“My Boyfriend Gets Mad, Shuts Down, and Won’t Tell Me What’s Wrong”

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Long time lurker, first time writer here.

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

Yeah, this isn’t about “men not communicating like women.” I don’t even know what that means, really. I’ve known women who aren’t crazy about discussing their feelings, and I’ve known plenty of men who can and will express their concerns. To gender stereotype the way we communicate does a disservice to all of us. There may be things, in general, women are more forthcoming about, and there may be things that, in general, men don’t get as deep about, but what you’re describing — this stonewalling and curling up in a fetal position and lashing out–most certainly is not a “man thing.” And when you say it’s a pattern — four times in six months and you’ve only been together a year — that is quite concerning.

Obviously, I can’t say what is going on with your boyfriend. But I can say that this is more than feeling overwhelmed by work. There’s at least one, and maybe multiple, issues at play here — potentially buried anger or anger management stuff, depression, anxiety, possibly even some form of social disability (like high functioning autism) that makes connecting on an emotional level very challenging. Note: I am definitely NOT diagnosing him — merely suggesting possibilities that could explain the pattern you describe and to further suggest that whatever is going on is something that demands more help and guidance than you alone can provide. Your boyfriend would benefit from some therapy, and maybe, if he agrees that this pattern is longterm and pre-dates you, a diagnosis could be helpful in seeking treatment and support.

So, what can you do, specifically? Encourage him to speak to a professional (a doctor first to rule out a medical explanation and to potentially refer him to a therapist or psychologist). Tell him that you love him and would like to pursue a future with him but can’t do that if he’s never going to express concerns to you and is going to continue emotionally shutting down and blaming his avoidance and foul mood on “work stress” that you couldn’t possibly understand or wouldn’t want to hear about.

There’s a reason he is avoiding revealing his thoughts and feelings to you. And, to be frank, if you say you know “a lot of men” who also have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings to you — some of whom even claim they don’t have any — I wonder if there’s also a reason you are attracting those men. Do you like the idea of fixing them? Being the one to get them to finally open up–to finally find their true selves? Is there something seductive to you about the strong, silent type of man? And does that seduction start to wear off after a few months when you realize how hard it is to maintain a relationship (or friendship) with someone who doesn’t reveal anything deep about himself — who keeps things very surface-level? These are questions worth exploring on your end while your boyfriend explores — with a therapist, ideally — his own questions and behavior and patterns. And if he refuses to seek help finding the source of his avoidance and stonewalling, you have a choice: stay with him in this relationship that likely has no happy future or MOA. If you choose the latter, I would urge you to do your own avoidance going forward: avoid the men who ‘OK’ everything to death and claim to not have many thoughts or feelings to share. They’re either lying or they’re seriously shallow, and I can’t imagine you’re looking for either of those traits for a long-term relationship.


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  1. Sachiko_Roxanne says:

    WWS and yikes, I feel for you LW… I was in a similar situation with a college ex. He was really cold and shut me out a lot if even the tiniest thing upset him. Then I’d have to pay for his bad mood for days.

    It sounds like you’re an amazingly supportive partner LW but does your partner do as much emotional labor for you? In my experience, partners that have the pattern of get upset>bottle it up>explode make for very unequal relationships in terms of emotional labor and support. I don’t know where I’m going with this but I feel for you and I hope he steps it up or you find someone that’s as giving and open as you are. Best of wishes.

  2. I dated a man like this before and it is just flat out EXHAUSTING! I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt it was very childish and counter productive. Not saying it cannot work but it needs to change for sure for the relationship to continue.

  3. It’s not so much communicating as a MAN or WOMAN but communicating like an ADULT. He needs to find some skills and figure out how to do that and it’s not your job to teach him. Ugh.

  4. Bittergaymark says:

    Eh, sometimes people get stressed out. And need some time to be distant. To constantly have to explain your fucking feelings can be exhausting. I dunno. It seems you constantly want to “talk about things.” I got tired just reading this letter.

    1. Id be tired too if i were you.. You know why.. (Cough cough)

      1. How’re things with your husband? Better already?

      2. Guys. Stop it.

      3. ugh. Again. Let me know when it’s over and I’ll come back.

