You are currently viewing 204: How to Understand Your Emotional Withdrawer

204: How to Understand Your Emotional Withdrawer

Learn why your withdrawing partner feels they are keeping you safer by shutting down. Understand what is good and useful about withdrawing behavior. Hear George walk Laurie through a better way to help her husband feel safe about opening up in a personal example.

Sex therapist and author Laurie Watson, together with expert, couples therapist and author George Faller delve into the world of the Emotional Distancer to help you resolve your relationship conflicts with smart moves.


Laurie Watson: Today we’re going to talk about emotional withdrawing, how to help those of you who are withdrawers and also how to help those of us who are married to withdrawers.

Laurie Watson: Hey, you’re listening to Foreplay Radio for couples and sex therapy with your host, myself, Laurie Watson, sex therapist and George Fowler, expert couples therapist. George and I are counselors, educators, authors, researchers, contributors and leaders in our field with a collective 50 years of experience working with couples and sex therapy. We’re grounded in the best and most scientific research from attachment theory with our emphasis on emotionally focused therapy, using all we’ve learned from our clients, our work, and our own lives. We want to have this open, frank and informative conversation about love and sex to help you and your partner keep it hot.

George Faller: I can already see Laurie, your bias, I don’t even like the word withdraw. I call us protectors. As a recovering withdrawer myself all right. Language is important, but we’ll get into that.

Laurie Watson: Language is important. Okay. Okay. Protectors. So what do you know about these protectors, George, since you’re recovering, right?

George Faller: You know what they say once a withdrawer, always a withdrawer. I’m not sure about that. But for me it’s really important to recognize that there are many different ways of seeing the world. And my job as a therapist is to hold multiple truths. So I’m thinking about an example of a young couple I saw recently where they’re both professionals. Too busy. They wake up in the morning and they don’t even get a chance to talk to each other and give each other a kiss. They’re going to different schools with kids and off to hectic careers and the wife’s at works and she starts to think, “Wow, what’s happening? We’re starting to drift apart. We don’t get a chance to talk to each other.” So what does she do? She takes out her phone and she sends him a text.

Laurie Watson: Of course.

George Faller: Just thinking about us. Really hoping we get a chance to talk tonight. We got a lot going on. It feels like we’re drifting apart a little bit. It’d be really great if we could reignite some passion and have a conversation and… So she’s sends out this text, which is a beautiful thing.

Laurie Watson: Just what he wants to get at work.

George Faller: He’s at work. Be him for a second. Right? You’re busy. You’re already multitasking and taking care of what you have to take care of and you get this text and the gist of this text is we want to talk tonight. What does that feel like for him?

Laurie Watson: It’s like the four most horrible words in the English language, right? Let’s talk tonight.

George Faller: He knows it’s a good thing and healthy, happy afterwards, but the initial feeling is probably like, Ugh, all right. This is what we have to do. But now he’s put in a position like, what do I do? I need to respond to it, but I really don’t have time to get into this stuff, so what does this guy decide to do? He sends her a smiley face back.

Laurie Watson: Which is great.

George Faller: I’m responding, but I’m not really needing to get into it because tonight we’re going to talk about.

Laurie Watson: Right, exactly. Okay. I understand that.

George Faller: Except when you’re her and you get the smiley face, what does that do to you?

Laurie Watson: This is it?

George Faller: This is it?

Laurie Watson: This is all you’re going to give me?

George Faller: I poured out my soul. I took a risk. I gave you my heart on a platter. We have to engage. I talked about how important engagement and attention is to a relationship. And what do I get back? A smiley face. Are you kidding me? So what does she do with that? 16 paragraphs long. Basically telling him this is unacceptable. You promised that you’d work as hard as me. You’re not even coming close. You know Sue Johnson said in her book it’s all about the partner’s ability to stay engaged and you’re not staying engaged.

Laurie Watson: Which she’s read and he hasn’t.

George Faller: She’s highlighted key sections and said she’s done all this work. 16 paragraphs of a message that basically he’s coming up short and that’s not acceptable and they going to have to deal with it.

Laurie Watson: And he gets this at work.

George Faller: He gets this at work. Now what do you do with that one?

