Jason Fierstein, Counselor for Men, MA, LPC on Oct 29, 2022 in Relationship and Family
One of the hardest things that men deal with in marriage or relationships is to actually stay in it and not withdraw or check out either emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually. This post will help you to troubleshoot some of those ways of disconnecting and help you deal more effectively and strengthen your current marriage or relationship.
I think that one of the strongest predictors of relationship or marital failure on the part of a guy is if he checks out emotionally and withdraws. If this is you, you might want to consider this because you may be doing more damage to your marriage or relationship than you know.
How would you know if you are emotionally withdrawing?
I think a good start to figuring this out is to listen better and more deeply to your spouse and partner. Instead of getting defensive, attacking, or withdrawing, you may want to listen more closely to what they’re trying to tell you. Your wife, girlfriend, or relationship partner may be telling you that you’re not emotionally available or are not giving them what they need to function best in the relationship. Start listening more and taking notes because if you’re just dismissing this, it may prove to be problematic or fatal to your relationship.
If you’re the kind of guy that tends to emotionally withdraw or avoid conflict, this post is probably for you. A lot of guys that I talk with tend to avoid conflict, which is to say that they also avoid dealing with their feelings that get triggered from within the relationship. They run from their own emotions and feelings, so it’s to say that they won’t stick around to face them during a conflict or potential conflict.
Step number one is to identify and diagnose the problem, which is that you’re emotionally withdrawing, and to take an honest and nonjudgmental look at whether or not you avoid, withdraw, or check out in any way of your relationship. Without really identifying this and taking any ownership or responsibility, it may be very difficult to preempt change and have the kind of deeper and meaningful relationship that you want, either in this current relationship or down the road in future relationships. Yes, this is a pattern that will recur if you don’t do something about it now.
Step number two is to do something about emotionally withdrawing. For starters, you have to admit to yourself that you are an avoider or a withdrawer and then commit to doing something about it. You could seek out a trained men’s counselor or therapist to help you identify your emotionally withdrawing tendencies. You could also start a fresh and honest dialogue with your relationship partner and let them know that this is something that you are aware of and want to change for the better of the relationship or marriage.
Just that simple act of communicating yourself with your relationship partner may go a long way, even if you haven’t committed to a professional counseling yet. Your relationship partner may be feeling really validated and heard if you are to initiate a conversation with them about the fact that you’re withdrawing are checking out. It may do wonders from the start.
Up until this point, your partner may be feeling really neglected, invisible, or deprived of what they need in the relationship. The mere fact that you’re willing to initiate a dialogue with them may go along way – more than you would think.
If they’re used to you not talking or opening up, they’re in for a big surprise – a pleasant one – when they see that you’re really trying to open up and let them in. For most guys that I talk with, it’s a struggle and one that’s not easily solved.
Step number three is to consider your own relationship to your vulnerability and how you can go about taking the risk to be more vulnerable. I don’t mean just to cry or shed tears. That’s the easy part, or should I say, it’s easy when it happens to you. The guys that I work with think that being tearful is the same as being vulnerable, but I don’t think so.
Being vulnerable is really about opening up and taking a risk to let someone into your emotional world. It’s the exchange of your softer feelings and experiences that you have that are usually pushed down and repressed, hidden from common view and day-to-day life, and the feelings that your partner doesn’t typically get to see, such as insecurity, fear, inadequacy, sadness, and personal or private pain. It’s about letting someone into that inner world that you hold so private.
The act of learning how to be vulnerable and taking the risk that you can let someone in who will not hurt you is a huge step for men. Most people have been hurt in relationships and bring that pain into the current one that they are in now, which makes being vulnerable so difficult.
When we take those old wounds and don’t do anything about them, they typically have a hold over us in the relationship that we are in currently. Learning how to deal with those old wounds and resolve some of the past pain that other people have caused in a relationship will help you to become more loving, open, and consequently more vulnerable with your partner, which deepens connection.
Step four is to continue to challenge yourself and take risks to communicate, be vulnerable, and to practice not withdrawing emotionally from your partner.
In the heat of conflict, you’ll be challenged quite a bit because you’re used to reactive patterns that are hard to break. Catch yourself emotionally withdrawing and commit to moving into the relationship, not out of it. Ask your wife, girlfriend, or relationship partner to help you by letting you know when you’re checking out, withdrawing, or generally disconnecting from either conflict or your relationship in general.
You may need some professional counseling or therapy to also help you to identify blocks or unconscious factors that you may not be aware of. Typically, a lot of these things are in place when we are children and continue to stay with us throughout our life into our intimate relationships.
Because they are unconscious, it’s difficult to deal with them, let alone know that they’re there. A good counselor or therapist can help you to navigate those hidden aspects of yourself so that you can get a hold of them and free yourself from them.
Dealing with getting a hold of your emotional withdrawal from your marriage or relationship can do quite a bit for improving the quality of it. If you aren’t diagnosing it and doing anything about it, you’re setting yourself up for problems later.
What do you think? Are you an emotional withdrawer, or has a partner ever pointed out that you are emotionally withdrawing from them? How have you dealt with it? What’s worked for you?