Why Men Withdraw Emotionally.

Via on Feb 3, 2014

Basement Series: Sadness

In a relationship, having your partner withdraw at an emotional level can bring confusion, pain and frustration.

Women who relate to men that do this are often bewildered by why and how this happens.

Speaking as a man, and one who considers himself sensitive and emotionally available, there are particular situations and scenarios that cause me to withdraw. And I imagine that other men, regardless of how in-tune they are with their emotional nature, would respond in similar ways.

Just because a man withdraws does not mean he is withdrawing from you.

First, I just wanted to express that when a man seeks solace or withdraws from a conversation, it probably has nothing to do with the beloved. It has more to do with the emotional intensity and confusion around emotions than with any particular person. It just takes men more time to integrate and understand the watery realm of emotions. And understanding emotions isn’t something that happens for us spontaneously in the midst of a heated discussion.

We need space and time to figure out what is happening, both within our own self and with our beloved.

Men have been discouraged from feeling emotional. We have been mocked, attacked, and belittled when showing emotions. Big boys don’t cry, toughen up, and bite the bullet are all phrases men grow up with. So when we are faced with emotional situations, we are total novices.

don draper

The biggest harm that is not recognized or appreciated for the depth of damage that it causes at the emotional level to a man is that men are expected to be tough, to protect, and kill to defend their family. Violence, and the expectation of violence, mandates an absence of emotional sensitivity.

It is a double standard to expect a man to be emotionally available and to have him be able to harm another human being.

Have compassion and understand the kind of conundrum that a man faces when being emotional vulnerable and awakening to deeper sensitivities. It is rare enough to find a man who wants to delve within and unleash his inner passion. It doesn’t mean that he is going to be masterful at it. For men to be comfortable in their own skin and accept their feeling nature takes a growth curve.

A woman has a lifetime of experience navigating the oceanic tides of emotional states.

Women grow up with emotional states and are accepted as sensitive, feeling beings. She is able to observe, feel, recognize and better communicate her feelings than a man. Women are also adept at observing and recognizing the emotional states in other people. And when a woman finds a man who loves her, at some level, she feels a great deal of hope because she has found an emotional match, somebody who understands those hidden tides and influences.

Women will share all their heart and feelings, and not understand how this can impact a man. And when a man doesn’t respond as she needs, the feelings of being hurt or misunderstood arise. How those feelings are expressed matter a great deal.

The best men want an intimate connection with women, and often don’t know how to do that.

Men don’t fall short in the emotional realm because we are emotionally immature. We are emotionally inexperienced. Men face expectations and pressure about emotions that are confusing and contradictory. And when we find a woman who loves us and we love in return, it brings to life a living fire that had been suppressed for a lifetime. Yet fires burn, and the burgeoning sensitivities is akin to a child learning to walk. We fall down, we make blunders, and we are blind as to how to listen and communicate our emotions.

Men experience a learning curve when awakening to their deepest sensitivities.

And just as any beginner, they make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are colossal, and sometimes laughable. Men need an emotional example, how to be live with and operate with emotions in a healthy way. We also need to be accepted as we are, beginners with beautiful intention. To demand for a man to have the mastery over their emotions is an outrageous expectation. For most men, mastery over emotions means suppressing them, hiding feelings behind a mask of stoicism, or just turning off the emotions entirely. It takes time to even identify the subtle emotions, let alone to know how they function and their influence on our own self and those around us.

Any teacher knows that mocking a beginner or putting them down, criticizing them or their approach, will stunt the learning curve, if not completely stopping it.

The beloved woman becomes that guide into the mysterious realms of feeling emotions. When she expresses anger, puts down her man, belittles or mocks him, a man feels attacked. When she demands him to be sensitive, a man feels not good enough.

And when a man faces a womans wrath he will respond in the ways he has been taught to feel emotions since early childhood ; with anger. Anger is one of the few emotions accepted in men because it is a necessary emotion to be a soldier-killer. Anger is a natural defensive response for men. And once we become angry with our beloved, there is a host of problems that arise afterwards. Guilt, shame, inadequacy, failure, and fear. These siblings to anger are inevitable when fury shows its face, especially when we know that our loved one has been hurt as a result of our anger.

The words spoken in anger harm the recipient and the speaker.

It takes time for a man to feel comfortable feeling emotions. After all, such a man is challenging the tenets and pressure of an entire society and its deeply ingrained training.

A man’s natural response when hurt or confused is to withdraw. Almost everybody knows about the masculine need to retreat to the cave. And whether this is physical space, or mental space, or even silence, the cave is an essential healing tool for the manly mind. The cave allows integration of the experience, introspection to see what is happening within, and understanding to know how to better respond in the future.

