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Here’s a little vignette, and some advice I learned for myself that I saw on YouTube. Maybe they’re helpful, maybe not.
Many years ago, I was dating someone who was not very physically affectionate. I was craving more touch, hand holding, caresses, that kind of thing (Yes, even some guys like this). Anyway, we were traveling in the car one time, and she rested her hand on my leg. I said something like “I wish we had more physical affection in our relationship.” She withdrew her hand like a mousetrap had just gone off on it.
That’s the story. Here’s what I saw on YouTube from a psychotherapist. The idea was to “catch” your partner doing a behavior that you want, and then to reward them for it, exclaim that you like it (but probably don’t go over the top or else it could backfire). With lots of time, and very gentle positive feedback, supposedly your partner will do the behavior more frequently. Maybe not in the exact way you’d like, but it might be enough. Another part of this counsel is that the worst thing one can do is to punish one’s partner when they do the behavior that you want. That is EXACTLY what I did when I’d said to this woman when she’d just been more affectionate, “I wish we had more physical affection, etc.” I should have said, “I like that” and maybe just given her a gentle hand squeeze. Simple, but reinforcing, and not threatening or demanding of her.
Just my thoughts!
- This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Craig.
Dear Anita and Mark and Abubin and others who have followed this thread, thank you for your presence and thoughts. I could go on a long time discussing these issues, as I have a strong belief that understanding the mind and relationships makes it possible to learn better relationship skills and hence have healthier relationships.
At this point, I am going to pause my posts on this thread (unless something significant materializes) so that this thread doesn’t keep going to the top and push other threads down. As I catch my breath, I would like to participate more in some of these other threads.
Abubin, thank you for posting. I don’t see avoiding as having to do with issues per se, but rather avoiding intimacy. I think people can and do change, as I have changed myself and I have seen others change themselves. In fact, change is one of the few things we can rely on in life, I believe. Whether my ex is motivated to change herself is what I’m trying to gauge. It doesn’t look likely, but I haven’t made my final conclusion yet. Without her doing some work on her habit of retreating into silence, I can’t see being with her again.
Funny thing, Anita – in other areas of her life, she seems to be quite a clear thinker and when she sets goals, usually attains them. She raised two very nice kids, has held professional jobs, and has navigated and learned her way around a culture that is very different from her own. But I have the opinion that her thinking about relationships, boundaries, feelings, who is responsible for what, often seems mixed up. This apparent disconnect – between her clarity about life skills and her relative troubles around relationships – well, there’s something sad about it. Even as my anger comes through in some of my posts, at the same time, I think very highly of her, love and like her.
But I want her to stop doing “destructive” things, like the silent treatment etc. That’s why my questions bubbled up a few posts ago, about when to work with a partner, and when to totally give up and flee. I used to give my partners the silent treatment, but I learned to behave differently. I wasn’t a lost cause. But, as long as she doesn’t want to work with me, it’s not a question I have to answer.
Mark, thank you for your input. I really get what you’re saying about how the way I phrased things isn’t really the point. People stumble over words and communication all the time, I think, and in healthy communication, both parties work to get clarity in a way that is gracious and supportive. I am coming closer to the conclusion that I wish I weren’t true, which is my belief that this woman isn’t particularly interest in discovering or fixing behaviors that undermined our relationship. I might differ from your point of view a little bit, in that I think there are people whose love or desire for the relationship to succeed, will motivate them to try to listen to their partner and change behaviors to meet their partner’s needs. Heck, I think I’m one of them. But I understand if your experience has been different.
Anita, thank you for your thoughts. Yes, this text-joke-withdraw pattern has occurred many times. Several times I have wondered due to many behaviors (such as the text-joke thing and others) if she has been trying to prove to herself that I’m not compatible with her, and therefore she should withdraw. I imagine that the fear driving her frequent testing of me is the fear of getting close to me, because then she might get hurt. It’s easier to present lots of tests and challenges that can’t possibly be passed and conclude I’m not a guy she wants to be with, than risk being vulnerable to me. It’s my best guess as to what this is about.
- This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Craig.
A pattern, and my interpretation goes something like this: She will text me something that she thinks is a joke. I don’t realize that it is a joke and respond if it she just said something serious. She will then say “You are not funny” and “We don’t have the same sense of humor.” Then she does “withdrawing” behaviors such as cutting off the texting, saying good bye without the usual affectionate emoticons, and significantly reducing texting the next day.
These behaviors indeed seemed “angry” to me, and I guessed that they are driven by the fear that she will not be understood in a deep way that she wants. I’m not saying, of course, that her behaviors will get her what she wants. Probably her behaviors, unless she changes them, will make it very difficult for her to have a sustained, close, relationship where she feels deeply understood.
These are only my guesses. The collapse of the relationship seemed to happen so fast that we never got deeply into what was going on with her when she would withdraw.
Anita, thank you again!
And yes, I certainly told her that I was ending the relationship. Soon thereafter, I realized that I did not in fact want the relationship to end, but rather I wanted her silent treatments to end. Instead of saying “I am ending the relationship,” it would have been more accurate to say “Stop not talking to me. I can’t stand it. Let’s do this differently.”
That’s why I was posting about not having given up on her. I reached out to her after I had said the ending words, to tell her that I wanted to work on things. She said No, in indirect and direct ways, so then I canceled my flight tickets, and you know the rest of the story.
I could have been wiser in how I handled myself, but that is what happened.
Dear Anita, Thank you. I appreciate your mirror and your input greatly.