Laurie Watson: So he’s like, Oh my gosh.

George Faller: 16 paragraphs. You have enough hours in a day to deal with that?

Laurie Watson: Nope.

George Faller: You’re going to have to deal with it tonight anyway. So what’s the best thing to do?

Laurie Watson: Oh no.

George Faller: Compartmentalize. Focus on work and just put that phone away.

Laurie Watson: Oh no.

George Faller: You already feel they oh no coming. Right? What’s it like for her?

Laurie Watson: Yeah, she’s like rejected.

George Faller: Rejected and every time she checks that phone, seeing if he finally texted back, she’s getting rejected and she’s getting mad at him. She’s getting mad at herself and it’s just building and you can feel this energy starting to spill over.

Laurie Watson: She’s like, why did I do that? I’m such a fool, I shouldn’t have sent this.

George Faller: I have a job too, why-

Laurie Watson: He’s not responding. He doesn’t care about me.

George Faller: Right. How dare I? I married a creep. What’s wrong with him? He knows I’m suffering here. He don’t even care. He’s not respond. So she goes back and forth between feeling sad and angry at him and angry at herself. Probably gets angry at her boss. Then she goes back to him. I mean, it just goes all over the place. Meanwhile, he’s at work, compartmentalizing. He’s focused on what it needs to do. So what does she do?

Laurie Watson: That is the blessing of being a withdrawer, is focus, right?

George Faller: There’s a reason half the population does it this way, Laurie. So finally she can’t take it anymore. What does she do? She calls him, but she’s very strategic when she calls. She doesn’t call at like a random time. She says, I know between 12 and 12:30 he has lunch and that’s his sacred time and I’ll give him 15 minutes to eat this sandwich that I made for him, by the way. And then I will call at 12:15. So she’s-

Laurie Watson: Doesn’t care about this, man.

George Faller: I care about this man and I want to have a successful conversation. Right? So at 12:15, at like 12:04 she’s looking at that clock. She’s waiting. That energy is just building. She wants to call. She wants to engage. 12:15 here it comes. She calls up. You be him. That’s the cool thing about being a therapist, trying to walk in both of these worlds, right? You’ve just finished the sandwich. You’re checking the ESPN scores, you’ve got 15 minutes to relax before you get back into the rat race. And here comes a phone call. You can still see him looking down. It’s his wife’s smiley picture with a song that they like as she calls. And what do you think he’s going to do with that?

Laurie Watson: Oh my gosh. He’s not going to answer.

George Faller: What chance does he have in 15 minutes to deal with all that’s going to come his way and if he answers that phone, he’s probably going to be late to a meeting, he’s going to be stressed out and nothing… He’s going to talk about tonight anyway. What’s the pressing issue? We’re going to have to deal with this tonight.

Laurie Watson: When we’ll have time.

George Faller: When we have time.

Laurie Watson: After the kids are in bed.

George Faller: After the kids are in bed.

Laurie Watson: And it’s 9:30 and we’re exhausted. We’ll talk about it then.

George Faller: You’re getting these withdrawers as well. He’s not trying to hurt her, he just don’t want escalation so he puts that phone away. Right? He doesn’t answer it. What does that do to her?

Laurie Watson: So she’s just angry. Hurt.

George Faller: I mean, this is like confirmation of your worst fears. You know he’s available and he’s not responding.

Laurie Watson: He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t love me.

George Faller: Right.

Laurie Watson: And she’s seeing the end of the relationship, right? I mean she’s, it’s over.

George Faller: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Why did I marry this guy? He doesn’t love me.

George Faller: Well, that’s what the emotion starts to turn into, this unfairness, this outrage that says, how did I marry such a creep that I don’t get a chance? He’s not even responding in my moment of greatest need. This is unacceptable. I can’t stay in a marriage like this. So again, what is she going to do with that energy? She drives to his office.

Laurie Watson: Oh no. A serious pursuer.

George Faller: Serious pursuer, right? You are him. You get a 30 second warning from your secretary. Be careful. She’s pissed and coming in. What do you do?

Laurie Watson: Duck and cover.

