How to talk to a partner about problems if he is not used to discussing relationships? And what if you want to discuss a situation, and your partner leaves the dialogue? These issues are primarily of concern to women in heterosexual relationships. Since masculinity and femininity are social constructs, there are many prescriptions associated with them. Following them, men should not show emotions, be “soft” and “feminine”, and therefore they often try to get away from dialogue or consider “sorting out the relationship” unpleasant and meaningless. In turn, femininity is partly constructed around the idea that a woman should pay more attention to relationships, be more concerned about their safety, and make efforts to preserve them.
Although these ideas do have a serious impact on men and women, fortunately, the reality is a little more complicated, since each of us has something to oppose to the influence of cultural and gender stereotypes - primarily the personal experience of attachment in the parental family. Practice shows that a withdrawing partner in a heterosexual relationship is not always a man. And same-sex couples are also not immune from the fact that one of the partners or partners will more often avoid discussing the relationship.
The first important idea that will help advance in such a situation: the partner has his own reasons not to discuss the relationship or situations associated with them. Ideally, such a conversation could start with just such words, but it's not so simple. Saying, “I know you have your reasons not to talk about it,” and believing it are two different things. One of the main reasons for avoiding talking about such topics is fear. Very often at psychological consultations, one of the partners says that when he last spoke or opened up, the other was very angry in response. This, in turn, leads to the fact that the partner begins to make excuses: "Well, what are you talking about, it is really important for me to know your opinion, but I cannot always agree with him." This is a dead end.
Think about how parents during childhood and adolescence wanted you to trust them and tell them as much as possible, and how they reacted when you told them the truth. Most likely, they cursed and punished you when they heard things that scared them. So very quickly, children and adolescents understand what is worth telling, and which aspects of life are better hidden from their relatives. Naturally, the adult partner is unlikely to be afraid that you will punish him. But he may try to avoid upsetting, hurting, or angering you.
Going deeper, the emotion behind fear is often shame. This is one of the most destructive emotions - it makes a person want to disappear, freeze, hide so that they will not be seen. Shame differs from guilt in that a person feels that he is bad in himself, and not that he has done something bad. Shame is very difficult to endure emotionally and physically, so people often either withdraw into themselves to avoid this experience, or attack first, defending themselves.
Being ashamed is also embarrassing. Never try to lead a person to "clean water", saying: "You are just ashamed now!"
For men, one of the common shame triggers is the feeling that your partner is unhappy, upset, or in pain. In this sense, talking about relationships can be a signal that a partner is upset about something, which means that something is wrong with the man, he begins to experience himself as bad. On the other hand, the very conversation about relationships and experiences can be viewed as "not masculine enough."Men are more accustomed to solving problems defined by society as "masculine", and in the area of feelings, experiences and relationships, they may feel insufficiently competent or not sufficiently masculine - and this can also lead to shame. Very often men defend themselves against shame with anger.
If you get the impression that your partner, avoiding the conversation, is avoiding responsibility, you should take a closer look at the situation and the meanings that may be hidden in it. Another option, which is found in both men and women, is the warning self-accusation: "Well, yes, I am a terrible person who ruined your life." This way you can avoid this painful, humiliating experience that you are bad in the eyes of your partner, that you may not have the right to exist in a foreign universe. It may seem that I am exaggerating, but in shame the stakes are always as high as possible - unlike guilt, where you can fix what you have done, shame is doom: "I am so bad that I am not worthy to be with you." An important feature of shame is that being ashamed is also ashamed. Therefore, never try to bring a person to "clean water", saying: "You are just ashamed now!" This way, you are more likely to break contact completely, increase shame and reinforce avoidance in your partner's behavior.
What is the antidote to shame? Positive feedback, self-disclosure and sincerity on your part. For most men, it is important that the partner is happy. Therefore, by denoting that you know that he is genuinely interested in your well-being, you are confirming the value of the partner. In fact, the message, “I know you are a good person and you care about me,” is what dissolves the shame. If the first part of the message asserts the partner's value and positive intentions, then the second can be focused around your need for contact, discussion and a sense of "we".
A skill that can help create a more trusting environment for self-disclosure and help the withdrawing partner speak up is softening. Mitigation means that you can express thoughts and feelings that bother you calmly, slowly, and gradually, while at the same time opening up and showing your vulnerability. Slowing down, calmness, and softening are what can take away the feeling of threat in a relationship. Naturally, such interaction is impossible on the go, in a rush, or in situations that require you or your partner to distribute attention. Mitigation suggests that you share rather than blame or demand. Share your vulnerability and fears, for example: “I’m afraid that if we don’t discuss this, we will become even more distant from each other,” “When you withdraw into yourself, I begin to doubt myself. If we could talk more often, I would feel more confident."
All of this may sound daunting. And it's really hard, but being able to talk about what bothers you in a relationship and articulate what you need is very important. If one partner withdraws, and the other refuses in response to attempts to emotionally "reunite" with him, the couple chooses a dangerous and, oddly enough, unstable compromise, which later almost always turns into additional difficulties. The myth that there are easy-to-use people is one of the most harmful. There will always be something that can irritate you in a partner and a partner in you, but as long as it does not become a threatening stimulus, both can always open up and take risks.