    2. Perhaps, but if your partner is upset and stressed out and would rather not hash it to death, it’s reasonable to expect your partner to say, “I have this thing at work that’s really stressing me out. It’ll pass, and right now I’d rather not talk about it.” And then not stonewall. or act the way the boyfriend is. Sounds like he’s not even using his words. (And it doesn’t sound like “constantly explaining” here – it sounds like not explaining at all.)

    3. ” I asked if everything was ok and he said yes and that he was just tired. ”

      “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”

      ” was the first time he mentioned not wanting to have our friends over; he had been excited about it all week”

      “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.”

      He sounds a bit moody but I’d find this constant policing of my mood pretty irritating.

      1. Bittergaymark says:


      2. OMG, yes.

    4. Unwanted_Truth says:

      Yea guys, just stop it, we should all be allowed to call people bitches and whine and moan when we don’t get the answer we wanna hear then have our thread closed 🙂 ahhh the consequences of our actions…

  5. When I started to read, I was expecting to find some terrible communication n issues, but instead I felt I was reading about a guy who was tired and crabby. he was kind of being a jerk, but I didn’t get the feeling that the reason he was acting this way necessarily had to do with you or that there was something specific on his mind. Maybe he hadn’t been sleeping well, was worried about work and just wasn’t in the mood to interact, or any of a number of such things. I think rather than keep asking him what was wrong, I would have told him calmly I thought he was being rude and ask him to to be more respectful. Suggest he go for a drive or take some time if he need to and if he continues to act jerky, maybe he’s just a jerk.

  6. Northern Star says:

    This isn’t a “man” thing, it’s a personality thing. You haven’t really described a guy who doesn’t want to have hard conversations—you’ve described a guy who gets in a lingering bad mood that he can’t shake easily. He might not be able to explain in detail WHY he get so crabby because the trigger might be some small annoyance, not an overall big-picture issue. It makes sense if he doesn’t have an explanation for his “feelings” because they’re simply depressive episodes.

    Don’t know how to fix it, though. It’s super hard to convince yourself not to be crabby.

  7. Maybe you should just give him a little space. Like if he’s moody or distant, go do something else. Sometimes people who are stressed need a little room to decompress rather than having someone demand every five minutes that they explain why they’re not OK.

  8. Also dated a guy like this. Except I’d have to ENDLESSLY listen to his non-stop bitching and make everything all about him. Meanwhile if I had ONE gripe about something I was dismissed and told to “chill out.” Ugh.

    Anyway, the bf needs to actually WANT to change if you want your relationship to have any kind of shot at working past this issue. If he can actually acknowledge this is a problem and consciously work at improving communication, then you’ve still got a shot. Otherwise I’d say MOA as Wendy says. As Emily says, it’s not your job to teach him this stuff.

  9. I’m like this guy… (and I’m female, oh no!). It’s not so bad where I blow up at people after sulking for a couple of days, but I do occasionally sulk and when that happens, it’s usually because I haven’t had time to decompress and life just gets to me. And if someone kept asking me what’s wrong, I’d retreat even further. I’m just not one to talk about feelings and I have trouble voicing what’s bothering me. Although I have no problem writing to strangers apparently.

    My fiance knows this about me. Sometimes I’ll tell him I’m in a mood and need to be left alone. Other times, he can read it on my face immediately and just knows. I usually come out of it in a couple of hours. And he knows it’s nothing to do with him.

    I will say, I have a therapist. I haven’t seen her in a while, but I have one. I’m better at expressing myself than I was, IDK, 10 years ago. I’m a lot more communicative that I once was, but still not perfect. The LW’s BF would most likely benefit from seeing a counselor. I think you’d see an improvement if he was willing.

    Finally, not only am I introverted, I grew up in a household that didn’t discuss feelings and avoided conflict. I had a lot to overcome with regards to not clamming up when something was bothering me. It this guy is anything like me, I’d give him a little bit of a break.

  10. I would run from this guy. My husband was like this when we dated. Now his silent treatments can go on for a week if I wait for him to “snap out of it.”
    You should find a partner that is able to communicate with you.

