Why Does a Husband Withdraw From His Wife? [Video]

“Emerson, in a conflict with my husband he inevitably withdraws from me. He puts up a barrier to prevent me from emotionally connecting. He stops talking. What should I do?”

I hear you. When married to someone who stonewalls, “withdrawals” are not worth it!

Research reveals in intimate, committed relationships 85% of those who emotionally retreat and refuse to answer are men.

A Major Reason a Good Willed Man Retreats

What I have observed is that men withdraw to calm down. In the world of a good willed man this is the honorable thing to do.

Why would a husband view withdrawing as the respectful thing to do?

Research reveals that unlike most women during marital conflict, a husband’s heart beats per minute skyrocket.

The University of Washington studied 2000 couples for 20 years in laboratory settings. Monitoring the hearts of husbands and wives during arguments, they noted that men could reach 99 beats per minute. That’s warrior mode! The adrenaline pumps so strong that he’s ready to fight as he would in war.

Have you heard the expression “Fight or Flight?”

He doesn’t want to fight with his wife so he does what any honorable, good willed man would do: flight.

He withdraws.

* Inwardly: He calms himself down from 99 heart beats per minute to maintain self-control against this dangerous warrior mode.

* Outwardly: He stops the argument that could escalate and end up hurting the heart of his wife.

* Upwardly: He tries to please God by de-escalating his anger that could turn sinful and a conversation that could turn into a shouting match.

Exception

Though a husband can withdraw and stonewall as an intentional act of hostility to punish his wife, that is rarely so with a good willed husband.

Objection

A wife retorts, “Well, he should not feel provoked and enter warrior mode in the first place if he loved me. I’m not the enemy. I need him to talk to me to resolve the conflict, not go silent. That only makes me madder and hurts me more.”

I agree unless you verbally went after him in ways that felt condemning, condescending and contemptuous.

Why Does a Husband Withdraw From His Wife?

Does He Feel Attacked With Contempt?

Most wives respond, “But he should know that I didn’t mean it.” I agree intellectually and so might he. But emotionally and subconsciously he feels provoked and attacked. At that instance, his heart beats pound through his chest.

He must calm down.

Though in his mind he tells himself you don’t mean it and that you don’t want to fight to the death, his emotions don’t know that. He needs to dis-engage from the combative atmosphere.

Give Him the Benefit of the Doubt

Though you feel he does the unloving thing by withdrawing, let’s assume he possesses good will and a sense of honor. Let’s assume he is not trying to be unloving but trying to do the respectful thing.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt!

A Solution

As he withdraws, ask him, “Would it be ok if in 20 minutes we re-visited this? I will keep our conversation to 20 minutes. We will stop no matter what. But I need to address this issue and I need reassurance that everything is ok between us.”

You want your husband to regain confidence that you are not trying to provoke him or critique him.  As you need reassurance that he loves you, he needs reassurance that you do not disrespect him.

But here’s what is exciting. If you keep it to 20 minutes (look at your watch!), I predict you will see his confidence in you grow and begin to see him returning to talk instead of staying withdrawn.

Remember, you do not need to resolve everything today so you can feel good about the marriage. Getting through today’s list of burdens is less important than re-energizing your husband to connect.

One of the reasons men withdraw is they feel overwhelmed by all the content and emotion which feels negative to them. So stop at 20 minutes! Tomorrow is another day.  Let him feel good about this.

I am not trying to be dismissive of a woman’s feelings but help a wife come up with a better way to motivate her husband to reconnect with her.

In the long run, you will both end up happier.

Besides, his “withdrawals” are no fun.

Reflection for wives:

  • How do you try to get your husband to open up?
  • Do you tend to typecast him in a demeaning way?  For example, why will a statement like this not motivate him? “There you go again, being a typical male jerk and refusing to talk!”
  • Based on this blog, how can you soften your approach so you don’t push him further away?

Emerson

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43 thoughts on “Why Does a Husband Withdraw From His Wife? [Video]

  1. My husband says he needs to think about what I’m saying. To me it’s like he’s not listening. The 20 minute break would give him time to think about it, For me, though, I’m probably going to have the whole thing rolling around in my head for 20 minutes, but I guess that would be worth it if he came back engaged. I’ll have to give this a try!

