Home > abandonment, Outer Child > Intimacy, He Keeps Holding Back

Intimacy, He Keeps Holding Back

One of my clients is in a relationship with a guy who is attentive, sensual, and seemingly committed (exclusive with her), but she wants to move forward into a total relationship with him – i.e. live together and eventually, possibly marry.

He, however, wants to keep it like it is. At present they go back and forth between their two apartments, getting together mostly on weekends. During the week, he claims to need “down time” with his hobbies and friends.

The struggle between the two of them sometimes causes mini-breakups, but the connection is strong enough that all he has to do is send flowers and give into some of her needs for a few weeks and they’re back in their not-so-total relationship. The relationship reverts to “his terms” because she is the one who wants to get closer.

There are so many people out there going through this same struggle! Maybe you know someone? Maybe even you?

Women tend to struggle with issues around merging. They tend to want to clamp on, and risk losing their boundaries when they get into a relationship. Their task is to establish separation and avoid losing SELF in the expectations and needs of the other person.

Men also have issues around merging, but they tend to have boundaries, sometimes boundaries so strict as to prevent them from establishing intimacy. Their task is to loosen the boundaries so that they can merge enough to get close and share lives.

These romantic wars keep some couples in dynamic equilibrium. The couple stays connected but remains in parallel lives rather than intersecting into marriage living together.

Can you connect to these generalizations? What if we reversed the genders? I tend to say “tend to” when I speak of so called gender differences between men and women because gender stereotyping can so often be off base, since so many of us are exceptions to the rule.

  1. Michelle
    December 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Years ago, our marriage therapist said something similar that has always stayed with me. He told my husband and me what our “tasks” were if we want our marriage to work. He told me, “Your task is to make your home your own,” (“. . . establish separation and avoid losing self . . .”). My husband was told that his task is to “Go home,” (“. . . loosen the boundaries so that they can merge enough to get close and share lives.”).

    It is incredibly important advice. Unfortunately, it seemed to come too late for us, and to this day, I wish I had understood this and been able to practice it from the beginning of our relationship.

    Again, thank you for an insightful article.



  2. December 8, 2010 at 5:13 am

    I’m glad that you made the comment about reversing genders at the end of your post.

    I am a 48-year old man who has been cycling through abandonment scenarios with emotionally irresponsible women for most of my adult life.

    Most recently, about 8 months ago, I started dating a woman I really liked. I watched carefully for signs of emotional unavailability and potential abandonment (although at the time, I didn’t have these terms available to me — I am just now learning!). She did say she had had a lot of boyfriends and her longest relationship was 2 and half years. She sighed and said, “no one seems to want to marry a strong, independent woman.” Of course, I saw that as a challenge and dove in.

    We had a lovely falling-in-love period. She seemed to want to bond, and after a couple of months, confessed that she loved me. My defenses went down and I began to attach.

    After 3 months, she still had not spent the night at my place, and had only spent a few hours there, being pretty disinterested in my books, paintings, or how I lived. Yes, I know, a sign that I ignored. I did try to establish mutuality time and again, using the tools I learned in years of therapy, but to no avail. Nearly all of our activities were based around her nice home. I needed to move anyway, so I wound up moving closer to her, thinking that it would make it easier for her to stay at my place, too. I wound up living a half a block away.

    I know that is unusual, and discussed it the option with her. I decided to move to a place about a mile away. She told me she really did want me to live closer to her, so I went against my better judgement, thinking I was “investing” in deepening our relationship. She never did sleep in my bed, and only came over a couple of times.

    After the move, she began to subtly pull away and we slipped into the same dynamic you describe in your post, with her skillfully sidestepping anything that led to commitment. I knew that if I pushed too hard, I’d lose her, and I worked very hard at slowing down and taking my power back.

    In the first throes of our relationship, we had stumbled upon a great deal for a vacation in Hawaii, so we booked it in advance, for October. We took our kids to Maui for 2 weeks in October and had a wonderful time, or so I thought. I’m guessing this trip was too much of a bonding experience for her. Upon our return she would only communicate with me via texts and kept saying she was too busy to see me. She had totally changed our pattern and would not acknowledge that anything was different. Before this, she was usually pretty booked up but we spent time together anyway, with me usually hanging out at her place, helping her daughter with her homework or cooking.

    After Maui, she totally dropped all affectionate terms and did not reciprocate my tenderness. I was feeling the knife in my chest. I called her to ask if we were OK as a couple, my heart pounding in my chest, and she very lightly said “sure!” I wasn’t reassured.

    After another week of being pushed away, I phoned her and asked if she was sure everything was OK. This time she said, “you’ve got to be kidding!” and broke up with me… saying that our chemistry just wasn’t right for her, and that we obviously didn’t work as a couple. This threw me into one of the worst tailspins of my life. How could she throw away someone she loved? In my darker moments, I still grapple with that.

    This was the latest in a long string of such experiences for me, including having a wife of 12 years abandon me.

    So yes, the roles can certainly be reversed in gender… and I am living proof of that. I am glad that your books use examples from both sides of the equation, as it seems most information out there (and there isn’t much!) inevitably is about women being abandoned by men.

    I have also learned from your books and a reassessment of my own life that I have — unknowingly — abandoned and ran away from some worthy women who were genuinely interested in having a love relationship and, like my last fickle partner, I felt no chemistry and checked out. So I have played both roles, but the dominant role in my life is as someone who is left holding the pieces and usually wondering what I did wrong.

    I just want to say that your books have helped me a great deal. They speak to me — a man — as clearly and directly as any such books I have ever read. At times, it is as if you have a window into my life and my heart. I am a healthy red-blooded male with heterosexual preferences and a masculine, if sensitive, nature. So I think the abandonment experience is definitely not gender-dependent, although I would guess that more women experience it than men. Perhaps that is why women in general seem wiser.

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