Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern

By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

            As mentioned in earlier posts, patterns of interaction that couples can become trapped or stuck in develop over time and often without the individuals realizing it. Their natural ways of being, interacting, and communicating with one another become a problematic road-block. Patterns usually do not exist from the beginning of a relationship. Additionally, patterns can change into new patterns over time. This shift is the result of one or both partners adjusting their reactions or stance in a set of exchanges.

One pattern that often develops as a result of this kind of shift is called the Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern. This pattern in particular is one of the ways that the Demand-Withdraw Pattern can shift if left unaddressed.

When a couple becomes engulfed by a Demand-Withdraw Pattern, the person withdrawing is reinforced to withdraw more, because the partner reacts with more demands. The person pulling or doing more “demanding,” is then reinforced to pull harder or demand more often, because their partner retreats more. After a while, this partner may get so frustrated and emotionally tired from pulling that they give up this endeavor. Most likely at this point they have also built up some amount of resentment, and so begin withdrawing themselves. This withdrawal could be an attempt to protect themselves, a general surrender, or a different attempt to gain their partner’s attention or hurt their partners’ feelings.

This does not mean, of course, that a Withdraw-Withdraw Pattern always comes from Demand-Withdraw; if both partners have a personality or natural way of interacting that fits with easily withdrawing from or clamming up in conversation, it has the possibility of developing on its own.

We know from couples research that withdrawal in relationships is a danger sign. Withdrawing too soon and/or too often can begin to erode a couple’s connection over time. Many times it’s done in a protective fashion; perhaps the partner withdraws in order to stop the anger in the room from getting worse, for example. Though this behavior is done with good intentions, the result is not always positive. The risk that withdrawal poses is failing to return to the conversation, and as this happens over and over again, important issues go unaddressed or unresolved. Then what we mean by “withdrawal” may not be just leaving a conversation early, but ends up meaning a general reluctance or unwillingness to try and connect or interact with your partner. Or, simply put, “checking out,” of the relationship.

You can probably begin to imagine why it would be difficult and dangerous once a couple has made their way to this point. With both people pulling into their own shell and not attempting to engage the other person, not only are issues going unaddressed, but their bond begins to significantly weaken. Plus, both people end up feeling hurt, neglected, sad, disappointed, afraid, and worst of all, alone.

            ~What To Do~

  • Notice the pattern. Being aware that you and your partner are engaged in a potentially damaging pattern is key. The first step to adjusting to healthier ways of communicating is realizing the need for adjustment.
  • Trust building. Brainstorm with your partners ways to build trust with one another in small bits. By sprinkling in more positives and moments that build trust, your foundation for emotional safety will also become stronger. You don’t necessarily have to share your darkest, deepest secret in order to build trust. Some simple ideas other couples have come up with are telling jokes, talking about what happened during the day, holding hands, or texting one another compliments.
  • Accept you and your partner’s personality differences. Oftentimes patterns develop from personality differences. When it comes to a pattern based in communication differences, talk about the ways in which each of you learned to share information and emotions in your families of origin or previous experiences.
  • Find a safe way to communicate. Click on links below to learn more about each technique or suggestion!
    • Use XYZ Statements
    • Use Speaker-Listener or Mirroring Technique
    • Take a Time-Out when things get too escalated
    • Business Date vs. Romantic Date

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