- in Commitment
“A busy, vibrant, goal-oriented woman is so much more attractive than a woman who waits around for a man to validate her existence.”
~ Mandy Hale
It’s a typical day... you go to work, hit the gym, grab a coffee with a friend and head home looking forward to catching up with your boyfriend over a quick bite.
But, when you arrive home, you find that he is withdrawn and cold. You ask him what is wrong because the last time you spoke, all was well. He says he doesn’t want to talk about it or perhaps his answers are curt. Confused, you review all of the interactions you’ve had with him lately, trying to understand why he is acting this way. You begin to question yourself and assess what you could have done or said to have caused his withdrawal.
Initially, you feel sad that he won’t talk to you about whatever is bothering him.
Then anger starts to creep in, or maybe you feel like withdrawing now too. “Why does he do this? Doesn’t he know that he can just talk to me about whatever is bothering him? I feel like I am always walking on eggshells so I don’t upset him!” And on and on go your thoughts and then your mood takes a turn for the worse.
So, here’s the super important part….even though it is almost customary to hear,
“You made me mad” or “You made me feel stupid”, no one can actually “make you” feel any particular way. We each see and feel the world through the lens of our own personal history.
Here’s an example...say you and I are both on snapchat at the same time. We both receive the following message, from the same person, at the exact same time: “You are such an idiot!” Let’s say you absolutely know that you are smart and you have zero history or insecurity with feeling stupid. You feel nothing from that comment.
Alternatively, I have a painful history of being ridiculed for a learning disability that earned me the label of “stupid” from my teachers and peers.
That particular comment may sting quite a bit and linger in my thoughts and emotional being for awhile after it is said. Same moment in time, same person making the same comment to us both, yet I am hurt and you aren’t affected in the least bit. This is what I mean when I say that no one can “make us feel” any particular way.
Rather, our history and unresolved pain will inform how we experience a comment or behavior of another. This said, it is our responsibility to be accountable for and work to heal the parts of ourselves that hold emotional history.
So-what do you DO when your man gets triggered and acts cold?
First and foremost, take three (and I mean three) deep, slow breaths. Give your mind, your nervous system and your body a moment. Secondly, don’t initiate a conversation with him if YOU are feeling triggered (sad, angry, needy, scared). That will only worsen the situation and likely intensify the unwanted behavior of your partner.
See if you can center yourself (sink into your place of knowing and compassion for YOU), and get clarity that this is about his personal history and has nothing to do with you. Also be mindful that he may have no awareness about why he got triggered. We often don’t know why we emotionally respond to an event or a comment (therapy can help you to understand these parts of yourself.)
Next, see if you can access compassion or neutrality, for both him and you in that moment.
Loving and supporting yourself in these moments is the key to a healthy relationship with yourself and ultimately with your partner (just like on the airplane where you must put the oxygen mask on first before you can help another).
Then, acknowledge that it appears that he desires space and time to himself and you want to honor that part of him. This can be tricky if your parts are triggered and what you really want to say is “ WTF??? Get over it!! Or at least, “Would you frickin talk to me about it??? I’m not a mind reader!!!”
Then BEFORE you initiate a conversation with him at all, see if by acknowledging your own feelings, you can step outside of the intensity of your feelings and speak for the feeling, not from it. This is a super important skill and incredibly useful mantra….Speak FOR my parts, not FROM them.
When you speak for them, you speak from your place of compassion and kindness and not from the part of you that carries the frustration or anger. When you can do this, even a little bit, the person you are speaking to will feel less attacked and ultimately more open to sharing with you what is going on for them.
Finally, honor the parts of him that are asking for space.
After you have spoken FOR your parts “Joe, when you withdraw like this, it is upsetting for me and yet I want to give you the space you need. When you feel like you are ready to talk let me know.” Hopefully one day, Joe will try to understand what it is within him that causes him to withdraw. Until then, you now have the tools to take care of yourself when your man turns cold.
Martha Arnett, MSW, LCSW – www.centered-psychotherapy.com
There are many reasons why he might become distant or cold.
At the core of your anxiety regarding his behavior is the question of whether he is losing interest in the relationship. It is normal to worry if he is losing interest if he becomes distant. This may or may not be the issue. The best strategy in this kind of situation is to ask him how he is doing and how he is feeling. Give him the opportunity to talk to you. Be mindful not to get defensive or make it about you when you talk to him about why he might be distant. Let him know that you are available to talk.
If he has pulled away and it is more than a few days, there may something else going on.
When he is cold or distant, is it because he is moody, or does it mean he is losing interest? If he has become distant to the point that he has stopped returning calls or texts, then he might be losing interest. Did he check out for a few days after something happened? Did he have something else in his life happen that might make him behave this way?
