Whenever I ask for more affection, he pulls away from me. Does he actually care about me?
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As far as the dance of intimacy goes, this relational pattern of push and pull is common.
It goes something like this;
You feel like you need more from your partner. More reassurance, care, love & affection and you need this to be okay.
In fact, your need has become a kind of anxiety. Without the attention, you feel triggered. Triggered meaning you are on alert, tense, running negative stories, hanging out in fear or anger. Usually this means that the small scared child within you is freaking out & telling you catastrophic things - mostly about him and his lack!!
So you react meaning that you take action based on this sense of lack and fear. You want comfort but you don’t ask for it, instead you get angry, accuse and punish him.
You want him to scoop you up in your arms and reassure you of his love. But he feels criticised, blamed & attacked. He feels like he can’t do anything right. So he retracts into his shell where he is safe from your onslaught.
This just makes you sink lower into your need for reassurance. You are desperate now.
So, you react louder, stronger, with more anger.
And he retracts even more.
And so it goes.
Do you know this pattern?
My clients are often stuck in this cycle and I too know it well.
Mostly it is the feminine partner who is in the anxious “wanting more” mode and the masculine partner in the avoidant “pull away” mode but it can go either way as it is much more about past wounds and attachment style than it is about gender. Check out my post on attachment styles here, for more on anxious and avoidant styles.
Generally despite what your scared small voice is telling you, your partner really does care about you. But he feels like he is failing and this triggers him, meaning he is also reacting from a place of fear and lack.
If you are the anxious one and you don’t know what you can do, the good news is that you can do plenty.
Here are some things to try.
- Get conscious
Notice the pattern. See it coming. Avoid it. Talk about the pattern with your partner while you are still sane (i.e.: not in the triggered headspace)
- Get a toolbox at the ready.
What are the things that help you when you are in this needy mindset? Know your tools and practice them when things are good so that they are ready and primed to go for when things are tough.
- Pause and take a breath.
Breath is the way that we can interrupt our nervous system from its cascade into a stress response. A few deep breaths and a pause can help you move from reacting to responding more consciously.
- Take responsibility
In those triggered moments we turn into a victim. All of this is his fault. He is doing this to me. But this is not true. You create these patterns together. You have the power to change the way your communication goes down; you have the power to put boundaries in place. Taking responsibility feels so much more empowering.
- Ask in ways that can be received
Knowing your partner (as you do), what are the ways that have worked in the past when you have got more reassurance and comfort? What are the ways that don’t work? Get really clear on this and see if you can apply this wisdom next time. The general rule is to try to keep things feeling safe. In safety we can soften, open and respond rather than react.
- Explore your wounds & heal
The anxiety you are feeling is probably your abandonment wound feeling sore. This wound most likely did not originate with your partner. It is probably from your childhood. While it feels like it is all about him, take a step back and see whether actually, this could be your stuff.
Perhaps you are wanting your partner to fill a hole within you. Perhaps there is some work you could do (with a counsellor or coach or with some guided journaling or meditation) that could help heal this for you and make things feel smoother in your relationship.
- Get help
Being stuck in this cycle of never feeling quite satiated in love, care and affection is painful & lonely. There is the chance that your partner is dropping the ball, but it is also possible that it is much more complex and subtle than that. Sometimes we need the outside eyes of someone who is trained in this work and able to be objective, to actually see the wood for the trees. You can book a session with me here.
- Challenge the catastrophic thoughts
Those thoughts that you are having are not helping. They give you a buzz of charge and make you feel justified in your anger in the moment, but this does not help your relationship one bit. The thoughts are coming from the small, wounded, scared part of you and she just wants you to run and be safe. Your job is to challenge the thoughts. Let's borrow from Byron Katie's "The work" and ask these 4 questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you be 100% certain that it is true?
3. How does believing this thought make you feel?
4. Who would you be without this thought?
I really hope these tips give you some insight into this pattern and that you feel able to manage things a bit better when you do get triggered.
My wish for you is that you feel more satisfied in your relationship.
Let me know how you go.