George Faller: Where’s the only place you can duck and cover? He goes to the bathroom. In the bathroom he gives them some literally space. Gives these withdrawers time to think and reset. The most interesting thing is what he does in the bathroom.

Laurie Watson: What does he do?

George Faller: Don’t judge it. You’re good?

Laurie Watson: I’m good.

George Faller: All right. What does he do with his phone?

Laurie Watson: Oh, no.

George Faller: Drops his phone in the toilet bowl.

Laurie Watson: Of course.

George Faller: Because what does that give him?

Laurie Watson: Gives him time.

George Faller: Time and it gives him a good excuse.

Laurie Watson: Right.

George Faller: My phone was broken. That’s the only reason I didn’t respond back and answer your phone and all these different things.

Laurie Watson: Right.

George Faller: Again, it’s pretty ingenious if, not saying it’s right to lie to your partner, but it’s when people get desperate, they do desperate things. The worst thing is what comes for the next six months. Every single day she tells him, tell me the truth. Did you really? Are you that disturbed that you would actually drop your own phone because you’re scared of talking to your wife? If you could just tell me the truth, we can repair this, but if you never tell the truth, right? Every single day she says that. What does he say every single day?

Laurie Watson: I did. I promise it’s the truth.

George Faller: Once you go down a path, stay on that path. Don’t veer off.

Laurie Watson: Don’t tell.

George Faller: So again, for me, I just, I laughed hearing that story because it so captures the dynamics in most couples. What are the good reasons why this lady is so flooded with emotion? She’s gone the whole spectrum from sadness to rage, to anger back and fear, all these emotions. The flip side is how do you understand this man’s world, that it’s all about performing and getting it right, and there emotions aren’t an area where they have a lot of success. So no wonder why they want to avoid them.

Laurie Watson: I think what you captured in that is for the pursuing partner. It’s the sin of omission in their partner. It’s the not doing often, the not coming forward, the not answering. And that happens to them repeatedly, right? Because every time you said she looked at her phone, she felt rejected. And that can happen 20 times in a minute. She turned her phone over all the time and so she’s feeling that omission and he’s thinking, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything wrong. So how are we going to understand this, this guy who’s the withdrawer and why is he doing this?

George Faller: The first thing I want to mention is there are many different types of withdrawers. There are withdrawers who are very fixer-focused or intellectual. They get lost in their heads. There are sexual withdrawers. There are obedience kind of wimpy withdrawers, everything’s their fault. There’s angry withdrawers. I don’t want to put everyone into a box, but what the general category of withdrawers all have in common is that space and distance is their friend. It gives them a chance to reset, to think, to calm down. It’s staying in emotions that they don’t have a lot of success in, that their experience when they stay, things get worse. They don’t like who they become. They don’t like who their partner becomes. So that space that we really need to recognize. They’re not taking that space to piss their partner off. They’re taking that space to make themselves feel safer. For most withdrawers, usually when things calm down, they’ll come back out again.

Laurie Watson: Right. They want to collect their thoughts so that what they do put out there is calm and rational and they’re not angry. They don’t want to blow their partner away. And so oftentimes they’re pulling back.

George Faller: Going away avoids escalation. It gives them a sense of control. They feel safer. They’re not going to keep enabling this bad behavior.

Laurie Watson: And they have a fantasy, right? That if they go away long enough, their partner’s going to forget the issue and it’s just going to blow over.

George Faller: Well, I love how you said the word fantasy coming from a pursuer, right? Because that’s actually the way it works for withdrawers, that the going away, when they go away, they hope things are going to calm down. And for them it does. They have that same hope for their partner. That’s the setup here. Their partner doesn’t calm down when they go away, their partner actually escalates. But what they’re hoping for doesn’t really feel like a fantasy because it’s their reality. Things do calm down when you gain distance and space.

Laurie Watson: For them.

George Faller: For them. So they’re only trying to love their partner, the way they’ve learned to love themselves.

Laurie Watson: They’re giving them space.

