“I don’t know you anymore”
In a committed relationship, it is crucial for partners to stay emotionally connected with one another because this connection lays the foundation for everything else they will experience, build, share and explore with one another especially when challenges arise.
The reality is, for many partners how they respond during times of distress will be very different to that of their partner. Couples who know one another deeply understand why their partner uses the coping strategies they do, and don’t let these differences threaten their connection when conflict arises, which is inevitable in relationships.
Most partners finds it easier to maintain emotional connection when the threat is coming from outside the relationship, but harder when it arises within the relationship.
There are clear signs when a couple is heading towards emotional disengagement and the sooner they are identified, the sooner they are able to steer their relationship back on track and back into connection.
Here, I’ve listed a few of the common signs to look out for, so you can catch yourselves from spiralling into disconnection before it takes hold.
1. Turning towards & away from your partner’s bid for connection (blog: What’s the one thing happy couples do the most?)
Bids for connection are the ways in which people reach out to another; they can be a simple greeting or a request for something. Whatever it is, the person who’s putting out the bid is trusting that their bid will be seen, acknowledged, and responded to with an open heart and open arms. Even though their partner may not be available at the time they need, hopefully that is short lived and response is on its way. However, if a request for connection is continuously rejected, dismissed and/or ignored then our sense of security comes under threat and shutting down and withdrawing is not far behind.
2. Disappearing without Informing
Partners in a committed relationship keep each other informed of their plans and they rarely leave their partner in the dark wondering where they’ve gone, what they are doing & how long they might be away. They also keep each other updated with any change in plans.
The goal is for both partners to experience a sense of security through the knowing that they are tethered to the other person. When this tethering is under threat due to the absence of emotional connection and/or consideration, then the relationship is under tremendous amount of threat.
3. Terse responses
It’s fair to say that we can all be irritable at times and don’t wish to be bothered, but rarely do we “bite” without a good cause.
Paying close attention to our partner’s non-verbal cues would tell you more or less what state they are in. Facial expression of impatience, voice tone that are harsh and rejecting, body language that is closed or physical distance that seem to communicate “I’m not interested in connecting”.
In a secure functioning relationship, the partner who engaged in negative responses usually apologises once they are feeling better or able to think clearer. But, once emotional disengagement becomes the norm then opportunity for repair becomes less and less.
Has your partner taken too long periods of silence? Brooding? Or, seemingly elsewhere rather than being present?
These moments of disconnection will be experienced by you as a threat because you don’t know what is going on for them, and often their shut down has nothing to do with the relationship but you don’t know that and our brain, which is wired for negativity, will be creating a whole narrative that fuels our fears which leads to further deepening of the disconnect.
5. Others matter more
In a secure functioning relationship, partners consider their union “us” above their commitment to other. They are one another’s “go to” person and they are the first to find out anything that is going on with their partner. When this doesn’t happen, then once again our survival brain will be scanning for threat.
The term “triangulation” is often used to describe a dynamic where one of the partners has recruited the service of a third as a way of managing their distress. This third could range from friend, colleague, kids, family members, work, hobbies, addiction etc. Triangulation is damaging to the relationship because the leg that is missing is the connection between the relationship partners.
Temporary emotional disengagement, especially when the reasons are beyond a couple’s capacity to control them, is not necessarily a concern as long as the partners stay in touch with each other and do not let fears stop their mutual compassion, they will most often reconnect as their resources grow again.
Till next blog, take good care.