Emotional Withdrawal From a Relationship

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Emotional withdrawal in a relationship is equivalent to an emotional divorce, according to marriage and family therapist Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D., in “Withdrawal” on the Marriage Builders website. You and your spouse are no longer bounded or in love and anything your partner tries to do to get through to you can’t make it through the barriers you’ve erected. If that continues, your relationship could fail.

Causes of Withdrawal

If your needs are not being met, you are less inclined to meet your partner’s needs or try to get your partner to meet your needs, according to Harley. Some partners withdraw because of unresolved childhood emotional trauma from an emotionally withdrawn parent, according to marital therapist Richard P. Fitzgibbons, M.D., on the Marital Healing website. Prior trauma can also encourage emotional withdrawal to protect yourself from another betrayal. Some partners will emotionally withdraw in a conflict-filled relationship if one partner has no desire to resolve it.

How Withdrawing Affects Your Relationship

When one partner withdraws, it is not unusual for the other partner to also emotionally withdraw. The relationship partners have no emotional vulnerability, no trust and no interest in negotiating the end to conflicts, according to Harley. You might live parallel lives without connecting emotionally with your partner, passing one another in the hall without interacting. You can lose any interest in saving the marriage, according to marital therapist Daniel Paul, Ph.D., in “The Compulsion to Withdraw.”

Effect on the Partner

Living with an emotionally withdrawn partner can leave you feeling depressed, unhappy, and without hope. When your emotionally withdrawn partner cuts you out, you become vulnerable to infidelity, according to marriage therapist Don Mize. You have no connection with your partner and that can make you seek someone who will connect to you. You could also become so miserable that you divorce your partner to avoid more pain, according to Harley.

Ways to Reconnect

You and your partner can reconnect if both of you are willing to work on the relationship, according to Fitzgibbons. You need to forgive your partner, and understanding your partner’s reasons for withdrawing could encourage that step. Finding a good role model as a pattern for your marriage might also help you reconnect. Learn positive ways to resolve your conflict. Take a break during conflict if your partner pushes your buttons to prevent the temptation to withdraw again, suggests Mize.