It takes two
In my last post, I wrote about the relationship drama from the lens of a pursuer. It takes two to dance; two to make a relationship work. Often times, couples come into my office and they see their partner as the problem. “She’s always nagging me!” “He’s like a brick wall; I can’t get through to him!” Both look to me to change their partner so that things can be better. And even if each of them can see their part in it, there’s always the push of, “You change first!” “No, you first!”
To see that pursuers are not the only one in the relationship dynamic, consider this Lacoste ad:
Dramatic, but it’s true.
When a desire for closeness looks different
Here, Paul Hamy portrays a young man reaching for his first kiss. On the outside, he looks hesitant and shy. On the inside, we see this reach as synonymous as leaping out of a tall building. SO much vulnerability. SO much risk in moving towards his partner and wondering if she’ll take him in; if she’ll catch him and reach back.
“What’s the big deal?” you might think, until you recall what it was like to move towards your partner. To your partner, you try to look cool and collected. Internally, you know the risk and you’re already protecting yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, it’s not that big of a deal!”
For every pursuer in a relationship, there’s a withdrawer. While sometimes it’s not so clear cut, withdrawers tend to be the quieter ones in the relationship. They might be analytical, quick to problem solve, and when that doesn’t work, they withdraw.
You might be a withdrawer if you respond to your partner by:
- offering solutions
- talking rationally
- becoming defensive
- avoiding conflict or shutting down
On the surface you feel:
- judged or criticized
While this is not easily accessible, underneath you feel:
- rejected or unimportant
- fear of losing your partner
What you really want is:
- peace in the relationship
If that’s you, what you’re experiencing is very normal.
Your experience makes sense to me
Some of the closest people in my life tend towards withdrawing and I get you. You feel like, “I can’t do anything right!” and it’s hard to let your partner down. Your retreating might be a way to protect yourself from criticism and your relationship from getting worse. You don’t want to rock the boat and you’re afraid that reengagement might start the fight, “All over again.” On the outside you seem unaffected, but really, you’re not having the time of your life either. Perhaps you haven’t learned what it’s like to come close and be totally accepted. Or perhaps it felt okay as a kid and then life happened and it no longer feels safe to do so.
If that’s you, you don’t have to stay that way.
Healing from your partner
What we know from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) literature is that challenges from the distant or recent past can be met with healing in your most intimate relationship now. You don’t have to hold onto the hurt of feeling inadequate or insignificant. You don’t have to do this and that in order to be loved. In a committed relationship, I can help you learn to BE and find your partner here with you, reaching back.
Let me know if I can help!
Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. One of their longest stroll was along the Kirkland Corridor all the way to Bellevue and back. Not used to walking that distance, they slept really well that night.