Pulling at Your Distant Partner
Your partner seems to have a wall up to keep you out. You miss him or her so you knock gently and ask to be let in. You get a "no". You explain why it's okay to let you in and still you get a "no". Then you tell your partner how wrong s/he is for not letting you in and the wall gets thicker or your partner attacks back. You back off for a while and then start the same cycle again.
I have seen this tragic cycle play out with numerous couples. For the person behind the wall, your attempts to connect often get interpreted as criticism. Thus, making it seem more necessary to keep a distance. Then, in your frustration, you actually do begin to criticize.
Your pain of loneliness, imagined rejection, hurt, and a longing for intimacy, left unattended, turns to resentment and anger and fuels the cycle. You can intervene in this cycle by first attending to your own feelings and needs. Your willingness to feel what's true for you allows you to begin to accept what's happening rather than fight it by pulling at your partner.
Naming your feelings and needs without a story about how your partner should or shouldn't be and receiving empathy (not collusion) from others can create some spaciousness. In this space, you can start to see your partner as someone struggling to meet needs rather than someone who is "suppose to" be intimate with you.
Seeing your partner in this way you can get curious about her or his world. You might ask yourself what needs your partner is trying to meet by keeping a distance. Of course, you are only guessing (unless your partner is willing to hear your guesses and confirm which are true). Guessing allows you to begin to align with your partner rather than pull at her or him. Even this shift of focus in you can begin to create more intimacy.
My guess is that keeping a distance is often a strategy meant to meet needs for safety. Your partner may be unsure that his or her authenticity is wanted. S/he is perhaps fearful that coming closer will lead to more pain by being used or betrayed. These perceptions may or may not have much to do with you and your behavior, but rather may come from past hurts. Either way your partner's feelings and needs are valid simply because this is his or her experience.
Whether these guesses or others are true or not, you now have some choices. You can leave the relationship deciding that meeting your partner in his or her indirect expression of needs is more than you are up for. Having this clarity is an important gift to you both. If you stay because you think you should, you both will be in for a long road of anger and resentment.
On the other hand, you may have the willingness and energy to attempt to meet your partner in the situation as it is. You might start by getting curious about what you could do to meet the needs the distancing is attempting to meet. If your partner is unwilling to dialogue with you, you may decide to experiment.
Here are some examples of experiments based on the guesses I made above.
- Stay with your partner when you perceive her or him as distant or just wanting to talk about superficial things. Even though you are experiencing the pain of disconnect, work to stay present to your partner by internally naming your own feelings and needs. Watch the impulses to leave, criticize, or get angry come and go. This helps you to become a bigger container for your own expereience.
- Experiment with holding the belief that your partner is doing the best s/he can to take care of himself or herself. For a week, affirm every choice your partner makes. When s/he says, "I am going out with my friends Friday," you say "If that's what's right for you, I support you." Genuinely express support for your partner's choices from the perspective of tending to his or her well-being.
- Turn your attention to the needs that are met in your relationship and express an appreciation to your partner each day for a week.
- Notice one quality you love about your partner and find some way to express or celebrate that every day.
Practices like these are not easy to do in the midst of your own loneliness and longing. They require you to change what you trust. Unconsciously you likely trust that somehow if you fight your partner, criticize, or hold back as well, something will shift. To move out of this reactive habit is difficult. If you decide to take on a challenge like this, it's important to consistently meet your own needs outside the relationship. I am talking mostly about the basic needs for nourishing food, thorough exercise, self-connection, meaningful contribution, creative expression, friendship and love.
Take a moment now and notice where you are pushing or pulling at your partner. Reflect on whether this is creating connection or not. Check in with the feelings and needs alive in you. Let yourself get curious about what feelings and needs might be alive for your partner. Notice what possible actions arise from this place of connection and expansiveness.