One of the first things I remember learning in my training as Marriage and Family Therapist is this fact from communication theory:
“One cannot NOT communicate.”
The communication axiom, “One cannot NOT communicate,” has much to say (pun intended).
It is very common in couples that one of the partners has strong tendencies to “freeze” in conflict, “flee” from arguments and potentially difficult conversations. We will call this person the “Withdrawer.” This looks like shutting down, walking out of the room, hanging up the phone, and avoiding discussions.
The emotional trust in a relationship can be greatly damaged by the “communication” of not communicating. Sometimes, the partner married to a “Withdrawer” perceives the thoughts and feelings of the “withdrawer” as inherently selfish and narcissistic.
Here is what partners think the “Withdrawer” is saying:
- “I don’t think you are worth the energy to communicate with.”
- “I don’t care enough for you to do what is difficult for me.”
- “I despise that you are so needy.”
- “My needs are more important than yours.”
Sometimes, the “withdrawer” IS thinking that. That is a whole different blog. More often, I find that the “withdrawer” is simply scared.
For most “withdrawers” I know, they are really thinking and feeling the following:
- “I am scared that I will never please you.”
- “I just freeze and don’t know what to say when you are mad.”
- “You are a better arguer than I am and I can’t think that fast.”
- “I want to make you happy, but I don’t know how.”
Sometimes we need help to get out of communication patterns that we are stuck in. If you are a “withdrawer” or married to one, slow down the conversation and communicate what you are experiencing. Be compassionate and give one another the benefit of the doubt!