respectful, or satisfying to you. To endure this relationship you would have had to hide your feelings, pretend like you didn’t have any problems, and didn’t need any emotional support or consideration from her. That is not okay. You deserve to be with someone who appreciates you for who you are, and who can not just tolerate your “imperfections” but have empathy and respect for them, and love you through good times and bad. You have been set free to find that relationship, and I sincerely hope you do. All the best to you Timothy. Lisa

  61. […] usually cause this to happen. However, when the confrontation directly involves you, that’s when you shut down. You begin to feel attacked and remorseful for what you did, even if you believe you had a good […]

  62. I’m very glad that I found this forum! My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 2 years. I’m 34 and he’s 44. He’s a wonderful person and we love each other but he has been trying to establish his own business that is taking an awful lot of time. Because of this, we are now living in different countries, he cant afford to come visit me, I visit him every 2 months but he feels bad that he’s making me pay for my flights so he tells me to be patient and wait for him until he figures out his life. This frustrates me so much and when I want to share my feelings with him, he gets very defensive, he thinks that I’m attacking him, then he completely shuts down. I am the type that prefers to clear issues as they arise and look for solutions, close the case, and move on. He’s the avoidance type and my life right now is hell and I dont know what to do or how to communicate with him.

  63. Hey Lensa, sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds like your BF is going through a lot right now, and as a result, you are too! It’s hard to be in limbo like this, isn’t it. I can understand how it would be even harder for you under these circumstances because it feels like you can’t even talk about it with him.

    You know, in my experience many men, especially very nice, responsible, and caring men, really struggle emotionally when they feel like they are letting others down. It sounds like he feels badly that he can’t pay for your tickets, or be more available, or make a long term plan right now. Many times, when guys feel like they’re not measuring up about themselves they can experience even the mildest talk about the situation as an attack: Not because YOU are attacking, but because they feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, or even shame that they have for themselves. They want to be able to “fix it” and make you happy, but when they can’t it’s upsetting and makes them feel worse. I can’t help but wonder if this might be the case for your boyfriend too?

    If this may be the case, one option you might consider to help you improve the communication (even if you can’t improve the circumstances right now) would be to use the power of empathy to create more emotional safety for him. Check out this article on empathy, and let me know what you think: Empathy- The Key to Connection and Communication All the best Lensa. LMB

  64. I am the guy who completely shuts down when my gf tries to talk to me. I did a lot when I felt like I was being attacked or I knew my opinion/feeling wasn’t going to get understood. I got to the point I would get quiet or I would just agree with her. Of course she knew exactly what was going on, she’d confront me about shutting down and I was short with how I felt.
    We broke up for a small bit, the breakup was completely my fault. I was lucky enough for her to take me back, she’s still upset and angry. I completely understand and its justified. It has just gotten to the point that at least once a week she has a random ptsd and will completely get cold on me then bring up everything again as if it just happened again. She will get hostile and come at me with the same questions every week. Its turned into me giving her the same answers and the same apology. I’ve now started to shut down whenever she brings the past up again. She called me out on it again and I don’t have an answer to it, well I do but I know telling her how I feel when she brings it up will make it seem like I’m putting all the blame on her. I know I messed up, there is only so much apologizing and reassuring her I can do. Its giving me gray hairs going from acting like we are on a honeymoon one day then quivering in the corner.

  65. You did give me a laugh this morning. I compliment, I praise and I say thank you. In return, I now have a husband who ignores me except when he wants to talk. If he asks me a question, he will answer it before I have the chance. He decides what I mean, what I am about to say and then attacks me verbally. He claims to have a poor memory but can repeat what I said perfectly. He tells me I am perfect (which I am not) and then insists on teaching me lessons to prove I am not perfect.

    Bottom line…he has changed. Don’t tell me I should have done this or that or the other thing. I have been with him through work issues, including moving multiple times, health issues, including a heart attack, and the only outcome is EVERYTHING IS ALL ABOUT HIM. He is cold and indifferent and can find fault with anyone.

    My email and name are not your business. However, you need to wake up and understand one thing….a spouse can move a mountain to help a spouse. When a spouse attacks the very foundation of a relationship no amount of showing vulnerability or being diplomatic will help. He stopped caring about anything but his world being perfect years ago.

  66. Hey, this article really helped me. I did my best to give her some space as the person who usually pursues. But this time, after shutting down, she is now saying I don’t want to talk to her at all?

  67. Dominick, I think I’m hearing that since you stopped pursuing her, you got her attention and now she’s much more interested in talking to YOU. Well done sir! Certainly, you don’t want to take it so far that you freeze someone out, but I’m glad you’re experiencing the difference of having her want to talk to you, instead of chasing her around to communicate. That must feel refreshing for you, and I sincerely hope that it’s the sign of more good things to come in your relationship. All the best, LMB

  68. Hey there, thank you very much for sharing how you feel. I appreciate honest dialogue. I thought that you brought up such an excellent point, around feeling that everything you do is futile. I think I’m hearing that this article felt offensive to you, as it implied that you may have some control over the reaction you get from your partner. I completely agree, there does come a point when a relationship is too far gone, OR you’re with someone who is actually irredeemable. That does happen. While many times, people who come here for relationship advice are in situations where there is hope to create a differnt outcome, that is not always true. I appreciated your perspective so much that I addressed it on an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast: “Should We Break Up or Stay Together.” I hope you check it out, and that it provides you with the validation you deserve. All the best to you, Lisa

  69. Hey Cello, thanks for getting in touch. First of all, I would like to commend you on your self-awareness, and your taking ownership here. It sounds like you are well aware of they dynamics at work in your relationship and your part in them, and that you would very much like to change them. That attitude is the first step of any successful personal growth work!

