Why Men Withdraw Emotionally.

Via Keith Artisan
on Feb 3, 2014
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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.


What to do when things get tough:

How to be a real man:



Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives


About Keith Artisan

Keith Artisan believes each human is innately good and imbued with talent. Believing that life is a mystery, he feels it is his life purpose to inspire people to believe in themselves and live their truth. Living what he believes, Keith actively serves his community as an entrepreneur, artist, yoga instructor, musician, writer, and mentor. He is online at Facebook and his website, Living Artisan .


119 Responses to “Why Men Withdraw Emotionally.”

  1. 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.

  2. 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."

  3. 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.

  4. onetribedallas says:

    Thank you for this! I found myself making excuses for my verbally and mentally abusive ex after reading this article . I tried for years supportively explaining that i could see his pain, and wanted to love him through it. He said his only issue was being with me! He said i was trying to take away his masculinity, but quite the opposite, let him know his deep pain was causing him to have to be in control, always find every fault in me, but never acknowledge the good stuff or sharing ANY emotional intimacy. He’d vocalize the bad, and tell me i was needy for wanting to hear something positive every once in a while. I tried everything i knew. Gave him space when he needed it, tried to always be “on point” so he wouldnt have a reason to tell me who lac i was…but i never met his expectations or standards. I would stand up for myself and he would call me overly sensitive. Hed go away to gather himself or cool down, for a week or two, but he always woulf come back. And within days, it would be the same. Im not perfect, but i put so much love and energy into him. I can see he has issues woth processing or showing emotion, and muat jave a fear of rejection, inadequacy, or something-but if you ask him, he’s damn near close to perfect and that i should feel very lucky that he chose to be with someone on my level. Smh. Everytime i brought up all his food qualities, the. Mentioned what he could work on to make things more balanced, (along woth my own things to work on)….he would make fun of me and tell me im trying make him soft. Or call me “dr. Phil”. A man has to want it for a woman to help w that. He has to have a certain amount of humility and vulnerability. Without that,…. youll mourn him over and over again until you realize HE has to admit there is somethinghe needs to go within, face , and figure out.

  5. Keri says:

    Men might not be emotionally ready for what they’re feeling, , but there is also a point where they need to grow up and figure out what women need as well. They need to stop making excuses

  6. suzanne says:

    As a nurturing, sensitive and compassionate woman I grow weary of always being the emotional role model. I'm in my late 50's and would love to meet a man who can share his emotions in a meaningful, evolving manner. I just ended a 3 year relationship because it exhausted me to see a hurt 8 year old instead of a nurturing, sensitive and compassionate man whenever emotional connections were expected. I've raised my children and I have no intention of raising my partner. Women are constantly being challenged to take on both male/female roles, come on men give us a break! Be our role models for a change.

  7. bluesma1 says:

    Excellent read. It is awesome when a man gains an ability to verbalize well what goes on inside, because it helps other men be heard too.

    Something I find myself thinking as I read is that, if men can understand and accept this about themselves, it might aid them to also understand women?

    Because there's a learning curve for females too, they might have developed much skills in recognizing their own emotions (EQ), but there are other skills, (for example, in the area of IQ) that they might be still working on. They might not have much understanding of how a man's mind works. They make mistakes too.

    But more specifically, I often meet men in discussions on gender conflicts who carry the accusation that when a woman is mad, she will "cut off his access to sex" (or give "the silent treatment") as if it is a punishment, consciously chosen to manipulate his behavior.

    That is rarely true. Withdrawal into self and introversion after a painful or difficult event is often just what is needed to work out and digest emotions. They will do it for their self, not for their mate. Just as men do.

    In either case, it is only if the withdrawal last a long time- weeks or more- that it is probably appropriate for the mate to begin asking them to come back out and share what they have worked out. Because we also help each other not to get lost in the process, so that they end up circling inside getting nowhere.

    But time to withdraw is essential for us all, in learning to master our emotions!

  8. Melina says:

    Interesting and this makes a lot of sense. With my boyfriend he has had an explosive temper since way before I met him so this tendency in him doesn't seem to be that reflective of a dynamic we have going. He claims to have improved in this area a lot by being around me and his friends said so too. But, still, better can still be alarming.

  9. Kimberly says:

    You just wait until he comes out. He needs the time to figure things out for himself.

  10. Nicole Masters says:

    Beautifully said! Kudos to the author! This was insights that I required and am glad to now have . Thank you!

  11. Maria says:

    Totally agree with Emily . I've had similar, and worse,even, experiences myself .I find that ,more often than not, women spend WAY TOO MUCH time being understanding and nurturing and compassionate and …..and…….and ………hoping that if they (sincerely) offer men all of the above they will eventually get the connection they want with them and get them to feel comfortable enough to open up about their feelings. What happens in the end? In most cases ,you come to realise that you've wasted another chunk of your life on an emotionally mature or worse, emotionally unavailable , or worse still, some narcissist/sociopath/psychopath who knew very well what to say and do to manipulate you into believing that he's either in the " learning process",( so be patient, understanding), or "victim" of some previous situation…..(so be patient , understanding some more)…..or you're expected to be patient and understanding for whatever other reason they come up with……Women are humans just as men are, and have their own issues that should be equally respected and accepted. So i don't see why the woman should always be the one expected to understand /accept /forgive/ set the good example etc etc on the grounds that men have "societal expectations and programmed beliefs". It sounds like a relationship between a wise, experienced adult and an immature child.Is this the case?!

  12. Liz says:

    Interesting article. I do believe that men and women are, through nature, wired differently and we are fundamentally different. In addition though, I believe my generation and my parents’ generation conditioned men and women differently. I’m 58 yrs old. I was raised to be the nurturer, a very traditional femele role while my brother was raised to be the provider etc. These stereotypes are no longer working, this the problems. I did not learn how to express my emotional needs to my husband, nor did he learn to express his to me. Our relationship ended in a disaster as a result. Male and female roles are in the flux of change. I have three sons whom I raised to value and express their emotions, particularly their softer ones. If I had daughters I would have raised them to express their emotions, again, particularly the softer ones. I know my counterparts who do have daughters have done so. What this means is hopefully the next generation of men and women are better equipped to communicate their emotions to each other in a more understandable way, without the old stereotypes. Therefore, I agree that when dealing with each other in my generation, we do need to allow for the way men and women were raised, with stereotypes and teach each other towards the changes that are taking place. It isn’t easy. I do believe that our children will have an easier time relating with the opposite sex, in terms of emotions, given that we are breaking down old stereotypes. It is important as parents…fathers and mothers that we teach our young the importance of emotional maturity and communication, without stereotypes…. Hopefully the divorce rate will go down as a result and they will be better at maintaing healthy relationships in the future. In the meantime, I am a teacher to the man in my life right now and I am happy to say he is open to learning and we are developing a new world, modern relationship of u detstanding and love.

  13. Jane says:

    Thankyou for the insightful article, Keith. I feel like this a safe and intelligent community to request some insight on a romantic situation. Although this article is more about men withdrawing in the context of a relationship, here goes…
    I recently reconnected with a former lover. To keep the story as short and neutral as possible: we had dated briefly 10 years ago (I was also seeing someone else at the time and ended up choosing this other person for reasons I later came to identify as appeasing my ego and my idea of who I 'should' be with). Fast forward and whilst we’ve been social media friends for a long time, he recently messaged with an unexpected question, asking what I remembered about our time together.
    Trying to lightly coax out the reason for the contact and cut through his slightly confusing and non direct message/s, I eventually suggested a catch up coffee. It went well, the chemistry and attraction was strong and mutual. He kissed me, I reciprocated.
    He broached a second meet up, over the same medium, about ten days later. But not before we had an online chat about how he was ‘open to me, but with a mild degree of caution’ He wanted to reconnect ‘without us having expectations of each other’ and with ‘honesty’, and offered himself up as an‘open person who doesn’t mind being asked direct questions’. It all sounded very mature and self-assured so I was more than keen to go to dinner. The date was wonderful and ended in us spending the night together. The contact in the two weeks since then had been some light-hearted texting, and a call from me about suggesting another dinner (of which a date was agreed upon tentatively, then jovially rain checked by him)

