Withdrawing into "the cave"


My husband and I are just now coming out of a rough patch. We had a lot on our plates that kept piling higher and deeper until it was just too much to handle anymore. While some of the problems were *our* problems, a lot of them were his unique situations centered on his career and problems at work.
His coping mechanism is to withdraw into his little thinking cave. He becomes oblivious to all things and persons around him, even those he loves the most. He claims he pushes me away b/c they are *his* problems that he needs to solve on his own. He wants to spare me his anger and frustration. I on the other hand, interpret his distance to mean that I don't matter, I'm useless, and I feel undervalued and unloved.
I know this is a classic case of "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus." And in fact, mamaluv, I just got the book and I'm about 1/3 of the way through it. We're working through our troubles and have come out even stronger on the other side. Marriage takes so much more effort and energy than anyone ever tells you (that or you blindly dismiss their warnings. :-P )
I know the generalization: women need to talk and vent when they're frustrated; men withdraw and think when they're frustrated. What I'm curious to know is how your relationships work when there's a meltdown. Are you the talker? Are you the cave dweller? How do you work through the problem(s)?
May 27, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

12 Replies

Ali de Bold


First of all, Spotty I think your honesty and openness is really refreshing. Thank you for your trust and raising an important discussion topic that so many of us can identify with.

Marriage is hard and takes a lot more work than people realize. I'm also a talker, so I understand how you must feel. I think it's natural for women to get really anxious and read things into situations because the guys aren't reacting the way we would or think they should. I can't tell you how many times I've kept poor Alex up into the wee hours because I feel the need to discuss something he'd rather leave alone for a few days.

If we are having a rough patch, we arrange a meeting to hit reset and we work things out. It sounds really formal, but it works! Guys don't always like to discuss every issue on the spot as it arises. They like to mull things over and come to a conclusion on their own rather than an on the spot resolution.

We agree to a coffee date on a Sunday afternoon or something where we will calmly work through the things that are frustrating us and try to come to some sort of an understanding or rules of future engagement.
May 27, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

smart idea!

MC - that is brilliant! I really should suggest something similar next time.

Spotty - oh my gosh, I am very much the talker and my husband a caveman-- oops, I mean cave dweller ;)

My hubby and I have been married for a long time now and there are certain things we've both dropped as "not worth arguing about". While some might call that sweeping under the rug, I choose to think of it as a necessary preventative medicine. None of those issues are dealbreakers, and I would never let a dealbreaker drop without discussion.

Ever since I read Men Are From Mars, I have tried to let him sit in his cave for a half hour after work or after some crisis has hit before even speaking to him. Other than greeting him when he comes in from work, I simply avoid getting in his personal space. It doesn't take long before he saunters into the kitchen or wherever I'm at and initiates the conversation about whatever's on his mind.

Of course, I don't always do this. My talker nature does slip out and then, like a puppy who makes doodoo on the carpet, I get flicked on the nose (not literally of course!) and am reminded to back off. In the same way, if he dares to leave the room when I'm in mid-sentence, I remind him of how I process and how his reaction is hurtful and even disrespectful.

We have not had an all-out shouting match in a really long time (years?), and we've never cussed or called names. This is a really huge priority for us, that even when we argue we keep it civil. Heated? Of course. But not where one or both of us says something that is difficult to forgive.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus doesn't hit every nail on the head, but I truly believe that most of us could learn a lot from it. I highly recommend it!
May 28, 2009 @ 10:52 am

wow-thanks for posting on this spotty!

I am so glad that you posted this .....I am in a similiar situation
with my 'cave dweller' and it is so frustrating to me. There are a ton
of books out there on the subject (of course mars/venus is popular) and
I have read more than one. WE are actually in therapy (which I
secretly hate but that's another story) and if there's one good thing
that's come out of it, its the fact that we don't communicate
properly. As simple as it is....we don't talk, listen, understand,
acknowledge well when communicating with eachother.

I like the fact that mama and misschickie talk about having a
'meeting'/coffee time. I know that I personally am a 'talker'...and
when I get upset at my husband for not being sensitive or ignoring a
situation, I do tell him, "you are hurting my feelings" or "could you
please just listen to me for a moment". Then I say what I need to say
and move on.

mamaluv-that is so true about the mid-sentence thing....my husband has
a tendency to interrupt me mid-sentence and it would make me SO upset.
I am wondering why people feel that its okay to do that. UGH.

So, apologies for the rantings. Glad you posted this spotty...and I am right there with ya!
Jun 02, 2009 @ 04:02 pm
Anonymous 3546

How Do I Handle The Cave?

When I am in a relationship and this happens I normally let them go to the cave.

My last relationship the person I was involved with could go to that place for days.
That time allowed me to focus on myself and extract myself from the relationship to a certain extent. When I was younger I don't think I would have had the strength to do that, now I feel like I could be an Olympic champion.

After a few days I normally write things down, then rewrite them until there is no sting in it and give it to him in an email or printed format. This gave him time to process it without having to give me immediate answers and not feel panicked in the face of my emotions.

