What to Do When You Feel Someone Pulling Away
The pain of a partner pulling away is real. Here’s how to maintain your sanity.
Posted Feb 09, 2016
One of the most painful feelings in life is the sharp tug of someone you love pulling away. You don’t even have to be in an official relationship to feel deeply rejected when someone you’re interested in stops being interested in you.
One of the greatest challenges you’ll face when sensing someone pull away is the confusion and uncertainty over what’s really going on. People rarely openly admit that, “Yes, I am distancing myself from you,” and this lack of clarity creates an unsavory blend of half-truths, accusations, doubt, and anxiety.
While I can’t tell you how to stop someone from pulling away if they truly desire distance – I’m not sure that’s something anyone can stop – the following tips will help you keep your sanity during this trying and uncertain time.
1. Don’t panic.
For some people, even the hint of emotional withdrawal from a romantic partner is enough to send them into panic mode. Although it’s understandably hard to ground yourself when you start feeling panicked, use any and all self-soothing and self-care measures to not freak out and send 15 accusatory texts the minute you feel that something’s off.
Panicking worsens the situation for two reasons. First, when people panic, they become so physiologically aroused that they can’t think clearly – putting themselves in a position to potentially do more harm to the relationship than good. Second, if you act “crazy,” for lack of a better word, it’s easier for your partner to dismiss your legitimate concerns about their behavior.
2. Believe in your reality.
In this situation, it’s incredibly easy to convince yourself that you’re overreacting and shouldn’t be bothered by behavior that clearly bothers you. Now, you may indeed be especially sensitive to perceived threats of withdrawal, but convincing yourself that the way you feel is “wrong” or “crazy” helps no one.
Plainly put, your interpretation of the situation is as real and valid as anyone else’s, and the first person who needs to believe in your interpretation is you.
3. Present your evidence and interpretations.
Now comes the tricky part. At some point, you’ll need to communicate to your partner what you’re seeing in their behavior and how it’s making you feel. It’s quite a challenge to do this without coming across as accusatory, so here are some mini-tips for communicating your points as effectively as possible:
- Refer to specific examples and instances of behavior, if possible. This helps reduce unfocused complaining.
- Focus less on what the other person did and more on how you’ve interpreted what they did. This takes the focus off them – hopefully minimizing defensiveness – and puts it more on you and what you need to be happy.
- Be cognizant of your tone. Even if you have every right to be angry, the most useful tone here is one that communicates warmth.
- Do NOT have this conversation over text or email! If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your feelings in a real-life conversation, the relationship may not be important enough to save.
4. Prepare for justifications.
Even if you present your facts and interpretations perfectly, your partner will almost certainly attempt to justify his or her behaviors. You will hardly get through a conversation like this without an, “Oh, I just didn’t call you back because I was busy. It doesn’t mean anything – I love you!”
Try your best not to take these justifications as the other person dismissing your feelings. From his perspective, he’s trying to explain his behavior so you understand that it meant no slight against you. Justifications may be annoying, but they’re usually well-intentioned.
Of course, the other person might actually be dismissive of your feelings, but that will look different – it will include belittling comments, insults, or refusals to engage in the conversation.
Once you’ve clearly communicated how your partner’s behaviors have been making you feel, take a step back and wait to see if there’s a change. Is she now acting in a way that conveys to you that she understands what you need to be different? If yes, then the situation was likely a misunderstanding, and she may never have been pulling away at all.
But, of course, if the behaviors continue or escalate, it’s quite possible that the relationship is coming to an end. During this painful time, take comfort in the knowledge that you handled the situation as well as anyone can.
Kira Asatryan is a certified relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships.