Okay, so my boyfriend and I have been dating for around seven months and we’ve known each other for five or six years, and we really connect. But when he gets even a little angry or upset, he completely shuts me out and won’t talk to me. Why won’t he open up to me? Explain?!
Unfortunately, I can’t pinpoint exactly why a guy would shut down like that, since his own personal history has likely informed the deeper reasons for his behavior. I can tell you, however, that plenty of guys have trouble expressing their emotions because of old-fashioned gender-specific ideals which society (some cultures more so than others) still encourages today.
Growing up, some guys learn that stoicism is an important quality of “being a man,” as baring emotion equates to weakness. It’s true that women are not only naturally better at picking up on others’ emotions, they’re also better at processing and expressing their own emotions than men are. But to negatively associate sensitivity with femininity and expect men to avoid demonstrations of distress themselves is an old-fashioned attitude held only by chauvinist fathers and friends (and perhaps even some less liberated women).
My point is not that your boyfriend is sexist, but that an event or element of his upbringing is likely holding him back from expressing himself properly. If your relationship is super strong, and his damage isn’t too deep, with a little bit of patience you may be able to talk him through his emotions the next time he tries to put walls up. However, if he’s in a lot of pain from some serious trauma, you might not be able to expect him to change any time soon.
The next time you notice your boyfriend is upset or angry about something, try giving him some time to cool off before you start asking him what’s wrong. A lot of girls might want to talk about how they’re feeling right away, but dudes aren’t always like that. Ask if everything’s okay, and if he blows you off, be supportive instead of getting frustrated. Give him a hug and say, “Okay, but if you need to talk, I’m always here for you.” Wait a day or two, and then ask what was going on. He might be more willing to open up after some time thinking about it on his own.
If he continues to refuse to open up to you, I suggest you have a serious conversation with him to explain how his shut-outs make you feel. Let him know that you’re never going to judge him and that you just want to be someone he can lean on. You might have to take things slow, but you shouldn’t hesitate to be open with him about how you feel. Hopefully you’ll both learn something about how he processes his feelings!
Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic “dating coach” duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com…or call his mom, Robin.