Q. My name is Amy and I have been with my boyfriend for 2 years. We share a really good relationship; but there are times when my boyfriend just doesn’t want to talk especially when we fight. He goes silent and withdraws and it’s extremely frustrating when he does that. I want him to talk and know what he is thinking. However he just wants to be left alone.
I am not a nag and I don’t yell or shout when I am fighting with him. But I have no choice to express my displeasure when he gives me the silent treatment. I am not sure if he does this because he feels he can handle it or because he is thinking about how to solve the problem or because he doesn’t even want to think about it.
What can I do to help him open him up and share his thoughts and feelings honestly?
A. Hi Amy,
I feel for what you are experiencing. It can be so frustrating when your partner won’t open up, especially when you know something is up. Your instinct is right, though, he may just need time to cool off. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it can be very healthy to take some personal time in the midst of an argument.
The component of a happy and healthy relationship, however, includes a time when the couple comes back together to discuss what it is was they were arguing about in a less emotional state so that things can be resolved. If you walk away from the argument and both individuals cool off without revisiting the issue, nothing really gets resolved. In that case, your boyfriend may be “stonewalling.” Stonewalling is a negative way of avoiding conflict and tuning out. What makes this action negative is that it is non-productive. Taking a time out to cool off in the heat of an argument is fine, but there needs to be a point in time (scheduled preferably) where you both come together to finish talking in a calm and receptive manner. There needs to be some type of resolution to the argument.
Lastly, it is important to discuss your feelings with your boyfriend. He is entitled to a certain amount of privacy when processing his feelings. He doesn’t have to discuss everything he is feeling with you so you have to be able to let him have that space.
However, if there are key things that he is not discussing with you, it is important that you tell him how concerned you are about that. Find a neutral time when you can talk about your feelings and be careful not to accuse him of withholding things from you, but rather, discuss how his difficulty with expressing his feelings affects you and why it is that concerns you.
Saying something like, “I know that when you’re upset you need your space and I can definitely honor that. Yet I feel so helpless and frustrated when I’m not sure what’s going on with you. Since we are a team, I really would like to be someone you can lean on to share your feelings with. Would you be able to share why it’s difficult for you to open up with me?”
Presenting your concerns in a way that conveys that you are not trying to “fix” his stuff, but rather trying to work as a team to make sure your relationship runs smoothly, may help him open up a bit.
About Kristy Labardee
Kristy Labardee is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Redlands, California. She counsels individuals, couples, and families seeking to improve their lives.
She specializes in working with couples, anxiety, depression, and trauma.
She especially enjoys working with military families and MFT Students/Interns. You can find out more about Kristy by visiting her website at www.kristylabardeecounseling.com.
Follow her on Twitter (@KristyLabardee) or connect with her on Facebook (Kristy Labardee, MS, LMFT).
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