My new book Embracing Intimacy deals with the Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern and how to create greater intimacy in your relationships. Last week’s Newsletter contained an example of one kind of Intimacy-Avoiding, the Need-Denying Pattern. Here is another kind, the Withdrawing Pattern.
You are intimate with your partner much of the time, but when your partner does something that hurts you, you pull away and shut him or her out. You harden your heart as a way of protecting yourself, and it is sometimes difficult to open up again. If you do eventually open up, as soon as you get hurt again, you withdraw and close off.
For example, Diane had pulled away from her husband, Stan. She felt that not only was Stan unresponsive to her needs, but he went so far as to criticize her for having them. She desperately needed him to listen to her feelings and sympathize with her struggles and her pain. And she needed him to hold her, love her, and do his best to make her feel better. He used to do these things all the time when they were dating, but over the years, he had become more and more indifferent toward her.
When Diane would complain that he wasn’t meeting her needs, Stan would shrug and say, “Oh, c’mon, Diane. I’m tired of your whining. Enough already. You’re always complaining about one thing or another.”
She was very hurt by this response. It triggered a deep sense of being rejected, and she felt inadequate and ashamed. Of course, she also felt misunderstood and angry at Stan, and after a while, she withdrew emotionally from the relationship. “I can’t stand having this happen over and over, so I see no option except to pull away from him.”
Every once in a while, Diane would open up to Stan for a time, but then one day she would reach out to him when she was in need, and he would be cold and closed. Then she would withdraw again and shut down. After that she interacted with him in a guarded, mechanical way, with no real love and affection. They both felt starved for connection but didn’t know what to do about it.