Towards and Away: Dynamics in Relationships and how to understand what’s really going on.
Everyone who becomes aware of being in “a relationship in trouble” is likely intimately familiar with the pulling-in / pushing away that occurs between a couple. Here’s what tends to happen when people in a relationship perform the awkward ‘dance’ of pushing, then pulling, then pushing away again…and what it means to your marriage in terms of breakup risks.
Courtship: Moving Towards your loved one
Attracting = drawing in
You’re likely familiar with this stage of a budding relationship, although in a long-term marriage, it can sometimes be hard to remember when this was your day-to-day existence. This is the ‘drawing in’ or ‘pulling towards’ stage of attraction.
- Often, drawing in is precisely what we do in the beginning of a romantic relationship.
- We put on our best face and we’re on our best behaviour.
- We charm, entertain, flatter, and remain attentive. We communicate lovingly and often.
- We don’t want to be rejected and will take great pains to prevent that from happening.
- We are loving, kind, helpful, agreeable, co-operative, positive, and likeable.
- Humans move towards loving warmth, seeking approval and acceptance.
In the ‘drawing in’ stages of an early relationship,
- We pay attention to what our partners are doing — and what interests them.
- We notice the little things and we comment on them — we are full of compliments and affirmations.
But in the pulling away (or pushing away) stages, we pay attention to our partners are doing — more accurately, to what they’re NOT doing that we wish they were doing.
- Or we notice the little things and we comment on them — but we are not complimenting them, we are expressing annoyance and displeasure.
- We become critical and distant; and we stop trying to ‘woo’ them. Instead, we wonder why they’re not wooing us like they used to…
Or if we’re the partner that’s pulling away (or pushing away), we wonder why our partner’s aren’t content to simply know we’re happy enough with the status quo of the relationship — and why they want more from us than we feel comfortable to give.
And sometimes this push/pull dynamic occurs simply because life has become busy.
- Children, academic pursuits, ageing parents or business pressures take precedence.
- The underlying relationship may be positive, but it’s simply suffering from a time and attention deficit.
Other times, the pulling in/pushing away may signal a growing rift in a relationship — one that can be healed and ‘brought back to love’ again.
But only if the right mindset is garnered at the right time…as otherwise, the rift can grow to a crevice. A small rift, or healable hurt, can lead to long term relationship distress if it becomes an ingrained, resentful viewpoint — a viewpoint of thinking the other person ‘doesn’t care enough’ or ‘doesn’t love or respect me’ enough.
And if you’re the one pushing away, it’s beneficial to genuinely understand your reasons.
Because when the pulling towards turns to pushing away in a relationship….it can spell serious trouble.
And it pays to pay attention to what’s going on beneath the surface.
Turmoil or uncertainty: Pulling Away from your loved one
Repelling – driving away
All of us who have loved have felt what it’s like when a partner pulls away — or pushes us away, just when we’re wanting to get closer and become more vulnerable or intimately connected.
- This often occurs when the power struggle kicks in.
- It’s challenging to feel vulnerable, so one partner might back away simply to protect themselves as they know that when they do back away — the other partner moves towards, and they thereby reaffirm they’re still wanted, loved and desired. (Note this isn’t the ONLY way to understand love in a relationship, and it often occurs with ambivalent attachment patterns).
- Or, for some, it’s about being right — e.g., a disagreement occurs, and the power-struggle of ‘who is right’ takes over.
- Behavior suggests we forget about feeling wanted and loved.
- Instead, rejecting, repulsive, argumentative, styles dominate.
This dynamic is too complex to discuss in a single blog, but overall, it happens to most couples, at some stage of their moving closer to one another, and when becoming more vulnerable.
Symptoms of a relationship in trouble: Driving Away interactions
What are Driving Away interactions?
- Being Right – I am right – which makes you wrong or stupid.
- Controlling – my way or the highway – do it my way – I know best – you have no idea – you are not smart enough –
- Perfectionist and controlling – I’m a perfectionist – my standards are the only way.
- Snapping back – hostile sharp tone – pushing away
- Nasty snide comments – ridicule – belittling put downs – ill-will
- Walk aways – moving away or shutting down the conversation when it feels uncomfortable rather than working it out; giving up when it feels like a repeat or is about a topic one of the partners isn’t willing to discuss, or is adamant they are unwilling to shift their perspective on
- Storm outs – refusing to talk about something the other partner wants to discuss – stone walling – ‘talk to the hand’
Often, the couples work it out on their own.
- They reach a balance of togetherness, inter-dependence and autonomy.
- They discover they are loved, and they relax a bit more, and let each other in.
- They openly communicate their desires, wants, needs and fears; and they find mutual respect and balanced levels of caring about the relationship, and each other’s welfare.
- They become more balanced as a couple in terms of mutual commitments, mutual desire, and giving a more equal amount (a balanced give-and-take in a relationship is a sign of a healthy relationship — if one partner is giving far too much and one partner, far too little, then the relationship is definitely in trouble, even if it seems an acceptable trade-off at the time).
Summary of the Towards vs Away Dynamic in relationships in trouble
So yes, couples will often push each other away at times; and pull each other in (towards) at other times; and this can fluctuate.
But in most relationships, an acceptable balance is struck, and both partners find it a satisfactory status quo.
But sometimes, pushing away and pulling in — especially if the push-pull dynamic seems extreme ends of the distance/closeness spectrum — can be a signal of a relationship in trouble, and one that needs dedicated attention — and quickly. And in need of understanding.
And, if unresolvable in a short period of time, it can be a strong signal the relationship’s facing a potential breakup, and would benefit from couples master coaching, relationship crisis counselling and/or ongoing marriage counselling.
Couples draw each other in OR drive each other away.
What leads to a relationship in trouble is the insidious nature of the distance and pushing away/pulling in dynamic, or when the closeness-vs-distance periods become extreme.
Sometimes it relates to one or both partners cheating; or not being willing to take responsibility for what infidelity will create in their relationship dynamic.
- Most couples start out in the ‘drawing in’ or ‘towards’ approach (re-read the first few paragraphs above).
- Many couples eventually get into trouble, however, because they shift from drawing in to driving away….
- AND far too often, they are totally unaware of this shift.
- It creeps in insidiously.
- Or one partner takes the pushing away a bit too far — they go missing for hours or days, threaten to leave or move out temporarily, only to move back in again.
- Or they refuse to hear their partner out, or discuss important topics; and their partner feels shut out, ignored and dismissed.
This is danger ground in marriages and clearly spells out that the relationship’s in trouble, and unlikely to last — or if it lasts, at least one person in the relationship is likely to feel dissatisfied and at risk of having an affair.
If this is your situation, contact me for a private chat to see if masters couples coaching can help you get your relationship healed before you decide to head towards the expensive, frequently messy, and nearly always traumatic divorce route.
In an urgent marital crisis? On the brink of a separation or divorce?
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Thanks for reading, and I look forward to helping facilitate your relationship healing (repair and recovery).
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