Many of us have been there before… Our partner is acting distant, something about them is off, and they’re not as engaged as they used to be. (Maybe they’re even a little bit cold.) And all their recent behaviors have you confused and asking yourself, What’s going on?
Then when you ask them, they say they’re fine, or they’re tired, or that work is stressing them out. But is that really it?
Not knowing why your partner is acting weird can be hurtful, especially if they’re not acknowledging that they’re acting differently.
If you’re at a loss but trying to figure out what’s going on, here are 13 possible explanations:
1. Their feelings are hurt.
You may not realize it, but there may have been something you said or did that hurt your partner’s feelings. It could be something as small as making an innocent joke they took a different way, or something you said that triggered an old hurt. According to Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today,” many people don’t know how to talk about feeling hurt, so instead they grow distant.
“The best thing you can do is report on what you notice,” she explains. “Say something like, ‘I notice you’re not talking this morning,’ and then ask what’s wrong.”
2. They’re scared.
“Men especially can get spooked when things become serious, causing them to pull back,” says Emily Lyons, a matchmaker and dating coach. If the person you’re with is withdrawing, it may be because things are moving too fast for them and they’re not ready. The feelings they have may be too intense, or the feelings they sense from you may be too much. Either way, they’re feeling scared and aren’t sure how to react.
3. They’re cheating.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room. If someone is acting weird, they could be hiding something, and that could include cheating.
“If they’re hiding their phones, locking computers, or disappearing it’s time to find out what’s going on,” says Lyons.
4. They have a work issue that’s troubling them.
If your partner seems preoccupied and isn’t connecting with you, it might be something at work that’s troubling them.
“Give it a little time, your partner may be thinking it through, then say ‘I notice you seem worried. Can I help?” says Tessina. “Don’t always assume it’s about you.”
5. They have poor relationship skills.
Knowing how to be and act in a relationship doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and there are a lot of people who don’t know how to do it.
“They may not have ever seen a healthy, happy relationship demonstrated in their parents or caregivers,” says Tessina. “So they will need a confrontation, coaching, and training from you.”
6. They have family troubles.
“Perhaps someone close to your partner is having trouble, and your partner is worried about them,” says Tessina. “In that case, say, ‘You’ve seemed upset since you talked to your sister. What’s wrong?”
7. Their feelings have changed
“If someone has suddenly changed their behavior in a relationship, it could mean their feelings are not what they used to be,” explains Lyons.
It’s not fun to think about, but if your partner has realized a change in how they feel about you, but aren’t ready to talk about it or aren’t even sure what’s happening, they may grow quiet instead.
8. Your partner is stressed about something that has nothing to do with you.
It’s entirely possible that the reason for their distance has nothing to do with you.
“Stress related to workplace issues, family matters, money, or other situations can all take a toll,” says Justin Lavelle, relationship columnist and Chief Communications Director at PeopleLooker.com.
9. They aren’t feeling well.
If your partner isn’t feeling well, he or she may withdraw as a result.
“Be supportive and offer something soothing,” recommends Tessina. “Use what you know about your partner: Do they have delicate digestion? Allergies? Physical pain? Then offer some help, like tea or a massage.”
10. You talk too much.
If you’re usually the more verbal person in the relationship, your partner could be feeling overwhelmed, or might not know how to jump in and have their say.
“Learn to limit your communication to a couple of sentences and then pause. Your partner may need more time than you do to gather thoughts and reply,” says Tessina.
11. They have new priorities.
“The classic example of a priority shift is when a couple has a baby,” says Lavelle. “Suddenly, parents have different priorities, and rightly so. One spouse can sometimes feel left out of the equation and if these feelings aren’t communicated and dealt with, resentment builds up, fueling a cycle that is hard to come back from.”
12. They’re feeling smothered.
Particularly near the beginning of a relationship, it’s not at all uncommon for one of the two people to be more intense than the other. “Wanting to be together all the time, demanding constant contact and communication… this can become overwhelming and stifling, and a perfectly normal reaction for the partner who doesn’t want to say what’s bothering them is to withdraw,” says Lavelle.
13. They’ve started thinking negatively about themselves.
This often happens when there’s some sort of change, either physically or in their world. When a person is lacking in self-confidence, this can cause them to withdraw from others around them.
“After all, it’s difficult to believe that someone else can love you when you’re at a low point in your life,” says Lavelle.
If you feel someone drifting away, it’s important to trust how you’re feeling and not brush your feelings off, or think you’re being paranoid. But it’s also important to realize that their behavior may not have anything to do with you. It’s hard when we feel something unnamable coming between us and our partner, but it’s not unsolvable. Be there for your partner, listen to them, ask questions, and be aware. The answer may not be one you like, but it will come eventually.