The Myth of the Strong Silent Type (or Never Date Someone Who Is Emotionally Unavailable)

Growing up I wanted to be Spiderman. Not the Tobey Maguire metro-sexual ripoff, the real Spiderman; from the cartoons. “Is he strong? Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead. Look out, here comes

Magyar: Spiderman arcfestés the Spiderman.”

Spiderman, Clint Eastwood, Arnold the Terminator, Jet Li, Rocky 1,2,3,4,5, and of course the A Team. It was a time when ‘men were men’, or so the saying goes. Real men didn’t cry, show emotions, or ask for help. They knew how to fight, or at least pretend to.

And we didn’t talk about our feelings while we were sober. Ever.

Most men grow up in a very different world then women. Women are used to sharing how they feel, their struggles, clothing styles, emotions. Women go to the bathroom in groups. I was not taught how to share my feelings; in fact to do so was frowned upon. Now take that same man and put him in a romantic relationship with a woman. She really likes him, he listens very well. He’s strong and protective; she feels safe in his arms.

(I am conscious that this sounds sexist. This is obviously a generalization)

Fast forward twenty years and that same woman is sitting in my office, complaining that her husband is ’emotionally unavailable’. He doesn’t share his feelings. She relates that they never really talk anymore and have significant communication problems. All of their conversations end in a fight and the trust and compassion are gone. She is obviously very vulnerable and confesses that she has been cheating on him. How could things have ended up so bad?

What could possibly have gone so wrong that she would forsake her wedding vows? They seemed like such a solid couple. From the outside it appears as if they are doing well but if you could be a fly on the wall the answer becomes obvious, if you take the time to analyze it.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far more common than most people think. Even in relationships where there is no infidelity many partners complain that their spouse is not emotionally available. This woman was starving for attention. She has been married to the same man all her life and things have slowly gone from bad to worse. Her marriage is not turning out like it was supposed to when she dreamed as a girl of fairytale weddings, passion, and happily ever after. She found she was becoming needy and began fantasizing about what life could be like with Prince Charming. And Prince Charming was more than willing to say all the right words, listen to her stories, and empathize about things her husband didn’t seem to care about.

I know multiple situations when the roles are reversed. Same-sex relationships often have their share of emotionally unavailable partners as well.

Time after time I talk to patients, usually women, who complain that they cannot connect or communicate with their partner. Before they were married or moved in everything seemed so much better. Now, however it feels like she is living with a stranger. Attempts to create conversations are often met with grunts or monosyllabic words. After all these years, now that the glow has worn off, this couple is discovering that they really have nothing in common. Add to this the fact that even on the topics they can discuss one or both of the partners is prone to become angry, usually over the simplest thing. This couple is most likely headed for a divorce.

There are many stated reasons why couples get divorced but it is apparent that once they stop communicating things are only going to go from bad to worse. After twenty years of marriage many couples no longer share any of their innermost thoughts. Women complain that they are practically living as strangers and their spouse has rarely tried to connect or communicate beyond the regular household courtesies.

Marrying or being with an emotionally unavailable partner is never a good idea. I hear people all the time tell me that they knew their spouse wasn’t open about their feelings and thoughts before they made a solid commitment but at the time they thought this would be no big deal. Sure he doesn’t go on at length about himself or about the relationship but he’s so caring, so nice, and has such a great sense of humor. They are soul-mates and are going to spend the rest of their life together.

Wrong.

Ask anyone who has spent ten or twenty years with an emotionally unavailable person and they will admit that things have not turned out the way they had hoped. They are starving for deep conversations and intimacy, and have had to go outside the house to find this. These women are struggling to emotionally and sexually bond, and the impact on their self esteem, libido and lovemaking is profound. The longer they are together the more distant they seem to become.

No relationship is perfect but if you are in a situation like I have described you need to get help fast. Believing that person will somehow change is ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. It’s simply not going to happen unless there is an intervention. Get help from a counselor who doesn’t suck. Work on yourself first because getting that other person to change is damn near impossible unless they are humble and willing to address their fundamental relational flaws.

Don’t settle for a mediocre relationship if you can help it. Fight for your life, you deserve it.

And don’t even get me started on dating the ‘bad boy’…

 

17 thoughts on “The Myth of the Strong Silent Type (or Never Date Someone Who Is Emotionally Unavailable)

  1. It is so funny women complain about the most masculine men. It seems women want to marry a man that acts and communicates like their best friend (girl).
    I wonder why marriage doesn’t work…
    Marry a real man—not good.
    Marry a man that acts like a woman– not good.

    The positive thing is that real men don’t care what women think!

  2. haha…too funny. I married a “strong, silent type” guy- he was emotionally unavailable, manipulative, and abusive. So I cheated. And guess what? The guy I cheated with was a marriage counselor…that I met online….on a website for “cheating” spouses. I guess no one is perfectly immune!

    1. You will cheat again.
      Maybe your ex husband was not happy with the way you are or look. Maybe you fart, snore…who knows?
      Be sure you were not attractive enough to make your ex want to communicate with you.

  3. Interesting topic this one. Not sure if you’ve read Brene Brown’s latest book Daring Greatly but she writes a bit about this topic. Her research into men and shame and vulnerability is really interesting and often it’s actually the women in the men’s lives who don’t like to see their men less than “strong” – sigh. I have two boys and I’m hoping I can help them find the balance in some way!

  4. I agree with you, but the ending of this post “don’t even get me started on dating the bad boy” is what made me stand at attention. Scott, I “really’ struggle with this. I mean, it’s an epidemic. Would you consider writing on this subject? I could use some of your wisdom and insight right about NOW.

    -Ava

  5. I never realized ’emotionally unavailable’ was actually a logistic term that was beyond name calling by attention-seeking and emotionally unbalanced females ( as is the stereotype ) . I’m very glad I read this because I think the saying where we accept the love we think we deserve totally serves it’s purpose here – or atleast for me it has. I think many people overlook the ‘silent exterior’ cause they want to be the ‘hero’ persay, telling themselves that they are big enough to accept and continue loving their partner despite their apathy. And more of less, it does causes one to be intrigued. It’s like a constant game, and then when the marriage is about to end 20 years down the road we can all say well played.
    Anyways thanks for the visit on my blog, I was quite skeptical of my recent post so thankyou! and I’m so sorry for the terribly long comment. /:

  6. Loved this article. I recently ended a 22 year marriage. My college roommates & brother held an intervention begging me not to marry him. He was emotionally abusive & later I found out he had been cheating on me. He posted ads on a singles site & had dozens of girlfriends. While I was trying to heal from that experience & “save” my marriage; it was all about his feelings. Poor him. Life doesn’t come easy to him like it did with me. It was all a game to him, he would say. He just wanted to see if he could still get women, while I laid in bed lonely, wondering why my husband chose to sleep in another room for years. Communication is key, I fell for the “mr. charming” at parties & “mr. cool” when we were alone. I was a lonely life.

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