Why is my partner withdrawn?
For those that don't know we have just entered the second year of having three children. Our youngest is 15 months and as yet has not slept a night through (though we did get close last night... If only our eldest hadn't woke us up...)
Having three children may be a breeze for some but for us it has really pushed us to the brink of sanity at times. It has been a joy, a challenge and a tad overwhelming. And it has hit our marriage hard. It feels like we had some time before the baby came along but now we have none. Our waking hours are spent doing school run, feeding and entertaining a 1 and 4 year old, tidying, laundry and trying to build a business. The same sorts of things as every parent on the planet. But this last two weeks we took our eyes (for each other) off the ball. For some time now Ben and I have been unwittingly escaping to hobbies, business and some unusual, sudden interests. And don't get me wrong hobbies are great, but when you are using them as an escape from your life - and your marriage - there's cause for concern and for a while we missed it.
Here's what generally happens:
Life feels difficult, isn't going as you planned, is overwhelming or dare I say mundane. For some the repetitiveness drains you and for others the desperation for alone time drives you to tears. There are many things about parenthood, lets face it that make you want to run a million miles. And although you stay put, your mind and your attention starts to wander. Your phone use increases, social media becomes more attractive, there are more programs that you have to watch, there's the course you just signed up for, the hobby that's suddenly a passion, verging on obsession. And pretty soon, often without even knowing, we are emotionally withdrawn.
And although it can take us a while to realise our distractions are taking us away, there are some helpful signs: Our kids behaviour worsens, we'll be snapping at our partners more, feeling more resentment than usual, we're more emotional, more sensitive and stare into space more.
This is nothing to feel guilty about, this is normal and it's a sign to stop. breathe. talk. and start again. Here is what works for us when we withdraw:
Whatever the means you are using to escape, recognise it and take a break. Not permanently, just while you work out what's happening to you emotionally.
Ideally to your partner, but otherwise a friend, sister/brother, (or me - you can email me and I'll listen without judgement). The recent conversation for Ben and I went something like this: Me: "I feel like we're not in a good place, I've been totally withdrawn. I'm escaping to 'blah' because I have felt absolutely overwhelmed with parenting our girls. Ben agreed and admitted that he too had been escaping to a hobby he hadn't thought about in years because he too was feeling the monotony of parenting.
It's amazing how saying this stuff aloud releases so much tension and instantly brings you closer together.
A favourite past time of mine. Now that you've recognised and spoken about what you're doing, it's time to make a plan. How are you going to get the support, the rest and the understanding that you need? How are you going to ensure that your individual needs as people get met without taking you away emotionally? What are you going to do to ensure that you remain open and strong as a couple?
How I have loved the phrase: tomorrow is another day for the past 6 years. We get to start over every single morning. And if we start to withdraw again even the next day we start back at step one and two. Stop and talk.
We never stop growing and changing. Sometimes we'll be smashing it, we'll feel like the best versions of ourselves, we'll be amazing partners and parents but most of the time we won't. Most of the time we need to work on our relationships and ourselves, most of the time we need the support of people around us, most of the time there's an emptiness, a wondering, a worry. But it doesn't have to get the better of us. We as humans are incredibly flawed and wonderful at the same time. I have seen people survive personal losses that I am unsure I would, I have seen people come together in support and love when they will get nothing in return. I have seen us thrive. I see happiness all the time, it's right there, we just need to keep working towards it, one mundane step at a time.