    Second thing: I don’t know if this is true but something about what you’ve shared makes me wonder if there was a betrayal or breach of trust in your past with her, which is part of the reason for the dynamic you described? If that is so, please check out this podcast, “Repairing Your Relationship After Infidelity.” It will give you some insight into why she is acting the way she is, and what the path forward can look like.

    If my hunch is not right, and it’s just hard for you to work through conflict together productively, it may be helpful for you guys to get involved in some couples counseling together. My hope for you is that she may be able to learn some strategies to communicate her feelings in a more constructive and less agressive way that will enable you to respond to them. I’d also hope that good couples counseling can help you feel less threatened by conflict, and able to “stay in the ring” with your partner, so that you can both arrive at actual solutions as opposed to just apologizing.

    When a couple can find and then practice positive new behaviors that lead to both people feeling cared for, understood, and respected…. there is just no longer anything to apologize for. That’s the kind of evidence based couples counseling we practice at Growing Self, anyway. I hope that reality is in your near future Cello! If you want to get involved with one of Growing Self’s expert couples counselors (either in person, or through online couples therapy) just schedule your free consulation with us to get started. All the best to you both, Lisa

  70. I completely shut down when I am feeling attacked or belittled by my wife. We can be having a tough and honest conversation about the challenges in our marriage but when she makes generalizations about my behavior or accuses me of things that are not true then I am done with talking. If I feel like she is unreasonable I can go from wanting to work things out and talk about them to completely shutting down. It seems like a waste of time to keep talking. I can feel my body go numb as every emotion disappears from me. I am not sad or angry – just empty. Also, when I shut down I have no empathy for my wife (who I love very much). She can be crying her eyes out in front of me and it is impossible for me to feel anything toward her. I feel like I am a detached spectator watching two strangers. I feel like it would be better to divorce my wife and go live by myself because I have this colossal flaw. I know it is related to early childhood trauma, but I cant control it. Sometimes when my wife comes at me the wrong way it seems inevitable. I think I am a good husband but I am worried by my tendency to shut down.

  71. Lia, Thank you so much for sharing. I have to say, your insight into yourself is really a strength of yours. You have SO much self awareness, and that is always the first step of creating real and lasting change. The fact that you understand that your shutting down is related to early childhood trauma is also extraordinary. I hope that you can find a way of communicating this to your wife so that she has empathy for what you are going through in these moments, so that she can be more sensitive and understanding of you.

    Helping her understand what’s going on with you can also buy you some time to get involved in really good, evidence-based treatment for healing your trauma. And by that, I mean working with a psychologist or licensed mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of trauma using evidence-based therapies such as EMDR, Trauma-Informed CBT, and / or Prolonged Exposure Therapy. If you go to a therapist (or God-forbid, some sort of life coach) without this specialized training I WILL REACH THROUGH THIS SCREEN AND POKE YOU IN THE NOSE because it will not help you. I’m taking a hard stance here because I hear that there’s more than a bit of hoplessness already, and it would be a terrible tragedy for you to reach out for help to someone who doesn’t know enough to help you and then come away feeling more flawed and unfixable. What you are dealing with is absolutely a solvable problem in the hands of an experienced trauma therapist.

    My hope for you is that if you get effective help to resolve your old trauma you will be able to stay in the ring with your wife, without your old triggers leading you to shut down. Even better, if she is able to understand what is going on and be a supportive partner to you in your healing process, you can both come through this as a stronger, more deeply connected couple. I’ve seen this happen Lia, and I have every confidence that it can happen for you, too. Be a good husband by working on yourself! Even the fact that she sees you working on this could be a huge, positive thing for your marriage.

    All the best to you on your journey of growth — let me know how it goes!

