One minute ago, everything was going swimmingly—he was texting every day, initiating plans, and making you feel all the feels. Then, without any warning, you sense “the shift.” You know the shift I’m talking about. It starts one day when you don’t hear from him. But you tell yourself it’s fine—he’ll reach out later. But he doesn’t. The anxious paranoid frustration sinks in. Then comes the question of how to handle it. “Should I text him again? Something playful just to let him know I’m thinking about him? Or should I tell him, honestly, that I’m annoyed?”
You send something; he finally responds. But his energy isn’t conversational or playful or even genuinely apologetic. And you know where this is headed: to the land of failed relationship prospects! It’s the worst.
But now as a psychotherapist, I see this through an entirely different lens. I don't only have my own stories, I've heard others too; and it's given me a much more nuanced and analytical approach, pushing me to take a closer look at the most common reasons guys are pulling away:
- He’s not interested in a relationship with you (sorry)
- He has an avoidant attachment style (oh no)
- He senses you want a deeper commitment than he does (frustrating)
- There is something going on in his life that’s taking up his attention (this is tricky)
All of these reasons have one thing in common: He is pulling away because it is easier than telling you he isn’t interested in a deeper relationship. He’s consciously or unconsciously trying to show you that he doesn’t want to move further—and he doesn't want to talk about it. It actually makes sense, and chances are, you've been here too. After all, it is tough to have a conversation with someone when you know they will be disappointed. That is an experience both men and women alike would rather just avoid. Is that noble? No. But it is understandable.
Now, since we have no control over how others behave, let's focus on how you can support yourself if you find that this is happening to you.
01. Hold off on the angst, and straight talk instead.
Look, it’s totally human to feel angry and neglected when you feel "the shift." I'll be the first to admit that in my past, I definitely was guilty of sending the occasional (barrage) of passive aggressive messages in these scenarios. Yet somehow my sassy sarcasm never worked to my advantage. Instead, I had to learn to react with honest, direct communication. The hard part about this is we are often conditioned to believe that if we are too direct we will push him away further. But if he is already acting distant what do you actually have to lose? Try saying something like, “Hey, I want to check in on how things are going between us. I’m feeling a shift in your behavior and just want to see if we are on the same page.”
You may feel this is way too direct. But consider the alternatives—why would you want to waste your time being passive and playing games? This is your life and I urge you to actively participate in it and speak up.
02. Get comfortable in the empty space.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety for years, there are few things I hate more than having to sit with conflict and discomfort. I've since learned there is a lot of valuable information to be gained by taking space. What happens when you back off? Does he begin to pursue you more? Do you never hear from him again? Obviously, each situation will yield different results. But the point I’m making is that if you can’t step away and just focus on yourself for just a little while, it’s possible you are using dating and relationships to fill an internal void. If your urge is to pursue him hard when he begins to pull away, consider it an opportunity to work with your anxiety and leave him out of it.
I know this is easier said than done. We thrive on instant gratification and trying to "let it be" means sitting with feelings of discomfort. But you can do it! Get a sister or friend (or two or three) to support you—and text them anytime you feel that urge to text him.
03. Delete, delete, delete . . .
I don’t know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. While modern technology allows us to have the world at our fingertips, it also allows us to have other people’s lives at our fingertips (this visual interpretation of a breakup totally nails it). It’s great for planning an epic vacation across the globe, but not so great for trying to get over a relationship. We simply have too much access to peek into the lives of the people we date, and some things are better left unknown. Consider the impact your social media snooping is having on you. I bet it hinders more than it helps.
Take care of yourself and start setting limits. For one, stop following him on all social media—you needn't have the reminders. If you have mutual friends, stop asking about him. It will be far easier to move on.
04. Say goodbye to self-blame.
In the midst of a relationship falling through the cracks, it’s easy to find yourself wallowing lost in self-pity, self-criticism, and self-doubt. Redirect yourself away from self-critical thoughts and focus on what you need to do to feel more supported. For instance, if you cope with disappointment by being hard on yourself, try coping in a different way. Give yourself a break and don’t let your inner critic run rampant. Realize that self-care in these cases isn't an indulgence, as much as a vital mechanism that will help you move on.
05. Let it go.
Now that you have some resources for moving forward it’s important to do just that. Holding on will not serve you well. It will keep you stuck in a cognitive rehash loop that will only create suffering. Take what you need from the situation to learn and then move on. Letting go offers new opportunities. Spend time with friends. Stay active. Focus on work. Date someone else. Like in all relationships that don’t work out, use this as an opportunity to learn and grow.