What to do when your partner withdraws emotionally

Don't panic, it doesn't mean they're cheating

Some people are more affected by the moods of the people around them than others, but even if you’re not a highly sensitive person, it’s totally understandable to be a little freaked out when your partner seems to be pulling away from you emotionally. But the fact is, they’re a person just like you with many complex emotions and dynamics in their life, and you won’t know what’s going on until you talk about it.

Here’s how to tackle this tough situation:

1. Give them the benefit of the doubt

Just because your partner is being a bit quieter than usual or seems preoccupied with something DOES NOT MEAN THEY’RE CHEATING ON YOU or planning to break up with you, despite what the rest of the internet will tell you.

People go through things. If you think back on your own life (even just the past year), we’re betting you’ll be able to come up with some examples of times that you were super focused on something you were upset, anxious, or worried about. Times when maybe you weren’t the most tuned in to a partner or a friend. It’s normal, and it’s okay for this to happen.

2. Try not to panic

Emotional regulation is so hard. But starting any conversation from a place of heightened emotions is not going to lead to the clearest or most productive communication. Try to regulate a bit before you talk things through with your partner. Go for a walk/roll/sit outside, take a long bath, spend 6-8 hours scrolling through TikTok—whatever you need to do to get you in a calmer, less activated place.

3. Ask questions and listen to their answers

Let your partner know you want to check in. Plan to tell them what you’ve been noticing about how they’re acting but focus mostly on asking questions about what’s going on with them and how they’re feeling. If they’re willing to share what’s going on, really listen to what they’re saying. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay! It doesn’t mean it’s about you, though it’s reasonable for you to ask if it is. Just make sure you also ask what, if anything, you can do to help them feel supported. And if they haven’t given you any reason not to trust them, then trust them if they say there’s nothing going on.

4. Express what you need

You can also tell them what you need while being supportive of what they need. If their go-to coping mechanism of shutting down is causing feelings of insecurity to arise for you, you may need some reassurance from them now and again, and it’s okay to ask for that. You will probably have to meet somewhere in the middle, meaning you’ll both be a little uncomfortable.

5. Reevaluate and adjust as needed

As with any difficult time in a relationship, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Checking in with each other regularly to talk about how it’s all going can help ensure that resentment doesn’t build up. If the emotional withdrawal turns out not to be a passing thing but more of a permanent fixture in your relationship, you can make an active decision about whether that’s something you want to put up with or not. If you need a lot of close connection and reassurance, it may not work for you to go without that long term. Consider seeing a couples therapist to figure out if there’s a way for you to both get what you need.

6. Look out for signs of emotional abuse

Also keep in mind that withdrawing is different from withholding. Withholding emotionally is when someone intentionally cuts you off from an emotional connection with them in order to punish or control you. Learn more about emotional and other forms of abuse here.


P.S. Looking for more help sorting through relationship drama? Check out our top tips for nicer, more productive disagreements.

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