  2. I’m afraid I’ve lost my husband. He won’t talk and just says it’s over. 9yrs together, 3 kids (one who is only 1yrs old). Im heartbroken at Jim quitting, I’m heart broken at my part in this falling apart. I just want to fix it. And I don’t know how.

  3. Does withdrawing in this sense apply to separation to fix the marriage? my husband thinks that we need time apart to bring us closer together. He told me this is how HE feels. I do not feel that it will help, just hurt us more. he’s very sure that he needs to be away from me for a while to make him want to be closer to me again and love me more. I’m terrified. and would love your opinion on this matter. he says he doesn’t want to but he thinks it’s what we need:(

    • That’s soo nt true,time apart has never done any good besides, how much time apart does he need? Out of sight is out of mind.

    • My husband has recently moved out and is of the same mindset. I think “time apart” as far as moving out is quite a drastic measure… These are not the kind of things you should even have to get used to… the absence of your spouse from your household is dangerous ground… Pray for God to change your husband’s heart.

    • I may have been a bit different because I was confronting the issues. After 17 years she still would not open up and be honest about them. I finally moved out. For the first 3 weeks she was furious, mad, hurt, etc.. We finally started counseling. After 4 sessions she still was not being honest so I said we needed to focus more on moving forward in the separation. After a few more weeks, she finally stopped being mad, and we had honest discussions. We figured out we still wanted the same things and decided to make a new start, so I moved back in.
      Again, I may be different, but I believe the time away did help pave the way to a better future for us. That was 9 years ago. Things were great that next year or two. While not quite like that now, things are still a lot better than they ever were. So the time apart worked for us.
      Also, for me, sometimes withdrawing was the only time I felt like I had any control over what was happening. In my case it took a few months before it elicited a response. Good luck.

  4. I feel like my husband withdraws to punish me. He does a lot of things to punish me. I asked him for a divorce today because I do not want to do this anymore. Perhaps he does just want to calm down. And, if that were true, I would totally respect that kind of behavior. But, at this point, I feel our marriage is over. I cannot do any more.

    • Be careful using the d word . Only use it if you’re ready for the noise that comes with it. I’ve learned the hard way. A divorce is similar to a death except the person you mourn is still alive and may go on to love another . Try a separation first. Get legal advice for financial orders…

      • I had a former mother-in-law say the “d” word all too often and she did instill that into both of our minds. Relatives should never but-in in a marriage or a relationship unless there is true abuse going on. The couple needs to work through their own problems when there are problems, and when they cannot get things in order they need to seek professionals to guide them into success. Both individuals need to participate in the counseling for change to take place.

  5. Ladies, for those of you who feel lost and that your marriage is at its end please know I am praying for you. I am a product of divorced parents, like most people are these days and it is unfortunate, but I know the pain and horrors of it. I am praying for you and the power of prayer is amazing! Keep up the good fight ladies and know God is working in your marriage. You must first seek him! God bless you all!

    • Thank you Auttumn. I really need that encouragement. I feel I have a good willed husband who all of a sudden turned into somebody else but that man I love is still locked inside fighting whatever took over.

  6. I hear men tell me their wives criticize and belittle them over things they have no control over. They describe it as unrelenting and in their descriptions it has gone on for years.

    These are men who don’t believe in divorce and they cry out to God for relief from this living hell.

    • Yep. My father-in-law told my wife once that one way to lose your man is to “nag” him, his words. She did not heed his words. My wife complains about a lot of stuff. She has a somewhat stressful job and often does not deal with it well. She can pick at and complain about almost anything I do. Not much fun to live with. She almost acts like a martyr, making things worse on herself than it really has to be. She does not take any time off for herself, so when anyone else does, she does not understand it. Pretty frustrating. However, I know she came from a family that did not take time off for hobbies etc.. so she did not grow up with that value system.

      I had a counselor tell me once to do a little of what makes me happy, my hobbies. Not to over-do it, but to not totally stop being who I am. That helped me find some happiness. Too bad I had to go away from my wife to get it. I don’t expect her to do the same things I do, but at least allow me to enjoy those things myself.

      One habit my wife does is start telling me all the stuff she has done that day/weekend. I am not sure why she does it. It is just everyday stuff. I appreciate her doing it and tell her so but that does not seem to stop it. So now sometimes after she has finished her list I will start my list and go on and on about all the things I did for the family that day. Now she laughs about it. It may have slowed her down a little on reciting her list of accomplishments. She needs a medal, but her mom has passed away and I think that is where it would need to come from. I used to feel like I deserved a medal for all the stuff I was suffering through. I finally figured out nobody is going to give us that medal. We give it to ourselves by allowing God to love us and pass it on.