    Lisa

  72. My problem isn’t with a “partner” in the romantic sense, but my best friend. We can talk about all kinds of things, but when it comes to us and our friendship, it’s another story. She is the avoider and I’m the pursuer. When I’m unhappy with her or how our friendship has been and try to talk to her about it, she shuts down. A couple years ago this led me to end our friendship because I felt I couldn’t be friends with her at that point anymore. We both have mental illnesses and we both have toxic families and chaotic childhoods that have led us to be the conflicted people we are, but I feel that’s no excuse for suddenly being a terrible friend. She checks out, becomes very distant when she’s overwhelmed with things and when I’ve tried to talk to her about it, each time she says she sucks at communicating, that she’s depressed, that she’s sick, and this and that are going on. She doesn’t listen and doesn’t seem to understand my point: that I’d just like to be clued in and listened to as well. It bothers me when she sort of pops in, says a few things, then I don’t hear from her for hours or a day, and she barely acknowledges what I’ve texted her. This especially hurts when I’m in distress and need someone to talk to and not only is she not there for me, but she replies with a few words or doesn’t seem to be paying attention.
    We just had a fight about this and now she’s told me that she’s “done” with “this” [our friendship]. That it’s not worth it and I’ve “taken too many of [her] tears.” (Which, once again, sounds like “me-me-me-me” to me and very internal, not even addressing me. It sounded like she’s speaking aloud, almost). We didn’t even get to talk through anything. She simply told me she’s done speaking and pretty much that’s that. She always does that; instead of letting us talk things out, she says she “can’t handle it” and runs away. The problem with that is that she NEVER can “handle it”–so am I supposed to just hold in my unhappiness or hurt all the time because she can’t handle hearing it so we can continue being friends, or what?
    The whole “argument” this time was simply because she was falling into her old pattern of distance and part-time friend. I got the message that she had stuff going on and quit writing so much. She noticed and asked about my quietness. I replied rather off-handedly that I didn’t see the point in saying much and she read way more into it than I intended and said that she’s upset that I felt “this” way about our friendship and continued on in somewhat of a rant. It just escalated from there. I know it sounds bad, but I didn’t really see the point in babbling about random stuff if she’s busy and not going to reply or pay attention. I mean, I’m going through a lot of physical problems that are leading to getting behind in my studies and causing anxiety, and it’d be nice if my best friend was around to talk to. I have stuff going on, too, but I still make time to talk to her; it’d be nice to have the same courtesy. I feel like that’s what friends do. I tried telling her it’s not that she sucks at communicating, as she puts it, so much as opening up. But what I don’t understand is that it hasn’t been a problem until this week, so I don’t understand why she keeps saying she suddenly can’t talk about to me anymore about what’s going on in her life. I repeatedly told her I don’t understand this, but it’s like she skips over that and goes on the defensive. We can’t have a rational discussion; it turns into a huge deal when it doesn’t need to be. She takes it as an attack when I’m not intending it to be. I know she’s been having emotional problems and her medicine isn’t working, but I hate when she makes that sound like an excuse. It’s not like this is the only time, either.
    It’s not that I expect her 100% time, attention, and devotion. But just to be there. I’ve tried telling her I don’t care so much about the time between my text and hers so much as what she says, but she doesn’t seem to see that. She doesn’t acknowledge my feelings; instead she gets defensive and I feel like I’m in a boxing ring because she lashes out and then withdraws. This hurts me even more because my intention isn’t to hurt her, but hers clearly is because she feels threatened, so she deliberately attacks me and then shuts down, which isn’t fair because I’m left reeling and wanting to address her attacks and what she’s said. But at that point, she’s “done.” I’m not saying I’m perfect and blameless and handle everything flawlessly, but I’ve tried several ways to approach this and nothing works. I’ve tried to argue “properly” by using “I” statements but I’ve never had success with that with anyone. It’s also really hard to maintain in the face of accusations and character attacks. I have a hard time believing she really wants to end our friendship just like that, especially when she’s obviously angry and hurt, but it still freaking hurt that she went there. And she turns into a very mean person, which, admittedly, instigates my anger. Just because she doesn’t like or agree with how I feel doesn’t mean she can start treating me like dirt. And just because I feel a certain way doesn’t make me correct or right, or that I’m trying to make her feel bad or something. It’s just my perspective; but she doesn’t seem to want to see my perspective. It’s very frustrating. I feel like she gets so wrapped up in her own perspective that she gets very close-minded about others’; namely, mine. Like how it feels on my end and what it looks like to me. It’d be nice if she acknowledged how I feel, like “I’m sorry I made you feel that way” or something. Instead, she told me that feeling that her reasons for being distant were a cop-out was “bullsh**.” Which is completely disrespecting and disregarding how I feel. Was it a nice thing to say? No, I admit that. But is it how I feel? Yes. I simply meant to express that since I can’t understand her reasoning and logic, that’s how it comes across to me. (especially when her reasons for things are because she does everything for everyone else and doesn’t take any time for herself. I think she gets annoyed at me for thinking this. Sometimes I want to shake her and say, “Your boyfriend is nearly 30 years old. He does not need a babysitter! You are not his chauffeur! You do not need to do everything for him! Your mother is a raging alcoholic! You KNOW this! Babying her and literally tucking her into bed when she’s too drunk to get there herself and taking care of all her responsibilities and enabling her is not doing either of you good! Why would she need to pull herself together when she has you to do everything for her??” But I know that wouldn’t do any good.)
    Then I start second-guessing myself. Am I asking too much? Am I being the difficult one? Am I being selfish or unreasonable? Should I be more understanding? But then…I start thinking and I feel like I have legitimate intentions and concerns. I feel that best friends should be able to speak up to each other when one has upset the other. I feel that best friends should be able to speak about any problems in their friendship without it becoming a huge blowout that hurts both. I feel that best friends should be able to resolve their problems and should want to resolve them.
    All I really was asking for was for her to let me know what’s going on. If she can’t reply or get back to me, that’s fine. She seemed to read more into the less important parts of what I expressed to her and less into my main point. I don’t know if that’s deliberate or not. I’m not asking for her to get back to me right away; I’m not asking for her to divulge all her secrets; I’m not asking for her to tell me everything that occurred that today or every emotion she felt; I’m simply asking for her to let me know that hey, she’s going to be driving all day and won’t be able to reply. Okay, so I’ll keep that in mind and not try to start up conversations she won’t be able to respond to. Or, you know, she’s at lunch with her family and will talk to me later. And then it’d be really nice if she actually talked to me and not just write a few words or ask a question that I’d already addressed, because then I feel like she’s not really paying attention, and if I wanted that, I’d go talk to my mother. She seems to expect me to understand that she’s been busy and going through stuff and doesn’t feel very talkative, but how am I supposed to know this if she doesn’t talk to me? Or give me details? Sometimes she makes things sound like a small problem and not the huge one it actually is, so yeah, I probably do sound inconsiderate to her when I complain about things, thinking something’s no big deal, if that makes sense.
    What sucks even more is that I want to prevent something becoming a bigger problem down the line, so I try to address it with her. That’s when it becomes a big problem immediately. So I feel like I can never address anything ever.
    She just visited me for a week and a half for Thanksgiving (she lives in another state across the country). One of the reasons why I got concerned about this past week of distance (which probably doesn’t seem long to others) is because this is what happened last time we spent a consecutive period of time together. She started becoming distant, and I didn’t think much of it, knowing what she was going through. But then it got worse and she kept canceling our plans, which damaged my trust in her word. Then she became moody and so depressed she was constantly putting herself down and acting like everything and everyone is against her (and not in our usual joking way). She had excuses for not seeing a counselor/therapist (granted, it was mostly about money, but she found one that gave her discounts and she still had reasons why she couldn’t go). There were a lot of things that eventually added up for me. I tried to hang on, but I started losing trust and faith in her. And what’s a friendship without trust? I couldn’t talk to her about it because she’d blow up on me. Being mentally ill and having so many of the same issues she goes through, I can understand, commiserate, sympathize. But it got to a point that I couldn’t anymore. All that just turned into irritation whenever she acted yet again as if she was a victim of something. I can’t fix or help someone who doesn’t want to be fixed or helped. If someone wants to be or acts like a victim, they’ll continue to be victimized. Especially if she allows people to take advantage of her. And I can’t keep pretending to care or like I’m not secretly ticked off and hurting inside just so I don’t upset her. That led to me trying to talk to her for the final time and when she only lashed and and it escalated, I had to say I was done. And in the 8 months we didn’t speak, I looked back and saw a lot more, all the signs I ignored in the year I struggled in our friendship, all the behaviors and patterns I’d missed or didn’t think much of in the course of our 9 years of friendship…and I realized, “wow, this is a habit of hers. She yells at me and then runs away whenever I tell her she’s upset me for whatever reason or whenever she feels offended by me.” (Like when I had expressed my opinion on her dogs not being spayed or neutered and were reproducing; this is a topic I feel strongly about, because it’s irresponsible of owners, and millions of animals are killed every year because there’s too many homeless animals, and it’s just not right. When I looked back at those instant messages, I realized she misunderstood my comment as criticism of her and her family, and not the general statement I had meant it as.) It only developed into a problem when she was overwhelmed by things and fell into deep depression. And I wondered if I was being a horrible friend, if I betrayed her, if I should have stuck it out longer; after all, she didn’t abandon me when I’d gone through a year of depression. But then I thought, no, I still tried to be a friend. I may not have always been a pleasant person, but I still always tried. It takes two to make a friendship, and she definitely wasn’t holding up her end. I have some boundaries and principals that I can let stretch pretty far, but I have a breaking point where things just aren’t acceptable anymore.
    In the end, I think our “break” was a good experience for both of us. Extremely difficult and depressing, but a learning and growing experience nonetheless. I had emailed her to tell her about my dog’s illness since they were close and she’d replied briefly, then I contacted her last October when my family and I were evacuated from our house due to a wildfire; we talked a bit before drifting off, then last December she told me her stepdad died of cancer. We talked about non-consequential things a bit. I made one last final attempt to repair our friendship by sending her a song I felt said exactly how I felt, and she responded via a long email a week later. We eventually got back to where we were up until last Sunday. Now I don’t know what’s going on and how I should try to fix it, if I should fix it, or if this will be a repeated problem in the future. It seems like there’s issues of her own she needs to get help for in order for our friendship to not hit this point again and again.
    I’ve rambled a lot. But at least I’m not crying anymore.
    It’s really annoying that there’s not more support for friendships. I keep coming across relationship articles that seems like they would help me but they’re tailored for romantic relationships or work relationships and some of the suggested solutions don’t apply. I feel like my friend and I could benefit from friendship counseling–that’s what we need!

