Emotionally withdrawn from relationship

The World of the Withdrawer: A Guide to Embracing Interdependence — The EFT Clinic

The World of the Withdrawer: A Guide to Embracing Interdependence

By Dr. Debi Gilmore, LMFT, CEFT

Have you ever been accused of being emotionally unavailable?

People who appear emotionally unavailable are often called avoidant because that is typically how they handle relationships. They often emotionally or physically withdraw in committed relationships and generally avoid intimacy and closeness with their partners and loved ones. 

Those who struggle with emotional openness and closeness often have thoughts such as, “If I anticipate you rejecting me, then I’m going to remain less emotionally invested in you.” However, the people in their world are completely unaware of that painful internal dialogue. Instead they may interpret the person’s avoidance as a lack of interest in them, or a general attitude of aloofness.  

Early relationship experiences influence how we view relationships in adulthood and may contribute to a tendency to emotionally or physically withdraw when tension arises.

As children and teens, we learn about relationships through our interactions with parents, siblings, extended family members, and social interactions at school, in sports, and other gatherings. Those early relationship experiences contribute to a person’s overall attachment style. As a person’s belief system is shaped by relationships, they develop strategic ways to cope with uncomfortable social situations. In closer relationships they adjust to a position in their interactional patterns such as withdrawing and avoiding contact at any cost. 

Withdrawers often find their partner’s needs overwhelming and burdening.

A partner who tends to withdraw in uncomfortable social interactions typically experience painful internal battles. Those internal battles explain why they struggle to be there for their partners when they need them.

Internal Thoughts of Withdrawers or Individuals with an Avoidant Attachment Style:

  • If deep down, I feel inadequate and fear I don’t deserve love, then my instincts tell me that eventually, you’re going to find out about me, realize that I’m not good enough, and break my heart.

  • “So I love you from a distance. I stay aloof and disengaged. I refuse to give you much of my time because it won’t hurt as much when you tell me you’re going to leave me.”

  • “I know it’s coming. The abandonment always happens.”

  • “My parents. My exes. They’ve all eventually left me.”

  • “I know you will too.”

  • “I put up my wall of protection and hold you at arm’s length. I’ve been overwhelmed by rejection, sadness, and feelings of being unworthy before, and it’s not something I can handle after I get close.”

  • “At my deepest core, I don’t feel I deserve your love.

Two Points to Consider:

  1. Feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness to be loved cultivate insecurity.

  2. To find true security in a relationship partners must cultivate interdependence. 

Avoidance and Independence

People who struggle with emotional connection don’t like hearing what their partner thinks or feels if it’s not what they want to hear. They might feel threatened when they hear that their partner is sad, lonely, disappointed, etc. If their partner says something they don’t like, the withdrawn or emotionally unavailable partner makes it emotionally costly to do so. 

This only makes their more emotionally open partner become more critical, pursuing, and pressuring to make the relationship work, even if it is unfulfilling for them.

Emotionally unavailable people do this because they feel empty. Their pain and sense of emptiness causes them to focus on their unhappiness, and that distraction prevents them from recognizing their partner’s softer emotions of loneliness, sadness, and pain. They believe they don’t have the capacity to devote time and effort to their partner’s needs.


Interdependence is the ability to depend on your partner while also being able to stand on your own two feet. It means taking responsibility for your part of the relationship as your partner reciprocates and does their part to equally invest in the relationship.

Interdependence is a process of being open to your partner’s feelings and needs while working with your partner to get your needs met. The world might label neediness as unhealthy and unnecessary; Interdependence is a very balanced and healthy way to fulfill your partner’s emotional needs while being able to launch into the world with inner security and greater self-worth.


1) Become more aware of the beliefs you have about yourself and your relationship

  • What causes you to feel you are unworthy of love and belonging?

  • Challenge the belief that if your partner gets to truly know you, they will reject you.  

  • Sit with your partner and invite them to explore the characteristics they see in you that makes you lovable and deserving of your partner’s affection. Be sure to do the same for them. 

2) Make your partner’s needs and feelings equal to yours

  • Doing this requires finding empathy and compassion for your partner’s feelings, needs, and requests for closeness.

  • At first, this can be challenging. A good first step is to share with them how much you want to be there for them, but sometimes it can be scary and difficult. 