  7. Wow! this is really timely and so enlightening for me. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve asked God to forgive me for keeping on about things with my husband and then being mad when he withdraws. May I learn to curb my tongue and bring joy & encouragement to my good hearted husband!

    • May God reward you for your humility and diligence Marie. My wife (now ex-wife as of May 2014) could not take responsibility for what came out of her mouth. Even marriage counselors tried to explain and help her understand, but she was always right (very proud and self-righteous). She would also seek counsel from her bi-polar, religiously legalistic mother who had been unhappily married and divorced a couple of times. I encouraged my wife to seek wise counsel from happily married women from our church several times during our 2 year marriage, but she never did. I suspect she didn’t want the exposure, choosing to stay in the dark (typical of performance oriented people). Christian Formation and couple support s such an important element for happily married couples. So many are going it alone and are being picked off by divorce. This L&R Ministry has shed light on very important marital topics. Many blessings and honor to the Christian founders and followers.

  8. … Love and Respect is a wonderful link and should always be allowed to fill us with their wisdom and wise counsel. They are bible-led and speak truth. Gof bless you for being here for us all. 🙂

  9. I feel like I’ve tried every method possible to encourage my husband to stop walking out and breaking my heart. He continues to dismiss my feelings and punish me for speaking my mind. He refuses to discuss anything anymore and refuses to seek help from our pastor or a counselor. I’m ready to give up… My children suffer daily because of his unlocking attitude toward us all… our 2 year old says she doesn’t love daddy. He works a lot and when he isn’t working he stays in bed…or lays on the couch playing on facebook… I’m desperate for help and feel so lost.

  10. In this instance, it is I who withdraw and close up. My husband and I have been together 16 yrs and in the beginning it was reversed. We were also living for ourselves. Now that things are brighter and we are following the Lord, roles are reversed. I am afraid that I spent so many “before” years fighting to get him to talk that I am just tired now. I stop myself from getting angry and whatever I say is twisted and made negative. I am not sure what to do but pray. I feel emotionally detached and it’s hurting our marriage.

  11. ThaT makes excellent sense to me. But, let’s address why he usually stays in the withdrawn mode unless the wife can cheerfully engage him. Otherwise he is silent and appears withdrawn ..what if there is no issue and this is what you get? Is he being honorable just in case?

  12. I don’t think that this is your only issue from someone who had this issue I will tell you that your issue with your husband is PORN check his compute and phone and get him some help Signed a recovering porn addict

  13. I appreciated hearing this…and hearing you say several times that he’s trying to be honorable. I often just don’t believe this. My husband is a wonderful man in so many ways, but I can feel like he’s not honoring and respecting me…. Thank you.

  14. Wow! I am so thankful to have come across this blog…My husband is a very respectful man but his “withdrawals” would sometimes drive me crazy. We are married for 8 years now and this was the case with him from the very beginning. After reading this, my eyes have been opened up in such a way that I just want to thank him for all those times of his withdrawals and just be more respectful and loving towards him.
    Thank You!

  15. What would be a respectful way to handle a situation where someone has a pattern of using silent treatment or coldness as punishment. Withdraw can be a good thing for both people if done to calm down. I can understand that and actually appreciate that, but what if this treatment has gone on for weeks at a time and you are not even sure what you did that was offensive? What if the person is not good at communicating anything that you can do to change? How do you help someone to see that pink or blue isn’t wrong just different? Are there some people who just refuse to accept the differences and always see their spouse as the enemy because the needs can be so different and can require effort on the part of both spouses?

  16. Good article! I agree!

    Women need to realize men don’t think like them. Men’s thoughts are on constructing something–they are the builders of life. The skyscrapers, hospitals, airplanes, universities, helicoptors, swimming pools, telephone poles, malls, trains, etc all built mostly by the male gender, whereas women are the nurturers, communicators, they like to talk and expect to be listened to and feel their partners aren’t listening.

  17. This info helps some on understanding why he withdraws…I am not one to raise my voice or call him names..i am more like proverbs 31..
    Thankyou for info…it does shed some light..

