3 patterns that form a slow, steady drip of betrayal that might signal the end more surely than another lover.
Pretty much everyone who is in a committed relationship agrees that if they found out their partner had sex, even once, with someone else it would be a challenge to move past it and stay together. That’s the big one-event shake up that most people assume is the beginning of the end if not the mile marker for the end itself.
Everyone needs to withdraw and unplug but don’t retreat in order to get even. Hurting someone emotionally always leaves a mark.
While both of us would be nonplussed if the other had an affair or one-night-stand, there are three patterns that we’ve even fallen prey to that we know could be (almost) silent killers for us and probably any other couple.
You’ve heard about “ghosting” right? Pretty extreme and most people wouldn’t dream of doing it to the love of their life, and most of us would notice pretty quickly if we were being ghosted.
But there are so many ways of withholding attention that aren’t even intentional. Preoccupation – you know, like with your phone, or the television (we don’t have one of those, but the internet is a close runner up.) Or maybe just preoccupation with your own thoughts – we’re both prone to getting lost in our heads, in the clouds, or in time. Or shutting down – crawling into the shell of self to process, to stew, to ponder, or just to hang out and relax.
Even if it’s not intended to hurt, when you withhold your attention from your partner, your lover, that person who is in your life because they get off on being with you, you’re committing a “micro-aggression” toward that thing that keeps you together.
And if you are withholding attention as a way to prove a point, or strike back, stop that right now. Everyone needs to withdraw and unplug but don’t retreat in order to get even. Hurting someone emotionally always leaves a mark.
Everyone brings past relationships into the current dynamic. Whether those relationships were with spouses, lovers, friends, siblings, parents, authority figures, or the Grinch next door, they create patterns of trust, and lack of it.
Deciding to withhold trust is one of the deepest betrayals you can inflict on a partner.
None of those patterns are about your partner, but they certainly affect your partner. We’ve navigated land mines and dungeons of trigger wires and green-eyed monsters until we can guess when something is a “this is about me not you” kind of thing, but when either of us senses a lack of trust it can still range all the way from a minor road bump to a steep hill.
But if you’re withholding your trust for a reason, justified or not, a shifting of boundaries or treating a partner with suspicion is always going to result in tension. Deciding to withhold trust is one of the deepest betrayals you can inflict on a partner. It puts up a wall, and reflects their worst traits back at them. No relationship, however loving, can survive that for very long.
Intimacy isn’t going through the motions. And it isn’t (always) a romantic performance or expectation. Intimacy is meeting on the same, shared plane of experience. On purpose.
Physical intimacy is important to a romantic partnership. Actually, for us anyway, it’s vital. It’s not just about sex, that’s only one of many ways we physically demonstrate our love for each other. But there is nothing wrong with saying that sexual intimacy is a cornerstone of our physical intimacy. But emotional intimacy is even more important. Without that the physical or sexual intimacy is just “off.” We’re not really in it together if there is an emotional barrier between us.
… if either of us ever withheld intimacy … or if we ever displaced that intimacy usually reserved for each other onto another person, it’s likely that we would cause wounds that would take a long time to heal …
It’s perfectly natural that there are times one or both of us will just need to be left alone. For one thing, we’re both introverts (highly social, but definitely introverts.) For another thing, we’re human. So it’s going to happen.
But if either of us ever withheld intimacy — of any kind — not from our own need for personal time and space, but as a tactic or punishment, or if we ever displaced that intimacy usually reserved for each other onto another person, it’s likely that we would cause wounds that would take a long time to heal – if they ever did. We both have intimate friends, but those friends never come first for either us. First is always reserved just for each other.
None of these patterns are the instant end game that a sexual fling might be, but they are all slow, steady drips of betrayal that eventually erode even the strongest relationship.
