Just when you thought everything is going well in your relationship, his feelings suddenly run hot and cold – one minute he’s spending time with you, and the next, he’s suddenly distant.
Now you are left wondering—is it you? Is it something you said? Something you did?
Here are possible reasons why some men pull away when they’re falling in love.
Table of Contents
- Fear of missing out
- Fear of the future
- Fear of being vulnerable
- Men and women relate differently
- Past relationship failures
- Fear of personal failure
- Lack of ability
- Unconscious emotional learning during childhood
- A defense mechanism and fear of being vulnerable
- Normalizing of emotional unavailability
- He needs some space
- Hang-ups about his career and future
- Emotions get too intense for him
- He thinks it is happening too fast
- Afraid of losing freedom and independence
- Not wanting to be exclusive
- Fear from mistrust
- Attachment styles
- Anxieties unique to men
- His behavior is rooted in anxiety
- To preempt abandonment
- Depends on the experiences that inform our attachment style
- Guys learn at a young age to be guarded, untrusting, yet accommodating
- They don’t know how to allow someone else a place in their heart
- Different display of affection
- Things are moving too quickly
- To build up their emotional bank
- He’s never been in a serious relationship before
- The timing just isn’t right
- He’s not looking for anything serious
- An evolutionarily developed trigger of fear
- A defense mechanism
Rob Magill, MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPCTBHI
Certified Telebehavioral Health Practitioner, Magill Counseling
Just about everyone wants to be in a relationship. But not everyone is comfortable in a long-term relationship. This can lead to men distancing themselves in a relationship.
This can be for several reasons:
Fear of missing out
Some men are afraid that they are “settling.” There might not be someone else that they know would be a better partner. But there could be. So when a relationship becomes more serious, they shirk away. What if they commit, and it is the wrong person?
Fear of the future
Deeper conversations happen when a relationship progresses. It is easy to talk about favorite foods, movies, places to visit, etc. It can be challenging talking about future dreams, especially when those dreams might not happen.
Fear of being vulnerable
When a relationship gets serious, more is expected, especially in what is shared and how it is shared. Surface conversations still happen, but more personal topics should be discussed.
This means that the other person gets to know who you are. And may not like you. At all. That can cause people to settle for what they have instead of moving forward in the relationship.
Men and women relate differently
Men and women generally need different things in a relationship. That is part of what makes a couple more effective than one person. But it also means that men may need to act out of their comfort zone in the relationship.
That is scary, and people are not always successful at this. Especially the first few times. Sometimes it is easier to just disengage than risk being uncomfortable or another failure.
This leads to the next point:
Past relationship failures
Past relationships color current relationships. How can they not? If a man was in a bad relationship and got out, that will shape the perspective of future relationships.
He may expect the current relationship to end how past relationships did and try to avoid those unpleasant feelings. Even if this person is different.
Fear of personal failure
A closer relationship means more responsibility. This can scare some men. Feelings of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, etc. can all rise up and make a man consider distancing from their partner.
Related: Overcoming Fear of Failure
Lack of ability
Sometimes, men experience things in their past that stop them from learning how to relate to others. Even though they want the relationship, they might now know how to talk to someone more profoundly. This can be made worse by the previous reasons.
Deeper relationships may feel awkward or even foreign. This can lead some men to retreat to what they know – the safety of a more distant relationship.
Fortunately, men facing any of these roadblocks do not have to be paralyzed by them. Often, simply recognizing they are, there is a great first step to moving through them. Once recognized, a man can choose how to address these roadblocks best.
Addressing these concerns can be anything from choosing to act despite feeling fear, talking to good friends for their help, or even seeking out professionals. Sometimes a combination of these works well, too.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your
Dreams by Befriending Your Fear
Unconscious emotional learning during childhood
During childhood, we learn how to “be” from watching our parents and caregivers. If a parent or parents are loving and kind, a child learns to be open to love and vulnerability.
