In its most primitive form, Nature is all about boundaries. As part of Nature yourself, you have a survival instinct. In order to survive, if something physically moves in relation to you or your space, you need to protect yourself.
In some situations that means asserting yourself. In relationships, if not handled skilfully, that can lead to a clash of opinions, feelings, or ideals. This can escalate into mis-understandings, argument and verbal attack, and hurt feelings. In some of my recent posts, I have been sharing some of my tried and tested techniques to show you how to manage these situations to prevent unhealthy conflict in your relationship.
But sometimes, your partner might choose to protect their boundaries in a different way.
What if this means that they withdraw from you? What if you have anger, annoyance or anxiety burning inside of you, and you just have to tell your partner how you feel, but they don’t want to listen? What if instead, they retreat, shut themselves away, and won’t communicate at all?
My guess is that when you experience this, your anxiety/annoyance/anger amplifies ten-fold, which makes you pursue your partner even more. And the more you pursue, the more your partner withdraws. Does this sound familiar? In Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, John Gray compares this to the withdrawn partner retreating to their “cave”. (He describes this as a male behaviour, although in all my experience of couples coaching I have seen just as many women withdraw to their caves as men).
As the pursuer, it can be incredibly frustrating and anxiety-provoking. You will probably want to poke and prod to get a reaction, ANY reaction, so that you can offload your feelings. And if you do this, it will only go one way – either your partner will dig their heels in and there will be a stand-off, or there will be an eruption. Neither situation works for either of you!
So if you find your partner withdrawing, it’s possible that they are trying to protect their boundaries. If you think that is happening, ask yourself why they might feel the need to do that. Is it the way you are saying something that leads to them feeling attacked? Perhaps they feel the conversation is escalating into an argument and they are trying to avoid this?
You might truly believe that their behaviour is unreasonable, that it seems to be their communication pattern to simply withdraw when things get difficult. If so, clearly, this is not a sustainable way for them to continue to communicate in the relationship and perhaps this will need discussion. But one thing’s for sure – once your partner has started to withdraw like this, the more you pursue them, the more they will withdraw.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to give them space.
This can be very challenging, because you will need to trust that they will come back to you, and you have to sit with your own feelings for a bit longer. However, often this space will afford them the time to think and reflect on the situation, and their own behaviour, so that when they come back to you they are much more willing and able to listen to and talk about your feelings. Once that starts to happen, then you can begin to resolve the issues.
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And remember – maintain your relationship and watch it thrive!