Distancers dislike setting boundaries
Strangely enough, Distancers are typically uncomfortable setting boundaries in a clear but compassionate way with people they feel close to. One way this inability to set boundaries develops is that the Distancer’s parent punished him or her with anger or cold withdrawal when the child did not want to accommodate and go along with the parent. Setting boundaries, therefore, became dangerous for the Distancer because of the risk of incurring a hostile reaction from someone he or she depended on for survival. Thus, the Distancer learned to protect him- or herself by staying emotionally distant and no longer needing to set boundaries in an intimate or personal situation.
Avoid pressure and manipulation
Thus, Distancers are particularly uncomfortable with people who are prone to want something from them, for example, people who are needy, controlling, or manipulative. Thus, it is important to avoid manipulating or pressuring your boyfriend into doing things he may not want to do, such as spending more time with you or opening up and talking more. So when he says or hints that he prefers to stay home instead of being with you, respond with easy kindness and without causing him to feel manipulated or guilty, “Too bad. I’ll miss you. Have a great evening.” Tone of voice is key—it should render no feelings of guilt. Over time, he may feel that it is not as threatening to resist accommodating you as it was for him as a child.
If the Distancer opens up and expresses emotion or something personal, be careful not to criticize or analyze him and don’t grill him for more information. It’s better to just listen, and then say something like, “I appreciate you’re telling me that.” Or “Is there anything I can do to help?” And then allow the subject to be changed if he starts to feel uncomfortable.
In these ways, the Distancer will learn over time that the earlier hazards of intrusion and control no longer threaten him. As a result, he will probably open up a bit more (especially if he is younger.) But don’t expect a big change. He will likely remain somewhat on his guard.
Focus on yourself
Part of the beauty of a relationship is learning from the person you are drawn to. Focus on why you are attracted to a Distancer and in what ways you could learn to become more like him. He probably has fine qualities typical of a Distancer, such as having discretion and being autonomous, that might benefit you. Learn to resist the desire for more connection, and simply appreciate the connection you do have as well as the time you spend apart or with others.
If he is significantly closed off and spends inordinate time alone, you can talk to him about your needs. Try to be specific, and make sure you do not manipulate him as that is sure to backfire. Ask him how he sees the ideal balance of separateness and togetherness in your relationship. If his desire for connection is very different from yours, be prepared for disappointment and perhaps for moving on from this relationship, because people only change when they themselves are motivated to do so.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen