Is Your Guy Having A Crisis?

If your date is so stressed out that he’s as distant as the horizon, here’s what to do (and what not to do).

By Jon Wilde

’ll admit it: Whenever I’m overcome with anxiety, I become more closed up than a teenage girl’s diary. I sit in the corner with a scowl on my face, grunting out monosyllabic answers to my date’s concerned questions. And as most women know, I’m not the exception to the rule. “Men have a strong fight or flight response,” explains Dr. Daniel Ellenberg, a therapist and business coach in San Francisco who’s studied the relationship skills of males. “So to cope, they either withdraw, become more aggressive, or in certain cases, both.” That doesn’t describe an easy person to deal with, so what’s a woman to do if she’s dating a way-stressed guy? Here’s advice from experts and real guys about what works. Put it to good use, and your relationship will grow stronger as your man realizes he can rely on you for understanding support when he needs it most.

Ditch the “psychiatrist’s couch” discussions
There are few phrases that put a man on edge more than the question, “What’s wrong?”
Remember that his bad mood may have nothing to do with you.
Why? “It’s not the question that’s annoying. I know the woman asking it means well,” says 34-year-old Manhattan resident David Blend. “It's that she expects me to talk things out when I really don’t want to, and that just puts me even more on edge.” But a guy’s unwillingness to vent isn’t just masculine stubbornness—it’s nature. Scientific experiments show that, for most thought processes, women rely mostly on the left side of their brain, which handles language, while men favor the less-conversationally-inclined right lobe. That doesn’t mean he won’t ever open up about his problems. You’ll just have to skip the interrogation for subtler means…

Get him to share (even if he doesn’t know you’re doing it)
The key to making your man spill the beans is getting him into a comfort zone. Whether it’s cooking for him or taking him to his favorite bar for a quick drink, when you pull a comfort move, you should notice him relax, at least a little. Now what? Chuck Thompson, a 38-year-old from Portland, OR, recommends reverse psychology. “If a woman wants me to open up, she should offer an opposing opinion on whatever she thinks is bothering me,” he explains. “She could say ‘Seems like you and your new boss are getting along.’ I’ll almost always take the bait and start talking.” The problem is, knowing why he’s frustrated isn’t easy without ESP. “All men are different, and as a result they all give off different cues and clues,” says Dr. Ellenberg. If he goes from telling you about his day at work to avoiding the subject as much as possible, that’s a sign. If he starts debating whether he really needs that CD or t-shirt when he would normally just buy it, then money could very well on his mind. Keep your eyes open, and more than likely he’ll tip his hand soon enough to give you a conversational inroad.

Don’t take it personally
“Often a woman ends up feeling abandoned or rejected when a man withdraws due to stress,” says Dr. Ellenberg. “That triggers her own defense strategies.” And that only makes things worse. “Whenever the guy I’m dating would get stressed, I’d freak out and start demanding to know why he wouldn’t talk to me,” explains Maria Fontoura, 29, of New
Don’t quiz him as if you’re his shrink.
Jersey. “That only made him withdraw further, and me even more neurotic.” Remember, it’s not all about you. If he’s in a bad mood, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how he feels about you. Don’t make him even more stressed worrying about what you’re worrying about. When he starts to withdraw, Ellenberg suggests physically walking away from the situation. With any luck you’ll find yourself less on the defensive, and you two can pick things up again once the tension passes.

Look for an alternative
When he’s having troubles, he won’t be as emotionally and mentally equipped as usual to listen to the daily issues that most people face. That’s not to say you shouldn’t turn to him for support at all, only that you might want to be more judicious in what you bring up. You should never feel bad about discussing something as serious as a sick relative, but you should probably avoid talking about the annoying girl at work who commented on your messy desk. “This is clearly a time to have other resources that you can turn to,” explains Ellenberg. Friends or family will listen to your daily issues for the time being, thereby giving your date the space he needs to deal with his difficulties and come back as caring as ever.

Keep it to yourself
If your guy isn’t willing to open up to you, then it’s a safe bet he doesn’t want his crisis shared with anyone else, even if that means keeping his troubles a secret from friends or family. What you think might be a support system might just keep pulling him down. “A girl I was dating once told a friend at work that I was bummed because my dog had died,” recalls Matt Christensen, 24, of Stamford, CT. “I’d hoped work would be a welcome escape from my sadness, but for the next week, I was flooded with sympathy emails that just kept reminding me of my dog’s death.” Break that code of silence, and he’ll think twice about confiding in you again. But if you keep quiet, he’ll know he can open up to you without fear that his problems will become public domain.

Never use sex as an antidepressant
“Don’t try to seduce a guy because you think it will take his mind off things,” says 30-year-old Brooklyn resident Ky Henderson. “Chances are, it won’t work as well as you want it to.” In fact, it could very well make the situation worse. “It’s a misconception that when men are stressed, they just want sex,” explains Dr. Ellenberg. “Not only do they want to be left alone, but they can feel an acute sense of performance anxiety.” And if anything will make the situation worse for a guy, it’s a poor showing in bed. Give him some space, and in no time he’ll be looking at you with hungry eyes again.

If all else fails, deliver a shock to the system
The time a man needs to get over a crisis doesn’t depend solely on its severity. Some guys simply have flawed coping systems that leave them idling in sorrow, self-pity, or even worse, explosive anger—and as a result leave your relationship stranded on the side of the road. “Most guys like this are not going to change their pattern unless forced,” explains Dr. Ellenberg. “And so women need to decide how much they’re willing to endure and speak up when it reaches a breaking point.” If you’ve come to the realization that you can’t accept his wallowing anymore, don’t be afraid to say so. For example, “Hey, I know you’re having a tough time, but things between us won’t move forward if I have to tiptoe around you endlessly. Either we work this out, or we stop seeing each other.” A harsh last resort, yes, but besides asserting your right not to be ignored, it could be the push he needs to help get both himself and your budding relationship back on track.

Jon Wilde is an editor at Maxim.

Want to read the other side of this story? My Date’s Sending Out An SOS!

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