Is your girlfriend avoiding mushy sweet nothings lately? Have your emotional late-night phone conversations suddenly stopped? Or does she stay away from all parties and give you the silent treatment? Is that affecting your love life? Chances are, your significant other is experiencing an emotional shutdown. So, what do you do when a woman shuts down emotionally?
Or when communication stops in a relationship? How will you know she’s shutting down emotionally in a relationship? What causes this scenario and how can you handle it? Well, there can be plenty of reasons behind such emotional withdrawal. We’ll unearth a few. Read on, as with the help of our expert relationship counselor Ruchi Ruuh (Postgraduate Diploma in Counseling Psychology), we explore situations of emotional withdrawal in women and find out what a partner can do in such cases.
What Is An Emotional Shutdown?
So, what does it mean to shut down emotionally, really? Well, when a woman shuts down emotionally, she disconnects from any or all emotions. No crying, no hugging, not even a simple “I love you!” or “I adore you.” Your partner won’t communicate, no matter what! And you often wonder, “Why is my gf being distant?” or “Why doesn’t she talk to me like before?” Does this indicate a deeper issue? Experts have often linked emotional shutdown with emotional distress. And if your spouse or girlfriend is shutting you down emotionally, chances are, she’s suffering from some underlying psychological issue.
This Reddit user, for instance, noticed his girlfriend shutting down to the world whenever she felt overwhelmed. He claimed while they got along well and shared great chemistry, she ended up shutting him out too in such situations. A few days later, he updated fellow Redditers, saying she had completely cut him off and blocked him on social media too. He then felt it wasn’t about him and that she was probably mentally ill. He added that he couldn’t have done anything to heal her.
Interestingly, this isn’t an isolated case. Men all over the world feel their partners shut them out emotionally and otherwise, without any explanation at times. But they are clueless as to how they can address such situations.
What causes a person to shut down emotionally?
Do you keep saying to yourself “My girlfriend is shutting me out” or “My wife is cold and emotionless”? A woman doesn’t suddenly shut people out or withdraw emotionally. It’s mostly a long-drawn process and has several causes. And it can also lead to serious issues.
American psychologist and Stanford professor James Gross, who studies emotion and emotion regulation, believes shutting down emotions ends up causing internal tension, and that tension often spills over and affects everyone around us, including our partners, our friends, and our well-wishers.
But to heal a person who shuts down, we need to unearth the causes behind this. So, is shutting down a trauma response? Or is it due to a neglecting partner? Here are a few reasons for such emotional withdrawal:
- Lack of communication in the relationship: She may not be speaking out about things that need to be sorted in the relationship or may have felt unheard. “My girlfriend shuts down when we argue” is a common complaint. Ruchi says, “Sometimes, women are not able to vocalize their feelings. So, they might withdraw emotionally in a conflict with a partner. They may avoid discussing their emotions, leading to a complete breakdown in communication.”
- Emotional neglect: A common reason behind a woman’s emotional withdrawal is emotional neglect in a relationship. Ruchi adds, “A woman can feel emotionally neglected when her partner stops making any effort in the relationship. This leads to lack of emotional intimacy, and the woman may feel hurt and quietly quit the relationship.”
In many cases, emotional abandonment from one’s husband can lead to complete emotional shutdown, even if he offers financial or material support.
- The fear of rejection: A lot of women are afraid to show their true emotions after reaching a certain point in a relationship. This is due to a deep-seated fear of rejection, which can have its roots in past relationship trauma or dealing with a toxic ex who never valued her emotions and left her when she showed any
- Childhood trauma: An attachment injury, or trauma, from childhood can cause a woman to shut down emotionally in relationships. A toxic, selfish, or narcissistic parent may have abandoned her in crucial moments, leading her to be on her own and become an ‘adult’ much before her time. She thus transfers that trauma to her relationships too
- Mental or mood disorders: She may be suffering from undiagnosed mental or mood issues. For instance, emotional withdrawal is a common side-effect of Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Similarly, PTSD shutdown too is common. Ruchi adds, “Women who shut down emotionally may show signs of fleeting or chronic anxiety. They may also suffer from depressive episodes. A lot of such women suffer from low self-esteem and even blame themselves for shutting down emotionally.”
- Expectations and stress: In this age of feminism, there’s a lot of pressure on women to be an all-in-one version who puts the needs of others before her own. This can lead to stress and a complete emotional shutdown. Ruchi believes, “A lot of women keep their anger, resentment, and sadness within themselves. And such bottled-up emotions generally amplify stress levels. So, when a woman is feeling overwhelmed, she will withdraw emotionally to manage the stress.”
