The decision to reject love and intimacy (and to withhold love) can stem from a conscious decision or for unconscious reasons (e.g., you feel unworthy of love). In a previous post I discussed how impaired self-esteem can lead you to reject overtures of love due to deep-seated beliefs that you are undeserving. When this occurs, you place a ceiling on the positives you are able to take in. In this case, the partner who feels unworthy brings these long-standing issues to his/her marriage or relationship, and those issues have a powerful influence on the course of the relationship.
As one of my readers astutely pointed out, another reason for one partner’s rejection of love and intimacy might stem from the dynamics of the relationship itself. Let’s look at this aspect of blocked intimacy more closely.
Emotional Intimacy & The Relationship Dance
The relationship as a dance is an appropriate metaphor to help us better understand the dynamics of intimacy. (Don’t worry, you can have two left feet like me and still grasp the implications of this metaphor.) During a literal dance each partner reacts–very often you react to your partner’s moves and s/he reacts to yours. So in your relationship you and your partner are continuously acting and reacting to each other. Imagine you and your partner having this brief exchange:
You: I didn’t like it when you made fun of me in front of everyone. You know I’m embarrassed about being clumsy.
Partner: I was just kidding. And I didn’t make the joke until I realized you were okay (and that you didn’t fall on the cat that was at the bottom of the stairs).
You: But that wasn’t funny, it felt hurtful.
Partner: (visibly and audibly annoyed now) Geez, I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me? (Exits the room, slams the door on the way out…)
In this interpersonal dance how do you think your would react to your partner’s apology? Would you just hear the words “I’m sorry,” or would you react to his/her tone of voice? In this case you might reject the apology because his/her emotional message sends a very different and conflicting message. So you might remain closed off and your feelings of hurt unresolved.
If, on the other hand, the apology felt genuine to you, you might forgive her/him and your relationship dance will get back into step.