After that I would set up a time to talk with my partner about what was going on.
Normally we would focus on one issue at a time even if that meant working through things painfully slow.

It has also been made abundantly clear to me over the past few years that we as humans and as women have become excessively dependent on words to communicate. In general men communicate more through their actions. When they do communicate in words it is more factual than the way we would speak.

Two great books I recommend are "The Five Love Languages" and "Manslations."

Take care.

Jun 12, 2009 @ 01:01 pm

Five Love Languages

I also heartily recommend The Five Love Languages for couples!

Confession: I have never read the whole thing, but I have participated in a workshop and it was very eye-opening.

There is also another volume for parents, The Five Love Languages of Children, which I plan to read in the near future.
Jun 12, 2009 @ 03:34 pm

I'm a bit of a hypocrite...

I think I'm a bit of a hypocrite, in that when the problem was with my partner, I'd want to talk about it and figure out what it is and why and how to fix it, etc. But when the problem is with me, I'm very much the cave dweller. I don't talk about it, actually more like I can't talk about it. I was in fact very wierd when arguments occured with my ex. Poor guy would be arguing away and I'd be staring at him looking very attentive while a song will be playing in my head. At best Id' have a very slow internal conversation in my head that sort of goes along the lines of "you should really pay attention" ...."yea but ...whats he talking about again??" .... "huh..no clue.. how does that song go again?" ... LOL .. freaky I know, I freak myself out too sometimes :-p

I was trying very hard to explain to a friend of mine just yesterday, that talking about certain things just doesn't come, as in, you open your mouth and nothing comes out... and she just didn't get it, and I couldn't explain it any better which was a bit frustrating. I think a cave dweller might be better able to understand what I mean by that.

Jun 16, 2009 @ 01:22 pm

can you explain the clam?

For becky, and others like her, can you explain why you clam up? Why you simply "can't" think of words to say?

Is it a matter of not understanding the situation? Not understanding your feelings?

I would love to try to understand where that personality type is coming from. TIA!
Jun 17, 2009 @ 11:08 am

very good question!!

I would love to know too!! hehe :)

I've actually been trying to figure this out myself for while now, and I just don't know why I'm like that. I read your question yesterday, and I've been thinking about a good answer, but I honestly don't know. I'm going to keep thinking about it and let you know if I come up with anything ...

If anyone has any theories I'd love to know too!

Jun 18, 2009 @ 01:11 pm

my two cents...

I actually did think about this question a lot .. and here's my tentative answer: I think its "conditioning".

Not to put blame on him or anything, but I got with my bf(ex) when i was very young; only 16. He was my first and only bf, so i never had anything else to compare it to or learn from. Anyways, whenever we had a fight he'd always want to discuss it... and when I would tell him what I thought or where i was coming from, he'd get madder we'd fight even more and it'd get way worse. So very soon I stopped participating in discussions, and I learnt that its much easier to just ignore fights and move on. And that is precise why I don't discuss with someone if he/she makes me upset or angry. Because in my opinion and experience, it just makes the thing escalate out of proportion. Its easier to just ignore that it ever happened.

For guys, I think that guys are conditioned from a young age that they have to be strong and manly. Aren't young boys often told "big boys don't cry"? So from a young age they learn that certain things a man's man does not do, among which are crying, and discussing their feelings. So if they had a really tough day at work, if they were reemed out in front of their peers, if they didn't get the promotion or acknowledgement they deserved, they will come home upset and brooding, but won't discuss it with their partners simply because its not manly to discuss their feelings. Its NOT that he's thinking about and practicing his manliness by not talking to you. Its just that, that's what he was taught (whether delibreately or gleaned by watching other 'manly men'), its the way he's been for all his life, and the way he's most comfortable being.

Both situations, because a person just becomes conditioned to be a certain way, its not delibrate nor is it designed to distance the friend or partner, its actually very natural and comfortable for them to behave that way. So both scenarios, the person goes into their cave, mulls over the issue in their heads, and puts it behind them and moves on.

I know the question comes up; can you really put unresolved hurt behind you? But thats another discussion all together.

I hope this made some sense and helped shed light on why... and again this is just my two cents so of course it won't apply to everyone.
Jul 10, 2009 @ 12:06 am

Cave Dweller

I'm a cave dweller, for sure...I find talking about my problems get me worked up even more, and in the end I feel worse for talking about them, because I feel like I'm unloading the burden onto someone else. I always feel bad, and worry that I've made the person I've spoken to even the slightest bit unhappy by my problems. They're my problems, after all, nobody else should be brought down by them...But on the other hand, I'm also a person who loves to help other people by listening, so I love other people to get things off their chests! And it frustrates me to no end when I meet a fellow cave dweller who won't let go, because I insist it will feel much better just being able to get it off their chests...I'm a hypocrite, haha. At any rate, I know what it's like to be on both sides, and I don't think it's that you're undervalued and unloved...Maybe it's that you're very loved, and he wants to protect you. Have you tried asking him why he won't talk to you? Or asking him to try, to see if it helps? Even just once?
Aug 01, 2009 @ 01:17 am

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