- Dealing with grief: An unexpected loss of a parent, child, or loved one may lead to emotional shutdown that continues long after the loss. Research has shown that women who go through miscarriages tend to carry their emotional distress for a long time. This can also cause emotional withdrawal
Related Reading: 8 Common Fears In Relationships – Expert Tips To Overcome
11 Signs A Woman Is Shutting Down Emotionally In A Relationship
So, now you know that when a woman shuts down emotionally, it could be due to varied reasons. But are you, as a partner, aware of the signs of shutting down emotionally? Well, here are 11 prominent signs of emotional withdrawal:
1. No effort in maintaining relationships
When you find your wife or girlfriend ignoring your needs, not thinking about growth in the relationship, or forgetting about little acts of love, it’s a major sign she’s shutting down emotionally.
Ruchi adds, “In such cases, women tend to save their emotional energy by not investing in future plans and not putting in any effort in the relationship. And future, in this case, doesn’t necessarily have to be long-term. She could even stop making plans for the imminent future. So, she might not make any more plans for dates, birthdays, anniversaries, or vacations.”
2. Lack of communication
She’ll avoid sharing little moments of joy and won’t even come to you when she’s dealing with pain or sadness, if she’s withdrawing emotionally. Ruchi states, “When a woman withdraws emotionally, she will avoid discussing important things. Taking communication away from the relationship is a major sign that she’s shutting down.
“For instance, she won’t share her concerns if she’s stressed about her work or even wants you to do some chores at home. She will completely shut down.”
Related Reading: 11 Ways To Improve Communication In Relationships
3. Commitment phobia or insecurity in relationships
Though we often associate commitment phobia with men, a lot of women too are scared of committing to long-term relationships. Such women may have a string of flings or short-term connections but may not commit to more than that due to lack of trust.
On the other hand, some women may become completely insecure in their existing relationships, if they shut down emotionally. Ruchi feels, “In such cases, their inability to trust a partner may lead to them creating elaborate scenarios in their minds.”
4. Harsh reactions to simple issues
A lot of women who shut down emotionally tend to react harshly to simple inconveniences, such as the food delivery guy not reaching on time or the next-door neighbor being too noisy. Such reactions are signs of emotional walls. And you may keep thinking, “My girlfriend is always mad at me.”
Ruchi says, “Because of a lot of unresolved emotions, a woman may not be able to stay calm while voicing her opinions. A lot of unnecessary arguments may result due to her having felt neglected or unheard earlier.”
Related Reading: Emotional Baggage – Causes, Signs, And Ways To Cope
5. Lack of empathy
Emotional withdrawal also comes with a complete lack of empathy. A woman going through this situation may not consider your point of view or your interests.
6. Shallow emotions
A woman who shuts down emotionally will show little or no emotion. Ruchi states, “She may emote, but those emotions will be superficial. You will feel there’s an emptiness inside her.”
Related Reading: 11 Tell-Tale Signs You Are In A Superficial Relationship
7. Dissatisfaction with people or activities she once loved
So, she loved hiking but stays in bed all day now, or she loved to write once but can hardly pen a sentence these days! These show a lack of emotions even when it comes to her favorite activities.
Ruchi adds, “When a woman shuts down emotionally, she experiences dissatisfaction with everything and everyone in her life. Her emotional unfulfillment reflects in other spheres, such as her career, her interaction with her friends, and even her favorite extracurricular activities.”
8. Lack of trust and emotional dependence
A woman who distances herself from you emotionally may find it difficult to trust you or depend on you for emotional support. Ruchi says, “A woman may find it hard to connect with a partner after observing patterns she doesn’t agree with. In such situations, she may not trust you anymore. She may start hiding her phone, stop discussing her day with you, and even keep her finances separate.”
Such lack of trust and emotional dependence can also give rise to other issues. Ruchi believes, “Since most of the emotional support in our lives comes from our partners, in such cases, women may have an affair or go out with their friends to avoid their partners.”
9. Avoiding places or objects associated with past trauma
When emotional withdrawal is due to a traumatic incident from the past, it’s extremely difficult for her to live through that moment again. In such cases, a woman will avoid songs, movies, objects, or even places that remind her of that trauma. For instance, a woman may avoid a travel destination because she once went there with her toxic ex.
10. Indifference or zoning out
She’ll listen to you in a passive manner, without saying anything back. She’ll probably give you a cold look or just say “Whatever suits you!” and end it there. Ruchi says, “Women who shut down on an emotional level often leave conversations midway or zone out. It’s like they are there but aren’t engaging on a deeper level. There is a visible lack of mindfulness in their behavior.”
11. No physical affection
Of course, when a woman is shutting down emotionally, she will avoid all forms of affectionate physical touch, such as caressing, kissing, or making love. Ruchi says, “As you know, women like to connect more through emotional bonds. And intimacy, both physical and emotional, is a major factor for women in relationships.
“When a woman shuts down emotionally, even emotional intimacy declines. You will find all affectionate gestures missing from the relationship. She will avoid simple gestures, such as hugging.”
