“Look…I don’t know how to talk to you
I don’t know how to ask you if you’re okay
My friends always feel the need to tell me things
Seems like they’re just happier than us these days
Yeah, these days I don’t know how to talk to you
I don’t know how to be there when you need me…” (1)
Do you find yourself resonating with these lyrics, specifically in regard to your seemingly avoidant and dismissive partner? Are they really not affectionate, not receiving your care the way you imagined? As an individual in a relationship, you may feel as though your support and availability for your partner is, if not should be, greatly beneficial for and appreciated by them. While you’re not necessarily wrong, this isn’t always the case, unfortunately (2). Despite your well-intentioned and genuine support during stressful and general times, your partner may still seem quite down and/or won’t truly accept your support, making you feel like your efforts and care are in vain. You might then come to some conclusion like, “Wow, they don’t care about my help whatsoever; I’m always here and they’re just taking me for granted, not appreciating me at all. What else could I possibly do,” maybe accompanied by a hair-damaging head scratch.
Look, I know the title of the song I just mentioned above (check out the references towards the bottom for the title, if needed…), but before you turn into Drake and, out of confusion and frustration, start feeling like you’re “too good” to and for your partner, let’s try and take our time to understand what exactly is going on with your partner and your attempts at supporting them.
“It feels like the only time you see me
Is when you turn your head to the side and look at me differently…” (1)
Let’s tackle why your partner seems overall down, negative, and ignoring you. If you’re here reading this (it’s *not* too late…shoutout to my Drake fans!), I’d assume you’re having trouble with a partner who has a particularly high avoidant attachment. Psychologists describe this avoidant attachment style as characterized by a discomfort with closeness, dependence, and trust, consequently leading to matters such as more negative emotions and lower levels of trust and satisfaction among others, in regards to relationships (3). Relevant to your troubles, when it comes to receiving support from you, your partner most likely tends to react more defensively, exhibiting negative responses to your support (2). In other words, they might be evaluating your support more negatively and therefore, will withdraw from you(2).
You may be thinking, “So, you’re confirming that I can’t really help my avoidant partner…should I not be there for them then?” However, I’d want to quickly clarify that by not supporting them, you’d practically be justifying their defensive reactions to you. These defensive reactions in individuals stem from low levels of support, which lead to the produced assumption that partners are unreliable and will fail to be there when needed (2). So what then?
“It can’t end like this
We gotta take time with this
[…]Let me see if this is something I can fix” (1)
Let me introduce you to what we’re gonna call “practical support.” This idea is defined by providing instrumental support through matters such as giving advice and guidance and providing helpful information, among others (2, 4). Along with simply being there and available for your partner, providing this practical support may be able to clearly demonstrate to your partner that you are taking them seriously and respecting them (4). As a result, you may be able to shatter your partner’s wall of negativity and avoidance, breaking through to them and helping them calm down from stressful situations and moments (2).
While this practical support itself can be quite effective, it is crucial to point out that its effective usage lies in providing it at a high level, to a point where your availability and care is received and seen as firmly undeniable to your partner and consequently overriding their negative expectations about partner-support (2). This directly addresses and confronts highly avoidant individuals’ worries regarding low levels of trust and their defensive tendencies.
Each partner and individual has their own distinct needs that may prove more favorable than others. If you haven’t given practical support a shot before, go ahead and try! Clearly show your partner that you are able and willing to help them through whatever they are going through, and break through (2). I (and Drake) wish you the best with your relationship!
- Graham, A., Fenty, R., Jefferies, P., Bidaye, M., Chin-Quee, D., Hershey, A., Sutherland, A., Martin, A., Lam, Terence. (2015). Too Good [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Drake-too-good-lyrics
- Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C., Simpson, J. A., & Fletcher, G. J. O. (2015). “All or nothing”: Attachment avoidance and the curvilinear effects of partner support. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(3), 450–475. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038866.supp (Supplemental)
- Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Nelligan, J. S. (1992). Support seeking and support giving within couples in an anxiety-provoking situation: The role of attachment styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(3), 434–446. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1684
- Simpson, J. A., Winterheld, H. A., Rholes, W. S., & Oriña, M. M. (2007). Working models of attachment and reactions to different forms of caregiving from romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 466–477. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1246