You’re not alone in being confused when your partner pulls away from you. It can be hard to figure out what they are thinking and feeling if the physical and emotional connection has been broken for a while.
Here’s what to do when he pulls away, according to experts.
Adam Paine, LCSW
Licensed Mental Health Therapist | Owner, Enteave Counseling
Give your partner space if they are pulling away
When a partner pulls away, our first instinct is to try and pull them closer. I’ve seen both men and women do this when they fear a partner is leaving. However, when someone is pulling away, more often, this means they need space.
When we allow our anxiety to control our actions, we typically become anxious; anxiety causes us to try and control things to avoid a feared outcome. In this instance, we fear losing our partner, so we try to control the situation by trying to draw them in.
Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect and only ends up pushing our partner away, which causes more fear in us, and we try to control the situation more, which often ends up being an unfortunate downward spiral. We all fear the unknown, and if our partner isn’t telling us what’s wrong, our mind goes to worst-case scenarios, but this often isn’t the case.
I always advise my clients to give the partner space if they are pulling away; that’s what they’re asking for, whether they’re saying it or not. I also advise them to:
- focus on their own self-care
- work out
- spend time with friends/family
- manage stress
This will help keep their baseline anxiety down, and if their partner wants to talk, or they want to talk with their partner about this, they’ll be in a better mental space to do so.
If you want to address this with the partner, here are the steps I’d advise:
- Empathize with your partner:
- Has life for him or you been particularly stressful lately?
- Has there been a recent change?
- Is he working more hours?
- State the facts about the situation:
- How long has it been since you’ve had a date night?
- Haven’t been intimate for x number of weeks?
- Don’t watch shows together in the evening for the past month?
- Say how this is making you feel:
- “I feel sad”
- “I feel disconnected”
- State what you want:
- “I want Friday nights to be date night.”
- “I’d like you to kiss me goodbye before you go to work.”
- Why do you want this/and why would it be good for your partner:
- “Because I feel more connected because I love you.”
- “Things will be more relaxed around the house.”
Erica Cramer, LCSW
Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
People pull away from relationships for many different reasons. The reasons range from unintentional oversights to deeply rooted problems.
Sometimes, people do not realize they are pulling away and simply getting wrapped up in other aspects of their lives. Sometimes people do not want to burden you with their problems and distance themselves to protect you. Sometimes people are unhappy in the relationship and do not know how to be honest about it.
If you find that your partner is pulling away from you, it is important to be proactive about the situation and determine what is happening in the relationship.
Be honest about your feelings and perspective about what is happening
Talk to him; be honest about your feelings and perspective about what is happening. Tell him you think he is pulling away and explain how it makes you feel.
Maybe he doesn’t realize he is doing this. Maybe there is a simple explanation. Maybe something difficult happened, and he doesn’t want to burden you with his problems. Whatever the case, going straight to the source will ensure an accurate answer.
Assess his changes
Has your partner been experiencing any recent changes? Changes that occur with either person as an individual are relevant.
- Did he gain weight?
- Lose a parent?
- Quit a job?
All of these changes can affect how a person feels about themselves and lower their self-esteem. They can cause a person to be more self-conscious and introverted.
Related: How to Be Less Self-Conscious
These situations have to do with an internal problem that a partner is experiencing and have nothing to do with the relationship. You did nothing wrong and can only support your partner as they tackle these challenges.
Assess your changes
- Did you start working longer hours?
- Are you preoccupied with family drama?
- Are you more stressed, anxious, or depressed than usual?
Your behavior can make your partner think that you need space and that he would be better off leaving you alone. Our actions will teach/dictate a person’s reactions.
If you’ve been unavailable, he may step back. If you give a snappy answer, you’re teaching your partner to avoid asking questions. Consider whether something in your life is affecting his behavior.
Assess relationship changes
- Have you experienced any changes as a couple?
- Did one of your children start to exhibit behavioral problems?
- Did your sex life change?
- Did you recently have an important milestone?
These changes can reflect how the couple feels about one another and the current role they want to play in each other’s lives.
Tell him how you’re feeling and that you think he’s stepped back
Sometimes the less we talk about little things, the bigger and worse they become. When there are issues in a relationship, time can heal, but time can do irreparable damages to unaddressed issues.
- Tell him how you’re feeling and that you think he’s stepped back / disconnected.
- Explain how the situation makes you feel and if you can think of any steps to resolve it.
- Tell him about your expectations for the relationship and what you need to feel emotionally fulfilled from it.