However, if parents are defended, use “love” to be hurtful, or respond to life in an angry or shut down manner—the child will learn that behavior when it comes to relationships. Of course, all of this early learning occurs on an unconscious level.
If a child learns that it is NOT safe to be vulnerable—if the child is not cared for well and supported in an emotionally present manner—the child will learn to shut off feelings such as sadness, anxiety, and hurt.
In this way, the child learns to be defended against love rather than being open and vulnerable to love. Defenses against vulnerability surface in a variety of ways—whether a person gets quiet, stonewalls, becomes passive-aggressive or acts out in anger.
A defense mechanism and fear of being vulnerable
In adult life, these behaviors become part of the individual’s normal patterns. Although they are operating on a largely unconscious level, the defense mechanisms are present. Thus, if a man falls in love, he may feel very engaged and loving during the initial, often passion-filled stages of a relationship.
Yet, as the relationship becomes “real” and emotional connection becomes an issue, a man may shut down out of fear of being vulnerable.
Given that our society tends to normalize and accept emotional unavailability—particularly in men—many people unconsciously accept that the relationship can’t proceed into deeper territory. It is common at this stage for the relationship to break off or turn cold. Sadly, these patterns tend to create vicious cycles that make defensive patterns all the more hard-wired in the brain.
The good news is that these negative, defensive patterns can be changed with conscious effort and perseverance.
Mary J. Gibson
Relationship Expert, DatingXP
Things are going great, and you’re excited to start a new chapter of your life. You have always wanted a committed relationship, and you think you’ve found the one. But just when everything falls into place, you realize he is slowly withdrawing.
Whether it is canceling plans or evading more serious topics like marriage, you start noticing an obvious distance. Then, you start thinking if it was something you did or said. However, more often than not, this is about him, not you.
He needs some space
Sometimes, he needs some time off to think about the relationship. Every relationship is about give-and-take, so he becomes aware that he might have to give some things up if he is going to be with you. During this moment, it’s better to let him be. The more you chase, the more distance it can create.
Hang-ups about his career and future
Men usually tend to find confidence in their careers, and if things are not going very well there, they might not feel confident in other aspects of their lives. Therefore, if this is the case, it is best to not put any relationship pressure on him.
Emotions get too intense for him
Sometimes, processing emotions are hard for any gender. But men usually end up withdrawing after experiencing intense emotions. Let them be during this time; they will come back to you when they’re ready.
He thinks it is happening too fast
Due to widely perpetuated gender stereotypes where men are taught to see a commitment like a trap or a loss of freedom, sometimes their cause for withdrawing could be the fact that they are too affected by society. They might think they’re losing their freedom, so they think you’re moving too fast.
During such a moment, it’s better to sit down and talk about your relationship in the present. Giving him time can help a lot.
Certified Health and Wellness Coach | Behavior Change Specialist | Founder and Managing Editor, Zivadream
The most common reason men pull away when they start to fall in love is fear of commitment. Within this overarching reason, several factors can contribute to this fear.
Afraid of losing freedom and independence
The most common variable is that men are afraid of losing their freedom and independence. Men will often consider falling in love from a practical perspective.
Then, they will begin to wonder about such things as whether they will still have time to go out with their friends, how a more serious relationship may affect their football Sundays, or their ability to do what they want when they want.
They cannot be blamed for considering such practical matters, but we must recognize that often these fears are unfounded or based on irrational thinking. Not all relationships have to be the end of a man’s freedom and independence.
Not wanting to be exclusive
Another contributing factor in fear of commitment often relates to men not wanting to be exclusive to one woman. Often, men, particularly younger men, want to keep their options open, always on the lookout for the next best thing.
This may relate to an irrational self-image, believing they can do better, or simply promiscuity. But as they start to fall in love, they opt to listen to doubting thoughts instead of their hearts.
Rather than embracing what is front of them, which might be something real and special, they go with their gut, allowing fears to drive their actions.
Fear from mistrust
Lastly, a force driving fear of commitment is often mistrust, which is usually the result of past breakups. If a man has been emotionally hurt before, he may be very reluctant to jump right back into the deep end and fall in love.
