During the times of stress and fights in a marriage, some spouses use withdrawing as a way to cope with their stress. They move away from a conflict to try and get away from what is causing them to feel emotions that they are not comfortable with.
How withdrawing works
If you or your spouse use withdrawing as a coping mechanism, it means that your approach to stress is to be independent and self-reliant. It may include both physical and emotional distance. For example, you or your spouse may still choose to engage in a conversation about the issues in your relationship, but one of you may choose to rely only on logic and distrust the emotions. Focusing exclusively on facts about what happened and emphasizing objectivity can also be examples of emotional withdrawal because the process of withdrawal is based on the suppression of emotions and emotional experiences.
If your partner chooses withdrawing as a coping strategy, he or she will probably shut their emotional response and may even try to shut down yours. If withdrawing is not your strategy, it can feel very demanding and take an emotional and physical toll.
Problems with withdrawing
One of the biggest issues with withdrawing is that it doesn’t solve anything. If you or your partner withdraw from dealing with an issue, the issue will not go away. For this reason, multiple studies show again and again that avoidance of emotional stress leads to negative consequences both physically and psychologically.
Emotions are sensations that you feel in your body. When you try to suppress or ignore them, they often don’t go away and stay in your body. Physically, they may manifest themselves in the form of stress and tension in the shoulders or other parts and muscles of your body. Withdrawal may also lead to an eventual overwhelm where a partner can’t hold the emotion anymore and responds with hostility and anger. Behaviors such as impulsive actions and binge eating often also have their roots in emotional withdrawal and trying to avoid dealing with underlying emotions.
Just like withdrawal itself, binge eating, drinking alcohol or taking drugs are short-term solutions that don’t solve any problems or issues.
Another problem with withdrawal is that when a person tries to withdraw from emotional issues, he or she doesn’t suppress just one isolated emotion. Such a person becomes less aware of all their emotions and needs by ignoring them or rationalizing them. He or she also becomes less responsive and attentive to the spouse, which can create more issues in the marriage. Reducing emotions leads to reduces resources for communication and connection in a relationship. A partner that uses withdrawal strategy may do okay in the short-term, but in the long-term it brings problems not only to the person that employs the strategy, but also to the relationship. It robs the relationship of trust, intimacy and closeness.
The reasoning behind withdrawing behavior
Partners that withdraw from issues and communication in their marriage tell themselves that they are keeping peace in the relationship and don’t make things worse by removing themselves from the stress. A common response from a withdrawing partner involves going along with the complaints and behavior of the spouse. It is ironic what while withdrawal may project an aura of indifference, the real reasons for the behavior are conflict minimization and restoration of the well-being of the relationship.
A withdrawing partner may seem distant and indifferent, but inside he or she may be thinking about how they would like to get close, how they feel as a failure in the relationship and how they are never enough.
This kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nothing. People that exhibit it often grew up in families where their parents told them to dismiss or avoid their emotions.
Withdrawing behavior doesn’t only show up during the times of conflict. Many people use it as a primary strategy to cope with emotions they are not familiar with, which is why they are likely to also behave in a withdrawing manner during periods of intimacy. They may feel anxious and afraid about pleasing their partner because they didn’t learn how to deal and process their own emotions in the first place. Not only don’t withdrawing partners know how to address their own feelings, including fear, they also typically feel fear about their emotions in general.
Sometimes this behavior runs in families. Parents are not sure how to address their emotions and the emotions of their children. For this reason, they teach their children to not display any emotions. Children are taught to keep it to themselves and when they grow up, they use the same strategy on themselves and with their children.
Emotions behind withdrawing behavior
The primary emotion behind most withdrawing behaviors is fear. A person that chooses to withdraw may be afraid that a conflict will damage the marriage. He or she may also be scared of his or her inability to process and deal with emotions. Also, there may be fear of pain that will occur if the person proceeds with participation in the conflict.
Fear is in part based on instincts and in part it is a learned behavior. In some cases, all people withdraw and don’t even have to think about it because it is a built-in safety mechanism that all humans have.
For example, a person may have been raised in a family where parents fought all the time. His or her solution was to go into his or her room and use headphones to get away from the fights. When the person grows up, the behavior he or she may choose to use in the marriage can be very similar.
Withdrawing may have very significant costs because both partners in a marriage are not getting what they need long-term. The withdrawing partner can feel lonelier while the other spouse may feel ignored and unimportant