What To Do If Your Partner Pulls Away When You're Trying To Support Them, According To Experts
There's a lot of advice out there about how to support your partner in a relationship — and how your partner should support you, whether that's through listening, helping them solve a problem, or just being there when you need them. It's easy to see why there's so much emphasis on it, because emotional support is key to happy, functioning relationship.
"Having psychological and emotional support in a relationship creates cohesion between two people," licensed psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee tells Bustle. But when we talk about support, we sometimes make it sound so easy — and we don't always address the more complicated issue: What if your partner doesn't want your support?
Sometimes, no matter how much someone is hurting and how much you're trying to reach out, a partner just won't be receptive and instead, they'll pull away. This can be a confusing and disheartening experience, so it's important to take a step back and breathe. There are a lot of different reasons they could be hurting — work stress, problems with their family, or maybe they're struggling with their mental health. "It's important to recognize exactly why your partner is pulling away in the first place," Emily Holmes Hahn, relationship expert and founder and LastFirst matchmaking service, tells Bustle.
If you feel like your partner won't accept your support and you don't know what to do, here's where experts say you can start.
1. Ask Questions If You're Not Sure Why They're Upset
If you find that your partner seems to be having a difficult time — they're moody, sullen, or just sad — but they haven't said why, the first thing you should do is try to talk to your partner.
"Ask questions," psi counselor Laurel Clark tells Bustle. "People need space, so it may be that you need to give your partner space, but it may also be that there's something wrong and he or she doesn't know how to talk about it." You might think you're being supportive, but maybe you've missed the big issue that they're grappling with.
"Invite that person to talk about what is going on," Clark says. "Asking questions like, 'What's on your mind?' might work, but if [they are] not self-reflective, they might not know how to answer." But you may need to tackle the avoidance in a more head-on way. "You might need to say something like, 'I've felt you pulling away and wonder if I might be able to support you with what's going on.'" Rather than pushing your affection on them, which can feel suffocating, try to give them a platform to share.
2. Give Them Space If They Need It
Sometimes, your partner may be resistant. They may even seem irritated when you try to comfort them or talk about their mood. Brush offs, snapping, or just being avoidant can all be signs they need space. If your partner needs you to take a step back, it's important that you try to do that for them. "Each individual has their own need for private time," bestselling author and relationship expert, Susan Winter, tells Bustle. "If that private time isn't honored, they'll begin looking for ways to exit your presence."
It may just be that they need some space to focus on what's really bothering them. "Your partner may be stressed about work, family, money, or medical concerns," Winter says. "That means that this issue is their sole focus. It's hard to split one's attention and focus. You know if you had a big project coming up the last thing you're able to do is pay attention to your [partner] ... as a partner they should pay attention to you, but as a person who's stressed they need to focus on this concern." It's a tricky balance — though you want to give your partner space, you also need to make sure you're needs are met.
3. Set Boundaries To Protect Yourself
There are times when, in avoiding support, your partner can actually act destructively — lashing out at you, partying too much, or just giving you the silent treatment can all have huge effects on your relationship. If your partner doesn't want your support or says they need space, that can be OK — in moderation. But you need to protect yourself and your needs at the same time. "Your current relationship is the place for you to start developing boundaries," licensed mental and sexual health therapist, Erika Miley, M.Ed., tells Bustle. If your partner says they need space but behave in a way that's self-destructive, toxic, or chronically inconsiderate, then that's not OK.
Even though this might just be a rough patch for them, it's important to be honest with yourself about whether or not this is part of a larger toxic behavior — and realize that they might not change. "They can change themselves, but don’t bank on them changing for you," licensed psychotherapist, Tom Bruett, MS, LMFT, tells Bustle, so it's time for a candid assessment about who they are and what you're getting out of the relationship.
If you feel like they're just too far away, too toxic, or just not ready for a stable, supportive relationship, you may have to move on. "If, 'I don't feel the same connection to you that I used to,' is coming out of someone's mouth in the relationship, it may be a sign that the relationship is unraveling," Shlomo Zalman Bregman, rabbi, matchmaker, and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Not every relationship dies in a blaze of glory; sometimes, it fizzles out with a whimper." It can be hard to admit, but sometimes things just aren't working anymore — and if you can't support each other, that's a huge blow to the foundation of your relationship.
Sometimes, if your partner doesn't accept your support they may just need a little space and a little time. And other times it can be a sign of a larger pattern of self-destructive behavior. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open and give your partner some breathing room, and remember to be honest about what it means. Even if your partner if having a rough time, you have every right to protect yourself — and that might mean moving on.