What is ‘quiet quitting’ in relationships?
Quiet quitting in love: Leaving without actually leaving a partner.
Everywhere you look online, you see mentions of quiet quitting. This slow cooker of disengagement is nothing new; it’s a common way to subtly yet deliberately disconnect from jobs and relationships. Quiet quitting is a defense mechanism that protects us when we feel threatened, disconnected, or unappreciated. This emotional armor is a go-to for those who feel powerless or have too much at stake to stand up for themselves and walk away.
Consistently not being acknowledged at work for your contributions? Why would you work hard, pouring your creativity into projects when your dedication and innovation aren’t being recognized? It’s easier to dial down your commitment, doing the bare minimum to keep your job and avoid confrontation.
You may have heard this term used to describe not going the extra mile in your job – but now the term quiet quitting is also being applied to relationships. Quiet quitting your job is when you show up to work, do the bare minimum and have no motivation to create a future for yourself there. In relationship terms, it’s used to describe when you slowly step back and dial down the passion and motivation for your relationship.
Have you ever been in a relationship and felt like you were the only one putting in the work? Or maybe you’ve stayed in a relationship just for the sake of staying? Still yet, maybe you’ve gently downgraded your involvement in your relationship so you could focus on other things? Quiet quitting in romantic relationships is nothing new.
People adopt varied styles of engagement in their romantic relationships just like they do at work. No surprise then, that romantic partners can limit their involvement with their relationship and “work to rule” just like they might for a job.
People who quietly quit their relationships as a boundary-setting tactic, compartmentalizing them from the rest of their life, risk losing the relationship. Whereas strong boundaries in the occupational realm can be a way to protect one’s self-identity from being tied to a career and people can still be good at their work, a self-protective approach in relationships (e.g., keeping one’s identity out of a relationship) does not align with a healthy relationship.
Having a romantic relationship that is central to one’s identity supports relationship health. Relationship centrality is associated with a healthy cognitive interweaving 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.
Some may have seen this modeled in formative relationships growing up. Others may not possess the psychological or physical safety to advocate for themselves or, as a rule, do everything in their power to avoid conflict. And some people fear what they might lose by bringing issues to light – are they solvable? Will your partner care enough to work on the relationship? What happens if it isn’t working?
Distance: Both physical and emotional, individuals backstepping away from their relationships create space from their partner. They stop putting effort into the relationship, and, where connectedness once thrived, indifference begins to flourish. Communication languishes, problems go unaddressed, and the overall energy is awkward, tense, and painfully surface level.
Detachment: Emotional connection is a cornerstone of a solid, healthy relationship that creates a deep bond of trust. This bond begins to erode when one person intentionally withdraws. With emotional connection comes intimacy; a lack of intimacy leaves an emotional and physical vacuum in which trust and vulnerability deteriorate.
Avoidance: Quiet quitters do not want to spend time with their mate, one-on-one, or with others. They have no desire to spend time with their partner and will find many ways to busy themselves that purposefully create an exclusionary environment.
If you’ve been dating someone for a while and they haven’t brought up the idea of ending things yet, then it’s probably safe to assume that they’re not ready to talk about it just yet. But instead of waiting around until they mention it first, try bringing it up yourself. This can be especially helpful if you’re feeling frustrated or hurt by their silence on the matter – otherwise, they might think that everything is fine when there are problems in your relationship that need addressing.
The most important step to take is to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening. If your partner is quiet quitting, there may be other issues going on in the relationship besides just one person wanting out. There could be communication problems or trust issues or financial problems or any number of things that might have nothing at all to do with love but everything to do with the fact that neither person feels safe enough in the relationship to talk about it openly and honestly enough for both of them to feel supported long-term.