“Then she thought to herself (if her account is honest): maybe it is not over. She didn’t know. So she asked god to let her know and he (or she) has let her know. So now she knows. For now, she knows. ” (your words, my italics).
Ouch. I’ll have to brace myself for her possible return. I’d love it to be true that I’m so together and so detached that I won’t let myself be pulled back in. It may indeed be that I won’t let myself get pulled back in, but I expect I’ll have to get clear with myself how to respond if she reappears. I expect that she will. So that’s work that I have to do.
I often wonder how much one can work with one’s partner (and in complete fairness, how much can a partner work with me?). When do we leave somebody? When do we try to draw on compassion and patience and try to help a partner when we think their thinking is distorted, etc.? I don’t think we ought to leave a relationship just because it hurts, because I think that there are painful times in healthy vibrant relationships too. Maybe the answer has something to do with there being an overall feeling of safety and reliability and good will. There may be some good will on my ex’s part (in my most generous appraisal), but I don’t feel safe (emotionally) around her – I was becoming increasingly nervous that she would get triggered into another silent treatment, or temper display. The word eggshells comes to mind. Just my musings.
- This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Craig.
I agree with you on all points. Something in me shifted when she did that jerking around stuff.
She lives near me now but comes from another country. We were going to visit her country for a week and then return here. It doesn’t matter though – I only say that to give a clearer picture of the situation.
“Maybe there’s a way to work it out with her” were words spoken out of my anxious attachment style, yes, and real fatigue (and therefore foggy thinking). I have to stay away from her as I think things seem to be getting worse fast.
Thank you, Mark.
Anita, this will be short, as I’m exhausted from what happened today. Last night I was texting with this woman. She told me unequivocally that she didn’t want to work it out with me. Twice she said it. I wished her well and told her I hoped she had much happiness in her life.
This morning I canceled my airline tickets. She and I had planned to go on a grand excursion to her home country in a couple weeks. But I had understood that she did not want to work it out with me. That’s what she said. Not an hour after cancelling the tickets, she texted and asked if I’d canceled my tickets. I said Yes. She said “You are not my destiny. Last night I had the thought that we should go on the trip together and try to work it out.” I said “Great, I’ll buy new tickets. Maybe I can even stop the cancellation. I just did it.” She said “No, God had given her a clear answer.” Basically, if we were meant to be together, I would not have cancelled the tickets even though she had said she didn’t want to work it out with me.
Maybe there’s a way to work it out with her. I don’t know. Right now I can’t even think about it. I just feel so tired and I want to breathe and rest.
Anita, let’s go for the win-win! The second woman shared parts of her story and memories with me that were so important to her, she was moved to tears. I think she shared things with me she hadn’t told anyone else. Also, when she was in a calm and attentive mood, she was a remarkably focused and present listener, and in those times, I felt heard and validated by her.
In more general terms, what I liked about her: She has a lot of energy, is fun to play and joke with (except by text :))) , is bright, philosophical, and liked to go on mini adventures with me. Also she was an amazing mother, which I admired, or more specifically I admired her devotion to her kids. I also like that she’s a tough woman – she came to the U.S. from a country with a very different language and culture, and made a life here for herself and her kids.
Thank you for writing, Anita.
I understand how it could come across that way. Typically when I write to a forum (a “helping” forum) or talk with a therapist, I am thinking more about what are the obstacles to closeness rather than what is going well. That older thread was referring to the previous ex, not the most recent one. Regardless, in both cases, I loved them deeply. We had great times together and generally when we were together in person, we had lots of fun, communicated well, had emotional and physical closeness, tenderness, and worked together well (shopping, cooking, things like that). Strangely, and maybe coincidentally, the problems that arose in each relationships happened 95% of the time when we were physically apart, and thus it was profoundly difficult to work on the problems together. The first woman would refuse to see me for as long as a few months. The second woman limited our communication to texting only, on Monday through Friday, because she didn’t like to talk on the phone. My experience is, that when a couple doesn’t get together face to face to talk something over, fears and imaginings can escalate way beyond the reality.
Mark, thanks for your kind engagement with me on this stuff.
How much do you think we can influence our partners? I ask this question, because I wonder if by sharing my experiences and learnings, perhaps this woman may reconsider whether there is a “one” or “soulmate with perfect empathy” or whatever phrase. It seems that the belief that there’s a perfect person who fits us perfectly without effort is really common, and a lot of people believe it. Maybe that’s a tough belief to let go of, but it is in putting that nonsense aside that a really great relationship can be formed (and “soulmateness” can be created). At least that’s what I think.
Mark, certainly your observation of my pattern of choosing women who cannot work with me and work on themselves has applied to these last two relationships. It hasn’t always been the case, so I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or if there’s really something in my subsconscious that is driving that.
Mark, sorry, I didn’t answer your question as to whether she reads my mind. No, she does not. As she gets to know me, she is better at learning how I think and predicting how I will act, but in the end she can’t read my mind.
I’m not sure how much anyone in reality can read anyone’s mind. I’m aware of some research on mirror neurons, but in the end, I just think people need to talk to each other and tell their stories of their inner worlds.
Thanks. I’m just trying to be wise and do my best.
It’s challenging as heck that I can’t read her mind, because she becomes upset and instead of getting more motivated to communicate, tends to withdraw and think there’s something wrong with the relationship.
In some sense she does want someone rather than me. Her problem is that the someone that she wants – someone who “empathizes with her perfectly” – does not exist.