Wendy Warner is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. In addition to working with couples, children, and individuals, Wendy also enjoys teaching the premarital classes for all couples planning to marry at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Macomb.
What is your natural tendency when tension enters a conversation? Do you want to talk it out, or do you get quiet and try to retreat? When people sense disconnect in their relationships, they tend to either pursue their partner for further discussion or withdraw from their partner to avoid further conflict.
Attachment theory by John Bowlby says that our natural instinct when we feel detached from a significant loved one is to send out distress signals. When a baby needs something, like food or soothing, they cry for someone to care for them. As adults, we send distress signals too. However, our signals sound more like angry comments stemming from hurt when our needs aren’t being met. In order to repair and restore the connection, we pursue a discussion with our loved one. Unfortunately, it can sound demanding, resentful or angry as our distress and disconnect increases. This does not tend to draw our loved one near, although that is ultimately what we would like.
The partner that is more likely to withdraw will read the pursuer’s attempts to reconnect as an unsafe conversation that they need to retreat from as quickly as possible. They will sense the anger and conclude it will be better for the relationship to withdraw, so they can protect the relationship from a fight. Sadly this only serves to signal rejection or unavailability to the pursuer and reactivates the pursuer’s distress. Couples counseling can bring understanding and a healthier approach to restoring connection in relationships.