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Loving Yourself When Your Partner Shuts You Out

By Dr. Margaret Paul
March 20, 2017

Discover why your partner may be shutting you out and what you can do about it.

Woman sitting on a beach with her toes in the sand. What do you do when your partner shuts you out?

Do you know that being shut out and stonewalled is even more hurtful than being yelled at? Children would rather get yelled at or even hit than ignored. This is why the worst punishment for prisoners is solitary confinement.

Yet, along with overt anger, withdrawal is the most common form of controlling behavior in relationships. Just as the fear of anger keeps partners from addressing issues, so does the fear of a partner's withdrawal. 

Loretta is struggling with this issue.

"I'm in a two year relationship. My main problem is how can I raise an issue without him turning his back on me and walking away? I have to follow him to get my feeling across only to have him ignore me. He says I am never happy with what he does and feels frustrated that he can't make me happy. The ignoring makes me feel unloved and rejected. I have told him how it makes me feel but he still does it."

There are a number of issues here that need to be addressed. Loretta is using her feelings to make her partner responsible for her. She wants to tell him her feeling rather than open to learning with him about herself and about him. Her partner feels responsible for her happiness, and since he can't take responsibility for her happiness – we have to take responsibility for our own happiness – he feels frustrated and walks away. Loretta follows him, trying to have control over him listening to her, believing that if only he would listen and understand, he would change. It's easy for her to believe that the only reason she feels unloved and rejected is because he shuts her out, but she also feels unloved and rejected because she is abandoning herself by making him responsible for her feelings.

This is a very typical relationship system: Loretta is telling her feelings as a form of control and her partner is walking away as a form of control. Neither is open to learning.

What Loretta needs to do is practice Inner Bonding and learn to love herself so that she stops trying to control and instead is able to open to learning with her partner.

Linda has the same issue with her husband:

"When something happens where I get upset as a result of an action my husband did, my husband shuts down. He distances. This can go on for days. So it's as if he gets shut down because I got upset at him. But it continues even after I calm down and even apologize for getting upset or explaining what it was like for me. When I ask if there is something he wants to discuss he says no. Is anything bothering you? No. What can I do? I know I need to give him time but I can't tolerate the coldness and wall between us."

Again, Linda is abandoning herself rather than loving herself. She isn't accepting that getting upset with her husband hurts him as much as his distance hurts her, and he doesn't know how to compassionately manage his pain any more than she does. Linda can shift their dysfunctional system by learning to love herself and take responsibility for her own upset - and then approach her husband with an intent to learn. Her husband could also learn to lovingly manage his pain rather than shut down. But since Linda is the one who wrote to me, she is the one I would address.

Loving yourself when your partner shuts down means:

  1. Practice Inner Bonding, learning to take responsibility for your upsetting feelings so that you don't approach your partner with blame for your feelings.
  2. Love yourself by being very compassionate with your pain when your partner withdraws.
  1. Approach the issue only after you are no longer upset, so that you can be open to learning about yourself and your partner.
  1. If you partner isn't open to exploring the issue, then love yourself by deciding for yourself how to take loving care of yourself regarding the conflict issue.

You may be very pleased with what happens in your relationship if you learn to love yourself and heal your end of this common relationship system!

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For people who are partnered and people who want to be partnered."

Join IBVillage to connect with others and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.

Photo by Tamara Bellis


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