Imagine that your partner tells you that they are not happy any longer. Maybe they suggest a separation or break up. It is human nature to become highly anxious in the face of rejection, and unfortunately to behave in ways that can make the situation worse. Highly anxious people tend to be aversive in their attempts to fix the problem.
In an effort to understand why their partner no longer wishes to be with them, they search for a reason why. Is it an affair, a mental health disorder, or is it their friendships? You think their single friends influence them away from you. So you find yourself doing things that are outside of your character. So you snoop through your partner’s phone records, discourage them from socializing or wake them to discuss, yet again, what the problem is. None of these attempts to fix the problem are endearing to the partner who wants less of you, not more.
I have found that although it is counter-intuitive to take a half step back when faced with rejection, it is often the most helpful response. At the very least, it won’t make the situation worse.
Consider your personal boundaries. Have you ever found yourself backing away from someone who moved in too closely to talk with you? We all have a preferred closeness/distance barometer. Intimate couples operate with such a barometer in their relationship with each other. Try to imagine a rubber band around both thumbs. If your thumbs are positioned too close together the rubber band falls limp. If your thumbs are too far apart, the rubber band breaks. Each partner seeks an optimal amount of space in which they can be connected but not engulfed by the other. Some couples like a lot of independence, whereas others prefer a high degree of closeness. A tug-of- war occurs when there is a large discrepancy between preferences; when one person wants closeness and the other wants distance. The one wanting more togetherness moves in too close, thereby causing the other to distance; the more distance, the closer the other moves in.
When you experience rejection, you feel them pulling away, causing the rubber band to stretch. You fear the rubber band will break. Sometimes you need to let them be distant and instead focus on yourself. You can’t prevent someone from leaving but you can control your own behavior. Focus on being your best self. Back off the emotional roller-coaster and redirect your energy to your own hobbies and interests. Widen your own support network. Stay responsibly connected to your partner to the degree that they desire, while being cordial, communicative and respectful.
Your partner will more likely take a step toward you if they perceive you as fun, interesting, and if you are not being negative or oppressive. If they begin to feel you backing away, they are more likely to draw closer. Perhaps they don’t want the rubber band to break. At this point, there may be hope of reconciliation.
But if your relationship has to end, leave it in a manner in which you can be proud and leave with self-respect. You will be in a better position to move forward without your partner if you have strengthened your support network and developed a full life.