How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down — 7 Tips To Reconnect
So, what to do when your wife checks out emotionally or your girlfriend/partner seems distant and withdrawn? Well, communicating in such cases can be tricky! While you don’t want to overstep her boundaries, you also want to help her get back to her real self, without hurting her. Remember, the trouble begins when communication stops in a relationship. So, how does one communicate with a woman who has shut down emotionally? Here are some shutting down coping mechanisms:
1. Be there for her
It’s important to note that any emotional withdrawal that your partner shows may not necessarily be related to you or your relationship with her. But it’s also important to communicate with her and show her that you’re there for her. Make her come coffee or cook her a surprise dinner! Address the signs of bad communication in a relationship. Show that you care.
Ruchi adds, “It’s important for a partner to communicate in an open and healthy way with someone who’s shutting down. Offer her a secure environment and listen to her. Active listening too is crucial in such cases. There should be an emphasis on validating her and boosting her self-worth with a productive conversation.”
Related Reading: The 8 Commandants Of Open Communication In A Relationship
2. Don’t shame, blame, or judge
Remember, she doesn’t need another stressful conversation. So, don’t make things worse by reacting aggressively. Don’t start blaming her for not being part of house parties or not keeping in touch with her old friends. Stop shutting her out. These are signs of bad communication in a relationship.
Try and be their safe space without making her feel demeaned. Say things such as “I understand how you’re feeling…” or “You can tell me what’s bothering you.” Make them feel you won’t judge them for opening up or confiding in you.
Giving space after a fight is important too. Let there be no contact for 3 weeks after an argument. Pause and reflect, if needed.
3. Be mindful of your tone and body language
Sometimes, it’s not what we say but how we say it that makes all the difference! So, things can get worse if you don’t take care of your tone and body language while communicating with someone who’s shutting down emotionally.
For instance, you tell her “It’s ok! I don’t want to argue anymore!” and then leave the room to avoid any further dialogue. Or you say “I know what you’re going through! You need to get over your past experiences…,” but in a very condescending way! This isn’t going to help but will only worsen the situation.
Ruchi feels, “It’s important to show your genuine interest in communicating with her, and your body language plays a major role in this. Give her your undivided attention. Talk to her before going to bed, cuddle, make eye contact!”
4. Create a support network for her
If you’re acquainted with a close friend, coworker, or a family member of hers, who she has withdrawn from lately, get in touch with them. Make them a partner-in-crime to communicate with her. Ask them to call, leave a text, or drop by unannounced, just to check up on her till she’s ready to open up.
Related Reading: What Does ‘Holding Space For Someone’ Mean And How To Do It?
5. Introspect and apologize
If you’ve been wondering what’s bothering your partner, introspect and think of the ways you could be causing the problem. Is she turned off by the way you flirt with her friends? Is she tired of telling you to get a better job that funds your extravagant lifestyle? Do a little soul-searching and apologize if you have to. Start with “I’m sorry, I know I hurt you…” Look into ways of healing and growth in the relationship. Set boundaries, be they emotional or physical, if needed.
Ruchi adds, “There might be resentments or concerns about the relationship. Her healing may require you to change some of your own patterns and repair the relationship.”
6. Create new experiences together
A lot of work needs to be done to mend a relationship with a woman who’s been shutting down emotionally. One great shutting down coping mechanism is to create new experiences.
Ruchi suggests, “Go on an adventure vacation together or take up some new activity together that you have been putting off for a long time. You need not always go out to have shared experiences. Something as simple as decorating your home together can heal an emotionally withdrawn person.”
7. Seek professional help from a counselor
When you feel it’s not up to you to initiate communication with a woman who’s mentally shutting down, consult a counselor. Go for couples therapy, if possible, and unearth the root cause of her withdrawal. You may be in store for a stressful conversation with the professional. But eventually, your partner will heal.
- When a woman shuts down emotionally, she shows little or no emotion and often stays away from social situations
- Emotional withdrawal in a woman can be caused by many factors, such as mood disorders, lack of communication in a relationship, emotional abandonment from husband/boyfriend, past trauma, fear of rejection, or stress
- A woman who has shut down emotionally may zone out from conversations, avoid sharing her concerns with her partner, lose interest in her career or hobbies, stop trusting her partner, and stop making future plans
- Some effective ways of communicating with a partner who has shut down emotionally is to create a safe space for open communication, not blame or judge her, create a support network of friends or relatives, introspect and change some known patterns, create new shared experiences, and consult a counselor
Hope this article helped you unearth the signs of shutting down emotionally and understand what causes a person to shut down emotionally. Hope it also helped you find out how to communicate with someone who shuts down this way. Remember, avoiding a woman, or any person, who doesn’t show any emotions may seem the easier way out, but that only amounts to shoving the real issues beneath the carpet. Addressing the root causes of her withdrawal will help her get over the situation in a better manner. So, go ahead! Don’t ignore the signs of emotional walls. Show her she’s not alone in this difficult journey.