When tension rises in your relationship do you make demands or withdraw from your partner?
Relationships are complicated. Often, you and your partner enter a dance where one person pursues the conflict and the other pulls away from it.
One person who has avidly analyzed this common relationship dance is Sue Johnson, a researcher of marriage therapy. She says, “Everyone needs secure attachment with the others, and for most of us, we expect t he most secure and deepest attachment from our mates. If one partner sees the other’s withdrawal as a sign of a weakening attachment, great energy and fury can flow into pursuit. The withdrawer hears more threat and pulls away further and the pursuer turns up the volume.”
In other words, if your husband is pulling away, you’re more likely to hit the accelerator and pursue him. It’s your way of resolving conflict and his way of avoiding it.
Melissa, a Relationship Suite subscriber, experienced this recently in her marriage.
She said, “I have been in a relationship for 6 years with my partner and I cannot seem to get through to him when a fight escalates. He shuts down and withdraws from me, which makes me feel extremely anxious and angry. I go after him and pursue him which makes him clam up and withdraw even more from me. It’s at the point where I wonder if he loves me. I am confused! Does he withdraw from me as a power move? A way to avoid conflict? Or is he just being passive aggressive? He tells me I’m a nag and trying to control him. Help!”
My advice: First, take a deep breath. Know your partner cares about you and is committed to you. He’s not avoiding the intimacy; he’s avoiding the conflict. Wait until you both decide together that it’s the right time to discuss the issue. Doing this will avoid the emotional dance and help you move past the conflict faster.
Another person who has done tremendous research on what happens between two partners during a withdraw/pursuit dance is Andrew Christensen. He calls this the “demand-withdraw pattern.” It’s strongest when the woman feels more responsible for how the relationship is going. She feels it’s her job to bring up the issues and try to resolve the conflicts.
Both you and your partner want to make changes, even when you’re stuck in this demand-withdraw pattern. You both want to fight less and you both have a common goal of resolution.
When your partner shuts down, it’s an effort to avoid the conflict – not you.
When the timing is right (when you are both ready to discuss), approach the conversation in the same way you’d approach a friend. Talk calmly and stay relaxed. Listen and try to understand what your partner is feeling. When you do, you’ll find the answers to why he withdrew and what you can do to avoid this dance again in the future.
And don’t forget to pay attention to the little things. It’s often in the small statements or an action that he shows you how much he still cares.
Is this dance a consistent struggle in your relationship? You are not alone. Click here for a free lesson to learn how to avoid the distance and resolve conflicts faster with your partner.
To find out more about my services click here: Couples Counseling