It can be quite painful when you sense that your partner is pulling away or retreating within. It’s easy to climb the panic ladder, following a trail of assumptions that determine that the withdrawal is a sign of a fatal condition.
And yes, withdrawal is a sign. A sign that something is unbalanced in your partner’s world and he or she is attempting to reinstate equilibrium. And that’s often an inside job.
So what’s your role when your partner withdraws? What actions are better avoided and which ones will render aid to the situation at hand?
Don’t take it personally.
When somebody pulls away, it’s natural to jump to the conclusion that they’re pulling away from you. Yet that’s often not the case. In fact, here are 7 reasons that people withdraw in relationships. And many of those have nothing to do with the relationship at all.
And yes, maybe this particular withdrawal does originate from the relationship or perhaps it is a sign of a negative pattern of communication. But nothing good can come from reaching that conclusion prematurely.
My childhood dog was a free spirit, a wild child that always viewed an open door or loose dirt beneath a fence line as an opportunity for adventure. The first few times she escaped, I would run after her in desperation.
Which only made her run harder.
Eventually, I learned to sit still and she would often come to me.
When we are afraid of losing something (or someone), we often respond by grasping. When we feel suffocated by something (or someone), we often respond by running.
It can be painful to feel a distance between you and partner. Lonely. Isolating. And some respond to this pain by retreating inward themselves. And yes, it can feel safer behind that door. But two locked doors are more difficult to breach than one.
Don’t provide sanctuary for a mindworm that feeds upon your fears. Your cyclical thoughts only serve to make you miserable; they offer nothing in the form of resolution or peace.
If your partner is making poor choices or refusing to seek assistance when it is obviously necessary, refrain from enabling those behaviors. Think tough love. Not sacrificial love.
Do set boundaries.
Struggle is no excuse to act sh*tty. You do not have to tolerate any and all behaviors. Decide where your boundaries lie. Communicate them. And then stand by them. Here is some further information on boundary-setting.
Do take care of yourself.
You’re in a tough spot. A position of helplessness and alienation. So be kind to yourself. Step up the self-care. Rally the supporters. Seek connection and reassurance from safe sources. Never allow one person to determine your worth.
Do seek an explanation.
You deserve to know what is going on. It may be that your partner does not have the words or ability to understand his or her own actions yet. You may need to be patient while being persistent that it is their responsibility to dig into the root causes of the behavior. And just how patient you will be is up to you (see boundaries).
Do be introspective.
While your partner is dealing with his or her own stuff, take an opportunity to examine your own thoughts and beliefs. I often see spouses giving up when their partner refuses to participate in couple’s counseling. When often, this is a great time to seek help by yourself, for yourself. It is a great time to examine patterns and assumptions that you may carry that impact your relationship.
Do offer support.
You and your partner are a team. And team members step up when one is taken down.
Remember that you cannot control another’s actions, only your response. You cannot force your partner to come out of hibernation. But you can decide how you will survive the winter.