A man recently told me that his wife said she doesn’t feel connected to him.
When she said it, he looked around, quickly noticed they were both physically in the same room talking to each other, and exclaimed with frustration drenching his words, “What the f**k are you talking about? I’m right here!”
She didn’t feel connected to him. When he couldn’t make sense of that and angrily said so, she felt even more disconnected. Over time, their relationship crisis would worsen.
Have you experienced this?
Since my recent blog, “Choose Her Everyday (Or Leave Her),” a lot of women have written me with this complaint about their male partners: “He doesn’t know how to show up.”
These women typically describe how angry, hurt and frustrated they are that their partners seem to be emotionally and/or psychologically absent from the relationship. Many are about to give up and leave. Some already have. There are also those who stay, and stay miserable.
What are these women pointing to in their pain of disconnection?
It’s called Masculine Checkout Syndrome, or MCS (a real condition I made up).
In most heterosexual relationships* it tends to look like this:
Man is physically present but emotionally and/or psychologically distant. He might say he cares about the relationship and his partner, though he engages more consistently and perhaps more enthusiastically with other aspects of life – work, TV, hobbies, friends, sports, addictions – than he does with her. When he does engage with her, he often does so with indifferent or agitated energy. She feels it; he doesn’t … or he pretends not to.
One woman who wrote described her male partner as a good man who usually does the right thing in their relationship. She’s deeply dissatisfied by his lack of emotional display. He’s physically present, but all she feels is the actual solidity of his body. Sex is dissatisfying because he doesn’t use his body to dance in delicious sensual partnership with hers; he’s mostly just masturbating himself inside her.
She feels abandoned, even though he physically shows up.
Here’s the essential problem:
He’s been taught his entire life – as most men have – to deny his emotions, to deny the body in favor of mental fortitude. As a boy, he was told, “Don’t act like a girl!” … “Don’t be a wussy!” … “No pain no gain!” … “Stop crying!”
He was shamed when he let down his veil of invincibility, usually by other men and sometimes by women, too. For women were also taught that vulnerability is akin to weakness, that emotions are inconvenient and burdensome, and that it’s best not to express yourself too much lest you annoy others.
So when emotions begin to overwhelm – as they often do in the inherently emotional world of intimate relationship, whether erupting from a partner or ourselves – we cut the body cord and retreat into the intellect for safety. Or we eventually express those emotions as anger because that’s the emotion of strength, so we’ve been led to believe. Though even anger isn’t hardly acceptable today.
When we can’t solve the emotional burdens of the relationship (“Why is she feeling disconnected and upset when I’m right here?”) and anger fails us, we’ll turn to solving easier problems at work or in sports, or just watch others do it on TV. Whatever we do, we start separating ourselves from the relationship for mental relief.
Thus, Masculine Checkout Syndrome: We stop showing up, even if we stay in the room.
What to do?
To start: Breathe.
To stay embodied in the presence of an intimate partner who’s expressing upset, a simple technique I offer men in my coaching practice – and women, too, for women also embody masculine energy and are susceptible to MCS – is to visualize breathing into your heart.
Breathe consciously, deeply, intentionally, into your own heart. As you exhale, breathe into her heart.
She doesn’t even have to know you’re doing it.
Feel her. Feel into what’s really beneath her upset. The woman before you may be masquerading as an exploding nuclear bomb, but she’s not an actual bomb. She’s simply a woman in pain. She misses you. She misses you in your heart.
For this is what’s required of us: To return home to the Heart.
We all started out there as little boys, able to cry as easily as we could laugh. Unafraid to cuddle our mothers and embrace our fathers, we offered our emotional feedback to the world without shame.
Somewhere along the way we began to bottle it all up, distrusting, even fearing emotions.
I’m not suggesting we return to childish ways of unleashing emotional havoc on the world around us.
I am suggesting that the time has come to temper the rational intelligence of the intellect with the mysterious wisdom of the emotional body.
The intellect, though it can serve us well, can also make people do all kinds of things that hurt themselves or others when just one intense thought takes over.
Emotions can offer profound guidance when the intellect fails to comprehend the complexities of any situation.
A deeply nourishing emotion can illuminate what’s working well in this moment, while a painful one may indicate that something clearly isn’t, no matter what the calculating intellect says.
Through their upset, our intimate partners are pointing the way home. They’re inviting the masculine in us all to return triumphantly to our full bodied authentic selves, integrating intellectual intelligence with embodied emotional wisdom.
Breath into your heart. Then breath into hers.
It’s a start, and it won’t solve everything.
But when she smiles because she feels you like she hasn’t felt you in a long time, you’ll know it’s a good start.
* Art by Android Jones – “Electric Love”
Thank you Bryan. Last night, I had a bit of an upsetting conversation with my man, which made me so sad. I also call those difficult conversations growing pains, because after a couple of those in a row, we always grow as a couple. That’s the good news. I recognise this male checkout syndrome a lot. Though I can’t help but thinking there must be something up with me too for him to behave like that… Anyhow, I hope I can get him to just breathe with me for a while… He’s a brilliant man and I love him.