George Faller: Right. So again, I think it’s so important for pursuers to start recognizing you take it a little bit less personal when you start recognizing this stuff has worked for them. That’s the reason they do it and there’s a function to the withdraw. Right? If you can start off connecting to that. For me, if we didn’t learn how to turn off our emotions and stay calm and cool under pressure, we wouldn’t be here as a species. This is so adaptive. When I was crawling into a fire, I did not want the firefighter next to me saying, “George, I’m scared and it’s hot.” We love this vulnerability stuff and the goal isn’t to turn withdrawers into pursuers, the goal is to help withdrawers become more flexible. How do I turn off my feelings when that’s adaptive and I learned to turn them back on when it feels safe in the intimacy in my own relationships.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. Both places. We want them to be able to come forward when it’s the right thing to do and it’s going to help them. But of course we sometimes need to turn off our emotions, right? When we’re in danger, when there is a task at hand, it is important. Okay, let’s come right back. Foreplay, couples and sex therapy.

Laurie Watson: Hey, I want to let you guys know all about George. He’s written and contributed to several books, and I’d especially like to draw your attention to his book, Sacred Stress, a radically different approach to using life’s challenges for positive change. His book is about a mission on how you adopt new strategies and turn stresses into a positive force in your life. And who among us doesn’t live with a lot of stress these days? We’ll keep you posted as to all he’s doing, but George and other EFT therapists all around the country and the world hold couples retreats called Hold Me Tight, which is developed by Sue Johnson, and it helps secure your own relationship. If you’d like therapy with George, find him at

Laurie Watson: So we’re back. And George, I’d love to have you talk a little bit further about what are the moves that these withdrawers make and what’s the classic stuff that they do and how do we help them stop doing that?

George Faller: Easy. Easy.

Laurie Watson: Especially if we’re married to them.

George Faller: So again, we’re always starting with the adaptive part that when it’s necessary, if somebody’s going to come in and you hear gunshots outside, you’re going to want that calm part of me that’s going to head towards the threat instead of running away. And because there’s such training. If we go back to the root of, if you look at children, how did they develop more of this avoidant attachment style, is when people don’t respond. So if you don’t pick a baby up who’s crying, that baby will start to learn how to self soothe itself.

Laurie Watson: Exactly. I talk about that there’s two kinds of people. There’s good babies and crying babies and good babies don’t have enough response. And so oftentimes rather than crying their little heads off, they gurgle and coo and just hope that somebody will respond. But I think it’s a price, right? They give up something in terms of relational hope.

George Faller: It’s a huge price. Right? But that’s part two of the equation, is trying to get withdrawers to see. So again, you’re pushing, right? Try to get to see the costs. We do know that self-soothing is nowhere near as effective or efficient as co-regulation, right? Turning towards somebody else to join nervous system. So when a baby cries and its parent picks it up, that parent can calm in seconds what it’s going to take that baby to do on its own for maybe 20 minutes. So the natural state is co-regulation, but it’s that dance between we need to know how to do relationships well and how to differentiate and do our own world. Withdrawers just over rely on that self regulation, right? And because of that, they’re going to have classic moves. They’re going to use humor as a way of relieving stress.

George Faller: They’re going to use anger to push their partner away. They’re going to focus on the positive. They’re going to intellectualize.

Laurie Watson: I love that one, when they focus on the positive. Let’s not think about all this hard stuff, right? Let’s just move forward.

George Faller: Let’s just agree to disagree.

Laurie Watson: Especially after an affair.

George Faller: That’s a little bit, that’s a little harder.

Laurie Watson: Let’s just move forward.

George Faller: Let’s use little examples, right? You thought last night’s dinner sucked. I thought it was pretty good. There is no reason fighting over it. I’ll just agree with you and let’s, Oh, let’s agree to disagree. Instead, let’s focus on a movie we’re going to see, let’s enjoy each other’s company. If I can get you to join me in the positive emotion, the threat is reduced. Unfortunately a pursuer sees that as me not being interested, not caring and it just escalates.

Laurie Watson: Not listening.

George Faller: It’s not listening. So again, we’re just trying to understand the good reasons why people see the world the way they do. What’s so sad is I can look at my own example growing up. I remember striking out a few times and I was seven years old and baseball. And my dad was watching me and I was sad and I remember my dad seeing me crying and tell me, “If you keep crying, I will give you something to cry about.” I learned to turn off my tears. That was very adaptive when I learned to run into buildings or run into gunfights or things like that, to turn off your fears. The problem is when I get married now I see my wife’s tears. What do you think that does to me?