    1. His behavior read as very passive aggressive to me. I would run from this guy too.

      1. I thought passive aggressive too. Last bf did this. Then I’d find out he’s pissed at me because I did something that is no big deal like, broke a cup. Days of moody for that? Grow up.

    2. My boyfriend is like this but i started dating him 6 months ago and just now experiencing his depression and anger expect now its getting worse and he wont talk about it.. helppp

      1. MOAAA.

  11. Just keep texting him if he’s ok instead of asking him in person, it seems to be what works. But sometimes you just have to leave a guy a lone when he says he is fine.

    1. wobster109 says:

      I am totally cool with leaving it be if they say they are fine, but not if they turn around and then start insulting me. If this guy says he’s fine, then he’s also responsible for behaving fine.

    2. LisforLeslie says:

      That’s the key isn’t it? If you ask if someone’s ok and they say “Yep” and then are less talkative, cheery, whatever – ok. Everyone has their cycles. But when the insults, the passive aggressive behavior, the nonsense comes out of nowhere… oh hell no. You’re ok or your not ok. If you’re not ok, just say “I’m feeling off, I’m sorry.” and if you’ve had plans to entertain for a month, then you put on your big-kid pants and put on a smile and do your best to be a good host.

  12. wobster109 says:

    He sounds like a fun casual relationship but a poor choice of life partner. I don’t think you should marry him. What happens when you try to buy a house together, and it stresses him out? Or if you have a baby, and that stresses him out? You will be dealing with it alone while he sulks and complains about any solution you come up with. That’s your future.

    A heuristic I like to use is, would you treat your friends this way? Plato’s Socrates says part of justice is treating yourself fairly too. Come to think of it, does he treat his friends this way? Snap at them out of “work stress”? I think it’s rude to treat your partner worse than you treat your friends.

    1. I totally agree. My husband will never discuss issues, and it’s impossible to do projects together.

  13. LW, I think you need to understand how he operates and if you are willing to accept it. I know that I am a person who doesn’t talk about their feelings until I know how I feel about them and what I want. So I will sit on something for days and then if I decide to let it go, then I never talk about it. Some people might call that stonewalling but I think of it as not fighting until I know what I am fighting for. On the flip side, my husband is much more of a talker. We manage the relationship fine but it is by understanding what your partner needs and respecting.

    One other thought is that he seemed to show his emotions after the party and rather getting him to open up then, you escalated and got mad too. That would have been the moment to say “Hey, what’s going on here?”

  14. RedRoverRedRover says:

    I get the idea of giving him space, and agree with it to a point. But you can’t say “I’m fine” and then *act* like you’re not fine and then get pissy when the other person doesn’t like being treated like shit. He needs to grow up and learn how to communicate. Someone above said it – all he needs to do is say “it’s a work thing, nothing to do with you but it’s putting me in a bad mood”. Still not great if he’s going to act like a baby all weekend, but at least she’d know why.

    1. I second this wholeheartedly. He needs to grow up and learn how to communicate if he is going to be in an adult relationship. This just reads as very immature to me, and it would frustrate the hell out of me.

  15. Some people are just moody, but it crosses a line when they start taking their moodiness out on you. It seems clear that asking him what’s wrong is a failed strategy, and it’s not going to magically become successful. You might try just walking away and giving him space when he’s like this. Tell him what you’re doing and why, and he should let you know when either a) his mood has improved or b) he’s willing to talk about what’s bothering him. And then follow through.

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      And when somebody CONSTANTLY asks you “what’s wrong?” each and everytime you seem even the littlest quiet — it’s all too easy to snap.

  16. Sigh. I’m torn on this one.

    I agree that taking his frustrations out on her was out of line, but I also see a lot of what someone described as “mood policing” upthread. Constant grilling about why I was being quiet would make me shut down, too, and if it continued long enough, I’d probably blow up.

    People have bad days. People get into bad moods. It’s not always about their significant other, and they don’t always want to talk about it.

    LW, it sounds to me like the two of you just aren’t suited for each other. You seem to need a lot of reassurance and discussing of feelings, and that doesn’t seem to be his way. I’m not placing blame on either party, I just think you have a personality difference that maybe you can compromise on, or maybe not. Couples counseling might help you both sort this out.