  73. Jae, thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m glad that you used this forum as a place to process some of your thoughts and feelings. I totally agree, there is NOT enough helpful info out there around how to deal with turbulence in a friend relationship. Noted! I’ll put some thought into this and come up with some resources for you. (Stay tuned for an artice or podcast about friend relationships on the Growing Self blog!)

    In the meantime, I think that there are a lot of relationship counselors and coaches that would probably be open to working with you and your friend. You are always welcome to schedule a free consultation with any of the counselors / coaches on our team to talk about this.

    If you did this with anyone in our group, I’d advise that you make an appointment for relationship coaching and then attend the consult with your friend. FYI, if you just go on your own to the consult it may make it harder for your friend to engage with this, because she may feel like you “poisoned the well” by sharing your perspective first. My two cents.

    This sounds like a really important relationship to you, and I hope that she is open to doing this with you. All the best, Lisa Marie Bobby

  74. I am definitely avoider in my marriagemy husband’s intense reactions to issues with me have left me feeling ridiculed criticized and Miss understood also unappreciated I love him but I don’t think that were compatible I have become completely emotionally shut down I know that I’m not trying anymore but it’s all that I can give I don’t know what else to do whenever we try to get to the bottom of issues it’s always a long list of problems I have and things that I need to fix but nothing for him leaves me feeling like I wish I would have never tried to have a conversation in the first place reminds me of why I choose to stay quiet Im never truly heard

  75. I’m the pursuer. Definitely.

    My girlfriend immediately shuts down but her reasoning is that I have issues too frequently. And that i bring things to her too often.
    My thought is that it’s so frequent because we never get to the end of a conversation to actually resolve things because within 2 minutes she’s shutting down. And nothing gets resolved or changed in real life. So I experience the same issue and it happens daily. How do I bring change in our relationship if I can’t communicate long enough to convey what is needed?

