Sometimes the reason for a guy’s silence is obvious: He’s engrossed in work; he’s concentrating on Angry Birds; he’s crammed so much burger into his mouth that he’s incapable of making a sound. But there are also times when his tight-lipped state is a total mystery… and that’s when it can have a negative effect on your relationship. ‘A women will often take a man’s silence to be a bad thing because she assumes it means that he doesn’t want to communicate with her or that he just doesn’t care,’ says Dr William July, author of Understanding The Tin Man (Broadway). It doesn’t help that when he sees that his silence is hurting you or making you angry; he just feels even more pressure to say the right thing… and becomes even less likely to talk. Luckily, you can break the cycle by understanding why he shuts up in the first place.
If you’ve ever watched a group of guys try to make each other laugh, you probably assume that men are incapable of feeling shame… but that’s not at all true. While you’d probably want to talk about a problem in the bedroom or how your boss laid into you for screwing up, your guy may do whatever he can to avoid discussing those issues because he’s too mortified. ‘Almost all guys worry that if they don’t succeed, they’ll be seen as a failure,’ Farrell says. ‘In particular, a man fears that his partner will lose her faith in him and her respect for him.’
Now that you know how vulnerable your guy really is, you may be tempted to baby him. Instead, do the opposite. ‘Build him up,’ July says. ‘Rather than addressing his feelings of powerlessness, play to his strengths.’ If, say, he lost his job and hasn’t found another, tell him it’s proof of how awful the economy is that a guy with his amazing CV hasn’t gotten an offer. ‘Even if he doesn’t open up that second,’ July explains, ‘your confidence in him will raise the odds that he will next time.’