This is a good one. I think the term MCS is here to stay.
My now ex husband did this to me. Had nothing to do with his upbringing and everything to do with him being selfish and self centered. I grew tired of being married and also being made to feel alone and neglected. He had run up the credit cards to max them out…I found out later most of the money had gone to gambling and strippers. Good Riddance.
Men and women do not think the same and as soon as women figure it out they may actually become “fulfilled”! Men are no mind readers and women are unrealistic to think they could be. Perhaps the men are not connected to these women because these women are dramatic and insecure about all aspects of their own lives. All I got out of your article is wa wa wa poor me my man is not what I want him to be….he is himself!! Why do we always think we need to change someone when we “can’t connect”?
With respect Lindsay, you’ve missed the point entirely.
With all due respect AB, I don’t think Lindsay missed the point entirely, at all. We don’t know the relationship dynamics of the people that write in saying that “their man” does this and it resonates and it’s soooo true. Besides, IMO, this is NOT a masculine thing, this is a human thing. Yes, some people are more aware, more conscious, more evolved, but basically all human beings check out to some degree or another at some time or another. I can only speak from experience and I’ve met plenty of women that have actually been turned off and called off dating and relationships because they weren’t used to a man treating them the way I did . (saying things like they’ve never been loved like that before, or treated so well, with such compassion, etc) And I’ve met plenty of women that seemingly nothing is enough to “make them happy”, with expectations galore and not simply accepting me as I am. It’s much easier to blame the other and not take responsibility for one’s own contentment , much easier to see the other’s “flaws” than to look in the mirror.
What is it is the other way around? I feel my girlfriend is not present and is more connected to her phone, Facebook, work, TV than me. I feel I am presnet however she is not.
Love your post, I have known so many men like this. No criticism, but the breathe with her thing did not resonate with me.
The metaphor that I visualize as a woman, is that a man should imagine his arms, his embrace, his chest, his heart as a warm pool of oil and invite her to step into it and melt, She will bring the scented oils and the rose petals and the soft candlelight and, whether you like it or not, she will bring her tears because she has probably disconnected herself too, The release of that pent-up desire to connect, the resentment and disappointment at beating against your walls will manifest itself as tears. Do not be alarmed, don’t slam the walls back up – you are healing her and it wont take long if she know that pool is always there. You are stepping up and caring for her for a change, making her feel safe.
In other words, the woman is the standard and men are damaged goods that need to change. Yes, any man can get and grovel before a woman. But you know what, that’s not going to work either. Maybe if women quit bitching about every little thing, could look at the good, and realize men and women are different, things might go better. But no, a lot of women really want a girlfriend in a man’s body. Bryan here teaches mean how to castrate themselves, but not all men will go for that. Maybe women could try to actually understand their man instead of expect him to read their minds and perfectly fill their needs. If you’re incomplete and need your man to complete you, the problem is you, not him. A man can’t make you happy if you’re an unhappy person.
“Most women set out to try to change a man, and when they have changed him they do not like him.” – Marlene Dietrich
Wow….some serious resentment in your comment. The thing is, to an extent you have a point. Men want to be appreciated and it is vital for a fulfilling relationship. Do you understand that she deserves to have her needs met just as much as you do? “Bitching” is her expressing her need….maybe not in the most productive way but calling out to you none the less. And let’s be real….how many times did she try to communicate that need without bitching and she went unheard?
Really it is all about perspective. You say castration….do you really believe that is what we want? I wouldn’t trade my man’s caveman ways for anything. It makes him physically irresistible to me. It is part of his essence. That does not mean he couldn’t stand to grow some. Shouldn’t we all be continuing to grow and better ourselves? If you want to stay stuck in your anger and resentment instead of continuing to evolve as a man, that is your choice. But keep in mind that a problem usually takes 2 to cause and cure. If you feel underappreciated, absolutely say so. Be prepared to hear her needs to though. In every truly happy, enduring couple both partners have a smile not just one or the other. I daresay they endure because they grow together and each person’s needs are equally important.
That being said, I am struggling to appreciate my man right now because he has not heard me communicate my needs apparently so regretfully I have resorted to bitching. 🙁 gonna go try a different approach….appreciate what he is doing and trying again to lovingly communicate my needs. Wish me luck!
What would you name it if the woman checked out of the relationship? And, what would be the reasons for that?
Connect in any way that makes sense to you. The author is merely suggesting a way. It is true that this check-out goes both ways, denying it won’t make it go away. Everyone needs to feel connected to their partner, this is not trying to change them into something that they’re not it is simply an emotional need. You need to be matched opposites like your right hand and your left. They are the same but different. This simply means that your differences and your commonalities should blend and make one whole relationship. Don’t ask someone to be what they’re not simply encourage a connection with the person you have chosen. I have been married for 36 years. My relationship to my husband grows every day, but we still have challenges. He is very different than me and we have had versions of I don’t feel connected to you both from me to him and him to me. Practice active listening. Empty your thoughts of how you are going to respond and let what your partner is saying fully sink into your mind, then respond after thoughtfully considering what your partner said. This is not easy for me as my mind is always going fast, but I do try to listen well. Marriage is not a competition, not a who is right or wrong it is a partnership.
u r distroying my relationship bryan , its not nesassary tht only girls feel this way boys can too .
