Wednesday, November 01, 2023
In my two-year relationship with my partner, I've been grappling with a persistent challenge. Every time I talk to him about important topics such as long-term financial planning, marriage prospects, his educational and career goals, or even the possibility of one of us passing away, he seems to brush it off and avoids the discussion.
Whenever I initiate this discussion, he starts panicking, as if the discussion slides him into anxiety mode, which then leads to a complete emotional shutdown. Typically, he needs numerous hours of alone time to "decompress" before engaging in a conversation with me, even on minor issues like deciding what to have for dinner.
During this episode, he remains engrossed in his phone and does his daily tasks, but the only thing he refuses to acknowledge is my expectation for him to engage in these crucial discussions, as he does everything possible to refrain from communication, so much so that he once stopped talking to me for 15 straight days. I feel frustrated, manipulated and tortured. How do I deal with his nonchalant behaviour towards our relationship?
— A frustrated partner
Dear frustrated partner,
I hear that you have been experiencing significant distress within your relationship.
It is clear that the avoidance and emotional shutdown your partner exhibits have been distressing for you, leading to a feeling of frustration, manipulation, and emotional turmoil. In situations like these, it's important to approach these matters with empathy, communication, and accountability.
His go-to response to critical conversations that involve the future seems to be avoidance. Avoidance is a fear-based response to what you would be forced to feel if you looked within.
It sounds like having these discussions trigger him. It could be that your partner's avoidance and emotional shutdown stem from underlying unresolved issues that may require attention and support.
Our triggers are our teachers. However, know that we can support someone in their journeys, but we cannot do the inner work for anyone.
Communication is key in any relationship, and when one partner consistently avoids or shuts down during important discussions, it can create a significant barrier to understanding and connection. It may be helpful for you to find a time when both of you are calm and relaxed to express your concerns and feelings in a non-confrontational manner. Let him know how this behaviour impacts you and makes you feel. Use "I" statements to express how his behaviour affects you.
Encouraging your partner to open up about his feelings and concerns, even if it's done gradually, can help foster an environment of trust and openness. Encouraging him to express his thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment can be a crucial step in facilitating productive communication.
It may also be highly beneficial for him to explore seeking professional help in the form of therapy. Working with a trained professional explores underlying issues and provides insight and tools to regulate, and improve communication amongst many other things. Perhaps that is a form of support you can direct him towards. To be able to communicate that for our relationship to thrive, he needs to help himself and you are willing to support him in that journey (if you are).
Every relationship is unique and to make any partnership work requires willingness, time, effort and understanding from both sides. If there is willingness and effort from both sides, it is possible to create a healthier relationship.
At the same time, it's critical for you to prioritise your own emotional well-being and emotional health.
Taking care of yourself and seeking support from trusted friends and family, as well as exploring this with a trained therapist may aid you in getting the clarity and support you require during this time.
Setting clear boundaries and understanding your needs within the relationship are crucial.
What is it that you want? What are your needs? Is this behaviour something you can live with? What happens when and if your needs are not met, even after you’ve communicated your concerns and offered support? How much more time are you willing to further invest in this until you don’t see changed behaviour? Have you set boundaries around the same? If not, what do the boundaries you need to set for your own well-being look like? What keeps you held on when your needs are not consistently met?
Consistently ignoring our own needs for the sake of “keeping it together” is a form of self-abandonment, subconsciously giving yourself the message that you don’t matter.
These are questions you need to ask yourself to understand your own needs and behaviour patterns.
Once you have explored these questions on your own and have clarity on the boundaries you need to set you would need to communicate the same to him and implement them within your relationship.
Relationships are a mirror to our own selves. They tend to bring out parts of us that need attention and healing.
And remember, people’s behaviour is how they feel about themselves.
The other person will show you their behaviour through their patterns, it is your choice how you choose to respond.
Hope that helps!
Haya Malik is a psychotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, corporate well-being strategist and trainer with expertise in creating organisational cultures focused on well-being and raising awareness around mental health.
Send her your questions to [email protected]
Note: The advice and opinions above are those of the author and specific to the query. We strongly recommend our readers to consult relevant experts or professionals for personalised advice and solutions. The author and Geo.tv do not assume any responsibility for the consequences of actions taken based on the information provided herein.