Dysfunctional Relationships: Emotionally Withholding

iStock_000020769810Small_0In romantic relationships, we would like to think that it’s always going to be filled with passion and romance, but typically relationships go through phases where the passion and romance seems to die off.

Some of this is natural which is why relationships take work and both individuals have to work on keeping the fire going, but other times this can be deliberate.

Sometimes in relationships, one person will decide to emotionally withhold and this can border on the line of emotional abuse.

I’m not talking about when your partner is upset with you so he or she may not talk to you for a few days, may not want to be touched or gives you the cold shoulder until they get over whatever upset them. I’m talking about something that is much more long term and damaging to a relationship.

Thomas G. Fiffer, in his blog post  described emotional withholding as:

Coldness replaces warmth. Silence replaces conversation. Turning away replaces turning towards. Dismissiveness replaces receptivity. And contempt replaces respect.Emotional withholding is, I believe, the toughest tactic to deal with when trying to create and maintain a healthy relationship, because it plays on our deepest fears—rejection, unworthiness, shame and guilt, the worry that we’ve done something wrong or failed or worse, that there’s something wrong with us.”

How Can You Tell If Your Partner is Emotionally Withholding?

If you are in a relationship where you often feel alone, there is a good chance your partner may be emotionally withholding.

There is a difference between someone who is emotionally withholding (a deliberate behavior used to control a person/relationship) and someone who is out of touch with their own feelings due to stress, trauma or other issues.

People who emotionally withhold are purposely withholding love, affection, support and attention in order to control a relationship.

The other person in the relationship may find themselves always pursuing their partner in search of the love, affection and attention that they want. They may find themselves always trying to prove that they deserve love.

People who stay in these types of relationships often do so because it is familiar.

Maybe they grew up in a family where they never felt like they deserved love, were always rejected or felt abandoned. To them, it may feel natural to pursue love and affection, even if it’s painful, because they are not used to it being freely given and without conditions.

Holly Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist suggests:

Ask yourself how generous your partner is. How invested does he/she seem to be in your well-being, in making sure that you feel positively about yourself? Or is it the opposite–that he/she is maintaining the upper hand by ensuring that you continue to seek approval?

The person who is emotionally withholding is always trying to keep the balance of the relationship in their favor. They give you just enough to keep you interested. Just enough to keep you searching for the affection that you want and deserve so that you get stuck in this vicious cycle of searching out for their affection.

Most people are not ALWAYS emotionally satisfied in their relationship 100% of the time, but think about how much you feel emotionally satisfied versus how often you feel emotionally starved.

If you feel like you are continuously starving for love, affection, attention and support, then you may have a partner who is emotionally withholding or at the least, emotionally unavailable.

If your partner is emotionally unavailable, consider if this is because he or she is stressed, depressed, going through their own issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, or if it is more malicious and planned out to achieve a power balance in the relationship that benefits them and not you.

Being in this type of relationship can cause the person who is constantly seeking affection to have multiple issues from low self-esteem to anxiety, depression and even sexual dysfunction.

Outside support from friends, family and even a professional may be needed in order for that person to maintain healthy self-love and self-care. It is crucial that you take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who know your worth and value you.

If you are in a relationship where the other person is emotionally withholding then it’s important to remember that you deserve and are worthy of love and it should come freely.

“I Love You” Versus “Love You”… Is There A Difference?

LoveDo you think there is a difference between someone saying “I love you” and just “love you?” I ask this question because personally I think there is a difference. I tend to say “love you too” when I am responding to someone I don’t really love. I usually tend to say “love you” to someone I don’t love in a romantic way, but in a friend or familial way. I prefer to save the “I love you” for someone I am truly in love with or when I am really expressing admiration to someone.

So is there a difference between the two?