You may think you know your partner’s every thought, but you don’t, and you can’t expect them to assume yours. Don’t leave your relationship contingent on someone being a mind reader; just tell your partner what you want (and need) them to know.
If your partner is distant for a few days, give them a little time. Don’t look for mountains in molehills. Sometimes people just need time and space to process things. This is where all of that assessment comes in.
If you think your partner is processing something in their life, give them the freedom to do it. If an unhealthy amount of time has elapsed, speak to them directly.
Let them know that they have support and aren’t alone. Let them know that you don’t want to become disconnected and you’re there for them in whatever capacity needed, but you’d like to reopen lines of communication.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this topic. At the end of the day, every relationship is its own living organism. At its core, any successful or failed relationship boils down to honesty—honesty with your partner and honesty with yourself.
Relationships need time, love, attention—like plants, but they also need to be able to be spoken about and heard. If you feel like something isn’t right and you can’t address it, that’s a sign that this isn’t a healthy relationship or one that’s built to last.
Suppose you’re asking questions and getting answers. In that case, you need to be honest with yourself about how you feel about the situation and whether the answer and relationship satisfy your needs. You need to give your partner those same truths and opportunities.
When we speak in truths, we uncover the baseline of any situation and create the environment a relationship needs to thrive or survive.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.
Psychotherapist | Author, “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today”
Don’t bombard him with calls or messages
If you’ve already done that, stop. Give him some space. He may just need a break. If he is near you and just feeling distant, also give him space. Give him too much space.
Get involved in your own activities with your own friends and family. Don’t be available to him. If he’s just feeling overloaded or that you’re too clingy, this will get results. It also helps if he’s taking you for granted. It puts him on notice that you may not always be around and might get him back into “courting mode” and paying more attention to you.
Calmly ask him if something is wrong
If you’re married or in a committed relationship and giving him some space doesn’t work, then calmly (I stress calmly—no tears, no upset) ask him if something is wrong.
He could be distancing because he has a problem unrelated to you, but it’s consuming him. Possibly a work problem or something physical. Most guys withdraw when they’re feeling wounded. In this case, he’s not withdrawing from you, but from the world, including you.
Being calm and low-key might get him to open up to you. If he’s overloaded, he doesn’t want to deal with extra drama from you, so you have to be calm and reassuring.
Make a list of the clues that are telling you there’s a problem and ask for an explanation
If he’s gone or unavailable a lot, staying late at work, going out mysteriously, not being where he says he is, then it might be a fidelity problem. You also will get the best results if you remain calm.
In this case, make a list of the clues that are telling you there’s a problem:
- His behavior
- His demeanor (how he appears to you)
- His unavailability
Tell him the things you’ve listed, and say they are making you worry. Ask directly for an explanation. If he doesn’t give you one, start making preparations to leave. If he values your relationship at all, this will get a response from him.
If he doesn’t care, then it is time for you to leave — or ask him to. Try not to add drama to this situation. It won’t help you get what you want. If you stay calm, you might at least get an explanation of what is going on.
Certified Lifestyle Coach and Mindfulness Teacher, Soul Paradiso
Take the time to think clearly and not jump to any wrong conclusions
The first thing to do when he pulls away is to calm the mind. We want to take the time to think clearly and not jump to any wrong conclusions. Make sure we are not riled up with any emotions such as fear or discontent.
In doing so, we learn how to respond to the situation instead of reacting to it, which can cause a lot of misunderstandings on both sides about how we’re really feeling. The most important thing about this step is that we’re checking in with how we’re feeling first.
Assess the situation and understand his communication style
Second, assess the situation. Is he just some guy you started talking to, your boyfriend, or your husband? Usually, the more serious the relation, the more you can lean in a little and check in how he’s doing.
But before doing so, ask yourself if he’s someone who is emotionally available or unavailable.
- How do you two handle conflict?
- Does he usually want to resolve things with you immediately, or does he need his space?
- Is he always open for communication, especially about the deeper things?
Understanding his communication style will help give you some insight on what to do here. Remember that men and each individual, in general, have their own way of dealing with their own emotions for whatever is affecting them.
Think about your intent and delivery when you reach out to him
Third, think about your intent and delivery if/when you reach out to him. Is your intent to close the gap just to meet your needs? Is your delivery coming from a place of insecurity or out of love?
To dissect it a little further, when coming from a place of love, you respect him as a human being and offer your care with a non-attached invitation. You respect his choice to receive or not receive your love. This means that you also wait for his response after the first message and see how much he is willing to engage in conversation if he responds.
