Due to Valentine’s Day love is in the air and I thought I would write something about relationships. After all a Valentine symbolizes a heartfelt expression of what your relationship means to you. While that may be its traditional meaning, the holiday can also serve as a painful reminder if you are not in a relationship or if you find yourself experiencing emotional and physical withdrawal from your partner, even if you are the one who has checked out of the relationship.
I thought I would supply some thoughts about why partners withdraw and what you can do about it. There are plenty of reasons why withdrawal occurs, too many to cover in this blog post. This is not an extensive list nor is it in any particular order.
When expectations go unmet in relationships it often leads to withdrawal. Expectations come in two types, defined and undefined. Defined expectations are generally described as understood by both partners, typically those things you and your mate agree to like household chores and financial responsibilities. Undefined expectations are your wants, needs, and desires that your partner is unaware of, like what you would secretly like changed in the relationship and or in your partner. Undefined expectations are usually discovered when you find yourself hurt by something your mate either did or didn’t do, prior to your making them aware of it. Perhaps they said something to you that hurt your feelings or made you feel annoyed, but you have not brought it up and it remains a sore spot for you.
When your partner ignores your expectations, even if they are unaware of them, it can add up and irritate you. Over time they become harder and harder to discuss and lead to distance. Withdrawal, according to psychologist Dr. John Gottman, is a form of stonewalling which along with criticism, contempt, and defensiveness indicate a relationship that is in distress and on a course to fail.
Unhappiness accompanies distress and when you are unhappy, Humanities Professor George Hammond states, “We use cruelty to others to make ourselves happy.” Both consciously and unconsciously you make people pay for it when you feel miserable. Unhappiness also contributes to low self esteem. With all the media messages focusing on happiness, if you’re not happy you may think something is wrong with you. When you feel bad, you may or may not always know what the problem is and you may incorrectly attribute your negative feelings to your partner. Someone once said, “When things go well, I take credit and when things go wrong, I place blame.” You may overtly blame them or you may secretly hold them responsible for not only how you feel but also for your inability to express your feelings to them. All of this can contribute to withdrawal between couples.
Affairs are also another type of withdrawal from your primary relationship. Many affairs originate from one partner feeling resentful toward the other. From this perspective, an affair born out of resentment can be considered an act of cruelty. The infidelity may be rationalized in the mind of the cheater as a means of balancing things out. The offending partner may even view the affair as necessary in order to keep the primary relationship together. However, no matter how you spin it, when the Smartphone rings and the affair is discovered your mate will feel betrayed and hurt.
What can you do? You can learn to become more self aware and identify and communicate your expectations and emotional needs more clearly thus decreasing the need for resentment, distance, and punishment. You can learn to accept that you have expectations and needs that only you understand and that extend beyond the ones you have previously defined. You can learn how to acquire the skills necessary to have difficult conversations that increase communication and intimacy. Whether you agree with your partner or not you can make sure that you are available to listen and provide empathy. The effort you make to explore their thoughts and feelings can actually help sooth them and increase trust. You will also need to learn how to nurture positive thoughts about your partner and your relationship. That’s challenging to do especially when you feel hurt by and resentful toward them. But your ability to call up positive thoughts in situations like that can decrease your stress level and enable you to deal with conflicts more constructively. It’s in your best interest to minimize your negative thoughts about your partner and your relationship. Maintaining a positive outlook increases your own happiness and sense of well being, thus making it unnecessary to punish your mate to make yourself feel better.
Happy Love Month!