I did a quick internet search and came up with some of these responses:

  • I say it more than “I love you”. I also say “loves”. For me, it’s just the way I say it, and the way my whole family tends to say it. We miss out the “I”. When people say “love YA” though, that bothers me. Again, it could just be the way they say things, but to me it seems insincere. It depends entirely on how they say it to others and any underlying issues with intimacy they may have. I have a lot of emotional issues so mine could well speak for that if only it wasn’t just the way we said it in my family. *shrugs* I guess I’m trying to say it’s entirely a “relative to the individual” thing as far as I see it.
  • Nope. “Love you,” is just something we say when hanging up the phone or closing an email. It’s more casual, but the meaning is still the same. It’s like “hello” versus “good morning”. We say, “I love you,” when hugging each other or being sappy during vacation. The phrase just depends on the circumstance
  • I say ” love you” allot to my husband (we tell each other several times a day, at random times) I don’t see a difference from “I love you” vs “love you” just the way I say it
  • I think there is a difference, The ‘love you’ one is more flippant and almost dismissive IMHO I hate “love you” I also hate “love u” and “ilu” all are dismissive hurried and lazy.
  • Defnitely a difference! While I am fine with “love you” it is nice every now and then to get a truly heart felt “I love you”. Just means more…
  • Well I tell my hubby “I love you” but I tell my best friend “love you” so meh I feel there is a difference but it also depends on the person as well. it may mean something different to them than it does to me or you.
  • I also think that HOW it is said makes a difference, I like to say I love you, and I am in love with you to my man and love you to my children as they walk out the door, I love them, but in a different way
  • The last two guys I was involved with both changed from “I love you” to more flippant responses like “love you” or “love ya” and both relationships went south about the same time.
  • I think it all depends on the context and the relationship of the people saying it. I used to get upset with my ex for saying ‘love you’ a lot, but it was usually because I was annoyed with him for other things and that was just an easy target to nag him about.
  • i tend to say love you alot in a kidding sense so i guess there is a difference.
  • I think the words “I love you” are very powerful, and people have dismissed it and reduced it to almost nothing, like the anoying – I whatever-.
  • Absolutely NOT! I think it’s silly to even think there is a difference. The difference is in the tone, not the words! Feelings are displayed in the tone! Simple as that!

So it looks like people have many different views on the subject, probably depending on their personalities, their relationships and their experiences.  I think however if in a relationship one person uses the words “love you” and their partner feels a certain way about it and would prefer to hear the more personal “I love you”, then that should be communicated. Otherwise, the person that prefers to hear “I love you” will most likely always feel a little sting when you lovingly say “love you”.

So what do you think? Is there a difference between “I love you” and “love you”?

 

Conscious Uncoupling: What Is It Exactly?

rs_560x415-130724130535-560.martin.cm.72613A lot has been made about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin deciding to consciously uncouple, after more than 10 years of marriage. Many people are unsure of what exactly conscious uncoupling is and figure that it’s just a new age, more amiable way to say divorce, but is it?

The couple stressed in a statement that “in many ways we are closer than we have ever been”, they have come to the conclusion that “while we love each other very much we will remain separate”.

Conscious uncoupling is a great and healthy way to  to end a relationship, while remaining complete as a person. It’s basically when, in an ideal situation, a couple comes to an agreement that their romantic relationship isn’t working for them and that they should end that part of their relationship, leaving room for friendship or at least parting ways without bad feelings.

It sounds very Pollyannaish, but why do breakups, divorces and the end of relationships have to be so painful, heartbreaking and dramatic?

Part of it is because that is what is taught and modeled to us by society, our families and the media. We are taught breakups are supposed to be destructive and negatively impact our lives, but they don’t have to be.

Imagine if when one person realizes that the relationship isn’t working for him or her, that they were able to talk to their partner and have a conversation where they both agreed to consciously uncouple. There would be less pain, less negativity and less destruction in those two peoples lives.

They wouldn’t carry the baggage from their past relationship (at least not as much) into the rest of their lives and into their new relationships. They would be overall more mentally and emotionally healthy individuals.

Sadly, many of us aren’t rational enough to do conscious uncoupling. Most of us are naturally irrational and neurotic when it comes to love and our feelings for each other. Most of us, even when we know a relationship isn’t working out, stay anyway.

Much of the time we stay in relationships out of fear; fear of being alone, fear of hurting the other person, fear of what the future without that person will look like it. We all have our reasons for why we stay in relationships we really want out of.

We stay and become bitter, or stay and cheat either physically or emotionally. We stay and withdraw love, affection and sex to punish the other person. We stay until the other person does something that makes us leave, something which usually ends up hurting us and thus we usually leave relationships wounded and go into our new lives damaged with a greater risk of entering into a new relationship baring scars from old relationships.

I wish I had the rationale and guts to at least try conscious uncoupling in my previous relationships. It would have saved them and myself much pain, heartache, regret and sorrow, but I didn’t out of fear.

