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What a silent shutdown looks like in relationships

What a silent shutdown looks like in relationships
What a silent shutdown looks like in relationships

When people “quiet resignation” their jobs, they refrain from “giving everything”. There is no hustle and bustle, no delays, no searching for overtime or extra projects. From a certain point of view, stopping quietly may seem like a lack of inspiration; from another perspective, it is the setting of intentional boundaries. Why work more with little to gain? Whether it reflects pandemic exhaustion, despair, or bad bosses, silent abandon offers a style of social engagement that can extend beyond the workplace.

Source: Photo by Timur Weber / Pexels

Leaving Love Quietly: The Act of Leaving Without Leaving

Have you ever been in a relationship and felt like you were the only one working? Or maybe you stayed in a relationship just for the sake of staying? Yet, maybe you’ve slowly reduced your involvement in your relationship so you can focus on other things?

Quitting smoking quietly in romantic relationships is nothing new. People adopt varying engagement styles in their romantic relationships, just as they do at work. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic partners can limit their involvement in their relationship and “work to rule” just as they would a job.

Keeping boundaries can work for work. Is it for love?

People who quietly leave their relationships as a demarcation tactic, separating them from the rest of their lives, risk losing the relationship. While strong boundaries in the professional field can be a way to protect one’s identity from being tied to a career and people can still be good at their jobs, a self-protective approach to relationships (for example, keeping one’s identity outside of a relationship) does not correspond to a healthy relationship. Having a romantic relationship that is central to one’s identity promotes relational health. Relational centrality is associated with a healthy cognitive intertwining of self and other (Agnew et al., 1998). This suggests that people who keep their relationship on the periphery of their priorities experience less interdependence and less satisfaction in their relationship.

Keeping their romantic relationship “small” in their life could be a temporary tactic for a person to shift their priorities towards school, career, or hobbies. It may be a planned, temporary strategy designed to help achieve an important goal, a necessary cost to get through an intense job search, busy season at work, medical school, or a family crisis. . If this seems harmless, it could reflect a type of toxic disengagement that can ultimately threaten a relationship.

Signs of a silent shutdown center on disengagement

John Mayer said “love is a verb”, and in this sense, quietly leaving a relationship could be described as not showing love. Its parallel in the science of relationships is romantic disengagement.

Romantic disengagement is a multi-pronged process (Barry et al., 2008). Foremost is emotional indifference, or apathy, which over time replaces feelings of love. Romantic disengagement also involves mentally detaching and psychologically withdrawing from a relationship. Additionally, people try to physically distance themselves from their partners, avoiding spending time with them.

Quietly leaving a relationship is not ghost to someone. Ghosting is an act of disappearance: the relationship ends. People who quietly leave their romantic relationship stick around…at least for a while. It is a gradual disengagement which, if not followed through, will slowly erode the emotional ties that bind the partners together. The relationship may persist if the commitment remains, but romantic disengagement predicts relationship dissatisfaction (Barry et al, 2008).

Signs of quiet abandonment in romantic relationships

What does quiet surrender look like when it comes to love? Signs that a partner is quietly leaving a relationship may reflect key behaviors in relationship disengagement (Barry et al., 2008), namely:

  • A lack of physical affection, including affectionate touch
  • A lack of attention to their partner, even when they are in the same room as the partner
  • Avoid asking questions or answering questions
  • Daydreaming and mentally being in a different space when they are with their partner
  • Not wanting to “take care” of your partner
  • Spend as little time as possible with your partner

Why not just break up?

Relationship scientists have shown that partners stay together because of the commitment constraints that bind them to a relationship, or sometimes, simply because they want to (Rhoades et al., 2010). Partners who quietly leave their relationship may want to leave, but they may stay due to constraints. What would they lose if they broke off the relationship? Maybe the costs are too high. The parallel: people may not want their jobs, but they stay because they need them.

Alternatively, quietly leaving a relationship could be a way to test the possibility of ending the relationship. In that sense, it could be part of their exit strategy. Indeed, emotional divorce is a key first step in the process of marital breakdown (Bohannan, 1970), and disengagement from a relationship enables emotional separation.

Relationships Essential Readings

The way people engage in their relationships suggests its centrality in their lives. Quietly leaving a relationship may not mean the relationship will end, but, at the very least, it suggests that the relationship is not the person’s number one priority.

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