John Gray, Ph.D., explains that the way men “reduce stress is to change or eliminate whatever object or situation is causing the stress.” This includes changing their own behavior, which improves “the situation by doing something differently.” Men do this by withdrawing into their “thoughts to determine what needs to be done to reduce the stress.”
Women are more concerned with “the inner subjective world.” When woman are stressed they explore their feelings and attitudes, in order to make changes within themselves to reduce their stress.
Gray suggests that when wives are dealing with a stressed-out husband it helps to understand the three basic ways men react to stress.
He withdraws. Men need time by themselves to deal with problems. They'll appear distant, which usually means little or no communication with their spouse. They need to figure it out alone.
Women want to talk problems out with someone. When women withdraw, it's typically a sign of resentment. Thus, Gray warns that when he withdraws “she mistakenly assumes the problem is much worse – she assumes he does not love her.” Instead, he just needs time alone.
He grumbles. When men face stress-inducing problems, they completely focus on finding a solution. Gray warns that if someone interrupts that concentration with a request to do something else, he reluctantly has to mentally “shift gears,” a process that sounds like grumbling to his wife.
Wives often misinterpret the “grumbles” as his reluctance to helping. Some wives won't even ask for help, knowing they will be met with grumbles. But Gray explains: A man “will even grumble if he feels the request is fair and is willing to do it. His grumbling is his way of shifting gears.”
This is confusing for wives. When a woman is asked to help “and she grumbles, this indicates that she feels the request is unfair” and she resents being asked. Wives mistakenly think their husband is grumbling for the same reason they would.
He shuts down. Gray explains that for men, shutting down is an automatic response, a defense mechanism to “painful emotions arising into his consciousness.” It's not a matter of choice.
Shutting down is not a sign that your husband doesn't care about the issue, nor is it a sign of rejection. On the contrary, “he cares so much that he wants to solve the problem,” but in his male way, which is different than your female way.
This, too, is confusing for women. Women shut down gradually over a period of time, while men have the “capacity to close down completely in an instant.” After a woman closes down, she needs time to open back up, which may involve a great deal of talking and emotional healing. But men close down because they need emotional space, not healing. Once that need ends, they can open back up again as quickly as they shut down.
When wives understand their husbands' way of dealing with stress and respect it, by giving him the space and the solitude to resolve issues, they give him an incredible gift of love. They also give their marriage a boost that will provide dividends for all concerned.