    Her belief is that if I’m not bothered by things. I won’t be bringing them to her and she won’t lose her peace. So my only option is to just get over it and by it, I mean everything that could upset me. Is that my only option?

  76. Hi .. I’m not sure how to handle certain situations with my girlfriend.. she gets irritated with me so fast especially if I ever try to talk about what is bothering me between us … she gets annoyed and shuts down .. doesnt fare what I have to say and I make it worse by trying to talk to her about it and discuss whatever happened at the time .. she just wants to ignore it and 20 minutes later it’s like its forgotten about but I’m tired of just ignoring the issue .. she is mad that we fight and bicker over little things far to often but wont work with me to fix it .. I really do love her but I dont know how to handle this situation..

  77. If I do something wrong that affects her. It’s my fault and I do everything I can to address it and work on it and give her what she needs to feel better. When she does something wrong that affects me. It’s my fault that I let it get to me and my fault that I bring it to her. Even in a place where I just describe an action or remind her of an agreement we have made. I’m still at fault in her eyes because I’m making her lose her sense of peace. How does one get into a place where issues can to be addressed without her shutting down and blaming me for bringing them to her?
    I either need to sit on my feelings and experiences for a long enough time that she doesn’t feel like it’s so often. Or I need to just live my life affected. Trying not to affect her. What do I do? Is it the type of thing where I just have to come to terms with the fact that I will have a partner that hurts me? Or just have to just stop being hurt by the things she does that hurts me? Is that a slippery slope that will lead to her future infidelity that will be my fault because I am bothered by it?

  78. My fiance and I have been together for a year. In that year he has been in a mental hospital (put there by his spouse at the time), jail (put there for defending me from said spouse after she physically assaulted me), and has been through a lot emotionally. Throughout all of this chaos, we remained strong and powerfully in love together. Facing each obstacle as a team. The world around us saw how happy and strong we were. He shut down once after his longest, 3 week stay in the hospital and was depressed for about a month. At that time he did not have a job so I didn’t push him to come out of it. I knew he needed that time and he had a bit of savings to survive on. Throughout that month, however, he spoke with me regularly. Was able to feel good with me. Recently, his divorce is finalizing and it seems the paperwork overwhelmed him. He shut down, stopped going to work, but this time, stopped talking to me as well. I panicked and went through every stage of emotions you can. I regret some of my behavior. I don’t know how else to cope with the pain and hurt I am feeling from this shutdown. No matter how I communicate it to him, he seems just dazed and lost.

  79. Crystal, sounds like you marriage is not in a good place and I am sorry for that. These things do not resolve on their own, but rather tend to get worse over time (without intervention). I hope that you consider getting involved in some high-quality marriage counseling. Caveat: Many therapists who do NOT have specialized training in couples counseling will be very happy to meet with you for couples counseling and they will not be able to help you. They may actually make it worse. When you’re ready to get help for your relationship please look for a licensed marriage and family therapist, ideally with training in either The Gottman Method or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — two extremely effective, evidence-based forms of marriage counseling. Here are a few such providers in our practice: About Us.
    These issues are solvable up to a certain point. But listen, relationships can past “the point of no return.” If / when that happens it’s going to be too late to fix. As a marriage counselor, I’ve seen couples put this off and but the time they finally show up in my office it’s very, very hard to fix. Sometimes, not fixable. [More on this subject: “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage.] I hear that you still care about your marriage and are hoping it could get better. Don’t wait Crystal!!

