When your partner pulls away, you may feel hurt. You may even feel a deep sense of rejection and fear that he or she doesn’t love you and may leave you. Typically, this is an irrational feeling if your partner has shown you over time that they love you. Your partner pulling away from you is likely the result of their past experiences and circumstances. Something happened in their past that makes them pull away when they feel upset.
Intimate relationships are hard because there are so many complex emotions that we might not fully understand. Experiences from the past are brought up and those feelings impact your reactions. If it was just about the single incident, it wouldn’t take you long to recognize that your partner loves you and when he or she pulled away, it wasn’t due to the way they feel about you. But instead you feel that irrational rejection. So why do you have that irrational feeling?
These irrational feelings are usually triggered by past experience – possibly being rejected by a parent or a past partner. A part of the brain that is triggered doesn’t know the difference between the current experience and the past experience. So you feel deeply hurt and you become scared that the person will leave you. You immediately react – either fight or pull away. This may create the same feeling in your partner and, in turn, they may pull away even further. Before you know it, you are completely disconnected from each other emotionally.
What do we do about this? The first step is try to figure out what previous experience is coming up for you. Did you have a rejecting parent? Was your parent depressed, anxious, addicted to something or unable to meet your needs when you were a child? If so, when a partner pulls away you feel like a child again. I call it being “kicked into your kid”. You are that 8 or 10-year-old child again where you didn’t get your needs met and didn’t feel unconditional love from a parent. If you have a bad experience of being hurt by a previous relationship, when a partner pulls away you may feel scared of being hurt again. This is a little easier to understand and connect on an emotional level. But this new partner didn’t leave so it’s important to separate your feelings from your past from this current relationship.
The second step is to share your feelings with your partner in a clear, non-threatening way. Use an “I message”:
I feel ________________ when you ____________ because _________. Would you please ______________?
I feel hurt when you pull away because it brings up the feelings I had when I was rejected by my mom when I was a child. Would you please let me know that you still love me?
This is scary to do for many people because you are making yourself extremely vulnerable. But you are also learning how to communicate your feelings which will bring you closer and will enable you to have a truly deep intimate connection with your significant other.
When you disagree with a spouse, co-worker or child, it’s easy to get emotional. Intense feelings can be triggered and the disagreement can turn into a messy fight. Things are said in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back. At that moment, it seems like you don’t have control over your brain. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to train your brain so this wouldn’t happen?
During these interactions, we get consumed by what's called the “reptilian” part of the brain – the survival part of our brain that scans for danger multiple times per second to find potential danger lurking. That primitive part of the brain only sees two possible solutions to problems – fight or flight. The reptilian brain feeds on fear and actually shuts off the creative problem-solving part of the brain. Your heart starts racing, you get flushed and your voice starts getting louder. The other person responds in the same way and the interaction escalates.
When your creative thinking area of the brain is shut off, you won’t be able to come to a compromise or handle the situation in the best manner. So what do you do to train your brain not to respond this way? The main technique to learn is to slow your brain down. To be able to do that you literally have to remove yourself from the heated situation by saying, “I need some time…” Give yourself the time and space to slow down. Take deep abdominal breaths, go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend. It may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Once your brain is functioning slower, you may be able to think of a solution. Or you may realize that you don’t need to come up with a solution right away – you may be able to give yourself a few days or more to find a compromise.
Training your brain this way takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do it right away. Tell yourself, “I’ve got this, I can do this.” Eventually you’ll learn this technique and you’ll find that your newly trained brain will help you tremendously in many different areas of your life.
Most people who are thinking about divorce are extremely conflicted. Some days you feel confident that divorce is the right decision but other days you question whether or not you could be making a mistake. It may be on your mind for years. There are so many things that change when you decide to divorce. It’s absolutely normal to be unsure and to question yourself about this important decision.
Even if you’ve spoken to your spouse or a lawyer about divorce, you may not be ready to make that decision. Guilt about the impact on the children, fear of financial instability and fear of being alone could be significant factors in the decision of whether or not to divorce. The decision to divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make with consequences that last for a lifetime.
It is extremely important to think through the decision rationally and to try not to let emotions get in the way. Fear, anger, resentment and loss can be so intense that you may not see things clearly. If you can work through these feelings with a friend, therapist or divorce coach, you will be better able to make an informed, rational decision that you will be able to live with for the rest of your life.
The following are factors that you should consider before divorce:
If you have thought through these questions and still feel that divorce is the right decision, then you’re probably ready to start the process. If you need help with making this decision, a therapist or divorce coach can help you think through these issues in a calm, rational and confidential way. You are the only person who can make this decision but it can make a difference if you have support throughout the process.
Typically couples start marriage counseling when it's too late - after an affair, when they're thinking about divorce, when there are years and years of anger and resentment built up. Although counseling can help a couple at almost any time, the sooner you start counseling, the more likely the couple will be able to make significant positive changes in their relationship.
The best time to start couples counseling is when you first see signs of issues. Even before there are any issues, most couples can benefit from counseling. During one of my sessions with a couple, one client said, "I wish I had known this years ago." If couples were to start couples counseling early on then they can avoid issues that can develop over time. Here are some signs that couples counseling is a good option:
1. When you're not talking
2. When you don't feel like your partner hears you
3. When you're communicating in a negative way - where you feel judged, shamed, disregarded or the tone of communication is condescending or sarcastic
4. When affection is withheld as punishment
5. When you see your partner as an adversary
6. When you keep secrets
7. When you're considering having an affair
8. When you find you're staying together for the children
Couples counseling can be a safe place to learn how to heal through awareness, compassion and behavior change. When couples are committed to the process, they can develop a truly connected relationship where they remember why they fell in love.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.