  • This open sharing assists your partner in understanding that you do care.

  • The next step is to use one of the most powerful questions, “Help me understand your pain.”

3) Choose to follow a “no secrets” policy

  • Emotionally unavailable partners often have a secret life—a backup plan for when the relationship fails. You may have someone you reach out to outside the relationship because rejection is inevitable. A secret life with others is a way to avoid intimacy. If this is familiar to you, it is time to consider the barrier this creates preventing you from fully connecting in your most important relationships. 

  • Keeping secrets or secret relationships interferes with your ability to connect deeply with your partner. It requires you to offer complete transparency.

  • Not keeping secrets requires courage and vulnerability, but it is the only method that allows you to invest in the relationship and feel the love and acceptance you so desperately need.

  • Transparency is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone you care most about. It sends the message that you are fully invested. While this may be difficult, over time you will begin to realize that transparency provides you with security and stability with your partner.

4) Prioritize spending time with your partner

  • Place your partner (and children) at the top of your priority list.

  • Words are not as powerful as actions.

    • Words might sound comforting to your partner, but without actionable follow-through, they are meaningless. Making time for your partner also requires you to be available and accessible most of the time.

  • Often withdrawers will avoid phone calls, ignore text messages, and reply only when they want.

  • If you give your partner the reassurance that you are there for them, they will soften and feel more secure because you have given them the reassurance that you are invested in the relationship.

5) Allow yourself to feel and acknowledge whatever emotions appear

  • Become more aware of the stronger emotions that erupt when you are upset or hurt such as anger, frustration or even rage.  

  • When you are emotionally hurt, an alarm goes off in your body that prompts you to react in negative ways. You might do and say hurtful things that cut to the core of your partner’s vulnerabilities.

  • When you struggle with connecting emotionally, another coping strategy might be to find your partner’s weakness and exploit it, so you ultimately achieve the distance you are so familiar with—a quest to find that relatively safe place that actually prevents you from finding what you truly need. 

  • Another coping strategy might be to threaten to leave the relationship when you find yourself in relationship distress.

  • Using anger and personal attacks can become a way to get your partner to comply or do things your way.

  • Avoidance and manipulation prevent you from achieving what you really need.

  • Even if you get your way, you are still avoiding a relationship that will change the deeply rooted beliefs you have about yourself.

  • A loving relationship requires two people who work together equally.

6) Commit to being more transparent in your communication with each other

  • Share your deepest fears. Ask yourself, “What is my greatest fear surrounding our relationship?” Once you have identified that fear, share it with your partner and then ask them what their greatest fear might be. 

  • Share your life’s greatest disappointments and your biggest dreams. Ask your partner what theirs might be. 

  • Love requires more than physical touch. Love requires emotional touching, including eye contact, using a soft voice, and slowing down a conversation so there are moments of silence and pondering. It requires both your partner and you to let each other see your inner world.

  • Over time, allow your partner to get to know your inner self and when your partner shows interest, accept those moments as a gift of love from them. 

Hope for Withdrawers

These suggestions will each be challenging for you and will require consistent courage. At times you might feel overwhelmed, and maybe you will either want to criticize, blame, or withdraw to avoid conflict. When you feel like you can’t breathe from a lack of space, that is a solid sign that you are doing the right thing. You are actually contradicting the negative and damaging belief that you don’t deserve love. In that moment, exercise courage and let your partner know that you are struggling. Find the courage to ask your partner for help as your work to conquer old patterns and ways of coping.

Your childhood and failed relationships may have been a great source of pain, but when you work to challenge old patterns you will open the door to ultimate joy and fulfillment.

Dr. Debi Gilmore is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. Dr. Gilmore is a certified Emotionally Focused Therapist Supervisor and is the co-author of the Building A Lasting Connection Program. If you would like a therapist recommendation from Dr. Gilmore, please email her at Debi[@]theeftclinic. com.

Everything You Need To Know – Lifengoal

Have you ever experienced emotional withdrawal symptoms after spending time away from your partner or loved ones? If yes, then you are not alone.

This is a common problem that affects relationships.

In this article, we’re going to talk about everything you need to know about emotional withdrawals.

Let’s get started!

Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?

No worries. Let me send you a copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):