    Good luck,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  80. The problem with me and my boyfriend is that he can’t communicate at all. When I say that the food was a bit salty, or a little less spice would make dinner perfect, he feels like I’m personally attacking him or bringing him down. When we are out and I don’t agree with him on something (could be as simple as: ah, no I don’t feel like having dinner there), he sometimes feels the same way. However, he doesn’t say anything. His reaction is treating me badly by ignoring me in the way of not showing me any kind of affection: no kiss, no hugs, not wanting to hold me or hold my hand, never giving any compliments. I seriously don’t remember the last time he said something nice about me, but it would probably be about 5 years ago. But I have to tell him how wonderful he is all the time or he behaves that way to punish me because i happened not to agree with him on something… And he starts “little” and then goes worse to the point where friends tell me there is no human or warm feeling from him at all. When I ask him after a while, he says: yes, but you had some comments. My first reaction is of course: why didn’t you tell me? I know what he’s like, so I try to be less direct and sometimes ask him if it’s ok what I say. His answer is: sometimes I don’t mind, other times I do… I’ve tried to explain to him that I can’t guess when it is and when it isn’t and that we’re both adults so for me it seems perfectly ok for me to say when I don’t agree with him, just like it’s perfectly ok if he says that he doesn’t agree with me… I can of course work on how I say things if I know he doesn’t like me to be too direct. He also says there’s a difference: if he asks me what dinner is like, it’s apparently ok for me to say something, otherwise it’s seen as an attack. I seriously feel like that’s is a very wrong way of thinking, is that wrong of me?
    He has a very troublesome relationship with his parents, mainly with his father and stepmother, and always he blames everyone else for everything, but never looks at himself. His father never calls him or meets him, so that’s everyone’s fault – but he never picks up the phone himself to give his father a call either… When he lived with his mother, he would go away for the weekend or come home late and not even inform her about it. When we just moved in together, he would do the same with me: just inform me that the next morning he would go camping, but not tell me where or for how long and then not send me any message during his trip… This at least has gotten better.
    Either way… I’ve done everything, calm speaking, getting angry, I’ve started crying because I felt so lost (he just left the room), I’ve given examples, I’ve acknowledged that I’m not perfect either, and I don’t want him to be, but if he doesn’t want to communicate at all, there is nothing that can change or get better and I just can’t live with being treated this way anymore.
    Usually when we speak, he ends up admitting to not being able to talk and that it is a problem (we often have to sit for 1 hour with him staring blankly in the distance before he says one sentence… or before I give up…). When I ask him what he will do about it, there’s silence again, and then the next morning he says he’ll be home late the next day…
    We went to therapy a few times a few years ago and there we agreed that he needs to work on his communication and that he would says something when something bothered him so I know about it, and also that he would see a therapist by himself to work on his issues… He never did anything with it and when I ask him now he just ignores me.
    I just don’t understand, we’ve built up a whole life, we’re living together and still he treats me like i’m not even worthy of a little bit of respect or his time or some “human warmth”. The first time we had a disagreement, he said: ah well, this isn’t working then, if you disagree or have a fight, you just have to break up. He seriously seemed to never have heard about the fact that life isn’t always perfect and that you can talk to solve issues.
    I honestly am wondering if he’s just being an asshole, I’m finding it hard to believe that you would say: yes i have a problem, it’s messing with any kind of relationship I have with people, but i refuse to do anything about it… I’ m tired of living with someone with the emotional intelligence of a 3-year old (sorry for this way of wording), I wish I could do something, but i have no idea how we can solve this if he isn’t willing to do anything.

  81. Mike, when things like this keep happening over and over, despite your best efforts, it’s a sign that it’s time for couples counseling. What you’re doing isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean there is “no other option.” Just because you don’t know how to fix this doesn’t mean it cannot be fixed. I would highly recommend your seeking out couples counseling or relationship coaching with someone who understands this dynamic. I bet that there is quite a bit your GF might share if she felt emotionally safe enough to do so. Meeting with a third party can create the environment where she can hear you in a different way, and where you can hear her in a different way. Only then can you create meaningful and lasting change in your relationship. Go to couples counseling Mike — no need to keep beating your head against a wall. Good luck, LMB

  82. Doug, you too are describing a situation that is not likely to change unless you two get involved with some great couples counseling. Clearly, you care about your partner very much. But the communication pattern here is not one that is sustainable. Take it to a great couples therapist, and be open to the process. A really good couples counselor will create an environment of emotional safety, but will also actively prevent you two from engaging in the old, unhelpful patterns. Instead they’ll ask you both a bunch of questions, and get you both to practice hearing and understanding each other in a new way. Then you can create solutions.

    An old, wise supervisor once told me, “The only time people don’t make sense is when you don’t have all the information.” I can hear in your post that you do not understand why your girlfriend is acting the way she is. It is mystifying. (You’re probably confusing to her too). I hope that you get her in to couples counseling where you can begin having the types of conversations with her where you start to understand the needs and intentions underneath the behavior. With that knowledge you can begin doing a different “dance” together — one that will bring you closer together instead of pushing each other further away.

    I hope you do Doug, because unless something changes here you’re not describing a situation that is going to work for either of you long term.

    My best to you both,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  83. You know, emotional enmeshment is something that takes down many relationships. You are spot on – when you are each so reactive to what either of you is or is not doing, and NEED for each other to be a certain way in order to feel okay… that’s just a race to the bottom. It’s really imperative that you both learn how to stand emotionally on your two feet. So if she’s being a weirdo one day, it’s not going to destroy you — and vice versa.

    I would highly, highly recommend couples counseling here: This dynamic is only going to get worse over time, without intervention. Depending on how reactive you each are, and whether or not you are able to regulate your feelings to the point where healthy interactions are possible, your couples therapist may recommend that you do some individual growth work as well. It may be the case where you both have to work on yourselves before a different kind of relationship is possible together.

    However, I’m a big believer in the growth process, and the first step of change is understanding what the problem is. You seem like you have a lot of clarity about the nature of the problem and that is a great start. Now, do something with it! Get thee into couples counseling! LMB

  84. You’re right! There is no way to solve this if nothing changes. I would strongly encourage you to get into couples counseling with a marriage and family therapist. You said you did “therapy” in the past and he was advised to improve his communication. However, in my experience the majority of “couples counselors” out there happily offering their services to a vulnerable public do not actually have specialized training and experience in couples counseling. It’s an outrage. If you want to take another run at this, here is more information about how to choose a marriage counselor. Whatever you do, do not go to a “relationship coach.” You need a licensed, experienced marriage and family therapist. (Preferably one who utilizes Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy or The Gottman Method of marriage counseling).

    But you’re totally right. The situation you’re describing is not sustainable, nor will it change without intervention. So your choices are 1) file for divorce or 2) try marriage counseling with someone competent or 3) continue doing this and grow into a bitter, resentful old woman.

    If he refuses to go with you, go by yourself. At the very least you will have emotional support and guidance to help you figure out what you need to do for yourself, if no change is possible within this relationship.