  18. Thank you! This is *exactly* why I withdraw. The way I withdraw is by leaving, or removing myself from the situation. I always have inner conflict when I do this because I know my wife feels like I just don’t want to deal with her or that I’m trying to avoid the issue at hand when in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that, like the blog states, I fear a loss of control of I were to allow my rising emotions and heart rate to continue. So I do what I think is honorable, and I leave so that me, the situation, and my wife whom is I know loves me despite her ugly and hurtful words, can de-escalate. I sometimes wonder “If you really feel that way about me or think that I’m really that type of man, why are you with me?”. Her harsh words create confusion rather than inspiration. I’m sure this particular blog entry doesn’t apply to all, but for me, it’s spot on!

  19. Let me tell you a little about our marriage, We got married way to young Me 19 and him 24, I thought he was everything. I soon found out this was not the case. But I Loved him and him me . We fought about the usual, sex and money. He is a stone waller and I would just lose it that he retreated and he wouldn’t come around for weeks on end. I decided to change myself I got books I prayed I went to church and I became quieter and said less and did more to honour him. I didn’t do all of this to get him to notice me, I did all of this unto God. I gave everything to God. I continued to struggle with lack of communication, and all the things that I thought my marriage was Suppose to be. I did discover the Book Love and respect and that is when I got so much peace from knowing I was doing right by him by verbally praising him and respecting him and bringing him out of his shell. I accepted him for who he was and stopped trying to change him. We have had some pretty big issues since then as well and just knowing even in the bad things we were still there for each other and go on the same team to work together to make some really bad things right again. We did this by forgiving each other and accepting the really bad things we did to each other , and verbally asked each other’s forgiveness. We are still working on the connection part as it is just not there like I would want but my Husband is an awesome man provider musical talented guy I choose to see the good in him and accept him the way he is. I wanted a Family Man God gave me a Family man I was 8 yrs old when I prayed that prayer, 33 yrs , 3 boys and one lost baby later we love each other more than ever Through thick and thin we did not walk away we fixed it for our Family for our children to honour God We still need to work on things But with Love and Respect, Changes the whole dynamic. I hope I have encouraged someone. God Bless you all in your marriages.

  20. Withdrawal is also a tool for self-protection.

    When our teenage daughter died, I ran the funeral. My wife exploded at me multiple times a day when I repeated to her what the coroner, police, funeral director, her priest, the cemetery manager, etc., told me. She also made nasty comments at anything else I said, such as asking her mother if she had a good night’s sleep (“Oh, now he’s asking people if they had a good night’s sleep”).

    I eventually learned that if I told her nothing and never mentioned our deceased daughter, I didn’t get yelled at. I took care of her affairs on my own, working on the tombstone, going to probate court and creating memorials, without letting her know what I was doing.

    Withdrawal is a terrible strategy, but discussing it with her didn’t work either (and she refused to go to marriage counseling when I suggested it after 3 months).

    She’s divorcing me now, having left in a rage after 3 years, leaving me with the kids. Yes, I realize that these are signs of PTSD (I have PTSD, too, as do our kids, but we are functioning).

    This may be an extreme example, but many people withdraw to stay out of what they feel is the firing line. Consider if what you’re doing is repelling your spouse.

  21. In the case of our marriage, I am the one who withdraws and I stop listening to what he is saying. Eventually I did explain that I needed to calm myself down so as not to say anything ugly and hurtful that would only make things worse. He understood, and he allows me these moments to calm myself and reflect on what he is saying and why he is saying them.

  22. But what about when they spouse stays in withdrawn for days as opposed to just a few hours to cool off?

    As a wife I sometimes let my feelings about thing out anyway that is probably too emotional and does not come off as respectful. I’ve only recently seen the conference and so I am still learning better communication.

    But even after my husband and I both watched the video conference, he is withdrawing for days and when I asked him about withdrawing for a few hours as opposed to staying withdrawn for days he has an excuse.

    Each subsequent day there’s an excuse of why he’s just tIred or just has a headache or whatever else. This goes on for typically 2 days.

    I really don’t know that he is giving me the truthful answer but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt but it’s hard because he doesn’t want to talk for days

    What to do?

  23. Albert Einstein once said “women worry what men will forget. Men worry what women will remember.” Keep this in mind the next time you have issues to speak, especially if it against you husband.