I can relate 👍🏻
I can relate to this article…Even growing up, my father thought just because he was in the house. he was raising us. but he had no clue what was going on with us and he was physically there everyday because he never worked but absent on all other levels, not to mention his behavor violent, verbally and physically…. I was with someone who pretended to not know, his emotional presence was absent…oh don’t let me feel emotional about anything….the whole time we were together. He never saw me cry….at some point in the relationship, I became masculine and he became feminine, as far as energy. It ended… he refuse to let me
Thank you Brian. I recently left a beautiful man who checked out emotionally. When I tried to share how I was feeling he closed his eyes. He often dimished my emotions by telling me that I needed to master my mind. He was a compulsive drinker and also checked out with his computer. Needless to say, he didn’t want to spend time caressing me before sex because it was not stimulating for him. After 3 years I left. He jumped into another relationship while our bed was still warm. We loved each other deeply but he wasn’t prepared to grow with me. Your article is spot on.
In pre-marriage counseling my husband learned ‘women are the emotional barometer’ of the marriage, if she’s feeling emotionally disconnected then there is a reason–and it’s typically the husband is neglecting her in some way that he may not even realize.
I’m almost 60 years old ~ so much experience with this and absolutely this is true. Women have not been the focus of attention in this past cycle and are not very well understood YET!
I’m working on it Nancy 🙂
My husband works out of town, he got a crush on the waitress that worked at a local restaurant they would all go to have lunch. I knew a few months prior his admission because he was always anxious to leave on Sundays always shaved and groomed himself well. Even bought new clothes. This man is someone that I would of never ever ever guessed to not unconditionally live me always . He was refereeing to her as his girl friend, future wife to his coworkers which makes me wonder what they were thinking because they all knew he was married. Well he had dismissed me in their eyes and disrespected me in many ways telling them all I was not supportive and didn’t help him financially and so on and so on, but when he was home with me he never acted any different. Life was normal. To get to my point he blamed me he said I gave him the cold shoulder when he would come home and didn’t appreciate him. I of course didn’t realize I was doing that. Which makes me realize now maybe I did somewhat with the insecurity I was feeling about his odd behavior of always anxious to leave it just didn’t even cross my mind that he had a crush on this girl at that time. He said nothing ever happened between them but it just breaks my soul that he was feeling that way toward another woman. He s as I’d he loves me and want to be with me forever, but it’s just dif now “disconnected ” is the perfect word. He will never talk about and get angry if I try and says it’s over if I can’t let this go. So I try to put it behind me but its really hard because of us being disconnected right now how do I fix my feeling this way? And will he ever come back to me the way it was in the beginning, he only had eyes for me and I felt it every single day.
I want that back.
men and women tend to experience “connection” very differently.
How do men experience connection Bryan? I love your work. Often times i re-read many of the articles several times as reminders. I have really grown to recognize and appreciate (and feel)the presence of a man. I grew up with two emotionally unavailable parents. This part of my journey i absolutely love.
I had no idea I was doing this to the love of my life. Made me cry. I haven’t felt I so long.
I’m so tired about what to give women or else. What are they supposed to do for men? Fuck them, I’ll never be in a relationship again. Booty calls only for me.
Great article, unfortunatly not all the man can acces your sessions and many don’t have the capacity to understand what “beeing connected” means!
All I can say is wow. I was blown away by this article because it articulated what I have been feeling. As a woman I have felt this way especially in the last few years of my 17 year relationship.. I’m 34. Especially the masturbating inside me comment, that really hit home for me because that’s exactly how I feel during sex! Discussing this with my partner, it’s as if I’m an alien whose language and method of communication are so foreign to him that he is simply baffled (or he knows but doesn’t want to put in the effort since it seems like I will stay anyway) by what I’ve said. It leaves me feeling frustrated and angry because I feel as though I put in more effort over the years not less (not anymore!!). I tried to become a master of his needs, and in many ways I succeeded. But he could never do the same for me. I read another comment from another individual who was pretty much upset because he/she felt that he/she had already done enough, so what more could someone want? I couldn’t help but think about my bf knowing he would be thinking exactly the same thing. The concept of a relationship requiring work is as foreign to some as eating cheese with maggots in it. So why the hell get in them? Why do we do that? It makes me think of Kevin Hart, but that’s a rant for another day.. any way, thank you for that article, it was much needed!
Hi Bryan your writings are always inspiring, thank you. As a woman how can I inspire my beloved partner to express his emotions ? Sometimes when something stressful situation happens he hides from his emotions and I find hard to connect with him.
I really would love to do something to relieve this tension to arise in such situations.
Arianna, I wrote an article recently that may answer that for you:
How to Get a Man Into His Heart @ https://bryanreeves.com/get-man-heart/
Take a look and let me know if that’s helpful 🙂
“Your partner’s upset is always an invitation for you to come home to your heart” Says so much and is so true!
very clever and very useful information. Thanks!