I have been with my boyfriend “Mark” for one year, and we have a great time together. We have talked about wanting to have a relationship that progresses towards marriage, but we aren’t in a rush to do so immediately. He is 35, I am 37, and we have everything I was hoping to find with a partner, except for one major flaw: our communication. A lot of men I know have a hard time communicating their thoughts and feelings, and some have even told me in jest that they don’t even have thoughts and feelings. I don’t think that’s true. But Mark seems to struggle with talking about things that bother him, shutting down until the point that he’s overwhelmed and takes it out on me by being rude and insulting.
Examples of our communication breakdown: Friday night he came over, we made and ate dinner, and we watched a movie together on the couch. We didn’t talk much, but I figured that was because we were watching the movie. I started to get tired, so I said that I was going to start winding down for bed and asked if he was joining me. He mumbled “sure” and followed me to bed, but he just rolled over and ignored me; there was no cuddling, no goodnight, and no attempts at sex, which is unusual. So I asked if everything was ok and he said yes and that he was just tired. I couldn’t think of anything that had happened that would have upset him, but I sat there racking my brain until I fell asleep.
Saturday we met with our morning running group, but he still seemed “off” and wasn’t talking to me much. Again, my inquiring if everything was ok was met with “Yep.” We then had an uncomfortable breakfast that felt tense, and then we had to start preparing for a barbecue that we had been planning for a month. I asked him for his help with some very specific tasks to prepare for our guests and he seemed grumbly the entire time although he still pitched in to help. The barbecue went smoothly, but at the end of the night, after everyone had gone home and I was cleaning up, he started making insulting jabs, complaining about me being bossy and saying a lot of negative things about “this stupid party.” It was the first time he mentioned not wanting to have our friends over; he had been excited about it all week. I responded out of anger and told him I was not going to listen to him being a jerk to me after he had ignored me for the past two days, and I left to meet up with my friends who had gone to the neighborhood bar after the barbecue.
Sunday morning he came over and helped me do the remaining of cleaning and we stayed at home watching movies and recovering from the late night of drinking, but there was limited conversation and no mention of our argument. After he left Sunday night, I sent him a text and asked him if we could talk about what happened. He then apologized and attributed his two-day foul mood to work stress and not knowing how to deal with it and not wanting to burden me with it, but he agreed we should talk about it after work on Monday. I also apologized for my angry response to him and was looking forward to clearing the air on Monday.
This pattern has occurred four times in the last six months, and he always says it’s work stress and we never really talk about it afterwards, so I was thinking it would be important for us to figure out how to stop this pattern because it will start to be destructive to our otherwise very happy relationship. But when he came over Monday, he did everything he could to avoid the discussion. Even when I finally brought it up, he lay his head on my shoulder and wouldn’t talk. I told him what I thought and felt, and he just kept saying that he was sorry and he would not take out his frustrations on me again. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable that he was shutting down while having this conversation we agreed to have: he wasn’t looking at me, was taking an almost fetal position, and his voice was very quiet.
Is it possible that this goes deeper than “men don’t communicate like women” and he is incapable of having difficult conversations? How can I make him more comfortable having those difficult but necessary conversations? How can I help him to open up and talk about those stresses like work, etc., before he becomes overwhelmed and lashes out? Is this something we can navigate on our own or do we need professional help navigating this? — Needing Better Communication