When this happens, rather than giving each other the emotional reassurance necessary to restore intimacy, each person defends why he or she is hurting the other.
The cycle is driven by unacknowledged vulnerable emotions, most of which are based on the couple’s fears of losing the relationship.
One would think it would be so simple for people who love each other to simply acknowledge how afraid they are of losing each other; nothing could be further from the truth.
When the withdrawer is afraid of losing love, they’ll instinctively move into a posture of self-protection. However, this reaction only validates your partner’s fear that you really don’t care. And your self-protection — emotional withdrawal — escalates our partner’s fear.
Pursuers usually trigger withdrawers by blaming. Withdrawers trigger pursuers by silence and facial expressions that are invalidating.
A monotone verbal response can send a triggering message to an angry pursuer that her partner doesn’t care.
Withdrawing men sometimes need to learn to identify their emotions before they can express them. Even though their voice tones and facial expressions give them away, they are often unaware of what they are actually feeling
It takes time for them to connect discomfort in their chest with fear, or the pain in their gut with anger, which is a big step in increasing their emotional intelligence.
But with time — and help if they need it — they can learn to make the connection between discomfort in their body and the actual emotions they are feeling.
It’s the lack of emotional intelligence and awareness that makes their emotionally hurt pursuing partner feel crazy with frustration. But the truth is that they cannot show emotional compassion about their partner’s emotions when they can’t feel their own emotions.
It’s not enough for them to say they’re sorry. They must express that they’re sorry with emotion if the apology is going to heal the pursuer’s hurt.
Withdrawers have often spent a lifetime disconnecting from their emotions. And it takes time for them to recognize what they’re feeling. And then to be able to express feelings for their partner who they have emotionally injured, too. This often makes them feel stupid and awkward, having to learn how to feel their own and their partner’s emotions.
Acknowledging their struggle and that they need help with emotional communication takes courage. If your partner feels disrespected because they struggle with emotional intelligence and communication, they may never learn to open up.
Feeling understood and safe is critical to the couple’s progress toward escaping the negative cycle.
When each person can stop reacting, attacking, or withdrawing, then the negative cycle is deactivated. This is done by letting go of accusations and by simply expressing the vulnerable emotions you’re each feeling.
Each partner feels loved and understood when their emotions are “mirrored” back to them.
Once couples can see the negative cycle and acknowledge their fearful emotions, they can begin a new pattern together without pursue-withdraw.
Knowing why your man shuts down emotionally will go a very long way in getting you to a position where you can both improve your emotional intelligence and heal from your negative cycles.
I hope you also get that you’re not alone. There are many couples out there who are tired of their partner withdrawing and shutting down emotionally in their relationships.
By taking the steps you need, and enlisting the help of a trusted therapist if you feel you can’t do it on your own, your pursuit will soften, and your withdrawing partner will listen and respond to you without shutting down emotionally.
He’ll no longer just be in the room. But he’ll be present in the conversation. He’ll be emotionally intelligent, just the way you need him to be.
Written by Michael W. Regier, PhD
Originally appeared in Yourtango
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