Is Your Partner Telling You How He Really Feels?

When a partner's words do not match his actions, it may be a red flag.

Posted May 23, 2020

They avoid spending one-on-one time, resist talking about issues, and frequently cancel plans, but insist they are completely “in love.” A continuous discrepancy between a partner’s actions and words is a problem. Understanding the roots of the inconsistency may help a person decide what to do.

First, a deeply insecure partner may want to keep a person “on the line” for security purposes. Afraid of being alone, he or she may lack true feelings, but convince the person otherwise. By keeping the person in the relationship, the partner prevents him or her from moving on. This ensures the partner will be the first to find another, which protects his or her fragile ego.

Telling a person what he or she wants to hear is also a way to maintain emotional control of a person. Once the person trusts a partner, the partner “pulls the rug.” This sudden rejection after a proclamation of love confuses the person. He or she clamors to regain the love and approval that was abruptly yanked away by the partner. In order to salvage the relationship, the person slowly sacrifices aspects of who he or she is in order to appease the partner and avoid future ruptures.

It is also possible that the partner is emotionally unavailable. He or she may be out of touch with the uncomfortable emotions necessary to maintain closeness in a relationship: vulnerability, openness, and empathy. Hiding behind other responsibilities shields the partner from the emotional demands of a close relationship. In this case, the partner may need help processing experiences of searing childhood shame or trauma in order to soften rigid defense mechanisms. Accessing the deeper emotional capacities such as vulnerability, empathy, and accountability within the context of a relationship is essential to its vitality.

Using a partner’s actions as a barometer to accurately gauge his or her intentions is key. Separating actions from words often helps a person identify a theme that otherwise may be camouflaged. When the time comes to calmly confront a partner, the way the partner responds is also telling. Does the partner continually deflect responsibility for his actions and attempt to distort the interaction in order to blame the person? Does he or she continually frame himself as a “victim” in order to excuse his or her actions? If these are common tendencies, the partner may be manipulative in ways even he or she does not realize.

For example, say, for the third time, a partner ignores a person’s texts and “forgets” to invite him or her out with a group of close friends they both share. When the person tells the partner he is hurt by this, the partner angrily deflects accountability and justifies her actions. “I work an 80-hour work week! I am exhausted, burnt out, and tired of having to be your social director! I do not have time! Grow up and make your own plans!” Later that evening, she snuggles up to him on the couch, acting like nothing happened, and tells him she loves him.

Alternatively, an emotionally healthy partner responds by saying, “I am so sorry I forgot to text you back. You have every right to be hurt. They are your friends too. I had a selfish moment and totally lost track of time. I’m really sorry.” This response exemplifies accountability, empathy and vulnerability. The partner takes complete responsibility, communicates a solid understanding of how she hurt her partner, and apologizes. This helps sustain the trust in the relationship.

The first example illustrates robust defense mechanisms at play. Often overactive defense mechanisms are resurrected early in life to protect a child from prolonged and intense negative emotion. Experiences which he or she is not yet equipped to cope with. This stubborn defensive structure is largely unconscious and often continues into adulthood. It is frequently comprised of multiple defense mechanisms such as: denial, distortion, repression, suppression, deflection, projection. Thus, a partner who manipulates in order to protect his or her own ego may not even realize it. This makes things even more difficult to navigate.

When a partner is unable to own mistakes in a relationship, manipulates, and constantly blames a person, it may take a toll on the person’s mental health. Constantly under unfair attack and stuck because the partner denies any wrongdoing, the person often feels confused, nervous, and sad. Over time, these feelings may intensify into anxiety and depression. Sadly, the cost may not be worth the benefit of remaining in the relationship.