  17. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    I’m not as willing as some to write the relationship off YET. I think you both mean well but have acted poorly. He, of course, tried to shield you from his problems until he felt poked and prodded beyond a breaking point and then exploded. You, wanting so badly to help someone you care about, kept poking and prodding because you wanted to help him fix whatever ailed him, and in doing so pushed the issue too far. I’m not going to go into who’s right or wrong, or who’s worse than the other.

    But what struck me most about the letter was your interaction on Monday, when he laid his head on you, and apologized, and was talking quietly. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s saying what you want them to say; that sounds like someone who feels defeated, like he thinks he’s ruined the only good thing in his life. And THAT, frankly, is what makes me think he’s dealing with some form of anxiety or depression, because what he’s doing sounds almost identical to what I used to do before I saw a counselor. And, yeah, I’m not cured, and I still get stressed sometimes, but I can guarantee you I’m NOTHING like I was back then. But part of the reason I shut down is because people would often minimize what I was upset or anxious about, which just made me mad at myself for being upset or anxious about it in the first place.

    So, here’s my advice: talk to him and ask him if he’s willing to see a therapist. Tell him you’re willing to help, but only if he asks you to. And tell him (assuming it’s something you actually believe, which it sounds like you do) that you aren’t going to bail on him just because he’s struggling, but you are if he isn’t willing to try to improve the situation somehow. And then put the ball in his court. If he won’t change, then you have to decide if you want a future with that. If he wants to and takes steps to improve it, my advice as someone who went through that is to at least give him a chance to get better before deciding anything.

  18. I am not sure about this problem, but I find your relationship approach very fusional. You go to bed, he has to go to bed? He doesn’t squeeze you, he has a problem? He runs with you, spend the whole week-end preparing a barbecue, in order to receive your friends, and so on: he does everything with you? like you? He must comment all the time on what he feels? This is a bit exhausting, I couldn’t date you, sorry, this is not independent enough for me. I read a lot of co-dependency in your relationship, both in your behavior and in his. Be a bit cooler and let him do his own things, on his terms. When he gets moody, just avoid him and do your own stuff by yourself, without expecting him to be your clone. At the end of your post, you sound also super maternal. Don’t try to have him “open up” and “help” and fix him with a therapist. Take more distance on the contrary, just don’t care and be busy, you know, too busy to have time for him. Perhaps it will help.

  19. LW, this sounds so frustrating. I wouldn’t necessarily MOA yet if you have an otherwise very happy and functional relationship, but this is a big deal because communication is everything and it sounds like he isn’t great at it.

    As others have said above, you don’t get to stonewall/shut someone out, say you’re fine, but then act pissy or angry for days. That’s very immature. All he would have to say is “Something’s going on, I don’t feel like talking about it but it has nothing to do with you” and if he says that, you leave him alone and you both move forward.

    On the other hand, if the Thing he was mad about WAS about you and he refused to tell you (it doesn’t sound like you know?), then that’s even worse and I would lean more toward MOA if this doesn’t start improving soon. That’s just so incredibly frustrating and you can’t really progress in a relationship at all if one person can’t communicate at a basic adult level.

  20. I think at a basic level y’all aren’t compatible. I identify more with the bf because I too would get irritated with being asked if I’m ok multiple times a weekend when I’ve stated I’m fine, and sometimes I just need some downtime. Maybe your boyfriend WAS excited to have these people over and then something happened st work and he realized he would have to put on a happy face when all he really wanted to do was curl up and do nothing. I don’t know. But if you would like someone who explains their feelings then this guy isn’t for you.

  21. Morecoffeeplease says:

    If he’s just in a bad mood and it has nothing to do with you, he needs to communicate like an adult. Instead of saying everything is fine and then acting grouchy he should straight up say, Sorry, I’m in a bad mood today due to work stuff. I’m trying to snap out of it. Don’t take it personally. I agree with the people who said he would benefit from a therapist who can teach him better ways to communicate.

