If you want to get out of the disconnection dance, blame and withdrawal are two behaviours that won’t allow this to happen. Even though both of these coping strategies are somewhat effective in giving space and being self-protective, they both lead to distancing and can trigger the other partner making the cycle worse. Moving away from each other is not the solution. Being more exposed, vulnerable and open (ie taking risks) leads to connection.
What is difficult for partners in relationship is taking risks, being open and more vulnerable. Blaming and withdrawing are easier and self-protecting. We learned these in our early days in childhood. Most of us learned these behaviours as they served us on some level. To be invisible could avoid punishment or to blame, (ie point the fault towards a sibling) also avoided punishment or pain. Wired in to avoid pain, these strategies can have a more adverse effect in relationships. When using these avoidance patterns they don’t allow you to take responsibility for your feelings nor do they invite you to reach for your partner for closeness or connection.
To avoid pain, evolution has also wired in another reason to not risk reaching for another when there is “risk of rejection”. What if we did reach for our partner, risk and be open and vulnerable and we are rejected or abandoned. These underlying fears are the crucibles to keep the blaming and withdrawal behaviours alive in our primary and most intimate relationships. To risk and to be rejected is synonymous to “death”. Brain scans show us that rejection is registered and experienced in the brain as if we were physically hit by a 2’x4’. The pain registers the same.
Turning away or not being there for someone when they most need the comfort and closeness is also painful. For example, a woman discovers she is having a miscarriage and her partner doesn’t know what to do when he sees the blood. He freaks out when she calls him. Instead of going towards her, he leaves to calm his nerves and goes into task mode, ie calls the hospital and taxi. In her most vulnerable moment, he moves away from her, and she feels rejected. What happens next is: she makes a decision, “I will never allow myself to need you that much again” and she shuts down from her partner, pulling in to never risk exposing herself. For years this goes on. She is no longer vulnerable or open to her partner.
Ultimately, he experiences her distancing behaviour, feels her lack of warmth, comfort, also experiencing his own version of
rejection/abandonment. Not ever revisiting this event in a heartfelt way, they co-exist in their marriage dancing between their defenses and lack of openness. She is nasty and nitpicky, using blame as a way to keep herself protected and distant and he does the same. They become the “Bickersons”, living a life of judging and blaming, undermining one another.
Love is Risky Business
To remove or lower the defenses of blame and withdrawal, one must be willing to feel ones’ own vulnerability, be open to sharing this vulnerability and take risks. Using vulnerable language versus blame/criticism invites a partner in…. “I feel sad when you don’t look at me”, I long for you to hold me after we make love so that I can feel connected”, “I get afraid when I don’t hear from you while you are on the business trip” Of course, there is a risk in being this open and vulnerable. What if my partner thinks I am too needy? What if he won’t come to me when I call? Will I hurt more than I do now? Love doesn’t come without intimacy and therefore the very thing we are avoiding: “intimate connection” leads to disconnection.
You cannot heal wounds that you can’t open
Everybody is afraid of intimacy. Intimacy means exposing yourself. Intimacy brings you close to another. Dropping all of your defenses makes intimacy possible. However, the fear is we drop all our defenses, who knows what the other it going to do with you. Thus we are hiding from others and ourselves. It feels safer to keep the defense because the other can take advantage of your weakness, your vulnerabilities. Intimacy is an essential need. Everybody longs for it and wants the other to be intimate versus taking the risk to become intimate first. However, to heal our wounds, they must be seen, felt and held. Exposing these long held hurts and vulnerabilities is the path to liberating oneself from the endless suffering and energy it takes to suppress our vulnerabilities. Being intimate is a scary and risky, yet a necessary part of having authentic human connection.