• dave

Dealing with withdrawal in relationships..



When we experience difficulty or tension, there are generally two ways of responding to it. Some people need to talk and express, and some need to go inward and reflect or be quiet.

Neither of these is wrong, it is just a personal response, but often in relationship, two people can be opposite in this respect and it can create a lot of issues and be difficult to move past. Over time it can create resentment, and if not resolved, a feeling of disconnect, or widening gap between people.

I work with couples and individuals a lot wth this issue, trying to find ways of navigating through it.

A good place to start is understanding and accepting the difference. Difference is natural and ok, it only becomes a problem when we dont understand it and perceive it as a threat.

Then we need to communicate with each other to find out what it feels like for them, and this can often be surprising, and start to bring back the empathy for each other.

For instance, when someone withdraws, for the 'Expresser' on the outside, it can feel frustating, 'whats going on..' 'why wont you tell me..', and for the person withdrawing , to have someone questioning , can feel like being pushed when we are in this place, and often actually makes us back off more.

If this goes on for a long period of time, the 'person on the outside' often starts to react themselves, maybe by backing away too, and then things feel stuck..

So how do we help to move past this ?


Understanding - the expressor (the person on the outside ) , has to try to inderstand that often the person on the 'inside' can feel stuck, and that often it isnt personal. Ie , they are not necessarily withdrawing from you, some pattern or coping mechanism is affecting things.

This helps prevent anger, feelings of rejection and frustration.


The Expressor , however, can express how they feel without blame. Ie 'I feel sad now you've withdrawn, ' or ' I feel like I want to help but I dont know how.' This can help them communicate without the pushing away effect. Often it can help draw out the 'Insider', as it helps them to feel empathy for the expressor.


Talking when things are more level - Often it can be fruitless trying to talk when someone is withdrawn, so it can be good when they have 'come back'.

We can then ask, 'what does it feel like', or 'what do you need when you feel like that.'

Often they will indicate that gentle touch can be helpful, but it can be quite specific, ie some people dont like their head being touched when feeling withdrawn, but it is impossible for the Expressor to know this, unless you have a conversation. From a balanced place it can good to connect about the experience, to share, so that you know what to do when it comes up again.

This often helps the cycle progress, as often the Intenalizer may receive the understanding which they have never had, and may be unconsciously looking for.


Code words. - someone once described the experience as 'Like going into my Labyrinth.'

This can be a really useful identifier for the person on the outside, ie ' are you in your Labyrinth?' If yes, then it saves a lot of misunderstanding, and if you have discussed it previously , you know what to do.


Hearing both sides - It can be challenging for the person on the outside when someone withdraws, it can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, or 'what have I done ?'

Again, in depth conversations can be difficult whilst someone is withdrawn, but letting the person know how it is for you in a non -judgemental way can sometimes help to build a bridge, ie, ' I feel a bit lonely when you withdraw. '

This can sometimes create the feeling of empathy which start the movement back towards rather than away. And again, share feelings about the experience more, when things are more back in balance.


Id be interested to hear if youve got any thoughts or ideas on this area.