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I’m pleased I read this. I can identify with all too much of it. My wife (now divorcing) exhibited “all of the above” towards me to some extent. With hindsight, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it other than communicate. I remember the old saying that the 3 secrets of a good relationship are Communication, Communication and Communication. So, I broached the subject, as delicately as I could, asking What was wrong?, What had I done? What had I not done? etc. It is my style that when I sense something isn’t right,… Read more »
Interesting points made here. I was in a relationship where my ex tried to erode my self-confidence, or at the very least, in hindsight, that’s what I think he was doing. His reasons for saying hurtful remarks disguised as “jokes” or to tease me about my body, such as telling me my breasts used to be bigger or firmer and other such “observations”, eventually led me to wonder why on earth he even wanted to be with me when he seemed to keep on finding fault with my skin, my hair, my weight etc. At the time I thought it… Read more »
Physical intimacy is important to a romantic partnership. Actually, for us anyway, it’s vital. It’s not just about sex, that’s only one of many ways we physically demonstrate our love for each other. But there is nothing wrong with saying that sexual intimacy is a cornerstone of our physical intimacy. But emotional intimacy is even more important. Without that the physical or sexual intimacy is just “off.” We’re not really in it together if there is an emotional barrier between us.” Generally speaking, I would agree with you. However, there are certainly instances where a lack of sexual intimacy causes… Read more »
Nothing is “always the case.” Which is why I cannot accept your “It is just that married women just do not show desire for their husbands as they did for their past lovers” as anything more than another generalization. Which is where I say “don’t go there either.” I don’t care how many “experts” write about it or how “generally true” it is, there is NO absolute that applies to all people. And for every generalization there is most likely a cause – and one cause is that we accept it to be generally true. When we speak in absolutes… Read more »
@ Dixie, “there is NO absolute that applies to all people.” Where did I say there was such an absolute? I clearly did not say so. Nor did I suggest as much. We must have ways to characterize a population of things, people, events, etc. That is what a generalization means. That is why generalizations are useful. For example, if the average height of an American male is 5’10”, it does not mean ALL America males are 5″10″. It is simply what is typical. So, when our “experts”, often using research, reach certain conclusions, it does not apply to all… Read more »
When you begin a conversation with “don’t go there” then offer a “I know women don’t like to hear it but it’s true” we’re already hampered in our ability to communicate. Perhaps you didn’t mean to state it as a universal fact, but it’s written that way. Why am I “hostile?” If you want to define it as hostile then again, it’s hard to have a conversation. But if we were to say the average height of men is 5’10” and we were also to say that is undesirable, we could have a conversation about why that is true. We… Read more »
@ Dixie, OK. Your point is well taken….I now see your perspective. “But to change it the conversation cannot be based only on what groups have in common, it must address causes and anomalies.” I agree….we must not be content with mere observations. We must seek to discover the causes and any anomalies. We have to ask the “why?” Then seek answers. This is what “experts” like Ester Perel, Lisa Diamond, and others are trying to do. No? My intent is always to engage in open and honest discourse. I get very frustrated in many debates with lots of women… Read more »
Ah – well yes, there are too many on any side of any debate who come in with a “who’s to blame” mentality. I just try to figure out “who’s to bless” if you will, because that often leads to more of us being “blessed.” (and I do NOT mean that in a religious sense at all.) When we find the anomalies – the outliers – we often find the way to break the mold.
Thank YOU for coming back and responding so graciously!
“….a large body of evidence does show that women tend to lose interest in sex far more frequently than men do in marriage.” A large body of evidence (from speaking with real women) is that they lose interest in their husband, not with sex itself. Many a man has been shocked to discover his ex-wife doing double time on the horizontal mambo with other men when he was convinced she was a cold fish. Moral of the story, men just want to get their nuts off and with whom rarely matters. Women care very much with whom they mate. Call… Read more »
@ Tancred, Yes I agree with you. It is not sex that married women tend to lose interest. Rather, it is sex with their husband. This is exactly what Ester Perel and others are finding. Lisa Diamond in her book “Sexual Fluidity….” find the same with lesbians… My advice to men is to focus on being a terrific lover to women and not a husband or long term partner. The big picture is that often lack of sexual desire is NOT an indicator of other underlying relationship issues. Certainly, it can be. The authors pointed out how a lack of… Read more »
I have a lot of respect for Ester Perel. A very insightful lady. She has a great TED talk about desire. Clumsily paraphrased, maintaining separateness, the ability to see your partner with new eyes does more to spark desire than a month of cuddling and candlelit dinners. Having experienced several occasions of seeing my spouse at the top of her professional game, surrounded by a crowd of admirers who want to bask in the glow of her attention, however momentarily, I can attest that it’s powerfully arousing. We may argue over stupid stuff, but we each give as good as… Read more »
This is spot on. These were the three biggest issues in my marriage. No cheating but the withholding, and it feels like a betrayal and they feed off each other. Really good article. I will be sharing this.