    My best to you both,
    Lisa

  85. I am the pursuer. I have been with my boyfriend for 11 years. Anytime there is a issue in our relationship he shuts down. He puts his head down and never looks at me when I’m pouring my heart out to him. I can’t get more than a few words out of him. If I talk for more than 15 minutes he goes bananas!! He gets loud and screams at me how he’s tired of talking!! But… How are u tired of talking if you literally haven’t said more than two words?!! I’ve tried everything!! I always tell him I’m trying to save our relationship and how much I love him and want it to work and even cry while he’s looking down at the floor… Its like he has no heart at all! Then if I keep talking even after he has his screaming fit… He will start blaming me for why he acts this way. He is constantly walking away from me in mid sentence, hanging up on me and even goes to bed while I’m crying for him. It is a big mess. I don’t know what to do anymore. 11 years and he hasn’t married me I feel like a fool. Things are only good when he’s in a good mood. When he’s in a bad mood he’s disrespectful, mean , shuts down and doesn’t care about anything concerning us. Please help!!

  86. The pursuer. I try and try and try and no response. On the rare occasion I do get one, it’s to appease my feelings. Only twice did I get real, raw emotion. Enough to validate my concerns at the time, but not enough to heal what we’re going through. I know with no intervention, our relationship will not last…

  87. Sam, thanks for sharing. Based on what you’ve said, I think you might be right. I know that it is so frustrating when you try and try, and it’s like banging your fists against a closed door. In my experience there’s probably a lot on the other side of that door that might feel overwhelming to your partner, and they are likely just as confused and frustrated as you are.

    I sincerely hope you two do get some help to work through this impasse. One low-key way to get started might be for you both to take our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” online quiz. Not just for the quiz itself (although even answering the questions can be instructive), but because I’ve created a bunch of follow up videos that talk through the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships in key domains, including communication and negative behaviors.

    You can take the quiz and then invite your partner to do the same (they’ll get an email with a link to the quiz.) My hope is that if you can get them engaged with this, and get them to watch those videos, it might help them to understand how their shutting down and refusing to communicate is impacting you and the health of this relationship.

    Sometimes (and I do wish this were different) it takes hearing a professional talk about the impact of these kinds of behaviors on a relationship to help a withdrawer / avoider understand how toxic these behaviors actually are. (Which I know is totally annoying, because I’m sure it’s exactly what you’ve been saying for so long). But people who tend to withdraw and avoid often feel like they are being virtuous or even protecting the relationship by doing so, or like they’re taking the moral high ground by “not engaging.” They really don’t know how harmful this stance can be to a relationship.

    Anyway, see if you can get your person to take the quiz and watch the videos. I’m a big believer in education: Nobody gets “taught” how to do relationships. We just muddle through them. Sometimes all it takes is learning a few new ideas, and then people can begin to open up and experiment with new things.

    If watching the videos is not enough to activate change, perhaps getting the “inside scoop” around how relationships change and grow, and some advice from a marriage counselor will warm your partner to the idea of going to talk to someone. (And if you do that you’ll have a head start — send in your quiz results and you two can hit the ground running).

    Anyway, my two cents. I’ll be hopeful for you — let me know how it goes!

    All the best,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  88. Kiki: You’re describing a really hard relationship dynamic. I cannot help you here, in the comments section of a blog post. What could help you is getting involved in some excellent, high quality couples counseling to see if this can change or not. If your partner refuses to go with you, you have your answer.

    Eleven years is a long time, and I would hate for you to spend more of your precious life in an unsustainable, toxic relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable and verbally abusive towards you.

    If couples counseling winds up not being an option, at the very least I hope you get involved in some good personal growth work to help you heal from the damage you’ve probably sustained in this relationship, figure out what is best for you and your life, and how to create healthy, positive, affirming relationships going forward.

    Respectfully,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  89. My husband and I both have had significant childhood trauma which I am certain contributes to our communication issues. I have sought professional help. He refuses. He tells me his over the top reactions are my fault and I “make” him do it.
    So as per his rules I modulate how I’ve approached him about things which upset me. Turns out that no matter the approach he gets angry, shuts down, walks away.
    I’ve recognized this results in fights never resolving. He prefers to walk away and then pretend everything’s okay in a few days. Inside I’m still hurt but I don’t want to start a fight so I let it go and the next time we argue it all comes out. I recognize that’s not the best way to deal with it.
    He’s the love of my life on his good days but almost a fussy stubborn child when things aren’t his way. However he says everything has to be my way.
    He wallows in misery about life’s circumstances such as large tax bills but procrastinates about paying so if I try to jump in he says I’m “bossing” him. We struggle financially and he pays child support for four kids and two are adults (24 and 21–one is married!) when I gently approached him about filing papers to drop the two adult children off child support since he’s always complaining about finances, he gets mad and says it’s not my business. I earn more than him and contribute all of my money to our account so i say it’s my business too.
    I’ve asked him what approach i can take to talk to him that will get better results and he says he doesn’t know but has taken the time to diagnose me via google with “morbid jealousy”. I love him but I’m worn out with his defeatist, victim, anger-prone attitude

  90. Oh and he’s been diagnosed with PTSD for years since his military service and now he’s a police officer. I’ve been trying to help him get connected with the VA and he has such anxiety about the VA that he lashes out at me and says I’m “bossing” him. We all walk on eggshells because the kids making loud noise, door slams, anything out of place in the house is cause for him to overreact. If I try to mention it he gets angry and defensive and says “I know I’m a crazy SOB!” I don’t think he’s crazy. I’m a police officer too and know what PTSD is. He prides himself on being passive and non judgmental of everyone but he’s extra hateful to me. I’m suffering extreme burnout at work but there’s no time to deal with that considering all his issues that need attention

