Caitlyn thought of herself as gentle and loving. She made others feel good. She tried to keep the peace.
But her boyfriend Hudson was driving her crazy.
It started a few months after they moved in together. Until then, she thought she and Hudson saw eye-to-eye on everything. She’d never been so in tune with anyone.
Then she started noticing things.
Just little things at first. Insensitive comments that Hudson made. Thoughtless things he did.
Then she started noticing the things he wasn’t doing anymore.
Like kissing her when he left to go out. Or asking her if she wanted coffee when he made himself a cup.
It was as if he wasn’t even trying anymore…
Like she was just someone he lived with….
Not someone he treasured.
When Caitlyn came to me, she was frantic. She just knew this relationship was heading the same direction as all her past relationships. Now that Hudson “had” her, he’d stopped valuing her.
“I don’t know why I do it, James,” she said. “I let these guys think they can take me for granted. Once they have a sure thing, they think they can treat me whatever way they want. I’ve had enough.”
Caitlyn was ready to take a stand. The only problem was…
She was taking a stand against the wrong thing.
Even Great Relationships Can Feel Bad
When someone we love pulls away, or stops doing those loving things we’ve come to count on, it hurts.
It feels like rejection. It feels like a sign of doom.
Some of us are more sensitive to the ebb and flow of love energy in the relationship than others.
Any time our partners do or say anything that seems the slightest bit unloving, we feel it like a kick in the gut.
We work so hard on behaving in a loving way. Why isn’t our partner making the same effort?
But if an outsider looked at our relationship, they wouldn’t see what we see.
They’d see a pretty good relationship. Sure, maybe not perfect, but definitely a relationship worth investing in.
That’s what I saw when I looked at Caitlyn’s relationship.
I knew she was worried, but there was nothing in Hudson’s behavior that indicated he was pulling away from her. He cared about her. He wanted to be with her.
Was Caitlyn overreacting, or was something else going on?
Sensitive to Rejection
For many of us, the threat of the loss of love is very real.
We’ve been rejected before. We’ve been abandoned by people we trusted.
Those experiences led us to become extra-sensitive to signs that a relationship might be cooling.
There’s a name for this:
People with rejection sensitivity don’t just dislike rejection; they expect it.
They see rejection everywhere. In cool facial expressions. In ambiguous comments. In the minutes it took to get a response by text.
They’re not choosing to be more sensitive. Brain scans have found that they’re wired to see rejection cues that other people can’t see.
For people who aren’t sensitive in that way, rejection is just part of life. Not everyone is going to like us. Even our most well-meaning friends are going to forget us or ignore us from time to time. That’s okay.
But for people with rejection sensitivity, those experiences cause great distress. Every time they get rebuffed, left out, or put down, it feels like total rejection.
So they become extra-invested in protecting themselves. They become even more vigilant for signs that someone doesn’t love or care for them as much as they claim. They can act in ways that seem jealous, controlling, or hostile.
Tragically, that behavior can end up pushing away people who genuinely care about them.
3 Questions to Reframe Rejection
Caitlyn was getting ready to confront Hudson.
But her feelings of anger and resentment weren’t going to help.
I encouraged Caitlyn to ask herself 3 questions before she did anything:
- Could it be the case that his behavior was not directed at her personally?
Was it possible that there was an alternative explanation—he was distracted, stressed about something, or simply didn’t realize how his words came across?
- Could it be the case that this was just normal relationship conflict?
All relationships have some degree of conflict. Healthy couples trust they’re going to stay together, even if they’re going through a rough patch.
- Could this be an opportunity to create a closer connection instead of going on the offensive?
No matter how Caitlyn chose to deal with the situation, I wanted her to think about ways she could use her feelings of vulnerability to bring her and Hudson closer together.
Attacking him or closing down emotionally wasn’t going to protect her from rejection. It was going to create an even bigger gulf between them.
When you love someone, you don’t want to push them away before they have the chance to leave you. You want to fight for your love, not against it.
That may mean making yourself even more vulnerable by talking about how scared you feel. A man who loves you won’t mind reassuring you that he wants to be with you, today and always.