I know I’m not the only woman who has been frustrated with a man for not opening up about his feelings. It’s so common that it’s been a running theme in books, television shows, and movies for decades.
In some ways it seems like not much has changed for men from the days of my father’s generation.
Even in this day and age when everything is expected to be more equal and enlightened, many men still aren’t encouraged to tap into their sensitive nature, say psychologists.
While women have been given the “shy” label throughout patriarchal history, men are the ones who shy away from vulnerable conversations, says Tara Vossenkemper, a licensed professional counselor.
It’s partly social but some of it has to do with biology, she adds. “On one hand, men are less socially supported when it comes to talking about their feelings. Little boys are given less metaphorical space to explore and share their feelings.”
This means less time to cry, and less understanding of what are perceived to be “feminine” feelings,” says Vossenkemper. “They grow up not learning the skill for discussing and navigating their feelings.”
While perhaps women from my mother’s generation—and especially my grandmother’s generation—could put up with a lack of vulnerable communication, today’s lack of openness from men can be a deal breaker in relationships.
Here are 6 relationship mistakes that can happen when a man doesn’t open up.
1) He doesn’t let his partner know how he’s really feeling
A partner will never know how a man is feeling if he never opens up. This makes the relationship one that is only surface-level and it has little chance of surviving long-term.
It might also make the man act out in passive-aggressive ways. He’ll get annoyed about something seemingly trivial and seemingly unrelated because he isn’t dealing with and being open about the heart of the matter.
Men can be very hesitant to express their true nature which can lead to serious issues in their lives and relationships, according to PACE Recovery Center. “They may be viewed as cold or distant. They can even develop mental health issues when attempting to suppress how they truly feel.”
It’s also hard to get close to someone when you never know what they’re thinking.
2) It can make him seem inconsiderate about his partner’s feelings
I remember dating someone years ago who had a hard time admitting he was wrong, even about the “little” things like messing up the date of his friend’s cocktail party.
Since it was his friend, I assumed the date he conveyed to me was correct. I was dressed to the nines (well, in my opinion, anyway). As I was about to text him to say I was ready to be picked up, he said he just realized the party was the following weekend.
You could say I was a little bit annoyed. What would have made it go over easier was if he apologized for his mistake or took the incident as an opportunity to open up about why it hadn’t occurred to him to double-check the date. But he acted like it was no big deal.
This was one incident in a pattern of a lack of open communication and consideration on his part. Needless to say, we’re not together anymore.
Some psychologists say that science might be partly to blame for men not being able to admit when they’re wrong.
A study revealed that testosterone actually makes men less likely to question their impulses, so it makes them less likely to fess up about being incorrect.
Maybe I should have blamed science instead of him…then again, maybe not.
3) He can find it challenging to give and receive affection
Men who find it difficult to open up can have trouble giving and receiving affection.
This can mean brushing away a loving touch which can make his partner feel rejected.
He might also feel awkward about giving his partner a hug when they’re feeling down, so he avoids all expressions of affection altogether.
Not only can a lack of affection be frustrating for their partner, but it also makes them feel unloved and uncared for.
The man misses out in this aspect as well because both parties can really lose out on a beautiful aspect of a relationship and create a deeper bond.
4) It can be difficult to trust him
Being with someone who doesn’t open up creates an element of distrust in the relationship.
A partner will never know what he is thinking and how he truly feels about things.
There’s also the other side of the coin.
Usually a man who finds it challenging to open up about his feelings also finds it difficult to truly trust his partner.
Most likely he couldn’t open up to their own families about what he was going through when growing up.
While this way of dealing with emotions “worked” then, it won’t work in a loving mature relationship. The cornerstone of love is to be vulnerable and allow yourself to trust someone.
5) He can make his partner feel unsafe
From a partner’s point of view, being with a man who doesn’t open up to them can make them feel unsafe. To the partner, it can seem like the man has something to hide.
When there is secrecy—whether it’s intentional or unintentional—it can lead to a vast chasm in the relationship, say experts. It could even lead to paranoia on the part of a partner because they have no idea what is going on with their man.
Needless to say, this kind of dynamic will destroy any remnants of a relationship.
6) He is only physically present
Refusing or not having the ability to open up in a relationship essentially means that he is only physically present within the couple.
This kind of surface-only relationship doesn’t make a man special to his partner. Soon enough it becomes apparent that he can be easily replaced since there isn’t anything unique for her.
A lack of communication on the part of one partner is a potential red flag, says licensed clinical social worker Jennifer Kelman. “Relationships need great communication in order to thrive and survive, so if communication is poor from the start, then it will most likely continue,” she says.
If you’re a man who finds it hard to open up…
We’re not saying you have to bare your soul to your partner right away, but there will come a time in the relationship where you’ll need to open up to create a deep and lasting bond between the two of you.
We advise on taking baby steps by opening up little by little to your partner. Also be open about the fact that it’s difficult for you to be vulnerable.
It might also be very worthwhile to see a therapist. They can help you get to the root cause of why you find it difficult to open and work on any conditioning and limiting beliefs you have that perhaps stem from your past.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the “pain” of opening up to your partner will not only help you get closer, but it will also take that underlying stress inside you and bring it up to the surface.
The right relationship will give you the safe space you need.