When I conduct couple therapy sessions, it is sometimes the case that the man has developed a coping strategy called silence.
But what does his silence mean?
The partner in the relationship can get very angry about this silence, for a number of reasons:
- it doesn’t help solve anything;
- it is very annoying;
- because he always does it, or it has become his normal communication style.
Usually, the female partner will persist in trying to extract an answer, reason or explanation – but the male will withdraw and retreat even further, into silence.
It becomes a pattern of retreat (into silence), and pursuit (for an answer), and it can be quite damaging to the relationship.
The person on the receiving end of the silence can feel abandoned and rejected, frustrated and even discouraged.
Why Men Go Silent
Here are some of the most common reasons why men retreat into silence:
- Men don’t talk about emotions and feelings. If we have not been trained to talk about such emotions, or we have the feeling that to talk about them is effeminate or less-than masculine, then we fear that when we do talk about them, you might not like us anymore. Being silent prevents this sense of loss of our masculinity.
- The male feels he cannot win or might not get heard. We might feel we have less vocabulary, or that we might lose the argument.
- We might get angry and do something we should not do. Most men want to treat women with respect, and silence helps us keep our manners.
- It hurts the male when he sees the female upset. Put simply, “when you are unhappy, I am unhappy”.
- The history of the argument. If it is an old argument and the man cannot find a new way of talking about it, he will retreat into silence.
Breaking the Silence
In couples therapy with a registered psychologist, you can expect to learn ways to stop this dysfunctional communication style:
- By recognising what the struggle in your communication, is actually all about;
- By coming to realise that the retreat-pursuit behaviour pattern is the problem, NOT an individual person;
- Together, you can explore ways to interrupt such a behaviour pattern, and substitute a better one.
And, you will both come to realise that each partner needs to learn to be patient, and be willing to practice and allow mistakes!
Author: Dr David Wells, B Psych (Hons), Dip Prof Couns, D Psych (Clin Geropsychology).
David is a Clinical Psychologist, with a keen interest in couples counselling. He strives to provide a safe environment for his clients to explore their issues and, with assistance, develop new techniques which will help them change their unproductive behaviours. The aim is to have a happier life that assists people to reach their relationship, personal and life goals.
Dr David Wells is currently on extended leave. If you would like to book with an alternative clinician with similar expertise, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.