Laurie Watson: Shuts you down.

George Faller: It shuts me down because I see that as bad and as weak. So the good news here is it’s never too late for withdrawers to start trying to put words to these places that still are being triggered. They just don’t have words. It’s not their fault. They’re not trying to withhold them from their partner. They just don’t really know how to talk about them. So, so much of what we’re trying to do is make withdrawers feel safe to start really looking inward. The description a lot of withdrawers will use is, it feels like a relationship’s a minefield. And the worst thing about a minefield, it’s not even stepping on the mine, it’s not knowing when it’s going to happen.

Laurie Watson: Because you’re in constant tension.

George Faller: Constant scanning. And if you’re scanning your environment, you’re trying to perform and get it right and anticipate what your partner needs. All your focus is outside of you. And then the pursuer wants to know what you feel, the withdrawer they don’t know because that’s not where their focus is. I want to tell you what you want to hear because I want to perform.

George Faller: I want you to be happy. Happy wife, happy life. That’s so often the mindset. So to ask withdrawers about their own emotional world, they often don’t have the words to speak about it. So what we’re trying to do is to help them meet them. What’s it like to not know how to fix something?

Laurie Watson: Yeah, terrible. Especially if you’re a man and you’re used to fixing stuff.

George Faller: And look at the word you use. Terrible. It’s a good pursuer word, right? Or a nicer withdrawer word, that must be hard. That must be challenging. We don’t want a lot of emotion in our words. We don’t want to make it more dramatic than it needs to be. So yes, if I’m a fixer and I don’t know how to fix it, that’s a hard place for me to be. Most areas of my life I’m good at it and this really important area, I’m not really sure what to do.

Laurie Watson: You’re right. It’s not terrible.

George Faller: It is terrible. It is. We’re going to lead them to terrible, but you can’t come right out of the gate with terrible. When you start recognizing that if you’re constantly, it’s almost like spidey senses. If you’re constantly scanning for threat and you always focus on the defense, there’s not a lot of room for your own needs or the offence. And that’s why withdrawers, when you ask them what do they need, they’ll say, less fighting. They don’t really know how to put words to their longings.

Laurie Watson: Trying to give you the right answer.

George Faller: They’re trying to give you the right answer. Right. And how sad is that? I have two sons that I’m really trying to get them to be able to see that as a strength that they could un-know their inner world, that that just gives them… For me, the secret to all relationships is based on the quality of engagement. And if you don’t know parts of who you are, you’re putting all this energy into hiding parts of yourself, there’s not that much to engage with.

Laurie Watson: Right, right.

George Faller: So we’re trying to get withdrawers to look in the mirror and start recognizing they’ve been set up to perform. They climb this ladder trying to get to the top and to win and compete. And what they don’t recognize is even when they get there, the ladder doesn’t lead anywhere. They find it sets up distance in their relationships [crosstalk 00:20:16]. Right. Distance in their own inner world.

Laurie Watson: Which is often the midlife crisis, right? They’ve gotten there.

George Faller: Right.

Laurie Watson: And then their relationship is empty and they don’t know what to do with it, particularly men, but also women are withdrawers as well. But sometimes at midlife it turns around and they say, Hey, I need to catch up here.

George Faller: Right.

Laurie Watson: I need to learn relationship.

George Faller: And just to let your heart be impacted by what are the choices? What would you, each day you face this choice, go away from a fight, which is what makes you feel safe, but what does that do to your partner?

Laurie Watson: Yeah, your partner is going to feel abandoned and left.

George Faller: Right. And tell you you’re failing and the last thing you want to do is fail your partner so they don’t want to go away. It just shows you how bad it is to actually stay in it. What is it about the escalating emotion that really makes withdrawers feel so helpless, so much like they’re failing that they’ll choose actually the failure itself than to stay in the environment of that? Right, and then who sees that? That moment I’m always trying to get withdrawers to put words to is that moment right when they retreat. Why are they retreating? Why are they shutting down? Because their attempts to fix, to stay engaged are not working. They feel like they’re failing. They feel helpless. When you understand emotions, it’s their moment of greatest need and nobody’s even seeing it.