Akin to a child touching a hot stovetop, men that are emotionally hurt by a woman are often quick to withdraw and become guarded, afraid of being put through the wringer again.
This is understandable, and patience must be exercised when this factor is at play.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Los Angeles, Ca
Men (and women too) sometimes pull away when they are falling in love because of different fears about attachment and beliefs about self-worth and being unloveable come forward.
These attachment styles and beliefs, often unconscious, are based on their childhoods and the meaning they gave to their early life experiences.
Men pull away in response to fears of being abandoned, rejected, or not being good enough.
Anxieties, worries, and fears typically come forward in all relationships. Depending on how secure we are from an attachment style perspective, we will have more or less anxieties. It is totally normal for our insecurities to come forward at the beginning of a new relationship, as we find ourselves falling in love or once we are firmly in a relationship.
Our attachment style is deeply rooted in our brain and originates from the basic need to survive and how well our parents were attuned to our needs – emotional and physical. We all started out as helpless babies.
Some of us had more attentive and loving parents than others – this attunement formed our attachment styles. Psychotherapists generally identify attachment styles as secure, insecure, and avoidant.
As we begin to fall in love with someone, our unconscious attachment memories become activated. They can cause us to pull away fearful that our needs won’t be met, that we might be rejected or even abandoned – as we feel needy, fearful, angry, and irrational.
These emotions can have a negative impact on our relationships if they are not addressed in a healthy way.
On a more apparent level, depending on our self-view, self-confidence, and self-love (which is also connected to our attachment style), anxiety and insecurities will arise when we are in a relationship.
The umbrella themes of “Am I good enough?” or “Am I worthy?” often manifest in anxieties around money, body image, looks, intelligence, socio-economic status, education, what kind of car I drive, how large my house is, etc.
Self-worth presents itself as “Am I deserving of being in a loving relationship, or committed/monogamous relationship?” or “I am unloveable.”
Anxieties unique to men
From a stereotypical heterosexist point of view, men often feel the weight of needing to carry the financial load in a relationship. Fears and insecurities around money and being able to provide for another person or support a family can cause men to be anxious and even avoid relationships altogether.
Some men think they can’t be in a relationship until they are set in their careers and own a home and have significant savings in the bank.
I think this is less true nowadays, but some men might also have fears of being a good father. This is often due to their lack of having a good parenting role model and especially the case if they had a challenging childhood and experienced child abuse.
There are potential external and internal factors that may explain or contribute to our understanding as to why a man pulls away when he falls in love.
His behavior is rooted in anxiety
Most commonly, his behavior is rooted in anxiety: conscious or unconscious. The unconscious explanations are likely to do with his attachment style – the deep-seated relationship template from his relationship with his parents during significant developmental stages. His sudden withdrawal and change in behavior may replicate/ mimic an “insecure” or “ambivalent” attachment style from his childhood.
In short, children experience deep emotional (and physical) dependency on parents. When parents are unable to engender a sense of emotional security and model emotional reliability and unconditional love, it creates a relational template that associates “closeness /dependency with instability and unreliability.”
So in future adult relationships, the closer a man feels, the more anxious he becomes.
To preempt abandonment
Our brains are prewired to protect us for emotional pain. His feelings of love set off his protective warning system conveying – Pain ahead…beware! His withdrawal serves as a way to preempt abandonment – The psyche prefers and feels less vulnerable to be the leaver than the one left.
While the man may be “unaware” of the deeper-seated anxieties that cause his thoughts and behaviors, he may think and say, “I don’t want to be tied down” or “I’m not ready.”
He may blame his partner- “You are too smothering,” “Your expectations are too high,” – all of which may have realistic elements to them, yet it warrants acknowledgment that current relationship dynamic has set off his “unconscious anxiety alarm system.”
The “pulling away” is a flight response
This system includes a fight or flight response. The “pulling away” is a flight response. The fleeing is a way to unconsciously protect the self from perceived threats to emotional safety that had been previously experienced.
