Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
Whether you’re in a relationship right now, or have been before, or have had close relationships with other people (so pretty much: most of us), we have all had moments in which our relationships didn’t run as smoothly as we might have wanted. At times, difficult emotions can lead to us wanting to push our partner away. Perhaps we’re feeling agitated, or angry, or really sad. Perhaps they have said or done something that we can’t accept, or maybe we have said or done something and feel guilty about it. Either way, the responsibility for dealing with these emotions lies with ourselves, not with the other person.
As someone who suffers from fear of attachment or fear of commitment (read about my previous posts on the topic here, here and here), the urge to push my partner away is a familiar one to me. The ways in which I do it are myriad: from making snide remarks, criticizing, avoiding touch to completely withdrawing all communication. This is obviously not helpful to anyone, not even to me. I may feel the temporary relief of not connecting, but I also feel the guilt and shame of not being able to. My need isn’t really to ‘disconnect’ but rather to return to myself.
So, how can we deal with this urge to push away in a manner that is healthy for us and healthy for our relationships? How can we take responsibility for our own emotions and also take care of ourselves and the other person? Here are some tried and tested tips I’ve picked up along the years, best performed in the order below.
- Take out time to observe yourself
For me, pushing others away is a tell-tale sign of needing time to figure myself out. I reflect best when I’m by myself, with very little around to distract me. When I start to observe myself, I can see if I’m finding ways to escape my emotions. Am I eating a lot of sugar? Watching too much Netflix? Losing myself in online shopping? These are signs that my nervous system is overloaded and that I need to calm down to make conscious choices, which leads me to step 2:
- Calm your nervous system
When our nervous system is flooded, we go into fight, flight, freeze or fawn (read about the 4 trauma responses on this website). This means our responses take over and we really lose choice over how we behave. That’s not what most of us want, so it’s paramount that we calm our nervous system down in the way that works best for us.
Here are some things that have helped me, or people I know, in calming down their nervous systems: going out in nature, taking a bath, listening to soothing music, yoga, meditation, cooking a healthy meal, reading a book, cleaning the house, going for a drive in the countryside, painting/drawing, playing music, talking to someone who loves you, writing in a journal, … There are many options, you only need to find what works for you. Be mindful, though, that what you’re doing is calming you down and not just helping you push the icky feeling away temporarily.
- Figure out what you’re needing
When we want to push away, when we feel bothered, irritated, annoyed, upset, or any other variation of anger, it’s easy to start projecting onto our partner. ‘If he wasn’t such a …’, ‘If she didn’t always do…’, ‘If only they were a bit more…’. The thing is, your partner isn’t really the problem, is he/she? Because they haven’t changed, yet your feelings have. This means there’s likely something you’re missing in that moment. Find out what it is by asking yourself the hard questions: ‘What is it that I need in this moment? What didn’t I give myself? What is my partner’s behaviour triggering?‘
- Stand up for yourself
Once you figure out what you need, it’s your job to give it to yourself. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do this. You have the right (and responsibility) to look after your own needs. Be careful though, a need can be filled by many strategies, and strategies might be something you do have to negotiate on. Needs are always non-negotiable.
For example, I have a need for fun and joy. My preferred strategy could be to buy the Lego Hogwarts Castle, but my partner has a need for financial safety that gets seriously threatened by this strategy. Then it’s my job (with my partner’s help) to find another one that matches both needs.
Standing up for your own needs is the way to parent yourself, and the way to build self-trust and self-confidence. When you become reliable to yourself, you can also become safe to others and you can learn to rely on others as well.
- Communicate with clarity, integrity and compassion
Once you have figured out what you need and which boundaries matter to you, you can communicate this to your partner or the other person in the equation. I’ve found that it helps to wait until you’re not longer going through intense emotion, but to wait until you’ve somewhat calmed down before you communicate. You want to communicate from your own consciousness, not from your fear or anger (trust me, communication isn’t their strong suit!).
If you feel like you have the space to do this, you could also ask your partner what they need. There are, however, times when that is too much for me as well. I can barely make it to communicating in a neutral way that I just need some time to return to myself. I have no room to listen, at that moment. That’s okay, we’re only human. Even if we strive to be there for our partners, friends, children, family… whenever they need us, the truth is that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Looking after my own needs is the fastest way to being able to take care of others.
I’ve learned these steps mostly through failure (#whyfailurerocks), but also through reflection, therapy, training and books. I wish I had known them before, though I also know I can communicate them this clearly because I’ve lived through them.
With this post, I guess I hope some of you might get something out of them. Perhaps, next time you feel like pushing someone away, you might think back on this post and look beyond the thoughts that come up to what’s really going on inside. And if someone else pushes you away, just know, it’s not about you!