Conscious uncoupling takes audacity, a healthy overall sense of self, and I think for it to work successfully for both people, it takes two people who already have not only a healthy sense of who they are as individuals, but also have an overall healthy relationship with great communication to start with.

You may be thinking, if they had  a healthy relationship and great communication, then what was the problem? The problem could be anything. We don’t have to be in bad relationships to decide that it should end. We don’t have to be in good relationships and then consciously or unconsciously make them bad so that we have a reason to leave. We can practice conscious uncoupling as a healthy way to end a relationship while keeping us whole.

For more detailed information, and if you have 50 minutes, you can watch psychotherapist and author Katherine Woodward Thomas discuss conscious uncoupling. She specializes in “the art of completion” which she says is  “a proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace”

From experience I know that it hurts when relationships ends, but conscious uncoupling reminds me that it doesn’t necessarily have to.

It’s Rarely About Us

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In life, we have enough to deal with with our own personal battles, the up and downs of everyday life and our own junk from our past and worries about our future. Still, most of us allow other people to dump on us, to put some of their battles, junk and worries into our already cluttered lives.

Most of the time we don’t even know this is happening and the people doing it to us are usually unaware as well. This all happens in our unconscious for the most part and is what is called displacement in psychology.

Displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism where someone transfers feelings of emotions, ideas or even desires unto other people or even objects. This usually happens in an effort to relieve anxiety, especially when it comes to things like aggression and sexual impulses.

Take for example, a wife who is sexually attracted to her boss and feels extreme guilt about it. She may come home and accuse her husband of being unfaithful, wanting to be with other women or even not finding her sexually desirable any more.

The wife will do this with so much emotional energy, that the husband will have no idea where these thoughts and feelings are coming from and will most likely do everything he can to assuage his wife and may even find himself stressed out although in all actuality, the situation has nothing to do with him.

The issue is not his, but he will make it is. He will take on all the emotional energy although it is not his in an effort to allay his wives feelings.

He may lose sleep about it and wonder what it is he is doing wrong.

We’ve all been in situations, arguments even where we knew on some level that it was not about us. I’ve been in situations where someone made me feel like I did something wrong and I did everything I could to rectify the situation, only to eventually find out it had nothing to do with me, meaning that although I was stressing and doing everything I could to make the person happy, there was really nothing I could do because it wasn’t really about me.

A good clue that it isn’t about you is when the level of emotion is out of proportion to the situation.

Lets say you accidentally drop and break a dish, but your partner goes berserk about it or you come home five minutes late and your spouse is raging out of control over your tardiness. Chances are, they are displacing their feelings, be it anger, anxiety or whatever.

Emotions can be considered energy in motion. When people have a build up of energy, they have to find a way of getting rid of it or it will affect them in other harmful ways (depression, self-harm through drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior).

Often the easiest and even safest way to get rid of that pent up energy is to direct it at the people they love simply because they know that chances are you aren’t going anywhere.

Your husband can curse you out and you may fight, but chances are you will still be there tomorrow. If he curses the person he really wants to curse out, for example, his boss, chances are he will not have a job tomorrow.

In psychology we are used to this and call it transference. Most clients eventually will transfer or displace feelings unto us, rather its issues they had with their mother, their father, their ex-husband, or whomever we start to “remind” them of.

As a male therapist, when I worked in a high school, I used to get a lot of teenage girls who would displace their anger and fear about their absent fathers towards me and in therapy, we work through this. It is part of my job, but in the real world, it is usually much more difficult and frustrating to deal with.

In some of the worst cases of displacement, it can become abuses. Lets say a husband is angry with his boss, but he can’t hit him, so he comes home and unconsciously picks a fight with his wife and hits her, displacing his anger. This may eventually become his way of “dealing with” his anger and the abuse cycle begins.

Sometimes this can have a chain reaction. Suppose the wife, now hurt and angry, displaces her anger unto their child by hitting him and the child then goes and hits the dog.

It can be a vicious, unhealthy cycle.

Displacement is an amazing psychological deception and some people will do it just as much consciously as unconsciously.

Some people will purposely displace their anger, worries, whatever unto others so that they can either attempt to avoid their own feelings or to distract the other person from the real problem.

When this type of displacement happens, it can be more abusive than simple unconscious defense mechanisms at work.

