4 Common Shut Downs

Mentors – Help Couples Recognize How They Shut Down Communication!

I want to help mentors recognize poor communication behaviors that couples engage in. If you can help couples to explore their poor behaviors, they can start to make new choices for healthier communication.

In an earlier post, I outlined the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. We also call these spiral downs because they cause harm to the connection that couples want.

Another category of poor behavior is called shut downs. Shut downs are when the listener doesn’t allow the speaker to be heard. They shut down the message. They are not validating.

Advice Giving

I am really good at this. When someone comes to me with a problem, I am tempted to jump to advice. I’ve come to learn that this is really not a very good tactic. It’s a poor behavior. It’s not helpful because it doesn’t validate someone.

I see this very frequently in couples. When one expresses a problem, their partner will immediately try to fix it.

Between my wife and I it goes like this:

Michelle: “Urg! I’m frustrated with the living. It’s such a mess.”

Phil: “Well, don’t let the kids eat out there.”

It sounds so reasonable. It might even be the right action, but it actually doesn’t validate her concerns. It’s not listening to her. So, it shuts her down.


Instead of listening, interrupting is when you step in and take the conversation in a different direction.

It may be something like:

“No, that’s not how it happened…”

“Wait a minute, I think it’s more like…”

You are interrupting and sidelining the conversation.

Another form of interrupting is the history tangent.

“I remember when I did that…”

I’m tempted to do this one as well. I’ve come to realize that it takes the focus off of the speaker and puts it on the listener. That is not validating the speaker. It is shutting them down.


Dismissing is all about making light of something that is important to the speaker. It is treating the other person like their thoughts and feelings aren’t important.

When I do this, I’m often trying to be helpful, but it comes across very poorly.

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

That sound sympathetic, but it’s not. I’m telling them how they should feel instead of validating that they have honest feelings.

“You’re making too big of a deal out of it.”

If you think about it, I’m telling the person that their thoughts or their feelings aren’t important.


My wife is really good at this one. It sounds so positive, but it’s another form of shutting someone down.

Michelle has come to the conclusion that she does this because she’s not comfortable with what they have said.

Phil: “I am really worried about work.”

Michelle: “You always figure something out. You always come up with something.”

When Michelle does this to me, I often don’t know what to say. I know that she means well, but it just makes me shut up.

It’s not showing concern for their feelings.

As a mentor, it’s easy to fall into this type of talking with mentees.

When we shared this one couple, they told us about a time it happened to them. They had met with a pastor and were explaining that they were struggling with their marriage relationship. The pastor’s response was, “You’re strong Christians, I know you’ll figure this out.”

They felt like they weren’t being heard. It didn’t feel like they were being listened to and taken seriously.


I know that there are other forms of shut downs. Anytime that you shut down someone’s thoughts or feelings, you are not helping them. It is not treating their thoughts and feelings as something important.

As mentors, we want to help couples to understand and recognize when they are shutting down their partner’s thoughts and feelings.

When you recognize your own shut downs, it helps you to learn to change your behavior into something that is healthier.

The four shut downs are:

  • Advice giving – Jumping to fix something without first validating their thoughts and feelings.
  • Interrupting – Taking the attention off the speaker.
  • Dismissing – Dismissing someone’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Reassuring – It sounds positive, but it really shuts someone down.

Mentors, help the couples to recognize them when they happen so that they can begin to make healthier choices.

Question – How have you seen people shut down someone else?


You might also like:

4 Behaviors that Harm Relationships