The exercise of using withholding to influence another’s behavior is so pervasive and historic in interpersonal relationships that it is interwoven into the fabric of all adult partnerships.
When one partner has an unexpressed or dismissed but important need, he or she most often goes underground by relying on the strategy of pulling back in order to make the other partner put more energy into the relationship.
Though it is often thought of primarily as a female strategy in romantic relationships, it is absolutely reciprocal if you dig deep enough into the way couples relate to each other. What a woman may do to use the pretense of unavailability to her partner may just be expressed differently by a man.
In my forty plus years of dealing with couples, I have heard literally dozens of these strategy statements when one partner feels they are losing options for getting what they he or she needs. And it’s not just at the beginning of a new relationship. I’ve seen these insecure processes just as often in long-standing partnerships. Whenever one partner has more need in any area, he or she is likely to try whatever means works to try to rectify that imbalance. Pulling back by feigning unavailability is the most common strategy.
Caveat: There is no judgment here about an insecure partner using the orchestration of pretended unavailability to try to enhance his or her or value to the other.
It is, however, sad when any partner feels that manipulating the other is the only option. Unequal appetites for attention or contact are the norm in most relationships, even those that are successful. And there are many ways to negotiate them without having to resort to “handling” a partner’s desire by strategic withholding.
The other negative outcome I often witness is that the strategy doesn’t work.
There was once a very meaningful cartoon strip from Peanuts that pays tribute to that notion. Lucy says to Shroeder, “Love me or leave me.” He then picks up his blanket and begins to walk away. She immediately recants, “Let me rephrase the question.”
When any partner chooses a manipulative ultimatum or risks using the pretense of feigned unavailability, he or she just might give the other partner the opportunity to go even farther away.
The partner using an unavailability-strategy may have incorrectly assumed that the out-of-reach partner will actually respond with renewed desire. That is a scary risk.
If we can assume that trying to secretly influence a partner is fraught with the risk of further alienation, then what are better ways for disappointed or needing people to get what they want? How can partners who feel waning interests from their significant others increase their partner’s desires for more enthusiasm in the areas that are not working? And, what keeps people who care about each other from providing what is so important to the other?
For the risky strategy of unavailability-manipulation to be replaced by authentic and open communication, there are two major issues here to consider.
The first is to understand how important a specific need is to the partner who is feeling neglected.
A relationship that has many positive qualities can actually end if a very important need to one partner cannot be met by the other. Whatever a person holds crucial or sacred can become a deal breaker if its importance of that desire outweighs the benefits of the partnership.
The second is whether or not the partner who is not delivering what is needed is unaware, unable, or unwilling to provide more. Too often the one who is in need feels too insecure to ask, afraid that he or she will be rejected, is embarrassed by the intensity of the “hunger,” or has been humiliated in past relationships for the same desire. If that has occurred, that desire may have never been adequately communicated and the other partner just is not aware of the level of distress going on.
Unable simply means what it means.
Most people in relationships try as best as they can to provide what their partners want if those desires have been adequately voiced. But there are times when one partner simply cannot give what the other desperately needs. There are countless examples, and many times they don’t emerge until a relationship gets going.
Women, in particular, are often cited for wanting “emotional connection,” more than their partners can tolerate or men for needing spontaneous sexual contact without the warm-up that many women need to fully respond. Distribution of resources is another area where different desires can actually be incompatible. Sometimes it is as simple as one person’s natural level of energy is unable to match the others or their ability to be involved in large social groups causes terrible anxiety. I’ve seen some partners who are completely devoted to a spiritual path that the other partner cannot participate in any way without a personal loss of integrity.
There is yet another complication.
In many of these unequal appetites or needs, the partners have pushed them aside in favor of focusing on what is good about their relationships. But, over time, they surface, often with intensity. The other partner has been lured into a comfort that no longer exists and is understandably reluctant to automatically provide what has never been asked for before. He or she may be able, but not willing, leading to the other partner’s resentment that something is being withheld that could be offered. Those cumulative disappointments can, over time, erode what positives were holding that couple together.
It would always have been better if new partners knew what needs they have that would be deal breakers if not met, and could communicate those early on in a relationship.
Too often, new relationships are blinded by sexual lust and romantic aversion to anything that would possibly threaten the possibility of long-term connection. Or, if those needs met at the beginning and then wane, that couples could openly renegotiate and rebalance their distribution of time, love, and energy.
If, instead, either partner chooses to withhold that information from a partner for whatever reason, the option to secretly try to change the other by withholding may seem all that is left. If the relationship has enough good, it may work, but it will never replace open and non-judgmental communication between partners who have both good will and clarity of what the real options are.
Here are some interesting articles on Psychology Today Internet Blogs that will help you look at some of the particulars.
