He sat downstairs in the living room, playing his video games and staring at his phone. I was in our bedroom, surrounded by pillows with a laptop in my lap. The TV was on, but I was barely paying attention to it.
My muscles tensed as I heard the heaviness of his feet make the stairs creak. I kept typing on my laptop, but listened as they advanced towards me.
He appeared in the room. I looked up to see if he was going to say anything. We met eyes and he mumbled about needing something then shuffled over to its location. I kept watching and waiting to see if he had something else to say, but he didn’t. He retrieved the item and then disappeared from the room again.
I exhaled and went back to typing my story.
Toward the end of our relationship, that is how we interacted. It was cold, mechanical, and measured. Neither of us saying what was on our minds because we were both tired of being rejected and fighting for understanding.
He retreated into his video games and his social media. I focused on my writing or numbed myself with TV watching.
My bed was lonely. He started sleeping on the couch rather than come to bed. The only time we spoke to one another was about dinner and bills.
Conversations were stunted with periods of silence. I felt disconnected from this person I once spent hours with talking about nothing.
We did this for weeks until it became so difficult to have a real conversation that neither of us felt strong enough to reach the other.
I cried at night. I’ve been alone, but I have never felt lonely with someone right beside me. We existed somewhere between barely holding on and neither of us letting go.
You Can Abandon Someone While Being With Them
I always thought abandonment was when someone wasn’t there. I thought they had to completely reject their responsibility to have abandoned you.
But someone can physically be with you on a daily basis, maintain responsibilities, and interact with you while being emotionally withdrawn.
Being emotionally abandoned is when one or both people shut down from the emotional needs of the relationship.
Within a relationship, we all need to feel seen, heard, appreciated, and loved.
When one or both people no longer make it a priority to take care of their partner, they emotionally check out of the relationship. It is very hard to get a relationship back on track when one person has mentally given up.
How Do You Check Out?
You no longer make your partner a source of your emotional sustenance. You find other things or people to be the focus or source of your emotional fulfillment.
It can be losing yourself in games, hobbies, or work. You can spend more time with friends and invest emotionally in them. It can be to start an emotional or physical affair. There are many ways to check out of intimacy with your partner. Anything that serves to help you get out of connecting with them is your excuse for emotionally abandoning your relationship.
Why Do You Check Out?
In my relationship, we had communication problems. No matter how I thought I was explaining how I felt, I didn’t feel heard or understood. Any attempt to discuss it would turn into an argument. And I would be exhausted while also feeling like the bad guy for being the only one who wanted to discuss the problems.
Eventually, I began to resent the rejection and instead of fighting for the relationship, I shut down, too. It was easier to lose myself in writing. Writing was easier. I was good at it. I got an immediate emotional payoff from it. It didn’t reject me. It was accepting and yielding. I could control it.
As I went silent, he didn’t fight it. He spent more time indulging in the things that stood between us which made me more resentful because he didn’t care to fix the problems.
We could both feel the coldness between us. It was like a wall dividing us even though we were in the same house day after day.
The Unhealed Emotional Wounds
Neither of us was equipped with the words to climb emotional hurdles.
If you looked at both of our histories, neither of us felt like we were seen, heard, appreciated, and loved as children.
We both suffered from emotional invisibility despite having parents who cared for our physical needs, were present, and took care of their responsibilities. When it came to our emotional needs, we both learned it was easier and safer to not need anything and to just be grateful for the presence and what we received in terms of physical care.
When we arrived at the moment of our relationship where we had to ask for what we needed, we became those same little children who were yelled at or punished for being themselves.
I acted out. I yelled, cried, and tried to use drama to get his attention. My parents were colder in their response so to get their attention, I had to be in crisis. His parents were more dramatic in how they responded, so he would withdraw his attention from them to passive-aggressively punish them.
And this was the impasse we stood at. We tried all the tools in our arsenal to manipulate the other into not needing anything more than the other was willing to give. I triggered him and he triggered me in turn—until we both gave up.
And we fell into the emotional invisibility we knew as children.
I would love to tell you that we got past it and now we are a loving couple, but this is not a fairytale. Our wounds were too deep.
But what I did walk away with was awareness and a desire to do better in future relationships. In my eyes, that lesson makes it all worth it.
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