Women set the example and emotional tone that allows their partner to feel safe.

When a man faces a woman who is emotionally stable, it allows him to understand his own emotions. The depth of understanding that the woman has with herself and her own emotional nature will give him the security to express and unveil his own strengths. The woman who is emotionally secure brings a presence of emotional security to the relationship. A well meaning man will appreciate this and do his best, and grow faster and reveal the depths of his spirit with increasing strength and confidence.

Granted, the ideal is that a man can figure out his emotional state and come into his own emotional maturity through his own self-generated willpower. Yet the reality is that teachers, guides and mentors accelerate this process and help a person navigate the confusing and mysterious realms of emotions. There are a great many pitfalls and bewildering mirages when it comes to the shifting sands of sensitivities. And as man learns his emotional state, he is also facing the additional challenges from his friends, family, and world that challenges that awakening at every step.

The woman who is insecure with her own emotions will see a man who withdraws as a threat and denigrate him and go on the attack. This is the antithesis of supportive behavior.

She may not realize that he is a man who is brave beyond measure to face his own soul and bare his spirit with vulnerable trust. When a man doesn’t respond as she needs and demands at the emotional level, lashing out will only cause harm. Gentle understanding and compassionate acceptance brings healing and deepens the relationship. One of the best qualities women have is the ability to nurture.

Nurturing is not aggressive. And with a man, directing aggression at him will generate an aggressive response. He will either fight or run. The flight or fight response is deeply ingrained into every human being. In essence, attacking a man who is opening his heart will trigger a survival level instinct. Once that survival level power fully awakens in relationship, the dynamics in the relationship changes and may never come back to equilibrium.

Nurturing is not forceful, instead it is accepting and allows for a natural growth curve. Be patient.

Just as a tree takes time to come into its fullness and blossom, a man who is learning to embrace his deeper truths will need time to fully ripen into his potential.

Appreciate the men who take the time to stand up against society to discover, feel, live and unleash their sensitive side. It takes a lion’s heart full of courage to face down societal expectations and programmed beliefs. Give him gratitude, honor his spirit, thank him for being available with his sensitivity in ANY way that he is able.

Such a person is one of a kind, a warrior in the truest meaning of the word.


Relephant reads:

Men Need Touch Too. 

Men—Stop Going to Women for All of your Emotional Support.

Men Have Feelings, Too.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives

About Keith Artisan

Keith Artisan is merely a human being, not too different yet certainly not the same as anyone else. He found himself on this planet many years ago and enjoys exploring the mystery of life because it makes him laugh a lot. Keith loves earning a living with his talents as a musician, artist, writer, and yoga instructor. He is most frequently found at music jams and the rest of the time exploring nature, climbing boulders, playing video games, reading, and hanging out with family and friends. He is online at Facebook and his website, Living Artisan .


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103 Responses to “Why Men Withdraw Emotionally.”

  1. wisesage77 says:

    Well, I can say living this right now. It is a long painful road. After 15 years, 3 children and being his "rock". He has shut down and shut me and the children out completely. I must say my entire reality is fractured into pieces f what did I do wrong. And why won't God help us? The man… I knew.. I commit my life to.. Turned into a selfish ,cold, withdrawn monster. It's abusive behavior. If a man is ill-equipped he need to seek the resources and help. If his pride prevents him from doing so, he will hurt all who truly love him and have been patient. Pride goeth before destruction.

  2. Lucy says:

    WOW!!! Perfect and poignant right now . . . Thank You!!!!

  3. Lisa Franklin says:

    That's all well and good, but at some point us emotionally evolved women get tired and frustrated with having to constantly be the teacher. Our needs have to be met eventually, instead of being drained completely because the other person cannot face their emotions.

  4. @nessman says:

    This article hits the nail on the head. Gonna print this one out and take it to our next marriage therapy session. Struggling with this and my wife now. I had a crappy childhood and it made me into who I am. When I try to open up to my wife, I get shut down or dismissed. And yeah – it hurts… and as a result, I put that brick back in my wall.

    And ladies – guess what, while we may not show emotion, or externalize it, or otherwise share our feelings with you – that doesn't mean we're devoid of feeling or emotion, nor are we robots either. Deep down inside, we do feel pain, hurt, sadness, happiness, joy, elation, etc.

    We're not your girlfriends, sisters, mothers, wives, etc. Don't expect us to be YOU. Be nice to us and we'll return the favor. Guys are more emotionally vulnerable than you think we are. As the saying goes – happy wife, happy life. Treat us like crap and we'll shut you out. Pretty simple. Listen to enough Dr. Laura and the some of the more common calls into her show are "I was a bitch to him and then he cheated on me and now I'm hurt." Well, duh. Not too hard to figure out why he did that now, is it?

