WAIT! What Just happened??? Dr. Carol Ann Conrad, EdD

Have you ever been talking with your partner and suddenly something is said, something else is said, and then in a matter of seconds things are bad and you don’t know what happened? Or you felt something shifts and then boom, things are bad between you? It’s like it flew by you so fast and they, or you get defensive/angry/shut down and you have no idea what you said, or what they said that caused it? Then it’s awkward and you don’t know what to say or do. The moment flies by, you know something wasn’t good, there’s distance, but you don’t know what happened and maybe are afraid to say something?

Awkward Distance

After a few of these kinds of things happen between you, it starts to get a little unnerving to broach the subject, you don’t know what went down, don’t know how to make sense out of it, maybe are a little afraid to bring it up. With enough time things maybe are a little better, so you don’t want to bring it up to rock the boat–so this awkwardness creeps up between you.  It makes it hard to talk to each other unless its just household basic things like, “will you take the garbage out?” or to inform each other, “Friday is girl’s night out, I’ll be home late.” There’s not much if any emotion in your conversation, very little to no sharing after a while, and before long this is just how it goes between you.  There can even be some tenseness between you that even over time dissipates until there’s just coldness and distance.

Freeze ‘n Flee

In Emotionally Focused Therapy (or EFT) terms, Sue Johnson the co-founder of EFT calls this withdraw/withdraw pattern “freeze ‘n flee.”  Both partners have withdrawn from each other and are afraid to make things worse, or fear making their partner upset and risk incurring their anger. Unexpressed anger and fear are often the main unidentified emotions underneath this negative pattern in a relationship.
As an EFT therapist, I find this pattern occasionally with non-confrontational couples. They often are pleasant and polite to each other, highlighted with some occasional tenseness. Or sometimes couples become withdrawn from each other after years of trying to connect and the above scenario continues and no one knows how to repair or come back together. They live parallel lives and both are extremely lonely and feel isolated.  They have an unspoken agreement that no one will risk talking about what is happening. Dr. Johnson says, and for good reason, that this pattern of a relationship is dangerous; the withdraw/withdraw pattern is at most risk for divorce and breaking up. Why? Because there’s no emotional engagement.

We Need Connection

Without emotional engagement with our partners we are at risk and vulnerable to find our basic human needs for connection and love elsewhere. Affairs, both emotional and sexual, are not uncommon in this kind in a withdraw/withdraw relationship pattern. Like water and food, we need connection and love to sustain us. If we don’t get it in our primary relationship with our partner, we will find our needs in other places. It might be working excessively to feel like we’re important or valued in our job, it might be watching TV and escaping because it’s too painful to face the disconnection of your relationship, it might be drinking alcohol or taking pain pills to numb out the loneliness, or it might be chatting with an old flame on Facebook and becoming involved. We will find a place to get our needs met in some kind of way because we just can’t be without feeling loved, and if we can’t find that feeling of love with our partner, we will do something to take the pain of not having it, away.

Fear Gets in the Way

If this pattern is happening between you, it’s important to recognize that both of you are hurting, lonely, and longing for connection but both are afraid to open up and talk about it. The fear is the thing that keeps you from reaching each other, fear of each other’s reactions, fear of being blamed or attacked, fear of not knowing how to be enough for your partner, fear of being too much for your partner, fear you can find a way through it…What is the fear for you? Can you name it?

Once you can begin to identify the fear that makes you step back and withdraw from your partner, can you then recognize any other emotion underneath it? Do you feel hurt? Hurt by something your partner did, said, does, continues to do that really hurts? Can you put words around that hurt and share it with your partner? Does the sadness and loneliness start to come up? What feelings do you have? Can you start to share some of these feelings with your partner?

Slower is Faster

When we can slow down and look at our feelings under the surface “calm”, and try to understand ourselves and our partners reactions, we can begin to get some traction away from this awkward disconnection of withdraw/withdraw. Lets look at an example.

Tim and Audrey were a cute couple when they were in their 20’s. Both were quiet and thoughtful people, liked by many, and seemed like a perfect fit with each other. They loved the outdoors, they shared a common religious foundation, and had some of the same dreams and aspirations for a family, for community connection, and to contribute to the world. They were pleasant, no fuss kind of people, and really appreciated that about one another. Conflict rarely happened, and they seemed happily married to their friends and associates.  But early in their marriage little things would happen between them where Tim felt a jolt inside when Audrey would say something about his family to him, he didn’t know what to say, so he reacted by shutting down and saying nothing. It seemed to Tim that he was just able to bounce things off without it affecting him, he didn’t realize himself that he was shutting down. Audrey felt his shut down but didn’t know how to identify or speak about it, but it was unpleasant when she would get his cold response or no response. After a while she stopped saying anything about his family and avoided saying much at all to him about any topic that he seemed tense around. She didn’t want to rock the boat or make things worse.

Tim and Audrey are caught in a withdraw/withdraw pattern. In order to see and understand what is happening for them, they really need to slow down their interactions and begin to share more with each other what is happening inside for them. The hard part is that they are both afraid to talk about what is really happening. Their reactions are so fast that they can’t see it. At this point the negative withdraw/withdraw pattern has a hold on the relationship. They are stuck and getting more and more distant with time–like two slow boats drifting away without a paddle! Tim and Audrey really need some help to see their negative pattern, slow down what happens underneath, and begin to find their way back and reconnect. If I were their therapist, I would recommend that they first attend a couple’s retreat that gives them the education about the new science of love to help them see what is happening, why, and what to do about it!

Hold Me Tight®

Hold Me Tight® Tri-Cities couple’s retreat is based on the empirically validated couple’s treatment by Dr. Sue Johnson, that research has shown to make a difference in 90% of couples. We walk you through 7 conversations that have the power to help you slow down, see what is happening between you, understand each other differently, and most importantly it will help you begin to change the patterns that are causing you to drift apart!

In a HMT Tri-Cities couple retreat we talk about the new science of love and what that means for you as a couple.  With this new science we now understand what love is, what creates it, what destroys it, and how to revive it! In this unique retreat we help you and your partner understand and then experience what is a proven method to find each other again. We know how to create a loving bond and how to shape that love in a way that helps you as a couple create and/or strengthen your bond with each other.

So, what’s more important than your relationship?

Come, enhance what you have, re-kindle your relationship fire, or repair the rift that is between you! Come to a Hold Me Tight® Tri-Cities and find your love again!

Visit http://www.holdmetighttricities.com for more information, dates, times, and to register!