Do You Turn In – Or Do You Turn Away?

12 May

One of the most common forms of conflict I experience in my work as a couples therapist has to do with the notion of “turning in – or turning away” from one’s partner. And, it’s also the most common predictor (in my opinion, anyway) of whether a couple will stay together or disconnect.

What I mean is this: When you have a problem/inner conflict/personal loss, do you turn TOWARD your partner for support? Or do you turn away from your partner and isolate yourself?

I recently saw this up-close and personal with a friend whose husband is experiencing severe depression over job loss/ill mother/generalized anxiety, and his first instinct was to turn away from his wife, both physically and emotionally. He moved to the mainland, blamed her for his problems, and told her he didn’t want to be with her anymore. Quite a reaction, I know!grumpy man with bad attitude giving talk to hand gesture

Now that it’s been a few months, however, he’s seeing a therapist who’s helping him understand his depression. Why would he turn away from his wife when she’s there for support? Why push her away when she’s his partner? Why not turn TOWARD her when he needs help?

You can imagine his reaction has created a substantial disconnect between the couple – and she feels justified in wanting to call it quits.

Can this couple be saved? Can he learn to turn to his wife when he feels depressed? Can she learn to better reach-out when the depression takes hold? This all remains to be seen.

But it DOES bring up an important point – when we turn away from our partners in times of crisis we risk unplugging from the relationship and isolating the person who is supposed to be there for support. And when we disconnect from each other, divorce can seem like a good option and, sometimes, the only one.


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