If you are able to communicate with him, you can share your deeper feelings while showing him that you are responsible for your own discomfort and that you don’t rely on him for your emotions.
If your unpleasant feelings are strong throughout this, make sure to do some inner work to better understand yourself.
- What is your attachment style?
- What is your conflict resolution style?
- Do you have any abandonment wounds or trauma triggers that affect how you’re responding to his instinct to pull away?
The best thing we can do for ourselves in situations like this is to heal all our barriers to love another in the healthiest way.
Ashley Gray, LCSW
Individual and Couples Therapist, Empowered Therapy, LLC
Ask your partner how they are feeling and what they need at this time
When you feel your partner pulling away from you, it can be frightening, lonely, and bring up abandonment fears. It is tempting to want to chase after them; however, chasing after them may push them farther away.
If your partner is pulling away, they are communicating that they need space. While it may seem like a dangerous place for the relationship to be in, their pulling away may be about other things. For instance, they may need space to process other events in their life, or they may be more introverted than you.
While your partner is away, it can be helpful to ask yourself what their taking space reminds you of. This can help you see if your concerns are more about what has happened to you in the past or if it is truly about trouble in the relationship. Whatever the answer is, your partner still needs the space, and you still need your needs met.
Ask yourself what your needs are at this time. Do you need connection, fun, comfort, or something else?
Find ways to meet these needs for yourself that do not include your partner.
- Schedule something fun to do by yourself or with a family member
- Join a club for connection
- See a therapist for comfort
Talking with a therapist can also help you sort out what events from your past make you feel concerned about your relationship now. Meeting your needs on your own will take care of you and will meet your partner’s need for space without making them feel pressured to include you in their rejuvenation time.
Your partner will likely reach for you again once their need for space is over. You may find that their need for space was not about the relationship at all.
If you decide that there is indeed trouble in your relationship, talk to your partner. Start your conversation with an “I feel” statement and acknowledge that what you feel and what you are concerned about may only be the whole story.
Let your partner know that you also want to know how they are feeling and what they need at this time.
Clearly communicate that you want the two of you to find a solution together. It may also be helpful to share with them what was triggering for you when they took the space they needed. This can help them understand your needs and thought process a bit better.
Medical Reviewer & Addiction Advocate, OK Rehab
When someone distances themselves from you, it can be difficult to know whether to work on your relationship or give up. Here is the advice I give to my clients in this situation:
Ask him if he realizes he’s pulling away and if there’s a reason why
The most important thing to do when someone is pulling away from you is to address the issue with them. Holding it in will only make you feel bitter, so you need to open up a conversation about it.
Ask him if he realizes he’s pulling away and if there’s a reason as to why he’s doing it.
Let him process his feelings and take time to process yours
After communicating about the situation, it isn’t necessary to bring it up all the time. The best thing you can do is leave him to process his feelings and take time to process yours in the meantime.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop seeing him, but try not to be overbearing as he may need time to come to terms with his emotions.
Focus on the people who want you in their life
If he pulls away and shows no signs of pursuing you, it’s time to shift your focus. Spend time with people who want to spend time with you, as this is crucial for your self-esteem. It will also help distract you when you begin to feel down about the fading relationship.
Remember that there is someone out there who would love to get to know you; that’s the kind of person you should pay attention to.
Relationship and Style Editor, Galtelligence
At the beginning of any relationship, everything is always blissful. When time passes, a little more effort from the couple is required to keep the relationship going.
But what should you do when he pulls away? Here are a few tips:
Communicate and listen carefully
I know you’ve heard it before. Everyone says communication is the best way to solve a problem. But a lot of us forget that we also need to listen.
Make sure to hear him out and take note of the issues he has. That way, you can come up with something that can help you both.
Take an interest in the things he likes
His hobbies, his favorite places to go, even the bands he likes – these are great things you can use to bond with him.
If he enjoys playing basketball, you could buy him the shoes he’s been eyeing for some time. If he likes coffee, invite him on a coffee date and buy him his favorite drink. When you are interested in what he likes, he’s sure to appreciate it even if you don’t like them.
Have a scheduled check-in with him
I’ve heard from a friend of mine that he and his wife have a scheduled check-in every week to discuss any issues or concerns they want to bring up. They devote a portion of their time to discuss anything that bothers them.
This way, it doesn’t bother their schedules, and it doesn’t need to be put off for too long because you can do it every week. If there’s nothing to discuss, then they just put it off for next week.
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