It is a man thing. Every woman has been on the receiving end of it. It is what happens when, after a fight or even in the middle of what appears to the woman as an awesome phase in a relationship, a man withdraws both physically and emotionally. He does not want to talk, to listen or to do anything with you. It is as if he has gone into a cave and you have no idea how to lure him out.
This is often a very confusing time for a woman. The withdrawal can feel like a threat to the relationship and some women react to it by shutting down. Others who do not know how to deal with the silence, do all that they can to try and coax him out of the cave. Still, others who feel abandoned react to it by seeking emotional intimacy from another man.
What is even more baffling for a woman is that when a man comes out from the cave, he wants to pick up the relationship from where he left it as if nothing happened.
“We live in the same house and he will be quiet for four days and then just come home so happy one evening like none of that happened,” says an exasperated Nelly Kamau, 31, who lives with her boyfriend.
At a glance, the man cave appears like it hurts more than it helps a relationship. Some even equate it to emotional abuse. Experts on manhood, however, maintain that this man-only space is actually beneficial to your relationship. Author John Gray in his book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, writes that unlike women, men have a better understanding of their time and space which leads them to want to step out of the moment every so often.
Apparently, when a man goes there to recover from stressful situations, he comes back better. Why does he come out of it as if nothing happened? “I withdraw when I feel overwhelmed. Withdrawing has no effect on what I feel for my girlfriend and about our relationship,” Warren Kibet, 29, explains a man’s stance when he is coming out of the cave.
What to do
Even with this understanding, a woman’s reaction to a man’s withdrawal is panic. In an attempt to understand what is going on in his head, she will bombard him with questions; do you still love me? Are you angry? Are we okay? Unfortunately, this usually pushes a man further into the cave.
What should a woman do when her man goes into the man cave? How can a woman get a man out of it? The answer is that she should not try. When a man needs time to think, relationships psychologist Chris Hart advises, let him have it.
The only thing that a woman ought to do at this point according to Dr Hart is to acknowledge his need to withdraw. This can be helped by the knowledge of the fact that his withdrawal is a coping mechanism and not an indicator of the state of the relationship.
“When a man needs time to think, you should let him have it. You need to talk to him about a difficult issue? Fix a time and place. Men respond very badly to being ambushed,” Dr Hart says.
Rule number two of how to handle your man when he goes into the man cave is, do not try to nudge him out of it. In his book He-Motions: Even Strong Men Struggle, American pastor TD Jakes writes that being supportive rather than combative during this period is one way that a woman can understand and care for the man in her life.
Do not threaten
This means staying out of his way, do not threaten him, do not make demands and especially do not give him an ultimatum lest he loses control and says things that both of you will regret later. What is a woman to do with the negative feelings that this withdrawal might make her feel?
According to author John Gray, do something that makes you happy. If you love dancing or the outdoors, indulge yourself. If you have to talk to him, a phone call or a text message every so often intended to make him know you are thinking about him will do.
The second thing that determines whether the man cave hurts or helps a relationship other than how a woman reacts when a man withdraws is how a woman treats him when he finally comes out of the cave. From the feelings of anger and apprehension that the withdrawal causes, the average woman will be angry or withdrawn. This is an inappropriate response.
“I just want her to be nice to me,” Stanley Mwenda, a banker, shares what he would like to come to when he gets out of the cave. Gray agrees with this. Often, just because he came out of the cave does not mean he is ready to talk about his problem, so do not badger him like most women do. This is of course unless he goes to the cave to avoid dealing with problems. In this case, a man needs to learn better ways of communicating. Clearly just like women, men need tender loving care.
If you want your separation to thrive, separate your feelings from facts. This is the only way you get to see your partner for who he really is. When you are anxious about the relationship or during a fight ask yourself, do I feel this way because of my partner or is it a feeling triggered by something in my past?
Things to do when your man is in his cave
It is difficult for women to understand men and for men to understand women. We are totally different physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are times when a man suddenly withdraws from a relationship and his partner starts to freak out—if this describes you, there is no need to worry. Your partner needs his time on his own to regenerate his love for you.
Build your own sanctuary
If he has his cave, why don’t you create your own sanctuary too? Keep a space for yourself in your house, like a craft room.
Decorate your space with candles or pops of colour, and that will be your space to go to when he’s in his.
When you are planning for your space, think of what its function will be and what kinds of things you are going to do there. This is your private arena and you have the power to design it. Focus on yourself. If you have limited space, then you could combine this area with your wardrobe. Just make sure that you do not clutter it with something else.
Work on your career
For example, put yourself forward for opportunities – whether it is leading on a new project, attending an event or organising the office party. Doing this means you are more likely to be noticed, and it will give you tangible examples to draw on during job interviews and appraisals, meaning you are more likely to stand out and succeed. It will also draw your attention away from what is happening in your life.
When he is off in his cave, have fun with your friends. It is useless to be sad about his need for solitude. You need time to yourself too—but maybe you would rather spend it with your friends.
Do a makeover
It is good at this time to have a makeover. Be it getting a haircut, reorganising your wardrobe, or creating a new make-up/beauty routine. Appreciate yourself. Take a bath, apply your nail polish, look at your wardrobe, and plan your outfits for the whole week.
Watch youtube videos on how to apply make-up and learn the techniques. Time flies when you watch those videos—just keep your make-up a collection and a mirror in front of you.
Oh, and do not forget your brushes.
You may not be young anymore, but that does not stop you from being fabulous. No matter how old you are, you deserve to look good and stunning. Dare to challenge yourself and create a new look. It might be a surprise for him to see how dazzling you are after the makeover, but after a while, he will adjust to it.
Visit a friend
Your girl’s nights may be over, but, you can still visit one of your friends. Talk about the fond memories you have together, or chat about celebrities. It is never too late to rekindle your friendship. Maybe bring the children along and have a barbecue.
For ongoing visits, start a simple project together or help her with things around the house. Lending a helping hand will help you forget about your problems.
Appreciate your partner
Writing means expressing yourself, no matter the form—blogging, keeping a journal, or writing letters. The priority here is your happiness. Do not worry about him. If he needs you, he will come to you. That is how men work. You do not need to write about your relationship problems—keep them private if you want.
This article was first published in Daily Nation