“I just can’t talk to you!!”, she screamed, and then she stalked out of the room and slammed the door. He knew that the rest of the day he would get the silent treatment. Has this or a similar scenario occurred in your home? This is an example of emotional cut-off – an insidious, yet popular method to react to something we are unhappy about. Sometimes people remain engaged and civil with the ones they have a problem with, yet withhold their feelings or avoid talking about the problem to prevent further fighting. Others may go to the extreme of cutting off ALL communication with the one they have a problem with for days, months, or forever!
Emotional cut-off is when we pull away from someone, whether it is abrupt (stalking out of the room and slamming a door) or it can be barely detectable (pouting and smoldering). Curt responses, avoided eye contact, reduced interaction, or denial that there is even a problem, are all forms of cut-off as well. Just writing that last sentence makes me hurt! I’ve got to tell you, it is extremely painful to witness, because I can see something that the couples in these exchanges don’t see – what the person cutting off really wants is to be loved and accepted by their partner. Their reaction, however, is going to get them the exact opposite!
Why we do it? Emotional cut-off is a very primitive way to communicate that we are hurt and to protect ourselves. Granted, when we do it, we are using the communication skills of a 4 year old, but nevertheless, sometimes it’s the only tool we have to communicate our pain and to protect ourselves from further wounding. Sadly, it is often the ONLY tool in the person’s toolbox!
If you recognize this as something that you are doing in your relationship, it needs to stop – immediately! Emotional cut-off, while it has the appearance of safety to the person doing it, it inflicts wounds on your partner and causes damage to the relationship that later has to be repaired! I can almost guarantee that it is triggering some deep childhood wound in your partner and is keeping you from getting what you really want, which is to be loved by them. Your pain is real, but it is very important for you to learn how to communicate it in a healthy way to your partner. Using your ‘go to’ tool of emotional cut-off ensures that you will continue to get the same results you’ve always gotten.
For the person on the receiving end of cut-off, your job is to not let it trigger you. Yes, I said it! YOU learn how to not let his or her cut-off trigger you! I know all too well how difficult this is. We recognize cut-off and the pistons in our bodies start firing and all systems are fired up and ready to defend ourselves within milliseconds. All of our focus is on why our partner should not be having a reaction! This, too, will get us exactly the opposite of what we really want which is to be connected to our partner, so we have to learn to respond differently. I remember the first time I was able to do this successfully. I recognized that my husband was in pain and instead of reacting to what was coming at me; I was able to just be there for him in his pain. I focused on the pain his wounded little boy must be feeling and I got different results – connection!
If you are one who cuts-off: Talk about your pain instead of blaming your partner for triggering it.
If you are on the receiving end of cut-off: Their pain is only 10% about you and 90% about something else. Lovingly seek to find out what the 90% is about.
Don’t wait for your partner to change their behavior, YOU change YOURS!!