2 Big Reasons Why Men Pull Away — Just When You're Starting To Get Close

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2 Reasons Men Pull Away (Just When You're Starting To Get Close)

What are they so afraid of?

"It's so weird," a man said to me in counseling just this week. "I keep wanting to say 'yes, let's move in', but when we talk about it, I just freeze. I literally cannot say anything. And of course, Sandra thinks I'm dragging my feet. I don’t want to."

Tim is on the edge of a deeper commitment in his relationship and fear is arising at the same time. This effect is common to men (and to women).

It's not news to most of us that we, men, are generally trained to be independent and more contained emotionally than women, and that women are trained to be more expressive and relational.

These are deeply ingrained patterns in men and women that go back thousands of years and they are not easy to change.

RELATED: The 4 Main Reasons Why He's Pulling Away From You

When men want to create a deeper relationship or when our partner starts to move towards us, such a movement can bring to the surface our deep conditioning.

Of course, we have a longing to connect and to love. But in a different way than women, men experience a conflict when their partner, say you, are getting close to them.

I have heard so many men say to their partner in couples' counseling, "I do care about you, but I also need space. I'm not sure if I can get more deeply connected to you now." 

Men can experience this movement towards closeness as threatening to their independence. When a person is pulled deeply from within, by different longings, this is called simply a "conflict". That inner conflict can express itself in mixed messages.

"I want to connect, but I am too busy." 

This is a classic mixed message for our time. (Sometimes, women use it, as well.)

I've heard hundreds of men talk about these topics, in one way or another (and I have had these feelings myself, for sure). Here are 2 main reasons why men pull away, even if they want to go deeper:

1. They are afraid of being overwhelmed by their own feelings and longings to connect.

Men have had to work hard to establish an identity: competent, strong, self-motivated.

We are not used to giving into warmer feelings, such as love, longing, and connection. They threaten our independence.

In my office a few weeks ago, a couple was struggling because the man wouldn't set a date for the engagement. He kept saying, "I feel numb."

As a counselor, I know that such numbness is serving a purpose. This man is afraid to say something.

After some coaching in a few sessions, he says, "My father was quiet, reserved, and my mother just walked all over him. I didn't go to college because my mother got her way. I don't want to be like him."

Charlie is describing the need for space, for self-development, and he has never learned yet how to both have the room to become himself, and to be intimate with his partner Terry, who is glowering at him.

His fallback position is numbness, a version of independence.

I explain that this is an issue that they can work on (and of course I am compressing several sessions together in this story). Now Terry feels less threatened, and she agrees, "Of course I want him to be himself and to grow in his own way."

RELATED: 5 Reasons Men Pull Away From Good Relationships

2. Because of their training to be independent and productive, they have a massive fear of being incompetent.

This fear shows up in our deep responses to feeling criticized, even when our partners are not criticizing.

So getting more deeply into a relationship is a huge test. Can we communicate, can we express our love and our fear? Since most of us have no training at all in these relational skills, we are afraid we will fail.

Last week in counseling a man said, "Sandra can speak in great length and with incredible detail about what she is experiencing with me. Then when she asks me to respond, I'm like 'Okay, I get it. Then she gets mad and says you'll never learn. I know that there is a deeper response in me and believe me, I want to give it to her."

He took a deep breath and teared up a little. "I'm so afraid that she won't love me anymore when I'm trying with everything I've got to make this work. I love Sandra." 

Sandra reached out her hand to Frank and said, "This is exactly what I want from you. Thank you."

Frank has the ability to speak deeply and honestly to Sandra, but he hasn't had the desire or the training to do so regularly.

In these patterns, the conversation between the partners tends to focus on the symptom, such as the mixed message or the failure to communicate. 

So the partner comes across as critical and blaming. The poor guy is on the defensive and feeling incompetent. He says things like "I meant to call, but I didn't."

Usually, the natural fear generated by closeness doesn't get discussed. The best way to address it is to acknowledge it and let it be part of the natural feelings that arise at the point of a deepening relationship or engagement.

Most of us (men and women) didn't learn how to communicate from our authentic feelings. Through training and discipline, we can learn to communicate more emotionally, and our relationships are the better for this skill. We feel more known, more appreciated, and more accepted.

RELATED: What To Do When You Feel Him Pulling Away (Don't Panic!)

George Taylor is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco, Marin County, CA. Learn better communication skills on Path For Couples or his book, A Path for Couples: Ten Practices for Love and Joy.

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