  91. Kiki, you’ve just described my marriage of 10 years. Please walk away. You do NOT want to marry someone like that.

  92. I’m the persuer because my partner makes me feel emotionally invalidated. I try to explain to him why I feel hurt by what he said, that I feel dismissed, and he usually answers with “I don’t understand why you’re feeling this way. You’re overreacting. I don’t get it.” Then he completely shuts down and is either silent or keeps repeating he doesn’t understand me. After a situation like this I just cry and feel ashamed of going too far in my frustration.

    I try to explain to him over and over again that I’m not angry, I’m hurt by his invalidation of my feelings but he still doesn’t understand. Once he left me sitting next to him on the sofa, crying my eyes out without saying a word or without touching me at all. I don’t know, maybe I’m really overreacting, but I think it was very cruel. I was really upset that night. I also once told him he doesn’t have to understand, all he has to do is respect my feelings. It helped for some time but not for long. It makes me really sad because in other aspects of life, he is a wonderful, kind, loving person. But sometimes he withdraws to the point, where he becomes cruel.

    It’s so strange. I was never in a relationship like this. I never felt this strongly and never cared this deeply about how my partner treats me. With other people, I never felt hurt to this point. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

  93. Natalie, thank you for sharing your story. I can understand how this would feel like a really difficult situation, and one that is not sustainable for you long term. I recently recorded a podcast episode about “When To Call it Quits In a Relationship” that you might want to listen to. I talk through different situations, including ones like these, and what to do when really hurtful things are happening and you’re feeling hopeless about whether or not it can change. It sounds like you love your partner very much, and I hope for both of you that positive change is possible. I hope you listen to this episode and that it provides you with some direction about how to find out, one way or another.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Dr. Lisa

  94. What if its narcissism and he is intimidating you and controlling you? He yells so you will stop talking about something he did? Part of narcissistic abuse?

  95. Tracy, thanks for bringing up this important point. Yes, power and control and abuse (narcissistic or otherwise) is absolutely NOT what we’re talking about here. The communication strategies I suggested in this article are helpful to improve garden-variety, normal communication problems that many (if not most) couples experience from time to time. Abusive relationships are a completely different thing.

    If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, couples therapy is not appropriate. The best course of action is to seek the services of a competent, local mental health provider with experience in domestic violence recovery. (As an individual. Not as a couple). More resources and information on this important topic here: https://www.thehotline.org.

    Good conversation everyone! Thanks for being so kind and supportive to each other. I really appreciate your perspective, and our vibrant community!

    Dr. Lisa

  96. Hi Doc, I am the pursuer. I think I have pushed it too far. I think I have messed everything up. I have pursued it and pushed him of the edge. He doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. He is not picking up my calls or reading my texts. I have messed up what we just started. I am so sad. He said he regrets reaching out to me… I am sad. I don’t want to lose him.

  97. I am the pursuer. I find it painful while waiting for her to come back. Definitely a test of my patience and unconditional love.

  98. Hi Berry, I’m sorry you’re going through this. As pursuers or when we have an anxious attachment style, it can be so scary to back off, stop pursuing that connection or reassurance, and respect our partner’s needs for time and space. It takes time to heal the source of anxiety, and the use of regulation tools to use when that anxiety escalates (instead of pursuing). Have you worked with a counselor on this? For now, I know it’s not easy and probably not what you want to hear, but the best way to repair the relationship and rebuild trust is to respect your partner’s boundaries now. Reach out to someone else for support as you learn to carry your emotions. You can do this for you (it’s ultimately so empowering!), but also know it’s your best chance of repair. Warmly, Lisa

  99. I am neither a pursuer nor avoider. I don’t have any issues with my relationship with my girlfriend, but she is convinced I do. She is forever asking me why I’m not happy, what my needs are, and what she could be doing better. I honestly tell her I’m happy, if I had unmet needs I would tell her, and I don’t want her to change anything about how she relates to me. She doesn’t believe me, starts to cry, and demands to know “why I don’t trust her with my feelings”. I guess she just loves drama. Well, I can’t stand it, and it’s going to become a dealbreaker. The last time we had this discussion, I told her yes, there is something that is bothering me: The fact that she’s always asking me what’s wrong when there is nothing wrong. And her not believing me when I say I’m fine. I’m seriously considering breaking up with her over this. It’s so annoying.

    1. Hi John,
      It sounds like your girlfriend is seeking reassurance and trying to pull you closer, but when she doesn’t trust you, it’s understandably pushing you away. I have a few episodes that might help shed some light on why this is happening, and makes sense of what she’s experiencing and why she’s acting this way. They are “Attachment Styles in Relationships,” “Attachment Styles: Relationship Help,” “Attachment Styles: How do You Connect?,” and “Attachment Style Quiz.” Sharing these with your girlfriend and chatting about them might also help her to understand her feelings, and that you aren’t keeping anything from her. I also recommend “Communication that Connects” for help in talking with her in a way that will help break the communication pattern you describe. Finally, meeting with a couples counselor could help her hear what you have to say, in a way she hasn’t been able to do so far. I hope this is helpful for you! xoxo, Lisa

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