Being With An Emotionally Unavailable Man
Imagine your partner is highly intelligent and you know there is a good heart there. He shows his love by holding doors open for you, giving you all the material things he thinks you might ever need. He shows that he cares by making the effort of joining you on your visits to family every so often. He fixes things for you around the house out of love and he tells funny anecdotes during dinner parties. These are some of the ways he shows his devotion.
Now… does this scenario below sound remotely familiar, at least in tone?
Question to my partner: “Do you want to go to the park and feed the ducks?”
Response: “We could go to the park and feed the ducks.”
One might think this is a positive response but really, has the actual question been answered? What if this is most often the type of response you receive? Would you feel you are making your partner happy? Or do you find yourself wondering if your partner is even permitting you to get to know them, to allow you to take a part in making them happy?
So, instead do you liken ‘conversations’ to parallel monologues? Often my partner does this is by keeping all his thought processes inside and a final decision is expressed verbally with virtually no discussion. Moreover, the result can still give no clue as to their personal preferences! It doesn’t just happen with the little things but also more important matters.
Try these other scenarios:
What if you ask your partner why they enjoy a particular sport, which they play several times a week, but they seem unable to express why, they ‘just do’?
Imagine you’ve just taken a week off work to go on holiday and you are looking forward finally to spend some quality time with your other half. You are both on the plane when your parter tells you that he will go play squash every other day during the vacation, several hours at a time with friends, and when he says this he has absolutely no idea he has just hurt you and doesn’t understand why you are upset.
Now imagine trying to discuss your future together, anything which would involve expressing how you feel. In particular you are particularly concerned about trying to determine how your partner feels on topics that are important to you, in order to work things through and reach an agreement or happy compromise. What if, almost always, your partner takes most of what you say as personal criticism and turns into a ball of agitated anxiety, starts fidgeting, edges towards the door and exits, ending the discussion before it had even got going?
The result is the feeling that you’ve never had a deep conversation with your other half. All these basic important matters feel forever unresolved and you cannot recall a time when a plan has ever been mutually agreed (without a painful, annoying bust up).
Whenever it is obvious you are upset and angry with these unsatisfactory exchanges his response in order to make you happy again is to take you out for dinner because he does not know what else to do. He does not know what to say. He keeps his mouth shut for fear of upsetting you further, and you are flabbergasted that he just doesn’t engage in a proper conversation or say the most obvious things that would help.
You try to explain everything from your point of view in simple honest terms in every which way possible. Explanations which everyone else you are acquainted with would understand. Instead his response betrays the fact he still does not get where you are coming from or what you are getting at and you are left wondering does he even know me?
You may at some point tell him to leave you alone, though you stand there in the hope he will see that you just want a hug but he misses the cue completely, leaves you alone as requested and of course does not understand why you are upset thereafter.
Despite all this, you know he is trying his best.
It can take literally years to identity these patterns of behaviour and oddities. If you can relate, perhaps like me you have wondered if your partner is on the autistic spectrum. That might be true to some extent. What is less well known but definitely worth considering is a personality construct or trait, which comes with varying degrees of severity, called Alexithymia, the Greek for ‘no words for emotions’. A person with the condition is called an Alexithymic or Alexithymiac and will experience difficulty identifying and describing emotions in the self and in others. Despite experts saying it affects about 1 in 10 people, there is remarkably little information available about the trait.
However, besides Wikipedia, a particularly good detailed description of Alexithymia posted by an alexithymic can be found on You Tube:
What is Alexithymia? Do I Have Feelings? by Runaway Germ
I believe Alexithymia impacts me, through my partner, by presenting as insensitivity, his inability to ‘see’ me and an inability to understand how I feel. This can translate to a near total lack of emotional support.
It all sounds rather gloomy but one must remember that Alexithymia does not mean not having emotions, just difficulty deciphering them or ‘connecting the dots’ and therefore it is much harder knowing what to do (including how not to upset other people).
When trying to have difficult conversations, what I have found surprisingly useful is to use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ ones. Also helpful is the use of positive reinforcement.
Lastly, how can I personally tell that my partner loves me? I see it in the way he looks at me; in our joint photos it’s a look often captured on camera! I acknowledge his efforts and limitations. I take note and appreciate the things he does for me and no-one else.