Listened Marriage and Family Therapist
Depends on the experiences that inform our attachment style
While experiencing love and deep connection is a basic human need, it can be very challenging for some. Love is a place of vulnerability, and how we each approach love in relationships greatly depends on the experiences that inform our attachment style.
These experiences begin in childhood and are altered by emotionally powerful events throughout our lives.
This is particularly true for those who have experienced trauma, such as military service members and first responders, where protecting their emotional core is vital to surviving the demands of the job. Often these men have been conditioned toward an Avoidant Attachment style.
Avoidant attachment style
Characterized by maintaining emotional distance, idealizing self-sufficiency, and dismissing others’ emotional needs, men with an Avoidant Attachment style often seek relationships but find emotional intimacy confusing, difficult, and exhausting.
While their careers and life experiences have taught them that this is the best way to cope, it can create challenges in loving relationships. The emotional distance and dismissal can cause them to see a partner’s actions and behaviors as needy or clingy.
When we begin to fall in love, our primal need for loving connection comes rushing in. For those with an Avoidant Attachment style, this provokes a great deal of anxiety. Interdependence and the need for another’s love are viewed as weak and contradict the cultural conditioning of the strong, independent, and self-reliant man.
Those who have experienced trauma are often confronted with feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. They worry that if their partner were to see them truly, their wounds and their failures, that they would be unlovable, weak, or less of a man.
What’s more, military and first responders have long been encouraged to “keep the monster in the box” to protect their loved ones from pain. This “box of monsters” gets carried around every day and keeps them from being able to be close in any form, not just related to their trauma.
Often they have become so disconnected from their own emotional experience that, when the opportunity for deep, meaningful connection arises, they are confronted and challenged by it. They freeze up, and the safest course of action is to retreat from the discomfort.
As he pulls away, our own doubts and fears of separation are activated. We chase, protest, complain, trying to keep them close. Our frantic efforts to re-establish connection only succeed in driving our partner further away.
By acknowledging our own fears, managing our own fears, and respecting our partner’s need for independence, we can create a space where he can feel safe.
Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC
Counselor, Ensley Counseling
Guys learn at a young age to be guarded, untrusting, yet accommodating
As men in our culture grow and develop, they are sent very mixed messages about their emotional life. We expect them to be authentic and relational but also still goal-oriented and strong (unaffected).
In a lot of ways, we are still so bad about either shaming or exploiting men when they are vulnerable, or when they don’t live up to the “toxic” masculine archetype.
Therefore, a lot of guys learn at a young age to be guarded, untrusting, yet also believe they must be accommodating, make others happy, and meet their needs. They’ve never been shown how to be authentic or even given space to be.
They don’t know how to allow someone else a place in their heart
Then, in an intimate partnership with someone just right for their truest self, they do not know how to allow someone else access to that intimate place in their heart. They themselves don’t have access to it. They deeply want to connect, but all of their experience and indoctrination has taught them not to let anyone come that close.
These men have a lot of work to do in accepting the emotional and relational parts of themselves that they’ve been trained to shut down. Often times, a female partner who attempts to take this on will only find frustration. This is because stepping into that takes the relationship out of an equal and reciprocal place, and ultimately reinforces the shame and control dynamics that drive men to shut down in the first place.
But men can do this work through counseling and connecting with other men who are emotionally open and accepting. These relationships don’t carry the same expectation and maintenance that the romantic partnership does.
A good therapist, a (healthy) friend group, and a mentor are essential resources for any man looking to become more emotionally open and accessible.
If you are religious or at least open to religion, a church can be a good place to start. Many of the large ones actively promote these kinds of resources.
If not, a therapist is a great place to start. And they can often help you out in getting connected elsewhere.
Self Empowerment Expert | Certified Life Coach
Different display of affection
Men often pull away after getting close because typically, they display their affection differently than women. From interviewing countless men and other experts in the relationship field, the common consensus has been a man’s need for testosterone.
