Instead of Shutting Down, Try This


Can you relate to being the one in the relationship that shuts down and walks away?

If you are – good news. You aren’t the only one who does this. Many partners do this during difficult conversations with their partners.

But here’s the bad news.

Walking away is like sending a threatening message to your partner’s brain. It is a danger signal that the person who means the most to them has just gone offline. It sends them into a primal panic.

So here’s what you do instead. In those really intense moments…

Instead of: Shutting down and walking away.

Try: “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to take 20 minutes to calm down and we can talk about this after.”

One of the most common questions I get when I talk about this is:

“What if I tell my partner that I need to walk away, and they get more angry? What do I do?”

Great question – because this can happen when we set boundaries.

So, how do we deal?

Here are three strategies you may try when your partner gets more angry by your need to take a break.


Validation does not need to be hard or complex – but you need to acknowledge that your partner is upset. Validate that your partner is having a hard time that you are not able to continue the conversation.  Here are some examples:

  • You are angry that I need a break.
  • I see that you really need to talk about this.
  • I see that you’re upset that I need to take time to calm down.

Restate your boundary

Simply restate what it is that you need in that moment. Let your partner know that you will come back to this, as it lets them know that they are important to you. This provides reassurance to them. If partner’s continue to press, continue to restate your boundary. Avoid throwing in more examples or upping the ante. Your statement could be similar to:

  • I really need to take this time for me. I’m going to walk away, but I want us to come back to this after.

Share with your partner

Let your partner know how you cope when you feel overwhelmed during a time when you are NOT in a disagreement. It might sound something like this:

“Sometimes when we talk about hard stuff, I get really overwhelmed. This isn’t about you – its about me. In these moments, I need to take 20 minutes to cool down. So I want you to know that sometimes I might need to do this. I need you to allow me to take this time, so we can return to the discussion.”


Remember this. The goal in our relationship is to find our "we." When you shut down, you have disconnected and moved from "we" to "me."



Dr. Tracy


Remember, the information on this site is for information purposes only and does not substitute the care from a licensed mental healthcare provider.