One of the patterns I have noticed in the couples I have been working with lately is that they engage in ‘relationship exits’.
A relationship exit can be described as when one partner acts out their feelings instead of communicating about what is happening for them in a way that is respectful and promotes connection rather than disconnection. Any behaviour that has you reducing your involvement in the relationship is as an exit.
It can be valuable to identify what are the exits you use in your relationship to avoid connection, communication and intimacy. Once you identify these exits, you can then increase the energy and intimacy in your relationship by communicating your thoughts and feelings, rather than avoiding your partner by engaging in activities or behaviours that are more pleasurable for you to do.
Which Relationship Exits Do You Use?
- working long hours and weekends
- staying on the computer for extended periods of time
- watching TV
- cleaning the house or car
- hanging out with friends
- spending too much time on your iPhone/smartphone
- sleeping more than is needed
- playing sports
- immersing yourself in internet pornography
- constant playing of computer games
- focusing on the children
Of course, not all exits are a problem and many are a functional and necessary part of life. Ask yourself the question, ‘do I use these behaviours to avoid my partner and the relationship?’
Often relationship exits come about because one or both partners struggle with the skill of differentiation. This is the ability to ‘hold onto yourself’ in the face of conflict, disagreement or feelings of fear and anxiety. It is an essential skill that needs to be developed in couples, so they can manage their own emotions, even when their partner cannot.
A relationship exit is often a way of avoiding differentiation. It is a short term solution for a longer term problem. As long as a couple avoids differentiation and the working through of issues, the relationship cannot grow and move forward.
- Each create a list of all the exits that you use to avoid your relationship and then consider which ones you are willing to modify and which ones you will find difficult.
- Share your list with your partner and discuss how these relationship exits affect each other.
- Negotiate with each other which behaviours you are willing to modify.
- Check in with each other after 2 weeks to give feedback as to how the other has gone with closing their relationship exits.
- Keep each other accountable and give feedback when you notice your partner, or yourself, engaging in relationship exits.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.