When It’s Time to Let a Relationship go
Dating a man who is separated but not yet divorced.
The 12 most common ways partners manipulate each other
Are you withholding love?
Is lying Part of Loving?
Selling out – compromising integrity in intimate relationships
Why Can’t I let love in?
Are you controlled by love?
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
In the initial stages of your relationship, you’re setting up what will happen throughout, so think about how much time and energy you feel you can put towards this person and this relationship right now.
In any strong relationship, both parties have interests and activities they do on their own and things they do together. One mistake a lot of people make in a new relationship is feeling they have to give up the things they enjoy and take on the activities the other person enjoys. It’s really more of a compromise. You may need to drop some of your activities in order to add time in with your new beau, but make sure you retain some of the things that make you feel good about yourself and your life and don’t become lost in his.
When I think about being available, I think that means dropping everything for someone else or waiting around to see what someone else has planned, and generally, I don’t like either of those options.
I prefer making plans together and keeping them, then if something comes up it could work out or it couldn’t depending on the day. I have seen some relationships that start out with only weekend plans and then slowly spread into other parts of the week. I’ve also seen relationships that really don’t work because the two schedules simply don’t match up. Figure out what you are willing to give up, and talk about it. Resentment can build easily if you feel you’re the only one giving up your time or if you feel he is asking for too much.
Make sure you’re getting what you need out of the relationship, too.
Any good relationship is built on mutual respect. If you don’t feel your time and your needs are being respected but you have to give up your plans when something comes up for him, you may be setting yourself up for problems later. It might be a good time to talk about expectations and assumptions that you each have of dating and roles that each of you want in the relationship. He may not know how much you can be there for him if you’ve never told him, and he may not know what you need from him if you’ve never asked.
There is no formula for getting this right, only what makes the most sense to the two of you. Don’t assume this relationship is going to be anything like relationships you’ve had in the past. Everyone is different, and so it will be with this relationship you create together.
Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org
He Says “I Love You”… But does he really mean it?
This 7 question quiz tells you if your man truly loves you or if he is just using you…
There are no “rules” that govern the etiquette of creating a relationship.
Long gone are the days of chaperones and the overriding concerns that women used to have about their reputations. Words like “fast”, “easy”, “forward”, “tease”, etc. are pretty much obsolete and good riddance! The concepts that these words referred to were almost entirely demeaning to women. There were no fast men, only fast women. Reputations were the responsibility of women; men were free to push for as much as they could get.
Today’s women have real lives. They are just as busy as men and face the same challenges as men when trying to enter into and maintain relationships. Being available is usually a question of time. There are times in a woman’s life when she has more time to give and there are times when she has less. Just like men.
It’s manipulative to pretend that you aren’t available when you are.
It’s up to each potential partner to be honest about how much energy they can put into a relationship at any given time. If a man feels that the woman wants too much, or if he feels that she isn’t as available as he would like, he needs to say so. The same goes for the woman. Life is more complicated than it used to be, and while there are certainly psychological issues that can underlie each person’s availability, it’s just as likely to be a matter of stress and timing.
The best relationships are based on honesty and mutual respect.
To start off by trying to conform to the perceived needs or fears of the man creates a precedent in which you have taken on the role of the pleaser. Your own needs will always come second and you will always be anxious that you are not reading him correctly. So much better to just be yourself and let him tell you what works and doesn’t work for him. If you do the same, you are way likelier to find yourself with the right man.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
Learn Why Men Pull Away
There is a deep-seated “Gap” in communication that very few women (or men) understand.
It’s the #1 reason why men pull away.
To be truly irresistible to a man, you MUST understand this gap, and the way feelings of love get confused and entangled in a man’s mind…
In a long term, solid relationship you are there for each other at any given time and at any given place.
But when you are developing your relationship, how available should you be? The answer is simply, don’t be too available.
Men and women are wired differently, so while we are so alike in many ways, there are some major differences.
A man needs to pursue a woman. He enjoys the chase. He wants to catch you and win your heart over because that’s his way of feeling attached and connected to you. Therefore, you don’t want to take his role or job away from him.
As much as you would like to ask him out and be available to him, he needs to think that dating you is his idea.
Of course, he would be flattered that you are interested in him, but he needs to take over the “hunt” for things to really work out.
Your job during this time is to be yourself by showing him your best. Just be warm and friendly, funny and fun, interesting and interested because men like to feel good about themselves. This would reinforce how much he would be missing if he let someone like you –go!
Once you are settled in the relationship, things change and even out, because the emotional investment is established.
You no longer need to play games because he, then, will be doing everything to keep you in his life.
Just remember that dating takes patience, but it is worth the wait if it leads to a permanent relationship with Mr. Right.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com