Laurie Watson: That’s the moment.

George Faller: That’s the moment. Everybody’s focused on a pursuer and the words and the tears and a big emotion, and then withdrawers don’t know how to show their emotion but on the inside there’s a lot going on and nobody even helps them put words to it. So for me it’s really simple. If you want withdrawers to engage more, they have to have success when they’re doing emotions.

Laurie Watson: Okay, wait, wait, wait, slow that down. So, okay, let’s, if you want them-

George Faller: For our listeners, they’re going to write this one down.

Laurie Watson: Okay, write this down. Write this down. Wisdom by G.

George Faller: There you go.

Laurie Watson: Okay. If we want… Say it again.

George Faller: If you want withdrawers to do more emotions, they have to have success with their emotions. You want them to do more vulnerability, they have to have success when they do vulnerability.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. And like a classic pursuer move is, I knew you were feeling all this stuff and you never told me. Right when they open up and start talking about it, they’re slammed again with not having done it sooner.

George Faller: Exactly. Or the pursuer will top them and say, but what about me? I’ve been doing also… But whatever it is-

Laurie Watson: You think you feel like you’re failing.

George Faller: This is a math equation for me, right? If two plus two equals four and that always means they don’t have success. If we don’t change those numbers, they shouldn’t actually re-engage emotionally. That’s why they need the withdrawers help. The missing ingredient for withdrawers is success with their feelings. If you can help them tap into it and they can share it, and afterwards they share I feel like I was failing, I feel stuck, and the pursuer says, Oh, I didn’t know you felt that way. I’m so sorry. And they get a big hug. If their nervous system feels better after the encounter, they will do more withdrawer re engagement.

Laurie Watson: They will come back to their partner.

George Faller: Their hearts are made for these conversations. Even though they’ve been trained to put up walls, there’s always a part of their heart that knows better that we do better with these more vulnerable feelings in relationship than alone. So what I’m trying to tap into is more powerful than all the training that they’ve had that have tried to kind of numb that out.

Laurie Watson: We’re trying to tap into what’s instinctual, what’s human about that co-regulation of actually telling your partner what’s going on inside will help them calm down faster and and soothe the situation better than this going away.

George Faller: Most withdrawers have made a choice. Even though it’s not conscious. They’ve made a choice not to feel, because when they have felt it has not worked so well for them. They’ve been left alone. They’ve blamed themselves so what has worked for them is distancing themselves from those feelings. If we want them to change that move, this isn’t a choice they’re just going to make on their own. They need to have that success with their partner.

Laurie Watson: Right. Okay, so we’re going to come back and you’re going to teach us just how to do that. How to help them with that. What the partners should do.

George Faller: Sounds like a plan.

Speaker 3: Speaking with certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson from Awakening Center for couples and intimacy. Laurie, what is an intensive?

Laurie Watson: So an intensive is 12 to 14 hours of therapy all in one weekend and it’s a way to really make fast progress compared to weekly therapy. I mean, there’s just so much more you can get done when you have a chunk of time.

Speaker 3: Overcome the challenges in your relationship and your sex life. Learn more about intensives and Awakening Center’s other services at

Laurie Watson: We’re back listening to Foreplay radio and we’re talking about emotional withdrawing and so George, you got to help me here. So one of the patterns that my husband and I have struggled with is he’s the guy who, he’s a finance guru and I mean he does amazing spreadsheets, absolute magic. He’s helped me a lot at work trying to figure out what’s what and how to think about my income, what to do with it. But in our personal finances, sometimes I’ll ask my husband, Hey, can we afford X, Y, and Z? And guess what he always says?

Laurie Watson: Yes, sure. No, no. He always says, of course. Of course we can afford that, Laurie, because he wants to make me happy and I’m actually willing to wait. I’m actually checking in for information and just to know, it’s rarely something that I can’t wait. I can wait to spend money, but he wants to make me happy. He wants me to feel like there’s abundance and we can do whatever. And so he will tell me yes. And then later on, for instance, the credit card will come due and we won’t be able to pay it off all the way or something. And then of course I’m angry. How did this happen? Well, you spent so much money. I know, but I asked you if it was okay and he said, well, it is okay. And it’s okay, blah, blah blah.

