Here’s what happens:
Our partner starts to spend more time at work, or more time out with friends, leaving us home alone wondering how we fit in. Or they’re obviously angry, upset about things we don’t fully understand or know how to fix. Emotional distance is setting in and we worry they might be considering leaving the relationship. Yikes. This is scary, right?
You bet. So when we’re faced with one of these scenarios, when we’re anxious about the status of our relationship and worried our partner might be slipping away, it’s tempting to give in to our anxiety and behave in ways that make the situation worse.
This is understandable, but not productive. Don’t do it. Do other things instead.
Here’s what I mean . . .
What you might be doing: Constant Pursuing
Are you repeatedly calling or texting you partner, liking all of their social media posts, or emailing them helpful relationship articles? Are you following them around the house like a puppy, or encouraging a relationship conversation on a more or less daily basis?
If so, it’s time for a gentle reality check. Wanting to remain in communication, and conveying your desire to stay in the relationship, is a good thing. Suffocating your partner with your attention and concern, pushing your partner further away, is not.
What to do instead: Get a hold of your anxiety and don’t let it pull you around by your nose. Dial back your contact. Make some rules about timing and frequency, and then stick to them.
Of course it’s important to make clear your interest in working on the relationship. But you really only need to express these feelings once, from a place of calmness and confidence, being sure to indicate a willingness to grow and change. Communicate that you are available to talk when your partner is ready to do so. And then back off.
Here’s Why: You don’t want your partner so busy pushing away from your pursuit that they have trouble getting in touch with their own reasons for wanting to stay in and work on the relationship. Breaking the pursuer-distancer pattern might just open up some space between the two of you that your partner can then lean into.
What you might be doing: Not Caring For Yourself
Anxiety will do this to a person. We worry, we fret, we lose sleep, we eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, we binge-watch episodes of Will & Grace, we drink too much, we hide away in a cocoon of self-pity – you know the drill.
And then we expect our partner to choose us, to choose the relationship. Another gentle reality check – your partner wants to know that you are a strong, confident person – confidence is sexy!
What to do instead: You want to do the opposite of all of the above. Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat right, sleep well, meditate. Talk to a therapist or with people you trust (only friends of the relationship, though). Socialize with friends and family, engage in activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment.
Do all of these things even when – especially when – you’re experiencing the natural stress, doubt and longing that comes with having an ambivalent partner.
Here’s Why: You’ll feel better, and be better equipped to weather the storm of your relationship upset. But you’ll also be showing your partner your best self, and thus reminding them why they fell in love with you to begin with.
What you might be doing: Relentless Apologizing
If we’re honest, we can acknowledge that this behavior is more about easing our own tension than engaging in a real conversation about what went wrong and our part in it. Our continual need for our partner’s absolution puts the focus on us, not our partner.
It also, paradoxically, can maintain an unbalanced focus on our partner’s concerns, the way they believes we have failed the relationship, without a realistic assessment of our own feelings. Our partner isn’t perfect, after all, and it takes two to do the relationship dance.
What to do instead: Listen. Really listen to what your partner is saying about what they feel is wrong with the relationship, without feeling you have to fix it, or get absolution for your part in it. Acknowledge the validity of their perspective, and show your willingness to collaborate on a solution.
Listen to yourself too. Sit quietly for a bit and try to get a bead on your own feelings about the relationship. This might not be the right time to voice your concerns (your partner is unlikely to respond the way you’d like them too if they’re leaning out), but it’s a good time to take stock.
Here’s Why: If you’re constantly apologizing, you’re not really hearing your partner. Nor are you preparing yourself for the serious relationship work to come.
In closing, I just want to say this:
It’s okay, while you’re listening to yourself, to engage in an honest assessment of how long you’re willing to wait for your partner to re-engage. The work of building and strengthening a relationship can be super hard, even more so if your partner is sending you signals that they’re not even sure they want to try. There’s nothing that says you have to keep the ball in their court forever.
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Are you facing a scenario similar to the ones noted here? Hang in there! And let us know if this post has helped in any way, or if you have another ideas to add to the mix.