It is the belief that after having heavily emotionally charged situations that are typically getting close to a woman, it lowers their testosterone levels, and they, therefore, need to pull away to rebuild.
Things are moving too quickly
Often, when men pull away, they come back much stronger than before. Another reason that they pull away is if they feel as though things are moving too quickly, and they want to reassess the situation as to whether or not they even want the relationship.
It has been said that men grow closer to women when they are apart. The opposite is typically true for women that we grow closer through actually spending time and having emotional intimacy.
To build up their emotional bank
Men pull away to refocus, to build up their “emotional bank,” and lastly when they are no longer interested. We are in a culture where people have created terms like breadcrumbing and ghosting for a reason.
The supply seems higher with dating literally at your fingertips through apps. For that reason, many men pull away because they are simply exploring their options. The woman that they are pulling away from simply did not make it to the top position in their rotation or warrant them being exclusive.
Head of Public Relations & Communications, Plenty of Fish
Earlier this year, we surveyed over 2,000 singles in the United States about the primary pressures they face in today’s dating climate. The study found that 31% of singles second-guess when to define a relationship as exclusive, and over ¼ (26%) second guess whether or not the person they’re dating is the one.
This data shows that singles second-guess themselves often, and it could be a possible explanation for why some take a step back in a relationship.
Below are three other possible reasons why men may be pulling away or avoiding a serious relationship:
He’s never been in a serious relationship before
It’s entirely possible that he is unfamiliar with these new feelings and is getting spooked. He may be pulling away from the relationship because he’s feeling overwhelmed.
The timing just isn’t right
If he’s recently ended a long-term relationship, he may be hesitant to get into another one right away due to low confidence or because he’s not entirely over the previous one, and therefore isn’t quite ready to commit.
He’s not looking for anything serious
He might not be the committing type and wants to keep his options open, or simply doesn’t see the relationship lasting long-term, and is having trouble communicating that. Instead of being direct and verbalizing his feelings or ending the relationship, he may slowly distance himself to avoid an awkward, honest conversation.
An evolutionarily developed trigger of fear
Some men pull away when they are falling in love because of an evolutionarily developed unconscious trigger of fear. Our ancestor’s survival demanded good mating decisions. This archaic trigger appears to be activated in modern times in men that associate the feeling of falling in love with rejection (vulnerability means danger) or constriction (commitment mean loss of power and choice).
Almost always, this is a family of origin issue.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Certified Imago Therapist, The Marriage Restoration Project
There are multiple reasons why men pull away when they are falling in love.
A defense mechanism
For some, getting too close can be uncomfortable, eliciting emotions of fear, which result in withdrawal. It could be that they never had such a close relationship, so it is new to them.
Others pull away precisely because of past experiences. If a man had a previously close relationship and was rejected, it is easier to be the one to pull away and reject than re-experience the pain on the receiving end.
Finally, those men who had an insecure attachment with their parents growing up can also pull away when things get to close. Closeness is just not safe, so when the relationship begins to progress, they will only let it go so far.
Thus, it can be a defensive mechanism to protect oneself.
Relationship Expert | Co-Owner, Platinum Poire
If a man is pulling away when he is definitely in love, it could mean the following:
- He is either scared to get hurt, (fear) that stems from past relationships/family. Financially or emotionally, he is not ready (timing).
- They may be fresh out of a relationship.
- He is afraid that this love could be the real deal, and he will mess it up (self-sabotage).
They’d rather convince themselves that the person or the timing is not right than do the work to make it happen.
Behavioral Relationship Expert
Men pull away because of their own fear.
Whether it is self-doubt that they can sustain the relationship or a fear of feeling responsible for the emotional state of their mate, the issue is really an internal one.
A man might fear getting hurt, making the wrong choice, or being overwhelmed by his own emotions. Even if they think their partner may be “the one,” they may still feel the need to create some distance.
This is definitely not a symptom all men experience in falling in love.