George Faller: Here’s the critical question.

Laurie Watson: Let’s hear it.

George Faller: What would happen for your husband if he said no, it’s not okay? So again, the thing you want, all our listeners want to do is their partner goes away. That’s what they do. But what would happen if they didn’t go away? That’s the fear. That’s what drives the going away.

Laurie Watson: Sure.

George Faller: So what will happen, what do you think your husband would feel if he would actually have to tell you no, if he would actually disappoint you, what might happen?

Laurie Watson: You know, I think obviously we’ve lived this one for awhile, but I think for him he would say it would mean he was a failure. We hadn’t made enough money or he hadn’t made enough money or to say no to me would be limiting me in some way in that he’s afraid I would be unhappy. I would complain, I would feel disappointed. He doesn’t want me to be disappointed.

George Faller: So that’s the critical miss in that moment. Right? That because he wants to avoid those fears being triggered, that he’s failing or disappointing you. He doesn’t want to feel what that feels like. He wants to just say yes to not feel those things, but in not feeling it, he’s also missing the opportunity for what? Any reassurance, a comfort he’d get in those places. So the course withdrawers don’t often recognize to protect themselves from the bad, they also miss the opportunity for the good. So it’s hard for you to see-

Laurie Watson: And you know he’s going to be less [inaudible 00:28:02].

George Faller: It’s good and he’s going to pick up some lessons from this.

Laurie Watson: How much free therapy can I get in this thing?

George Faller: Why I’m saying that is because he deserves to be seen emotionally.

Laurie Watson: Absolutely.

George Faller: His fears deserve comfort. He’s trying to reassure yours. I mean, this is what breaks my heart when you’re working with a lot of withdrawers is, one, they’ve gotten so used to dealing with their own fears and emotions by themselves that they just accept, they resign themselves that that’s the best that they have. They just let the storm pass and just deal with it on their own. I mean, I imagine my son’s dealing with life, their emotions that way, it would just crush me as a dad. But part two’s even worse. Part two is, even despite that, they want to give to their partners what they don’t get themselves, that’s love. He wants you not to feel bad. He don’t want you to feel fear or rejection or hurt. So he wants to give you something he don’t get himself. But the problem with empathy is, if I’m going to have to feel your sadness and comfort you in your sadness, I have to be willing to feel what?

Laurie Watson: His sadness.

George Faller: Right.

Laurie Watson: Your own sadness.

George Faller: That’s a problem. Because I don’t want to feel emotions. I don’t want to feel these things. So now I’m also set up to fail my partner.

Laurie Watson: I said it right? He came from the family where conflict was cold and there was not much attunement. There wasn’t much caring about what he was feeling.

George Faller: Right. So what’s worse? That he deals with these feelings on his own or that he tries to love you and help you with your feelings and he’s set up to fail with that because he’s not really sure how that… We know how to receive love in our vulnerability. We learn how to give it by receiving it first, right? So if we look at it, it’s a great example, it’s a little tiny example, but it happens millions and millions of time. We don’t even see his fear. We don’t even see his triggers and therefore it never gets connected. How different would it be if he could say to you, Hey Laurie, I’m not really sure, but I’m afraid to tell you that because I don’t want to disappoint you because that sends me to a dark place where I start thinking I’m not the man you’d want because I haven’t provided for you.

Laurie Watson: Oh, you’re making me cry. It is true. It’s absolutely true. He can’t ever receive from me-

George Faller: If he never asks.

Laurie Watson: Reassurance because he’s not there. He doesn’t want to feel that. He probably goes past that so quickly to do the thing that he thinks is the right thing to do to make your wife happy, that he doesn’t receive that part that is so important and never received. I would say, I know his history.

George Faller: Exactly. We have a nice saying in EFT, no risky, no getty. Right. If you don’t let people in, you might avoid some bad things, but you will never get the healing that you deserve to have. So I’m rooting for your husband to be seen in those moments because there is a better way. The science and research is crystal clear on this. There’s a better way to deal with his feelings than just hiding it in that situation. If you’re going towards battle, great, you need to hide those feelings, but when you’re doing it with your own relationship, with your own partner, there’s a better way.

Laurie Watson: So help me, pursuing person here. How do we help our withdrawing partner? Because honestly, if I say to him, are you sure? Are you sure we have enough money? That sounds critical. That sounds nagging. That sounds like I’m doubting him, when what he really wants is for my confidence. It’s sometimes I think as a pursuing partner it feels like a double bind. You can’t do anything right.

George Faller: Well, I think it’s really helpful, once you start knowing more of his world, to speak explicitly to that. So for you to say, Hey, listen, I know this is hard to talk about because your default set wants to avoid these conversations, but I’m really hoping that you’re not left unseen in these places too. So I’m going to ask you some of these questions and what is the goal of it? It’s success in his vulnerability. So if you keep that, if you start off taking it less personal.

Laurie Watson: It’s not a question about the money. I mean, every conversation has to be, somewhere in our minds, about intimacy and building something between us. Because once that’s built, we can make any decision. So you’re right. I can predict essentially to him as I asked that question about what I imagine he’s going through in a gentle, soft way.

George Faller: I think the starting point is that reframe for you is saying it’s not because he doesn’t care. It’s because he cares so much. He’s willing to hide his own feelings to try to make sure he performs well for you. If you can take it a little less personal, it’s a lot easier for the safe, the space to feel safer for him. Part two is then to be proactive and saying, right now let me give him a taste of success with his feelings. Let me keep the focus on him because every time I return the focus on me, I run the risk that he’s going to feel like he’s failing. But if I can keep my eyes locked on him, my curiosity opening up my heart to say, who is this man? Why is it so difficult? I know that’s not my truth, but why is it so hard for him to worry about failing me? I want to understand who he is so he can share that place with me and he could have a little bit of success doing that.

Laurie Watson: I love that. I totally love that. Your example about the couple who is hurry-scurrying around their life, they don’t have much time. I think so much of our lives, we feel like we have to make expedient decisions. We have to just know what to do and we don’t slow it down enough to build the marriage, to build the foundation so that all our decisions can be made more easily because this is it. This is the heart of the matter. I know that my husband listening is going to really like you, George.

George Faller: This is the good news for the withdrawers and the pursuers, you get a chance to give your husband this success that no one gives him. There’s no one more special than you in their lives to train their bodies that there’s a better way of doing this. They’re not going to lose the ability to turn it off when they need. They’re just going to become more flexible. But in these moments where they start to have success, why would they do… When I get withdrawers to start engaging, they don’t shut up. They got years of makeup to do. That’s the good news here. Right?

Laurie Watson: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve seen that too. That’s great. Okay, well thanks for helping me.

George Faller: Let me add one last thing just in closing for these withdrawers, because this is the counter intuitive but the cure. This is what Rumi said hundreds of years ago, right? The cure for the pain lies in the pain. If we hide these places from ourselves and our partner, we’ll never get help in them, but if we have the courage to tap into them when it’s safe and our partner can focus on us, then our partner’s responsiveness to us really makes the world a lot safer place, which opens up a whole flourishing of energy for these withdrawers to engage and have much more vitality in their lives.

Laurie Watson: Say it again. Say Rumi again.

George Faller: The cure for the pain lies in the pain. You’ve got to head towards the places that for good reasons you’ve avoided. In the past you haven’t had success, but that doesn’t mean success isn’t coming for you in the future.

Laurie Watson: Thanks for listening. Foreplay couples and sex therapy. Hi Foreplay fam. The biggest support you can give us is sharing our podcast with a friend. You can find us also on socials, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and we’d love your questions and feedback and really do use these to guide our show. We’d also love it if you’d rate and review us. If you’re interested in learning more about us and our mission, look us up on our hot new website,

Speaker 3: Call in your questions to the Foreplay question voicemail, dial 833 my foreplay, that’s 833, the number four play, and we’ll use the questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor.