Finding Your Way with a Silent Partner
You're sitting with your partner who you perceive to be unusually quiet and not responding to your comments about your day, the news, what's for dinner, etc. Your start feeling anxious and wonder if your partner is upset with you. Your needs for connection, security, information, and clarity come up. You decide to check in about what you perceive, "You seem quiet is something up?" Your partner responds with no eye contact and the words, "No, I'm fine." You respond with, "You seem upset. What's wrong?" Your partner remains silent and not offering eye contact.
Internally or aloud, you sigh. This is an all too familiar exchange. Yet, anxiety pushes for you to keep inquiring. You hope that something will happen to create connection and give you relief. Perhaps the biggest hindrance with anxiety around connection is that it directs your attention to the other person. They become the target for your investigation and possibly your patient as the upset one who needs your help.
Underneath all this there is often an unconscious limiting belief that is something like: "If the other person is not actively trying to meet my needs, I don't get to have those needs." It is as though, their turning away makes your needs invalid or implies you are not worthy of having your needs met. According to this premise, you must help them get to a place of responsiveness so that your needs can exist again and you can have relief from anxiety.
This is just one possible layer of your experience in that moment. There is also your genuine caring and desire to connect. Your partner is also having a layered experience. They may be tired. They may perceive you as invasive or trying to label them. Or, they may just be enjoying quiet contentment.
Your needs for relief, security, connection, information, and clarity are valid regardless of what state they are in. It's okay for you to state them and make a direct request. Here are some possible versions of honest expression:
I'm feeling anxious to connect. Are you available to share about our days?
I notice that as I talk and you are silent and looking towards stuff in the room, I start to feel anxious because I'm looking for connection. Is this not a good time to connect?
When I ask direct questions and you remain silent, I feel confused and frustrated because I'm wanting clarity. Would you be willing to tell me what's happening for you right now?
I need some self-care. I'm going to go do some art for a while. (You might simply choose to care of yourself with self soothing around unmet needs and make space for self empathy)
I notice I'm feeling tender from a long day and need some comfort. I would enjoy a snuggle and some time to talk and I could also enjoy a cup of tea and time reading my book. What's up for you?
Good to see you. I am looking forward to connecting. Is this a good time?
I'm happy to see you and have time to connect. I'd love to hear about your day if you're up for talking?
These last two examples of honest expression include a celebration of the need for connection. Coming from the energy of the need, you have space for flexibility and space to hear from your partner first.
This can be a difficult place to stay grounded in as it requires secure differentiation. In other words, you remain very clear that your partner meeting your needs is truly a gift to you, not an obligation. Also, you stay clear that their availability is not a reflection of your lovability. Your goodness and lovability is inviolable.
In the long run, you are increasing a felt sense of your own lovability and innate goodness and gaining confidence that you are still okay when there is a rupture in the connection. You learn to welcome your anxiety as an old friend, but not let it run the show. You begin to trust that you can tolerate the discomfort of not knowing and the experience of disconnect. From this place in yourself, the frequency of unmet needs for you with your partner isn't a threat, but rather, it is information. Unmet needs invite compassionate curiosity and wise discernment.
The next time you notice you are not getting the responsiveness you would like from your partner or someone close to you, pause, sit back and relax your face and shoulders and focus on three slow inhales and exhales. Bring your attention to heart and notice what arises.