Your relationship has been going strong for the past five months. You feel like this may be the one. Your new boyfriend has been attentive and has given you the impression that he wants to take things to the next level. Then all of a sudden, it happens. You feel him pull away. He used to call you every day, now he sends you a text. He used to ask you out for the weekend, now he doesn’t mention when he will see you again. You ask him what is wrong. He tells you nothing is wrong—he’s just busy. You tell him you feel like he’s pulling away--he tells you you’re imagining things. You feel confused. What do you do?
This common scenario is every person’s worse nightmare. Just when things seem to be going so well, maybe too well, the rug is pulled out from under you. This is a pivotal moment. How you respond will set the stage for what will come next. How you respond will indicate just how much you respect yourself. What you do next may very well determine your ability to create a powerful and successful relationship.
People typically respond to someone pulling away in one of two ways—they pursue or they retreat. Both can be detrimental.
To pursue when someone is pulling away is to give up your power. It communicates a lack of self-respect and integrity. You give someone the message that you are desperate for their love and connection and will do whatever it takes to get it back. It puts you in a “one down” position and creates an accelerated pattern of pursue and retreat. In other words, the more you pursue, the more he retreats. Once you start this game, it is difficult to get out. And I promise you, regardless of whether he comes back or not, you lose.
To retreat can be just as deadly. Most people retreat in a way that also gives away their power. They either react to a perceived rejection by immediately cutting the other person off and hiding under their shell or they retreat with the intention to manipulate or control the other person’s behavior. In other words, they retreat only because they think that is what it will take to get the person back. Even if this strategy works and it turns the distancer back into the pursuer, this will have been the result of the dance, not because the distancer is clear that he wants back in. Either way, you both lose.
Before you become resigned, there is a powerful way to respond to someone you love pulling back.
1. Let your significant other know that you are experiencing a disconnect in the relationship.
2. Be specific and identify concrete behaviors that communicate to you that he is pulling back.
3. Let him know that you will respect his desire to pull back. Give him space. Let him know that you will not be pursuing. Explain that you will accept things as is and will take care of yourself accordingly.
4. Get as neutral as you possibly can. In other words, be willing to accept a potential loss and let go of your attachment to the outcome. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s where your power and well-being lives. Do what you need to do to release this person for now.
5. Go about living your life with integrity. Take care of yourself. Be with friends. Pursue your interests. Get engaged with your life. Create a new goal and go after it. You can even date other people (as long as you’ve made it clear to your significant other that you feel free to pursue other dating opportunities and he should as well).
6. If he makes an effort to reach out and reconnect and you want to do so as well, feel free to respond accordingly. At some point it will be helpful to have a conversation about what caused the pulling back in the first place so you can determine what was going on and how safe or desirable it is for you to reconnect. You certainly don’t want to be with someone who is so afraid of intimacy that your relationship becomes a “come closer, go away” dance. These relationships are both painful and exhausting.
7. Remember that you are lovable and valuable no matter what. If he turns out not to be the one for you, the one for you is in your future. If he turns out to be the one for you, then you will build a relationship based on integrity, good boundaries, and self-respect.
So take the time to get your emotions under control before you decide how best to respond to someone who is pulling away. Choice power and self-love over fear of abandonment. Choose YOU!
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
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