    I’m well aware of how juvenile all this sounds after a sum total of hours spent together. I realise I don’t know this person at all really, and I know I’ve actually loaded it with tonnes of expectation, as he’s always been someone I regretted breaking up with. So aside from myself obviously being rather insecure, what on earth would one make from all this? He was never available? My (faint) instinct from our first meeting was that he might not be in the best place at the moment. Why would someone seek out a former partner, share this intimacy and then withdraw?

  14. marriedheat says:

    Spot on!

    To all you women who have commented that you have your own needs, I agree. My wife and I have been married over 30 years. I have emotionally scarred her because, when hurt, I didn't understand how to react. It wasn't "manly" to show hurt and/or pain. So I lashed out in anger. Over and over. I'm finally learning that my learning, my teachers, my mentors were wrong. I was taught wrong. Every time I was belittled for showing hurt, or joy, or any other emotion that brought tears to my eyes, I was told to "man up" or "this is John Wayne country".

    Be patient with your man. Wives, you have girlfriends who are more than happy to let you cleanse your emotional souls. Husbands have you. Nobody else. If you don't help us navigate the emotional tides, we crash in the rocks and die.

    My personal story of the emotional roller coaster can be found here: http://www.marriedheat.com/emotions-men-emotional

  15. Annie says:

    These men are afraid they are going to be eaten up emotionally… Remember women are in a vulnerable place as well… There are just way to many emotionally immature men to me its the same thing as inexperienced. How are you NOT experienced with emotion this place is ALL about emotions, your just not exploring them to the degree you need to. Women can’t sit here, and baby you all day, sorry you were not breast fed e.t.c. But if a women is offering her compassion time, effort, has patiently waited for you to express yourself, the least you can do is work with that and do your PART. She can’t spent a lifetime waiting she has a life too to live, its not fair to the other. Personally, I am tired of mothering people because they are wounded, and can’t commit, well guess what so am I, I need to know you are trustworthy as well… You have to take a risk there is not way around that…

  16. jessie says:

    I enjoyed this article. My situation is interesting because growing up my father was the sensitive, emotionally open parent and my mother was the get-it-done emotionally unavailable one. As a little girl I learned nurturing mostly from a man. Not normal, I know, and I certainly wonder how that has affected me as an adult woman.
    I think the thing to remember here is that the author is not condoning abusive or emotionally unhealthy relationships where the man needs the woman to 'fix' him. I'm in a very healthy relationship with a man who has just been through some heavy emotional grief by the ending of his marriage. He doesn't dump on me about it but he is used to dealing with things in stoic silence or by just not bothering people with his feelings because he was raised very traditionally. I care for him, and appreciate how he tries to be there for me emotionally and how difficult that is. I also honor his loss and trying to trust and love again by giving him the space he needs and being patient. Basically, we respect each other and are sensitive to the emotional differences and needs of the other. It's the healthiest relationship I've ever been in. This article was extremely relevant and fairly insightful. Thank you.

  17. Chandra says:

    Everyone needs to quit blaming the other sex or our parents. We need to be responsible for ourselves. If we need something we need to take control and put on our big girl panties or big boy undies and ask our partners for it. Maybe if we all communicated better marriages would last longer.

  18. Julia Lee says:

    I don’t know why it’s automatically called ‘being sensitive’ when a man is experiencing his emotions. It’s not being sensitive, it’s being human. All humans have emotions, and it’s up to every single human to learn the best way to express them. Expressing every emotion that exists is something every human is entitled to, regardless of gender. But stop calling the expressing of emotions ‘being sensitive’. That just makes it seem like everyone who feels and expresses an emotion is a cry baby. It should be said, however, that males and females will always express emotions differently, at different intensities, and at different frequencies. To expect anything else is illogical.

  19. Jamie says:

    This is the most beautiful and open and honest response I have read. Will you write me? I would love to talk to you.