Last week we talked about the importance of the A.R.E. questions in your relationship, namely, whether you and your partner are:
We tried to help give you some steps toward creating a relationship in which you are both Accessible, Responsive and Engaged.
But what if you just can’t get your partner to be accessible, responsive OR engaged?
Many people complain to me that they just feel plain invisible in their relationships, like they’re not even considered.
And this can be super frustrating.
As a result, when someone doesn’t feel heard, seen or considered, they often turn the volume up in their relationship. In other words, they will become louder themselves.
That makes sense, right?
If you’re feeling invisible, you’ll do whatever you can to be more visible. If you’re feeling unheard, you’ll get louder.
Making more noise is a behavior that makes sense if you are operating under the assumption that your partner doesn’t notice or care about you. While you’re trying to get your partner’s attention, those feelings of frustration get channeled through your efforts to reach them, and you may become critical to your partner, if not downright hostile.
It’s like you’re poking at your partner trying to get a response, and nothing seems to work.
So the more your partner withdraws or seems to shut down, the less you feel noticed, the louder you get, and the harder you poke.
It only makes sense for you to think that your partner just doesn’t care about you.
But that’s where so many people get it wrong.
You may not believe what I’m about to say…
It’s not that your partner doesn’t care about you, it’s that they care so much. And your little attacks are constant reminders of how they’ve got it all wrong. As a result, they back off, withdraw, and more likely than not, feel helpless that they’ll never be able to figure out how to get it right. They essentially give up. It’s too painful for them to even try. And you go feeling all the more invisible.
Try to believe me on this one. I’ve worked with many couples who fall into this all-too-common pattern in which one of you feels invisible and the other seemingly doesn’t care. I’ve heard from both partners though, and when we get down to it, the folks who shut down and withdraw really do care.
The fact that they care so much is actually why they shut down.
In fact, psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues have measured what happens physiologically to men when they are shut down and backed off from their partners. If they truly didn’t care, their heart rate would be normal and they wouldn’t seem to be physically activated at all.
But that’s not what was found!
Male withdrawers actually have an increased heart rate and measure physiologically as being distressed, proving this point even further.