He seems like Mr. Cool and Distant, but is he actually afraid to connect?
Sex is a wonderful glue and powerful force that attaches two people into a couple. Is it really any wonder that such a strong, bonding act creates some distress for people who are afraid to attach? (Like that emotionally unavailable man you're dating, for example.)
It's upsetting enough when he won't talk about important things, when he stonewalls, or when he doesn't want to hear what you're feeling or what you need. But when those behaviors stumble over into the bedroom, negatively affecting your sex life, what do you do?
First, let's shift away from the phrase "emotionally unavailable" and start using the correct term for the very real issue your man is likely struggling with: "Avoidant Attachment."
That avoidant man holds himself back emotionally because of fear. But here's the crazy part: He doesn't feel the fear because he's so accustomed to handling it with avoidance. So, that fear doesn't register in his conscious awareness. What you see is his avoidant behavior, NOT his feelings.
Men like this struggle to fully join you in your relationship.
Knowing this ... can you find compassion for him even if he doesn't treat you well? Can you lean into learning more about the issues he wrestles with, knowing that you can always choose to leave if his behavior ultimately doesn't work for you?
If yes, then let's take a look at how Avoidant Attachment issues affect a man's sexual functioning (as you may have encountered their difficulties). Here are some ways your "emotional avoider" may act in bed:
1. He's an amazing lover (until he orgasms). Some avoiders yearn for closeness because they have so little of it. This can show up in sex. But all of that wonderful emotion disappears after the loving sex, though. Once the orgasm is over he pulls away or maybe he'll have a short delay before returning to his usual way of interacting.
2. He can't handle being truly present. Other avoiders may really want sex physically, but aren't emotionally present when making love. He searches for closeness, but then can't tolerate it. When you are sexual with a man like this, you may not become very aroused or feel present either. When you look in his eyes they seem blank; no one is home. Despite his well-developed sexual skills, somehow your arousal doesn't bring much real pleasure.
3. He avoids sex and intimacy. Being naked and vulnerable feels like too much, so he just doesn't do it. He blames you because he can't understand why he doesn't desire you more. At the start of the relationship, he couldn't get enough of you because desire overrode his fear, but then the need to avoid became stronger and now he's trying to explain to himself why.
The problem is, in order to see himself as a real man, he has to think he wants sex a lot, right? "Real men" are always ready, so to explain his lack of desire in a way that doesn't make him wrong, he likely tells you that you aren't sexy enough or that it's somehow your fault. Women diet, exercise, have plastic surgery, and try to figure out how to look attractive to these men but nothing works.
4. Affairs appeal to him. After all, there is no real relationship in adultery, so the perceived threat of attachment doesn't exist.
5. Porn feels really safe. A website or video holds no danger of wanting uncontrollable, dangerous attachment. When these men attach to porn (just like with any other drug), they are actually attaching. However, they feel they have control over the object, substance, or behavior. This creates a false sense of safety.
6. He makes you say "no" so he's never wrong . He tells himself that he is a virile man stuck with a partner who doesn't want to have sex. He does this by pouting, sighing, even hovering; preparing for bed with an expectant cloud hanging over you; acting deprived; asking for sex when you're on your way somewhere and couldn't reasonably comply—any way of bringing up sex that isn't at all inviting and doesn't suggest "making love" with you. Needy little boys are not appealing lovers; shaming, critical men aren't either.
So, how do you know the ways Avoidant Attachment shows up in the bedroom, and what do you do?
If you love this man and want to stay with him, you'll need to develop compassion for his pain. Study it. Don't take it personally. Accept it. But that is really hard, isn't it?
A more hopeful approach is to ask him to join you in learning about and understanding his choices so you can both make sense of things, together. Going to therapy and reading up on Attachment Theory can give you a common language so you can ask him for information.
If he doesn't want to have sex, he can tell you that he is feeling the need to pull back, instead of asking if you have gained a few pounds. If he feels compelled to use porn, he can talk with you about his conflicted need for closeness and his fear of connecting with you.
When couples address their attachment needs with each other, they create greater intimacy, even if one or both have avoidant styles. Knowing the truth creates connection that even an avoidant can tolerate.
Begin by educating yourself. Read my book, Create New Love: How Men and Women can Prepare for a Lasting Relationship to see how sex is woven into relating and love. Then read Attached and Hold Me Tight for even more help. Then, ask your "emotionally distant" man to learn with you. Offer to read sections to him.
Once you understand your attachment styles and how you express them, you can join together to heal your sexuality. My book, Reclaiming Healthy Sexual Energy: Revised, shows couples how to go about this.
You can use the amazing power of sexual loving to create a foundation for your love, for your lives, for your healing.