How many times have you had an inkling that your guy is keeping something bottled up? A lot of men aren’t accustomed to talking through weaknesses or vulnerabilities—which means you could get a shoulder shrug or an “Everything’s fine.” Which, you know, isn’t exactly reassuring if he’s getting increasingly withdrawn, moody or irritable.
Why won’t he just spill it? Many men have been trained that being tough means being silent—or maybe copping to vulnerabilities isn’t something he’s comfortable with. He may also think there isn’t a solution to the issue (yet) and doesn’t see the point in hashing it out, says Carin Goldstein, LMFT, a marriage therapist based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “Many men are analytical,” she explains. “It’s so foreign to them to simply talk about their feelings.”
But knowing what’s up may provide some benefit—or at least keep your imagination from running wild. Here are some of the most common subjects that men keep secret—and some tactics for getting him to open up.
He Wants More Sex
Most of us feel closer and more emotionally connected to our significant others through sex, so take note if the physical side of your relationship has hit the wayside. If you rarely initiate, are constantly tired or seem too busy to get busy, he might get moody or irritable, says Goldstein. “Whenever couples come into my office, one of the first things I ask them is, ‘How is your sex life?’” she says. “It’s a simple question, but it tells me a lot—especially the husband’s answer.”
According to Goldstein, a lot of men will express some discontent—and women will counter with total shock. Many women don’t even realize there’s been a drop-off in bedroom activities. If you can’t remember how long it’s been since you last had sex, there’s a good chance he’s taken note of the drought.
He's in Financial Trouble
If he just took a significant pay cut or he’s facing layoffs at work, he may withdraw, according to counselor and psychologist Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, Springfield. “Men have been handed a gender role that assigns the task of providing,” she explains. “So in his mind, the difficulty with the finances may signal a failure on his part.”
Ivankovich says he’ll be singularly focused on fixing the problem at hand. He may nitpick purchases or appear distant and distracted until he finds a resolution—and even then, he may not willingly discuss the problem. “If it’s ‘fixed,’ he probably won’t see the need to belabor the point,” Ivankovich says. Some women may never know there was a worry.
He's Not Moving Up the Ladder at Work
Men attach a huge chunk of their value and self-worth to their jobs. So if your guy was passed over for a promotion, or didn’t get the recognition he thought he deserved on his last project, you might have a very moody man on your hands. “Men need to feel good about their professional status,” Goldstein says. “If he’s not excelling at the pace he’d like, he may be feeling less confident, less talkative and more depressed.”
Again, since you’re not involved in his day-to-day office life, Goldstein says that he may not see how it could help to get you involved. But if you think he could use a sounding board, try asking how things at work are going. (Ask it at night, after he’s had some time to decompress from the day.) Learn his cues and adjust: can you bond through distraction or does his mood improve with a little venting?
He Has a Health Concern
While women can be pretty good about identifying symptoms, getting checked by a doc and then worrying while she waits for a status report, a man may find a symptom, skip step two and just settle at worrying (or ignoring). “The longer you fail to address health concerns, the more concerns there will be with reversibility,” says Ivankovich.
And get this: when asked to pick one health issue that men fret about most, Ivankovich points to erectile dysfunction. “Rather than address that, many will start arguments to avoid sex,” she says. “They became anxious and depressed, which only exacerbates the inability to achieve or sustain an erection.”
In terms of getting him to ‘fess up to any of the above, Goldstein says it really depends on the guy. Only in a calm moment, try broaching the topic either generally (“Something seems off with you lately…”) or directly, if you have a hunch. But if his grumpy attitude seems indefinite or he starts taking out his frustration on you, then it’s time to see a counselor, says Goldstein.
And if he’s keen to stay silent for a time, give him some space. “You can only push so much,” she says. “You have to stay respectful of his boundaries. Some men don’t like to talk it out, and that’s okay.” He’ll probably come back around just as soon as he sorts it out mentally—something often done solo. Just let him know that you’re always available as a safe, judgment-free person to vent to.