Some angry people or partners of angry people don’t react to their own anger or to your anger by yelling, screaming, or getting agitated.
Instead they become “turtles” by going inward and shutting down. They “stonewall” any attempt to get them to communicate. They are emotionally done for the moment, thank you. Often they pout. Or start doing something else. The more you try to get them to “open up” the more they shut down.
When you are making every effort to address a problem, whether you are attempting to talk about something that is upsetting you, explain your feelings about an ongoing area of conflict, or try to reach a resolution – and your partner is pretending that you aren’t there – you are likely to reach a level of upset or anger so high that you can’t control it yourself. The angrier you get, the more your emotionally avoidant partner pulls back or withdraws. If you persist enough, they may finally react, but at this point, a major conflict will probably occur.
Two Types of Emotional Avoiders
Type 1 – The Emotionally Unavailable Partner: Some people just don’t relate to the world in term of emotions or emotional needs. It’s not that they don’t care about you or the relationship, it’s just that emotions just aren’t on their radar. They have very low need for nurturance from others or to need to nurture others. They don’t turn to others to solve their problems, instead preferring to handle things themselves. They are islands emotionally because they are pretty much self-sustaining. They are not particular angry; often they don’t have a clue as to why their partner is so upset with them.
Type 2 – The Stonewaller: This type of emotional avoider is reacting to what they perceive as an angry partner. They too are angry but they handle it by emotionally shutting down and walling off which further infuriates the other. They shut down to avoid further trouble with their spouse. But ironically, they get into more emotional trouble by withdrawing or staying silent. This is because partners of Stonewaller feel invalidated, not understood, and emotionally frustrated.
Why is emotional avoidance of either type harmful to the relationship?
Because it creates distance in the relationship due to lack of emotional closeness. Feelings of love and passion for each other gradually decrease if the emotional needs of either or both partners are not met. Many problems that could have been solved early in the relationship are now “perpetual” because of inability to successfully resolve conflicts with each other.
Agree ahead of time and practice a ritual called “Retreat and Think Things Over.” This means to have a plan to get way from each other for about 20 minutes when thing start to escalate into the yelling-withdrawal cycle. This will allow time for things to cool down before trying again to deal with the issue at hand.
Keep your commitment to indeed deal with the issue at a later time when things are calmer. During the cooling down period, consider meditating about the problem to get perceptive. An excellent app to do that can be downloaded free at headspace.com
What the emotional avoider should do
Increase “emotional intelligence” by learning to better understand the emotional components underlying the surface issue you are arguing about. Realize that stonewalling often only escalates things instead of creating “peace through avoidance,” as the stonewaller often wants.
What the partner should do
Decrease anger by reminding yourself that with the emotionally unavailable partner, this personality trait is probably hard-wired into his/her brain and has nothing to do with you or their love for you.
Give your partner more time and space to sort out his/her feelings over the issue that is upsetting you. Some people can’t access their feelings under pressure. Feeling attacked make them want to withdraw even more to protect themselves. Partners will “open up” more if they feel emotionally safe with you.
Coming soon: Dr Fiore’s Anger Fighters Audio Programs for Couples: Audio 2. 7 lessons to recognize and deal with deal with anger expressed as emotional avoidance.