    • Treena says:

      Oh dear.. you may not be aware of it sir, but it sounds like you are begin quite passive and shirking responsibility in your relationship. "I had a crappy childhood and it made me who I am..": Dear sir, it is *your* life, and you get to choose how to respond to what happens in it. If you were starved for something as a child, I am sorry. You are now an adult, and you get to choose who and how you are now. If you want love, nurturing, presence and openness, be loving, nurturing, present and open. You may have chosen a woman who reminded you of you mother in some way, as we all often seek partners that have characteristics similar to the parents we were wounded by and are trying to resolve issues with through our adult experiences of love. A word of caution to you: you really do sound like you are blaming your wife and your mother for all the problems you are having emotionally. I don't think things will go well for you in life if you are unable to take responsibility for your own heart and your own way of being. This is a developmental phase.. we are not suddenly "all growed up" when we have jobs and marriages and mortgages.. life offers maturational opportunities throughout, and they are choices. Problems and pain happen to draw our attention to things we need to change from within ourselves and translate outward. This is healing. You may find that if you take responsibility for yourself, your feelings, and your actions, that your wife begins to respond to you differently. You may find you are able to heal your relationship and save your marriage. I wish you the best of luck.. I'm sure you can do it.. I hope you choose to.

  5. Cara McKinney says:

    While I appreciate the efforts to let us in and help us understand what we can do to help men come to more comfort with expression of emotions, I feel a major component is missing.

    We all need emotional support from that person we call our boyfriend, husband, girlfriend or wife. Not just men, not just women. It is impossible or close to it to stay emotionally stable always. No one I know or have learned of has achieved that sort of grande plateau. My point is, it is not realistic to think a woman, the emotional being, can both be her naturally fluctuating, support and tenderness needing self while simultaneously being the teacher, lover, and patience holder in the relationship. Where does said woman turn when she feels unstable and the man can’t handle the possibility of lashing out or her being a bit insecure? Where does she turn when there is no patience in reserve, when it is her turn to experience the (perhaps) equivalent of a man cave, a break down an emotional spewing?

    We are all human. We are all learning, and the curve is steep.

  6. Joe Sparks says:

    Both men and women are messed up! Neither in my experience are doing that great! Instead, we need to change society to make our lives go better. We are way more a like then different. You cannot really be yourself until we start to heal from the damage of the past. Let's face it. We all are terrified and show it in different ways, by withdrawing and feeling victimized. Most of us feel bad and need to stop blaming the other. It is all nonsense. Men need to work with other men to heal from these hurts. Women need to work with other women with their hurts. Then maybe we can get together and help each other out.

  7. james says:

    I like this article its actually really true and I love it. I have 3 brothers and most of my cousins are men too. When I was young I was brought up to be strong, men don't cry, suck it up, or stop crying or ill give you a reason to cry. Its how men are raised I was brought to believe. Yes the mother is there to nurture them, but the father is there to mentor is how society sees it and the child holds the father at a higher authority usually. I remember fracturing my leg in 8th grade and was told to suck it up so I did I bottled up my emotions and drove on to be strong. Its a messed up thing that happened yeah, I should have gone to the hospital but things happen. I saw asking for help or even excepting help was admitting weakness. Join the army and same thing is instilled in you going through basic training have to be tough have to be the best and push through any obstacle. So when I entered a serious and intimate relationship things were rough. I've been in relationships before but not as serious when your young. Started off normal very socialable then when I started to get seriously emotionally attached to her I had no idea what to do. I became distant I didn't know what to say or do. I was panicking in my own head because I never felt that way about someone before and I was angry with myself for not knowing what to do. I was struggling because to me I felt I wasn't functioning normally. And her not knowing what was going on because I had know idea how to express my love for her, she cut me off immediately and completely. It was the worst feeling in the world and I wasn't in a relationship for years after. focused on my military career as a way to cope. I still think about her every now and then but I think that time gave me some time to reflect and I learned more on how to communicate a bit better in emotionally weird(menwise) situations and more about myself in the process and what I actually want in life, a family I can love till the day I die.

  8. Bec says:

    How do you suggest a woman nurtures a man who has gone quiet and retreated into his cave?

  9. M. says:

    I love some of the comments here. Someone needs to write a follow up article to what they women are supposed to do. I’m 35 and I’ve been a teacher to men for all these years. When is my turn? I’m human and as a woman I have needs too.

