How to Cope with Emotionally Shut Down Men

When we understand why men shut off their emotions and why it isn't the woman's job to fix them, we can set both sides free from the codependent dance.

Kenny Weiss
Kenny Weiss

Many women find themselves frustrated while in a relationship with an emotionally shut-down man, and they want to try and change them or fix them. But, unfortunately, this causes distance in relationships, and neither side gets their needs met.

When we understand why men shut off their emotions and why it isn't the woman's job to fix them, we can set both sides free from the codependent dance.

Why do men shut off their emotions?

There are two reasons why men shut off their emotions:

  1. Society created this dynamic
  2. Enmeshment in childhood

Because the parent created this dynamic and normalized it in childhood, we continue to perpetuate it as a society into adulthood.

How does childhood contribute to the creation of emotionally shut down men?

For centuries, we have perpetuated the stereotype and dynamic that men need to be intense, cold, aloof, and not cry. Therefore, we have a society of men who believe that sharing their emotions would make them look weak, so they shut them off.

It is a paradox because many women tend to find this cold, confident, masculine man attractive, so society reinforces this dynamic, even though, in reality, many women get frustrated when their partners are closed off from them emotionally.

How can men turn on their emotions?

The good news is, men are not permanently emotionless. Due to the discoveries on neuroplasticity, we now know that we can change the brain and adapt to become whatever we want. DNA and genes vary based on emotions. That means the emotional condition can shift the DNA, and the possibility is there to transform men into the emotionally available partners in relationships that women are desperately seeking.

How does enmeshment create emotionally closed-off men?

Many emotionally avoidant men grew up in a home where they enmeshed with their mother or father (or sometimes both). We can think of enmeshment as an umbilical cord that goes in the opposite direction. Instead of the parent feeding the child emotionally, the parent requires them to meet their emotional needs.

This type of parenting leaves the child emotionally drained and fearful of connection as an adult. A typical example of this is a parent who makes their child their best friend or is the helicopter 'rescuer' type of parent who always swoops in to clean up the mess the child makes, even in adulthood.

Due to enmeshment, when men are in a relationship with a woman and the woman wants to get close, it's terrifying because the man has the same familiar feelings from childhood, "Oh no, I've already had the life sucked out of me, I can't let this happen again."

To men who suffered enmeshment, intimacy seems incredibly terrifying because they had to spend their entire childhood making one or both parents feel better. Naturally, therefore, they have a fear of getting close to anyone and going through that same experience.

Why do women try to change emotionally avoidant men?

Commonly, women find themselves in a codependent mindset when they want to change them. Statements such as, "But I care about them so much, I just want him to open up. I know they have a great heart" are evidence of their codependence.

The issue with what the woman is asking for is that it starts with "I." "I want to help them." The woman's desire to help, in this case, is a need to meet their own needs through the man. It is the man's job to address these topics on his own. Therefore, it is a backdoor manipulation to get what they want.

In a non-codependent dynamic, a man gets to choose whether or not he opens up emotionally; it's not the women's job to try and change him. They get to live the way they choose.

Without awareness, women will not see how it's less than loving to approach someone in a relationship and try and change them, but they can work on their role in the relationship with understanding. The key to freedom is for her to focus on codependence recovery.

How women can learn to meet their own needs

The first step in learning to meet our needs in a relationship is to stop blaming others and recognize our job to meet our needs and not the other person's responsibility. To end the blame, we have to come to terms with the truth that we chose this person and allowed them into our life. They were this way from the beginning, and they showed us who they are, and we accepted it. It's possible that the man may have been more open at the beginning of the relationship and then started to shut down later on, but that's because of enmeshment – the closer a woman tries to get to them in a relationship, the more they will withdraw.

If our relationship lacks connection, it's a good idea to sit down and think about or write about why we picked someone who isn't available for an emotional connection.

Learning how to ask for needs and wants in a relationship

When we are in a codependent dynamic, it's common to not ask for our needs and wants and think that the other person is a mind reader. When we get silent and say to ourselves, "Well, he should just know." It's impossible for another person to know our needs and wants, especially if we don't know them ourselves.

Asking for our needs and wants is the first step in moving out of a codependent dynamic. The second piece of that is understanding that it's not the other person's job to meet our needs and wants. They get to say no. Asking doesn't always mean receiving.

We should always have a backup plan for our needs and wants; for those occasions, our partner says, No! A backup plan can include:

  • Going to a support group.
  • Meeting up with friends for lunch.
  • Calling someone to connect.

We can celebrate that our partner cannot always meet our need for connection or whatever our other requirements may be at the time.

When we need that intimacy and connection, we meet the need ourselves.

Determining negotiables and non-negotiables in a relationship

When we are in a relationship, it's our responsibility to determine what is negotiable or non-negotiable for us and not try and change the other. Suppose we find ourselves frustrated that we are in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man? In that case, we can ask ourselves if that part of their personality is negotiable or non-negotiable for us?

For example, they may be capable of many other things that align with our needs and wants? But, if being in a relationship with someone emotionally unavailable is non-negotiable - then we get an opportunity to decide to look for a new relationship.


When we find ourselves in a relationship with emotionally unavailable people, we have to ask ourselves what it is about someone emotionally unavailable that we want in our lives? What is the relationship reflecting about ourselves?

How can we meet our own needs and wants instead of expecting someone who isn't emotionally available to do it for us? And, if that's the case, we also get to decide if being with someone emotionally unavailable is negotiable or non-negotiable for us.

If you'd like to learn more, you can deep dive with my YouTube video 'How to Cope with Emotionally Shut Down Men':


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