What to Do When Your Partner Is Upset But They Won't Tell You Why

Shot of a young couple having a disagreement at home

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When your partner is visibly upset, at the very top of your mind are the different ways you can help to make them feel better. However, this can get a little complicated when your typically bubbly, chatty, and loving partner reclines into themselves without giving any explanation as to why, or worse—denying that anything is wrong in the first place.

Dealing with an upset, yet uncommunicative partner can be very discouraging. As licensed professional counselor Kathryn Ely has noted, “You cannot force another person to communicate with you if they are not ready to do so.”

To help you navigate this challenge, we’ll be getting expert help to examine the possible meanings behind your partner’s refusal to share why they may be upset. We’ll also look into the measures you can take to show support to your partner or to get them to share what may be wrong with you.

Signs That Your Partner Might Be Upset

When your partner refuses to share or admit to any changes in their behavior, this can be confusing.

You might wonder if you're imagining the increased silences. Or, maybe you're reading too much into your partner turning down a cuddle session before you sleep. Perhaps they are telling the truth about simply working too hard to have time to hang out.

If you're confused as to whether or not your partner is upset, the following behaviors can be a better indication of whether your partner is upset.

They’ve Started to Pull Away From You

When you find yourself thinking deeply to recall the last time you shared a lingering embrace with your partner, or went on a walk with them, or even just sat down to watch TV together, this could be a sign that a level of intimacy is missing in your relationship. 

Where you attempt to initiate these little bonding moments with your partner, only to have them shut plans down, or cancel with flimsy excuses, this could be a clear indicator that they are upset.

Your Conversations Seem to Have Double-meanings

No one is more skilled at making innuendos than a partner who is upset with their loved one. When your partner starts to say things along the lines of: “Why would I be upset? Did you do anything wrong?” when you ask why their behavior has changed, they may be telling you that something is indeed wrong, and perhaps you’re to blame.

Your Partner Is Showing You Less Affection

If your partner routinely did things like brewing your morning coffee or rubbing your feet after a long day, only to stop those actions without warning or reason—they may be leaving not-so-subtle breadcrumbs to alert you of their annoyance.

Communication With Them Has Become Strained

It can be painful to go from wrestling with your partner on who hangs up the phone first, to barely being able to spend five minutes on a call with them.

When you find that texting, phone, or in-person conversations are starting to appear labored, this could be a sign that your partner is upset about something.

Is It Healthy for Your Partner to Refuse to Tell You When They’re Upset?

Your partner may choose to remain quiet when they are clearly upset for any number of reasons. For instance, sex and relationship expert, Dr. Kristen Mark says: “If your partner's upset but won’t admit it, they may not be ready to talk about it.” 

In such situations, while it may be hard to stomach their distance, it’s important to practice patience while they sort their feelings out.

Licensed counselor, Kathryn Ely also agrees in part with this. She says: “Some people avoid conflict at all costs and never speak up when upset.” This is especially true for people who are very uncomfortable with confrontation, choosing instead to deal with things their way. 

She adds that failing to share with a partner when one is upset “can lead to resentment and distance in a relationship. All conflict is not bad. Conflict and discussion, if handled in a mature manner, is necessary for relationships to grow deeper and stronger by developing healthy boundaries.”

To others like clinical sexologist, Rachel Sommer, PhD, your partner choosing to remain silent about a matter upsetting them could be an act of stonewalling you.

Stonewalling refers to the refusal to communicate or discuss feelings with a partner. Sommer goes further to add that “partners who intentionally shut down and refuse to communicate can make the relationship a living hell.”

She also highlights that silent treatment is another practice of an uncommunicative, yet upset partner. She says this can be “frustrating, hurtful, and damaging to the relationship.”

Put simply, your partner keeping mum on whatever is making them upset isn’t always a reason to question their character or commitment to your relationship. However, because their refusal to communicate can set trouble in motion for your relationship, it may be necessary to make efforts to reach out to them.

How to Communicate When Your Partner Is Upset

It’s hard to avoid taking it personally when your partner won’t share whatever is making them upset. It may be tempting to return the favor, keeping to yourself or employing passive-aggressive actions to project your annoyance to the other person.

However, this can only serve to worsen relations between the both of you. Instead, Sommer suggests that “you can curate the conversation in a way that fosters their participation. This can be achieved in the following ways outlined below.

Let Your Partner Know How You Feel

Asking your partner now and again what’s wrong may not get you any closer to receiving an answer. Sommer suggests doing things a little differently. She believes that in order to get to the bottom of things, it’s crucial to set time aside to have a discussion. You should also let your partner know why you want to talk and what the benefits of talking are.

However, to prevent your partner from avoiding the situation, especially if they are non-confrontational in nature, she suggests that you “start by building up to an exciting convo they can participate in and gradually show them why talking about the issue at hand is beneficial.”

This eases them into the conversation, putting them in a position where they are comfortable and more willing to share whatever may be the issue.

Practice Empathy

When you’re upset about something, whether big or small, it can be difficult to explain your hurt to others. It’s important to put this in consideration when learning about what may be the issue with your partner.

Relationship therapist, Dr. Mark explains: “It can be hard to temper the emotions and communicate clearly. Encourage your partner to take the time they need to process if that helps.”

At this time, you should try to manage your emotions, even if you think that the thing your partner is worried about seems minor to you. Keeping your emotions in check will ensure that they are comfortable enough to reveal their current and future feelings with you.

Give Them Time to Reflect

While your partner is sharing the issue at hand, your best move is to listen actively, asking questions where necessary to make sure you’re both on the same page. Depending on the direction the conversation takes, they may need some comfort in the form of words of encouragement or a warm embrace, especially if a sensitive matter is being discussed.

However, in other situations, simply letting them know that they have your support, and leaving them to think about their pain and how it was handled in this situation could be the safest move you can take.

Avoid Disputes About Minor Issues

As Ely shared “I don't think you can prevent upset or disputes nor should you want to. Upsets and disputes are part of a healthy relationship. The key is to have these disputes in a respectful and loving manner.”

However, while petty spats and quarrels are routine, Dr. Mark shares that “Preventing disputes that are unnecessary or trivial can be a good thing” for your relationship.

That means letting it go if your partner forgot to take the trash out on their week to do so, or forgiving them if they started a new show without you. It’s important to always prioritize happiness in your relationship.

A Word From Verywell

Your partner is a big part of your life, so of course, it’s understandable to get frazzled when you can’t seem to get through to them when they appear upset. To get around this, it’s important to be mindful of their feelings. Ease into conversations that make them feel comfortable to share their pain, and reflect on how their actions affected their emotions, your well-being, and the health of your relationship.

However, while your partner is important, your interest should also be in the forefront of your mind. It is important to look out for yourself, making sure to note if your partner repeatedly engages in actions that may be manipulative and harmful to your mental health.

By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.