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4 Reasons Why Guys Are Tight-Lipped

Does he instantly switch to silent mode once you start talking about serious issues? Here's how to draw him out of his shell and get him to really communicate.

Sometimes, the reason for a guy's silence is obvious: He's engrossed in work, he's concentrating on a video game, he's crammed so much hot dog into his mouth that he's incapable of making a sound. But there are also times when his tight-lipped state is a total mystery...and that's when it can have a negative effect on your relationship. "A woman will often take a man's silence to be a bad thing because she assumes it means that he doesn't want to communicate with her or he just doesn't care," says William July, PhD, author of Understanding The Tin Man. "But that's almost never the case." Your guy does care--he just can't always get the words out.

It doesn't help that when he sees that his silence is hurting you or pissing you off, he feels even more pressure to say the right thing...and becomes even less likely to talk. Luckily, you can break the cycle by understanding why he shuts up in the first place.

1. He thinks you can't handle the truth.

You're probably sick of asking him what he's thinking and being told "nothing." Well, you may want to stop and consider how you'd react if he actually told you what was going through his head. "Often, a man will think that talking could result in his losing more points than he'd gain," says Warren Farrell, PhD, author of Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say. "So he keeps things to himself, which makes it impossible for him to participate fully in the relationship."

Let's say you describe a fight you're having with a coworker, and your guy doesn't respond. You think he's zoning out, but it may be that he has weighed the situation in his highly logical mind and is siding with your coworker, not you. Based on past experiences, he knows that admitting as much will only get him in trouble (because, let's face it, you're looking for emotional backup, not rational input) he just stares at you like a deer in headlights.

The only way to get him to stop censoring himself is to let him know that you'll take his opinion in stride, even if it's not what you want to hear. "If he has reassurance that you'll listen and respond more positively than in the past," Farrell says, "he'll feel safe enough to talk."

2. He's afraid of being emotional.

Think about it: Boys are taught that when they're hurt, they're supposed to simply dust themselves off without expressing pain. Then when they start dating, women convey that not being emotional is bad. This leaves guys not only ill-prepared for dealing with feelings but also completely frustrated with the mixed signals. "Being emotional is a frightening place for many men to be," July says.

And, it's not just the thought of himself breaking down that mortifies a guy. It's also the possibility that you'll break down while the two of you discuss an important issue, and he won't know how to comfort you. "A man can be afraid of not just his own emotions but his significant other's as well," says Alon Gratch, PhD, author of If Men Could Talk. "Growing up, many boys are taught that they should disengage from their feelings." So, they don't know what to do when a girlfriend is emotional or when she tries to put them in touch with their own feelings.

If you get the sense that your guy is afraid of being mushy, there are things you can do. First, go easy on him. "A woman helps by not giving ultimatums or criticizing him for not being a good communicator," July says. "Most guys come around in a relationship...They just need time." Second, help him along by not only asking the right questions but also asking them the right way. Guys often have a hard time describing the way they feel, which is why you need to begin questions with these four crucial words: "Do you feel like...?" Follow them up with some options and he'll start opening up without even realizing it.

3. He's too ashamed.

If you've ever watched a group of dudes try to make each other laugh, you probably assume that men are incapable of feeling shame...but that's not at all true. While you'd probably want to talk about a problem in the bedroom or how your boss laid into you for screwing up, your guy may do whatever he can to avoid discussing those issues because he's too mortified. "Almost all guys worry that if they don't succeed, they'll be seen as a failure," Farrell says. "In particular, a man fears that his partner will lose her faith in him and her respect for him."

Now that you know how vulnerable your guy really is, you may be tempted to baby him. Instead, do the opposite. "Build him up," July says. "Rather than addressing his feelings of powerlessness, play to his strengths." If, say, he lost his job and hasn't found another, tell him it's proof of how awful the economy is that a guy with his amazing resume hasn't gotten an offer. "Even if he doesn't open up that second," July explains, "your confidence in him will raise the odds that he will next time."

4. He's pondering some other problem.

Guys are linear thinkers. That means that unlike women, who are adept at multitasking, men have a hard time moving on from a problem until it's solved. So if he's clamming up at home, it simply may be because his mind is still at the office, working out the solution to a dilemma.

Of course, that kind of problem-solving focus also kicks in with slightly less pressing matters. "If a guy doesn't say anything, it may be that he's hungry and thinking he wants a slice of pizza," Gratch admits. "That's not necessarily a bad thing." It doesn't mean that he's willfully ignoring what you have to say. It's just that his brain won't let him focus on anything else 'til it's fed.

So if you want a discussion actually to go somewhere, avoid ambushing a guy the second you see him. Make sure he's had a chance to decompress, whether it's by joking around about something totally unrelated, watching a Simpsons rerun, or well, stuffing his face with hot dogs. "Giving him space is important, then start by asking about his day," July advises. When a man feels cared about and free to say whatever he wants, you'll be hard-pressed to shut him up.

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