  22. LW here
    Thank you Wendy and everyone else for taking the time to read my letter and offer some advice. It’s good to see some different perspectives because being inside of an issue makes it difficult to see the big picture.

    I wanted to reply to a few questions. I don’t think that all men don’t or that all women do communicate well/bad, but as Wendy mentioned I do believe that in general, there are some things some women are more forthcoming about and that some men don’t get as deep about. I know I can be very introspective and vocal about my feelings, and I don’t think I was placing that expectation on him, but maybe I was. I probably didn’t word that very well in my original letter because I was trying to keep the long letter brief.

    At first I thought that was the issue with me and Mark, but then I recognized it was something different. Specifically, the response he had to the planned discussion on Monday. I’ve never dated a man who had a response like this to a difficult conversation. And when I say I “know a lot of men” who have trouble expressing their feelings, I meant in my construction field and sports hobbies a lot of the men I’ve met are very macho and won’t express or even admit to having feelings. I don’t date those guys. I actually avoid getting into relationships with the idea of “fixing” anyone because I spent some time in therapy working on myself and I learned that we can only “fix” ourselves and no one else. I’m drawn to stability and balance.

    To clarify the events over the weekend, I really only asked him twice if he was ok (Friday night and Saturday morning) because he seemed upset. After that I realized he wasn’t going to talk about it so I dropped it and since he didn’t want to talk about anything else, we just did our activities in silence. Which is why I called it tense – if he wanted to be alone and not talk to anyone, he could have done his own thing instead of wanting to spend the day with me. He has his own apartment and he could have stayed home to chill until he felt like spending time together, but instead he came over to ignore me. Then Saturday night, after we all had a good time and I thought he was in a better mood, I was cleaning up the house and out of nowhere he just came to me and started complaining about “this stupid party” and saying a lot of negative things about me and our friends. I was frustrated that he was being a jerk to me for no reason, or at least no reason that I knew of since he wouldn’t talk to me.

    And honestly, I could chalk the whole thing up to just him being crabby, I have my moments too and we’re only human. But the things that bothered me were that 1. He couldn’t just tell me “It’s a work thing, not you” when I first asked, so I would know that he wasn’t pissed off about something that I had done 2. His unusual response to the conversation on Monday when he seemed to just shut down emotionally and physically.

    All the feedback yesterday was helpful for me, especially from @ktfran. I don’t think I had previously acknowledged how introverted he really is, and how that can make him respond to things differently than what I’m used to. He also grew up in a household that avoids conflict, so he was probably never exposed to how to have healthy conflict and difficult conversations. And he’s only had 1 other “serious” relationship before, which lasted about a year. I knew all this stuff, but I guess it didn’t occur to me that could all add up to our current issue. I’m not ready to MOA yet, because I think overall we are still good together; he is usually very kind, we have the same goals, we make a great team when we go on adventures or work on projects together and we make each other laugh.

    So I’m taking a mix of the advice I’ve received: 1. In the future, if he’s in one of his moods I’ll only ask once if he wants to talk and then I’ll give him some space. 2. I’m going to ask him to let me know “It’s work, it’s not you” if that’s the case, so I know that it’s not something I did. 3. I’m going to visit my own counselor to see if there are some things that I’m not recognizing in myself (when I was younger I had some co-dependency issues I thought I had gotten past, but maybe I need to look at that again) 4. If/when this happens again, I’m going to ask him if he’d consider talking to a counselor so that he can find a way to deal with his stress without taking it out on me and get comfortable talking to me instead of shutting down. If he isn’t open to that, then I may have to decide if it’s time to MOA from this relationship.

    1. Avatar photo angelsiris11 says:

      Great ideas – and good luck!

  23. It goes on and on says:

    She never confirmed that it was “constant.” Too many of you are just assuming this. She literally said 4 times in 6 months. How is that constant? If you want someone to leave you alone, be an adult and tell them. According to the letter, he’s lying. Why lie? You don’t have to spill your guts, just say the magic words “give me some space” or “I’m the type of person who needs a lot of space.” Don’t say you’re fine when you’re not. God forbid someone cares about that.

    I agree they aren’t suited. He needs someone whose fine ignoring him for a week or two until he resets from big baby to adult mode.

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