  10. R says:

    Wow, seriously? “To demand for a man to have the mastery over their emotions is an outrageous expectation.” This has to be one of the most insulting things I’ve read in years. Maybe a boy masquerading as a man would have issue with his emotions, but a real man doesn’t. I’m not sure this author has ever met a man. The issue is that men deal with emotions differently than women. Women not recognizing this feel that men are inept at dealing because we don’t do it the way they do. Most of the confusion comes from the fact that we have different requirements for emotional security. Learn what your partner needs to feel secure. Tell your partner what you need to feel secure. If you can’t communicate your needs, you have a problem no relationship will survive. As for the teacher part, sorry but unless I want to be a woman, I’m not looking to you to teach me how to express my emotions. The only teaching should be telling your partner what you want and asking them what they want. Sorry if your man doesn’t want to share everything about his emotions 24/7, it doesn’t make him emotionally immature, it makes him a man. The caveat to all this is that all men are not the same. Communicate, if you can’t, stop trying to turn that boy into a man, that’s his responsibility not yours.

  11. RB says:

    This is pretty spot on for guys. I’ve been here a couple times. Ladies I understand you don’t want to be the teacher, but this is a great article. Expecting us to know what to do and then getting mad when we don’t? I feel this hit the nail right on the head. I will always try to listen and help my significant other, but being attacked does not help. Who wants to sit there and be betrated? No one.

  12. Ashley says:

    It's really very refreshing to see an article on this site written by a man for men. I want more of that, not only because I think strong, mature men need the same kind of guidance we women get but because I just love getting into the mind of my counterparts. I loved the article. It helped me understand better (because it was written by a man) just exactly how different my perspective on love and relationships are from man's. I spent a lot of time early in life not even comprehending that men and women are different.

    The last 6 years, I've been gifted with a valuable perspective by an amazing teacher on the subject that women and men are indeed different. Not only in their communication styles, but in how they perceive the world in general. And what feels natural to a woman, i.e. expressing emotions and wanting to be helpful with comforting words when a man encounters problems, stress, failure, is actually the wrong way to react to the situation. Men are SO different from women. They need to withdraw, rejuvenate, and come up with solutions on their own, without help, but knowing their woman is waiting there for them after the fog passes. For us women, we want an emotional shoulder to cry on and somebody who tells us we're wonderful and ok. That's not a man's need. It took me many years to comprehend this (I'm still only 31) but it's so very important for all of our well-being that we nurture these facts and understand each other at a deep, deep level.

    A man may be able to give a woman a deeply fulfilling relationship by being completely present and communicative and emotive, and a woman may be able to give that same gift to a man by honoring his need to withdraw, to let him know she's available for him when the time is right, and to approve of and support his goals whatever they may be.

    This is a great article. I am so sick of hearing about mysogonist this misanthropic that. We are all PEOPLE. And if you're on this site, chances are you're an open, accepting person who wants to grow. Let's encourage the kind of discussion Keith has put forth. Let's talk and be open about understanding one another. Because, the way I see it, I am not a man and don't have any desire to be one, but I respect the hell out of masculinity. I wouldn't be able to feel feminine if there weren't a counterpart. So please, keep this kind of dialogue up. I promise you, curious women who respect masculinity and want to understand it at a deep level are listening.

  13. MJA says:

    Maybe people withdraw because they aren’t a great fit and it isn’t about some defect that needs to be cured by emotional shepherding. Who wants to be a sheep? This article has a bit of essentialism at its core — as if one side is naturally better and needs to help the other side like the latter was a remedial class. Go read some Nietzsche, drink a beer, make a painting, stop trying to reconstruct men as if they were the bad old South.

  14. The Ink Caster says:

    I would personally like to note that the picture that goes with this article on facebook is fanart of the Eleventh Doctor during a sad moment in his life. I suppose the weight of over a thousand years of love and loss did make him withdraw, if more into a mask of childishness than quiet reservation… Interesting choice.

    Having read the article in spite of that picture misleading me somewhat, I would agree with many of the commentors–possibly helpful, overly generalized. This is helpful for good-willed women in a relationship of mutual encouragement and growth with a good-willed man who falls into this category. Plenty of men do. Plenty more do not–either because they are not emotionally withdrawn, or not in these ways or for these reasons, or because they are not good-willed. I think the article would have been better received on the whole if it had been pitched with as simple a modifier as "Why Many Men Emotionally Withdraw."

  15. Beth says:

    This article is a painful read. The mind boggling percentage of woman suffering from mental Illness, substance abuse and depression continues to be shoved under the rug aka repressed. Assuming females are more “emotionally adequate” drives women to withdraw just the same. Feminism is not so much about power but a cry of demand for recognition based on fact and reality rather than old patriarchies.

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