7 Surprising Reasons Your Partner May Be Acting Distant, According To Therapists

by Kristine Fellizar
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When your partner suddenly starts acting distant, it's easy to go into a full-on panic mode. What does this mean? Are they losing interest? Are they seeing someone else? According to therapists, there are so many reasons behind why your partner acts distant. Some of which, may not be what you think.

As Jane Reardon, licensed therapist and founder of RxBreakup app, tells Bustle, distance in the relationship stems from one primary issue: the inability or courage to identify and express what's going on emotionally.

"I’ve seen people who claimed to be afraid of 'hurting' their partner so they act remote and weird, hoping the partner will end the relationship," Reardon says. "Or it could be much less consequential than that, (READ: NOT signaling the end of the relationship) and the distancing behavior arises from a problem weighing heavily on their mind, that they’re either too ashamed, or flat out don’t know how to bring up."

When your partner isn't saying anything, the tendency is to come up with all kinds of different scenarios to fill in the blank. But of course, that hardly ever helps. It's important to note that distance doesn't always mean cheating or an impending breakup. Talking to your partner can help you get to the bottom of it. But to ease your mind a bit, here are some surprising reasons behind why your partner may be acting distant, according to therapists.


They Know The Relationship Is Getting Serious

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If your partner has an avoidant personality, issues from childhood can cause them to panic once they get the sense that things are becoming more serious. According to Reardon, they may have no clue about how to be in or sustain a healthy relationship. "The avoidant’s special brand of distancing behavior includes talk that heavily emphasizes their 'independence' and 'freedom,' making it out that there’s something wrong with you for wanting to spend time together, a pattern of getting super close to you then pulling away, and the list goes on and on," she says.

When someone has this kind of push-and-pull behavior, just know that it has nothing to do with you. They have their own issues that they need to work through. The best thing to do here is keep doing what you usually do. Don't try to push them in any way; they need to figure it out on their own.


They Only Know How To Be Passive-Aggressive

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When a partner acts distant, Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, psychotherapist and relationship coach, tells Bustle, it may be because they're angry or resentful, but they don't want to talk about it. "This reluctance can trace back to early life experiences with parents who fought instead of having productive discussions or even an earlier relationship where conflict happened frequently," Coleman says. They may fear things getting too heated or a potential breakup. So this distance is basically a passive aggressive expression of the negative feelings they have.

The best thing for you to do in this situation is to directly address the distance by using "I" statements (i.e. "I feel like you've been acting distant, why?"). That way, you can lay out your feelings without making it sound accusatory.


There's An Established "Demand-Withdraw" Dynamic In Your Relationship

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"The demand-withdraw pattern usually starts when one partner seeks some change in the relationship," Dr. Catherine Aponte, clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book, A Marriage of Equals, tells Bustle. When they seek change, the other who's happy with the way things are may engage in some sort of avoidance tactic by "resisting" the request. When these requests become more insistent, they'll start to see these requests as "demands." Because of this, Dr. Aponte says, this will justify their need to resist or create distance. From there, it becomes a pattern. Many times, people aren't even aware they've established this type of dynamic.

According to her, changing patterns like this in a relationship requires a commitment to self-reflect. "Recognizing that continuing to press a point when your partner is distancing themselves is fruitless," she says.


They're An Introvert And Need Alone Time

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"Introverts need time alone to recharge their energy level, and as a result, they may become more distant," therapist Kimberly Schaffer, MSW, LCSW, tells Bustle. If this is the case, there's really no reason to worry. Just give your partner the space they need and you should be fine.


They're Stressed

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When people get stressed or they're dealing with something that has nothing to do with the relationship, Schaffer says, they may rather withdraw than talk to you about it. Although you may want to help, sometimes giving them space can be the best thing you can do in this situation. But if you want to figure out what's going on, Schaffer says it's perfectly OK to communicate with them. Again, be sure to use "I" statements. If they're already stressed, coming at them with accusations will only add to their problems.


They Just Need Time To Process Their Feelings Before Sharing

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When you're in a relationship, you may have expectations that your partner should be telling you everything. But according to licensed psychologist, Dr. Erika Martinez, that doesn't always apply to everyone. "Most people pull away because they need time to process their reactions and feelings before sharing these with others," she says. "You're still an individual with your style and way of handling things. Being in a relationship doesn't change that." Your best bet is to talk to your partner about their distance. Describe how their recent behavior is different from the norm and ask what the reason might be. "Stay open-minded and as judgment-free as possible so they feel safe to open up," Dr. Martinez says.


They May Be Planning A Surprise

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On a lighter note, your partner may be acting distant because they're trying to keep a secret. "They may be planning a surprise for you and they don't want to spill the beans," Schaffer says. "Think surprise party or possibly proposing marriage." So, it's not always bad.

The reality is, you're never really going to know what's going on with them. The best thing you can do is talk to them. Let them know how their change in behavior is making you feel and then respond accordingly. If they need space, give them space. If they need to talk, give them a safe space to talk. You'll never know until you ask, so don't be afraid to communicate.