Take for example a wife who really is cheating and her husband gets suspicious. She gets scared and instead of confessing, she very angrily accuses him of being the one who is cheating. He may get so caught up in her strong emotional energy that he feels guilty for his suspicions and ends up being the one trying to treat her like a queen in an effort to show her that she is the only one for him, all the while she has successfully distracted him from the real problem at hand.

So the next time someone yells at you, gets angry really quick or displays any other emotion that seems out of proportion to the activating event, before you allow yourself to get caught up in all that emotion, take a few seconds and ask yourself, “Is this really about me?”. Sometimes that’s all it takes to avoid getting caught up in a battle of emotion that is not yours to fight and prevent yourself from unnecessary stress.

Relationship Beliefs: Destiny Belief Versus Growth Belief

Tools-happy-couple-istockWhen it comes to relationships, what we believe about relationships and how they should be plays a major role in how we perceive and behave in them.

We all have preexisting beliefs about how we think relationships should ideally form. Some of those ideals can be very rigid, to the point that they keep us from entering and appreciating otherwise great people because they do not fit into our idealized image.

For example, many people look for that “special someone”, but that “special someone” has to almost perfectly fit into their preexisting beliefs. Maybe he has to be exactly six feett, six inches tall, or she has to have perfect blonde hair or has never been intimate with anyone else.

Even the ideal about the way we meet that “special someone” can influence us.

In college, there were many people I knew who expected to meet their “ideal partner” in school and most didn’t. Many tried hard to make relationships that weren’t compatible work, simply because of their beliefs. Many others left college disappointed, thinking that they will never find true love if it didn’t happen the way they thought it should have, in college so many relationships they entered after school they did so half heartedly and didn’t make much effort in sustaining them, at least initially.

Most of these people subscribed to what is called a destiny belief when it comes to relationships, meaning that they thought people were either meant for each other or not. I too believe in this to some extent, but some people believe in this so much that they believe little to no work has to be done in a relationship because if it were destined to happen, then it would magically just work.

People who have been in successful long term relationships and marriages can tell you that successful relationships take work. They don’t just magically happen. It takes compromising, understanding, negotiating, letting go, determination, love and a host of other tools to make a relationship work.

Most people who understand this and are in happy, long term relationships believe more in a growth belief where relationships have to be cultivated and developed through mutual experiences, which may include conflict. They understand that not everything is always going to be perfect, but even then there are opportunities to communicate, learn and grow with their partner, in their relationship and within themselves.

People who believe more in the destiny belief generally go out of their way to make a good impression during the initial stages of a relationship, and are constantly on the look out for signs that this person may not be “the one” so that they can move on to someone else. This sensitivity to signs that a relationship may not work out very early on can be helpful, but it can also be very detrimental as they often quickly rule out potentially great partners over the smallest of perceived slights or flaws.

For instance, a woman whose ideal mate is always well-kempt, is in a new, promising relationship with someone who is “perfect” so far, notices one day that he has dirty finger nails, may see that as a sign that he is not  the man for her and may end the relationship. They belief it is one “perfect” person out there for them and will reject any other partners that are even slightly flawed.

On the other hand, people who believe in growth belief place less emphasize on initial interactions and feelings, but want to develop understanding and closeness overtime to see how compatible they are with an individual. Even when faced with flaws, they will continue to see if they can live with those flaws as the relationship evolves through challenges, difficulties and resolutions.

For example, an argument might break up a couple if both of the individuals are heavily vested in destiny belief, while if both individuals are heavily vested in growth belief, the same argument can help them grow closer.

Both growth belief and destiny belief are viewed on a scale. People can be either high or low on that scale and I am not saying either belief is better. I for one used to be very high on the destiny belief scale, but as I have grown and had different experiences, I am much higher on the growth belief scale with a little destiny belief still in my heart.

I definitely believe in destiny and that some people and relationships are meant to be for one reason or another, but I also believe that without the willingness to work at and grow in a relationship, it most likely will not work. I do not go into a relationship thinking that this person is “perfect” and I don’t have to do anything to make our relationship successful. I go into a relationship thinking, this person seems worth investing my time and energy in (flaws and all)and if it’s destined, we will work out.

How do you feel when it comes to relationships? Are you more on the destiny side or the growth side, and if so, how high or low are you on those scales?