Ask an Expert: Why Is My Partner Suddenly So Secretive?

By Doreen Maller 02/05/15

Today's question is on how to get your suddenly distant partner to open up and tell you what's wrong.


My partner has suddenly become very distant and secretive. I suspect something's up. Best way to confront? Should I suggest help? Give an ultimatum? – Chloe


Doreen Maller: Social withdrawal can be a sign of many things: depression, addiction, a change of heart…and it can be very confusing to partners and loved ones. When a person shuts down and resists connection, it may feel that all attempts to relate seem to drive the person farther away. Often the people closest are the first to detect shifts and changes. These can begin subtly and then move toward the situation you describe. Feeling distance in intimate relationships can be confusing and painful.

Using statements about yourself can start conversations that are less threatening and accusatory which can then lead to a deepening of connection. Therapists call these “I” statements, which means you are speaking from your own experience rather than stating your observations about someone else’s life. Saying, “I’m frightened and confused and concerned,” rather than “You have a problem” can cut through resistance and provide opportunities for dialogue. Asking your partner to join you for counseling or support can be a good first step. If addiction or abuse is contributing to the secrecy, early treatment and intervention can help connect your partner into a recovery model that works best for them. Getting your own support in the process can be helpful too. 

There are many opinions regarding the efficacy of confrontation and ultimatums. Some suggest that holding the person accountable to solve their own problems is the best approach. Others feel that doing everything in your power to move them toward recovery is a better choice. Ultimately, you will both may need support to move through your current situation. Asking your partner to join you in support and sharing the responsibility for education and a plan of action with a professional can reduce tension, and move both of you toward informed choices.

There are many resources online for guidance for these types of concerns. 


You can contact rehabilitation centers in your area and ask for guidance or set up an appointment with a therapist to discuss your concerns. Mental health care providers can walk you and your partner through the first steps of relationship challenges and education toward recovery. Primary care physicians and clergy are also good resources who can refer you to programs and support. 

Shifts and changes in relationships can be isolating and frightening regardless of the cause. Asking for help and support in these times can help build coping skills as well as treatment plans to move both of you toward appropriate services.



Doreen Maller, MFT, PhD, began her practice in community mental health with a specialty in high-risk children and their families, including numerous families coping with addiction issues. Dr. Maller is the series editor of the three-volume Praeger Handbook of Community Mental Health Practice. See   Full Bio.

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