A client told me that the man she was dating pulled away 6 weeks after they started dating. She felt that they were moving forward and had a good start to the relationship. She was worried that she was going to get hurt because he was not as available and as attentive as she wanted him to be like when they first started dating. When I asked if she thought anything was going on in his life that might explain his behavior, she mentioned that he lost his job and his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
I explained to my client that despite his initial excitement at the beginning of the relationship, these recent changes in his life might be the reason for his distance. She was worried that she could not be there for him and support him given these new developments. She was honest with him and he stopped calling and returning her texts.
We discussed that he probably did not have the capacity to attend to a new relationship and so the issue was not about losing interest but the timing. He could not give the relationship the attention it needed to develop. At first, she took it personally. After some discussion, my client realized that his situation caused him to be unavailable and that he needed the space and time to focus on finding a job and emotionally supporting his family.
Men and women have different styles of communication.
Men often think about something and make a decision. The problem is that he might forget to tell you what he decided. Some men withdraw and become distant when they are dealing with stress or are emotionally overwhelmed. This may be the way he copes with his emotions or something that is bothering him.
Women process as they speak and are more inclined to discuss their feelings with others. Women are more open about talking about their problems. Men are not. Men do not like to appear weak and often struggle with vulnerability. He may not share something with you because he is embarrassed or afraid of how you will react.
Be patient and approach him with curiosity.
Do not get defensive if he does not want to share his feelings with you initially. He might become distant as a way to protect himself or keep from feeling vulnerable. It may take him some time to open up to you especially if you are in the early stages of the relationship. He needs to know that he can trust you with his feelings and it may take him time to share something with you.
Don’t force him to share or belittle him if he is not ready to share. He may worry that you will judge him for how he feels. With time, he will be able to be vulnerable with you.
Is it unusual for him to be distant? Is this a pattern or is this the first time you are noticing this behavior? Is this what he does when he is moody? Did he become distant after something you said? Is the relationship solid? Have you been dating for a while?
These are important questions to ask when gauging the context of his behavior. It can be difficult for men to express emotions and his way of coping may be to become cold and distant. Be mindful if this is a pattern for him if it happens every time you have a disagreement. This is a passive aggressive way of punishing you for disagreeing with him.
If he shuts you out and distances himself on a regular basis, this may be his communication style.
If this style is not working for you, address it sooner than later. If he is willing to work on communication and be engaged in the relationship, this is a good sign. If he refuses to work on it and keeps repeating this behavior, you need to recognize it for what it is and determine if this is going to work for you in the relationship.
If he recognizes behavior and works on it, then give him some time to change. If he continues to do it, then it might be time to call it a day, especially if this behavior is not changing after you brought it to his attention.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Men that are in tune with their partners may not want to burden them with their problems. If he knows that you become easily stressed, he might think that it is easier to keep things to himself. He may have enough to worry about without adding stress to the relationship by sharing his problems with you. At the same time, confronting issues together makes the relationship stronger. It helps to develop trust and confidence between partners.
Work on being able to agree to disagree. Don’t be needy when he is asking you for attention. Don’t talk over him when he is trying to tell you something. He may start slowly when trying to let you in so don’t cut him off before he has finished talking.
If you really care about him, show him with your words and actions. Hold his hand or hug him to comfort him if he seems distressed. Don’t give advice or tell him what to do when he is done sharing. Ask him what he wants to do and let him process his thoughts with you. This will help you earn his trust.
Keep in mind that if you are in the early stages of the relationship, he may not be used to communicating how he is feeling.
Again, be open and available to listen to him without judgement or demanding behavior. Give him time to develop the confidence and trust he needs to express his feelings. Listen to what he is saying and do not be dismissive of his needs. Men are more fragile than they can seem on the surface.
Defensive behavior from a man may signal that he is afraid of being hurt. Be gentle and compassionate in your approach. Treat him the way you want to be treated and respect the way he feels even if you don’t feel the same way.
Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net
In most relationships, emotions tend to ebb and flow.
There are times when one is a pursuer, and times when one is pursued. Nothing ever stays the same. The challenge for most women is learning how to navigate the murky waters of our own emotions, and how to allow our partners to feel their feelings and honor them- even when they are not the emotions we would prefer that they felt in that moment.
In most areas of our lives, being a proactive go-getter is the surest way to success.
However, relationships are different. There are two people involved with their own agendas. Although our natural instinct may be to push for what we want, the result can often end up pushing someone else away, of they are already pulling away. Dating and relationships are more of a dance. And in situations where men become cold and distant, and take space, it is best to let go.
Who knows why men often become distant? It is not your job to figure that out.
There are a million different reasons, ranging from stress at work, their own physical or emotional issues, or maybe they are not that into you. It's your job to remain first and foremost committed to your self, your goals, and knowing what you deserve. You have to remember that you are the prize. Anyone that isn't fighting for your attention and love, does not deserve all of your heart.
Let them take the space they need.
And either they will come running back, realizing how special and important you are- in which case you can reevaluate. Or, they will move on. And, in that case, you must realize that the right one for you, that deserves your love, will never let you go. Have faith in love, and most important your own self-worth.