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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: My Partner Keeps His Distance in Our Relationship

Dear Stavroula,

I am 30 years old and for a year now I have been dating a man two years younger than me. Our relationship is a bit strange. I am very much in love with him and although he assures me that his own feelings are similar, his actions do not correspond with his words – except for some periods that are few and far between. When everything seems ideal, he suddenly ‘disappears’ for long periods of time that can reach up to 10 days. He makes various excuses to avoid seeing me. I call him and he does not pick up and many times the messages he sends me are concise. And while I know I should treat him accordingly, the farther he pushes away, the more I insist on bringing him closer to me. When I push him to explain to me why his behavior changes and he becomes cold and distant, he insists that nothing has changed and that he is just a different type of character from me, who is insecure and needs constant confirmation. Sometimes when I was very disappointed with his behavior, I asked him to break up. After that our relationship improved significantly for a while. He kept calling me, telling me that he loved me, and that he wanted us to be together and all that. And then: the same thing happened. I feel very confused and do not know what to do. How do I know what he really feels for me?

Konstantina

Dear Konstantina,

Many of us find attractive people who for some reason do not allow us to get very close to them, who do not ‘open up,’ so we do not know exactly how they feel about us, while we consider less interesting the people who as partners would be easier to understand.

Partners in the first category may seem more attractive to us, perhaps because they always have something mysterious or enigmatic about their behavior that may confuse us about their feelings, but that is exactly the trap. They have something that does not allow us to feel confident that we know them, that we have understood the way they think. Other times they treat us in a way that calms us down about their feelings and other times in a way that makes us doubt. Near them, sometimes we soar to the heavens and other times we fall into an abyss of doubt and frustration that can give us feelings of anxiety, despair, even guilt or self-pity that diminishes only when we get what we so desperately need: confirmation that they love us. It is this alternation of intense emotions that does not allow us to think logically, that does not allow us to see what is behind it.

Usually people who distance themselves in their relationships are full of fear and insecurities. They are so deeply afraid of the rejection and abandonment they may have experienced in their childhood or at some point in their lives when they were vulnerable. So they may choose to distance themselves from their partner, whenever they feel that they are being too closely approached emotionally by their partner, in order to protect themselves and avoid the emotional pain that may come if the relationship does not go well. Or they may not have had the opportunity to experience a healthy and trusting emotional relationship, so feelings of emotional security, intimacy, and love may be unavailable to them and they avoid them.

The person you are in a relationship with very likely belongs to this category. When he feels pressured – for his own reasons – by your relationship, he shuts off communication using various excuses, such as work or other obligations, assuring you that he is avoiding you for some other reason, which has nothing to do with emotions. In fact, he tries to convince you that his own behavior is normal, while yours is the result of personal weaknesses and that it has nothing to do with his own behavior.

The only way to manage such a relationship is to understand that the motive for your partner's behavior may not be indifference but the inability to manage his intimacy and feelings, and that he may be a very wounded person. However, this is not enough.

You need to think about whether you can bear to be in such a relationship, which may not turn into something better, especially if he does not realize exactly what is happening. Perhaps you can do that with the help of an expert. It is very difficult to maintain a relationship when both partners perceive love differently, even if they both have feelings of love.

In addition, it would also be good to understand why you chose to bond and keep trying to approach a person who keeps his distance. What is your need that is covered by his own behavior? Also, try to find out why you do not find other types of people attractive who are more approachable. Try to find out if there are any common characteristics in the people you have chosen as partners in the past. It may help you to understand yourself better, and to understand what can help you in your personal pursuit of happiness.

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Dear Stavroula, I am 28 years old and in a relationship for three years with a woman a little older than me.

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