Email a Question

"Why Not?" Einstein by Mimi Stuart
Live the Live you Desire


Please ask a question or make a comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box.

_________________________________________________________________

298 thoughts on “Email a Question

  1. Sara

    I was trying to comment on a specific article, but for some reason, I could not do it. It was in the Intimacy Department. Once the Distancer falls out of love, is it possible for him to fall back in love with the Pursuer, if he is given the space and autonomy he requires?

    Thank you for the reply,

    Sara

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Yes, definitely. It happens all the time. But it is much more likely to happen if you really start living a more fulfilling and independent life. Ironically, when you are able to this, you will be less consumed by hopes of the Distancer being in love with you again. So, it’s not just about giving space and autonomy to the Distancer, but more about embracing your own life, passions, interests, and autonomy, in a positive way if you can.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Kathy

    Hi Dr. Paulsen,
    I read your blogs for guidance in living with an emotionally volatile spouse. He is close, warm and loving one day and angry, mean and disrespectful the next. I understand that this has nothing to do with me, but with him, but I feel I am walking on eggshells in life. Your article on emotional fusion was very helpful. I don’t think I mother him – however, I am the breadwinner in the family and have been for all of our 12 years of marriage. What I would like to know is how to set boundaries around his anger being directed at me in a considerate way. Any tips or specifics on this would be very helpful.
    Thank you,
    Kathi

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello Kathi,

      It would be helpful to have a couple of examples.

      You could have a discussion with him and let him know how hurtful it is when he is mean, angry or disrespectful. Tell him you are open to hearing criticism, but want it to be constructive and based on love and a desire to improve your relationship. When there is belittling or mean behavior, it makes you feel bad, you don’t deserve it, and it’s ineffective. So you will leave (the room, the house) without abandoning him, until you can discuss things calmly together. And then follow through. Stand up for yourself calmly and firmly, and leave when he is being disrespectful.

      I can give you better input if you give me a few examples.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Kathy

        Thank you. This is great advice and I will put it to immediate use. A few examples: On our way to a friend’s house, I let him know I was hungry and wouldn’t mind stopping for a quick bite. He agreed and we sat down with our son to eat some Thai food. During dinner, he went on and on about how I had ruined the evening by asking for food – I had ruined his momentum. This went on for some time.
        When I told him it the previous event was hurtful and disrespectful a few days later (when he was calm), he told he was in “his shell” and didn’t trust me. And that I should take the high road and not bring these small behaviors on his part up as if they are big things. I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I felt I was being blamed for letting him know how I felt – as if he was passing responsibility on to me for his behavior.

        A few days later, he told me he felt lonely and that I had abandoned him because I was distant. I let him know I was simply maintaining a distance until I felt he could be kind and loving. He has since recognized his behavior and apologized, but it keeps happening.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi Kathy,

          These examples help.

          This example about stopping for Thai food seems to show that he tends to be accommodating, but another part of him resents being accommodating, and that’s the part that starts complaining and going on and on. This is a common problem, and everyone struggles with something. If I am right, then as the partner of someone who tends to accommodate rather than say something like “Why don’t you drop me at our friend’s house, and you go pick up something to eat” or “I’m looking forward to seeing our friends; let’s just pick up a sandwich at the store to go,” you would do well to encourage him to be more direct and honest, or at least to consider what you think his desires are even if he doesn’t express them.

          Now once you are in a situation where he has agreed to stop for Thai food (or whatever the accommodation is), and then he starts complaining, you should be firm but kind, and say something like, “Next time suggest getting something quick to go. I really prefer if you would speak up initially and let me know what you want. BUt once we decide to stop, please don’t complain. Let’s get to-go boxes and salvage the evening.” If he continues, ask for a to-go box, and leave. Don’t put up with such behavior, but don’t add to it by arguing or punishing him for it.

          I think it’s good to let him know you are on his side, that you want him to be happy, and that it would help if he would actually express his desires more clearly even if he’s afraid you won’t like it. And then you have to not punish him when he doesn’t want to accommodate you.

          I don’t think it’s helpful at all to give someone the silent treatment. Sometimes it’s good to distance yourself briefly from someone who is behaving poorly, but it’s best to show love and respect and try to be understanding.

          It’s more effective to have an immediate response to bad behavior–for example, as mentioned above, “I don’t want to wreck your momentum. Let’s get this to go, and leave.” But if you don’t or can’t handle something right away, it’s appropriate to speak to him, but first do so from a common ground of understanding. “I see now that you didn’t really want to stop for food but that you were trying to be accommodating, which I appreciate. Next time, don’t be so accommodating that you resent me and complain so much. Just try to be direct and suggest getting something to go.”

          Nobody’s perfect. He and you will make mistakes. But to minimize the pain of such mistakes, it is important to see things from the other’s point of view. You might read my article: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2016/10/28/compassionate-confrontation-he-said-hed-spend-more-time-with-me-but-has-not-followed-through/

          “Maintaining a distance until” you feel “he could be kind and loving” can really backfire. Distancing doesn’t necessarily cause the other person to desire, love and trust you. Sometimes I recommend that someone maintain more distance, but that’s in the case where the person is too needy and always pursuing their partner. But the kind of distance you are talking about feels a bit like punishment. It may cause the person to behave better, but it is out of fear of abandonment, not from a feeling of wholeness and enticement.

          If you have more examples I can see if there is something else going on as well.

          Good luck.

          Alison

          Reply
  3. Joshua

    Hello Alison,

    First I’d like to thank you for a brilliant blog. It’s helped me recognize a lot of negative behaviors and patterns in myself and others, and to cope/fix many of them over the years.

    I recently had a complex breakup with a friend who I was interested in, and going over it in my head (a bit too much, ruminating is hard to get out of), I’ve come up with a few things that I can improve in myself to prevent it happening again, and I would love a touch of guidance with what to work on. First, of course, context.

    I met the lady through a mutual friend near January, and spent some time getting to know her and spending time together. Our first date went well, talking for hours, going for a nice drive, a nice dinner. When I told her I’d like to date her, I acknowledged that I knew she had life things (chronic illness and a busy life calendar) going on. She told me that when someone asks her out, all her barriers go up for an indefinite time, and gave a brief of what that was like (withdrawal, only seeing her once a month or so, bringing other dates over in a way that isn’t meant to be flaunting but is), and asked for patience and understanding. She told me that she had really hurt people before by the end of things, and apologized in advance. I said that I would try to not develop any expectations, which I eventually failed at.

    I tried to grant the understanding she requested, but the withdrawing hurt more than I expected it to. When I tried to talk to her about it online, she responded with silence, until it became, “If we don’t talk about this, our friendship is over” weeks later. We did, and things reset some. She was still distant, but I have my own life, I can manage with only the occasional visit. I don’t tend to get genuinely interested all that often, so I wasn’t putting off a dating life for this.

    Months passed with her still pulling further and further away, except for moments and sometimes whole evenings where the person she was before would shine through. One day she said that my giving her hugs without seeking express verbal consent was an issue. This was the first hint about anything being wrong in that way, and frankly the first time I’d ever heard of doing that (it felt extremely awkward) but I said I would try. I forgot later as things relaxed directly after that, and that’s on me.

    After a few months where the only times I saw her were when I happened to be at home when she was also there visiting my roommate, we had what I thought was a breakthrough moment. I asked her to talk that week, try to patch things up some. She said she’d like that, and that she’d have plenty of time because she was going to be house sitting a few hours away for a week. She proceeded to be “too busy” all week for me to come talk to her, but not too busy to drive those hours back into town several times to spend time with other people. At the end of it, I told her that she had hurt me, and she responded with silence. I spent the next week or so tearing myself apart, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

    We weren’t dating, I had said I wouldn’t develop expectations, and she and I had talked about how if she doesn’t confirm a plan for a specific date and time, it’s not a plan but an option. I ended up apologizing for developing expectations, and for the hugging thing (as I felt that maybe I had taken too much physical liberties without realizing it). She thanked me for my apology, without forgiving me or acknowledging the hurt she caused.

    A month or so later, I threw her a small going away bash at her request, so she could spend some time with me and our mutual friend before she left for a while. She even came early so we could spend some time before the party (we went grocery shopping). After maybe ten minutes, she was in a conversation on her phone, and I might as well have not been there. The whole night, she sat on her dates lap and barely acknowledged my existence. I told her online that that had hurt me, and that I’d like to talk about it. She never replied. She comes over sometimes to visit my roommate still, and I’ve been ignoring her existence because I can’t cope with it anymore.

    At this point, I’ve written her off as a bad job. I would have much earlier, but she had apologized beforehand, and stayed true to what she said she would do. She told me she’d hurt me, I accepted that risk, and she did. She asked for patience and understanding, and I did my best to grant it.

    Now, for questions:

    Did I grant too much leeway? Without the context, I would say absolutely, but it’s far enough in the grey that I’m not sure.

    I know without seeing the messages, you can’t tell me outright, but is it possible that the lack of communication was on my end, in trying to give understanding and patience instead of making my discomforts more clear?

    Was that fusion? My making her responsible for my well-being or self esteem in some way? Why would I tear myself apart trying to figure out why it was my fault otherwise?

    Is it just a classic example of being the pursuer? Chasing her when she didn’t want to be chased without realizing it?

    And lastly, should I try to reconcile in some way, get closure, clear up intentions and hurts, or should I continue to write it off as a black page in my personal history, to learn from but not to fix?

    Thank you for reading, and thank you so much for all of the advice in your articles throughout the years

    Josh

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Josh,

      I’m sorry for the pain you’ve experienced in this relationship, although to me, it sounds like the pain most people feel in a one-sided relationship, especially an early, like first, second or third relationship when young, or after a long marriage. I don’t want to downplay the suffering and disappointment you’ve experienced. But I believe that most people who have a sufficiently-strong sense of self to open themselves up to a hoped-for deep or intimate relationship, will get hurt at some point, and as a result, will learn things that they can’t learn by reading, observing, or talking to others. So this doesn’t show any deep flaws in you, but it will enable you to learn to see several red flags earlier on in the future, and also to know more clearly how to develop a more sustainable relationship.

      First the red flags, and then I’ll respond to your questions.

      1. “She told me that when someone asks her out, all her barriers go up for an indefinite time, and gave a brief of what that was like (withdrawal, only seeing her once a month or so, bringing other dates over in a way that isn’t meant to be flaunting but is), and asked for patience and understanding. She told me that she had really hurt people before by the end of things, and apologized in advance.

      This is a red flag–that she tends to hurt people who simply ask her out, and doesn’t seem to have control over it. You don’t want to be with someone who does the above things, and feels no control over doing them.

      2. Not responding to your emails and asking you not to hug her without consent are both red flags that show she had lost interest in you romantically, or that she has some issues with clear communication and empathy. Moreover, you seemed to be apologizing all the time, while she was the one avoiding you and hurting you, without being clear that she’s not interested.

      3. “she and I had talked about how if she doesn’t confirm a plan for a specific date and time, it’s not a plan but an option.

      Here she is either a Distancer or not interested. In both cases, you should have backed off. You want to have a relationship based on mutual desire. I know it’s hard to back off when you are very interested, but you will learn that it is crucial to do so when someone is distancing themselves the way she was.

      4. ” I threw her a small going away bash at her request, so she could spend some time with me and our mutual friend before she left for a while. She even came early so we could spend some time before the party (we went grocery shopping). After maybe ten minutes, she was in a conversation on her phone, and I might as well have not been there. The whole night, she sat on her dates lap and barely acknowledged my existence. I told her online that that had hurt me, and that I’d like to talk about it. She never replied.

      She is not very considerate and seems to be taking advantage of you. Your lesson is to lose interest in people like that. It’s not very gratifying. Put more effort into doing things you enjoy or doing things for people who are appreciative and like being with you. Don’t beat yourself up for any of this. It’s a good life lesson.

      As to your questions:

      1. “Did I grant too much leeway?

      Yes, you did. And you wanted to discuss things with her too much. Next time seek more balance in people’s actions. You could tell by her actions that she wasn’t nearly as giving toward you as you were toward her.

      2. “is it possible that the lack of communication was on my end, in trying to give understanding and patience instead of making my discomforts more clear?”

      No. I think you were too understanding. While it can be helpful to be able to express your discomforts, in this case, I think you were just too hopeful that she would be someone she’s not. Next time, pay attention to someone’s actions, as well as their words. She warned you that she has big problems with intimacy, and she did not express much desire to spend more time with you.

      3. “Was that fusion? My making her responsible for my well-being or self esteem in some way? Why would I tear myself apart trying to figure out why it was my fault otherwise?”

      I’m not sure it was fusion. I simply think it was a learning process. There was something that really attracted you to her. So you tried to accommodate her so much that you forgot about your own self-respect and the need for reciprocity. You are to blame (but not in a big negative way) for continuing to pursue her and for hoping for a relationship with her despite her behavior. I think you are trying to find out how you participated in this painful scenario because you want to avoid repeating such a situation in the future. And that’s good. You don’t want to close off your heart in the future, but you should use your objective reason more in the future in order to protect your heart. It also takes self-discipline to back off when there’s little reciprocity, and to avoid being overly accommodating and nice in hopes of receiving gratitude. There’s no safe way to completely protect your heart, but you can avoid some unnecessary pain by seeking a more reciprocal relationship.

      4. “Is it just a classic example of being the pursuer? Chasing her when she didn’t want to be chased without realizing it?”

      Well yes, there is a definite pursuer/distancer dynamic here, but it’s not just that. You’re unique, and your attraction and circumstances were unique. I think it’s best to live and learn and continue on.

      5. “Should I try to reconcile in some way, get closure, clear up intentions and hurts, or should I continue to write it off as a black page in my personal history, to learn from but not to fix?”

      I would say no, don’t reconcile and try to talk to her. That’s just more pursuing. If she approaches you, be kind and respectful and don’t seek a conversation and more time with her. If you can avoid seeking closure and clarifying things, that would be growth for you!

      I’m so glad you like my blog. I really appreciate it.

      Let me know how it goes.

      All the best,

      Alison

      Reply
  4. E

    I see my question was deleted with no reply. That ties in rather nicely with what I was inquiring about.
    ‘Why Do People Hate Me?’

    Maybe there was something in the way I presented the question… I don’t know… and that’s my problem. I haven’t got a clue what it is that I am doing that makes everyone just run away. I really DO need and really DO want some input here… so, I guess what I really meant to say is…

    It would be great to get some input into possibles here. If you can’t – that’s fine. At this point, I’l try just about anything though. At 58, I’m running out of time to sort this out.

    Fingers crossed that you don’t turf my question out again.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I was out of town for a week and sincerely apologize for your question deleted. I really don’t know what happened. Maybe they automatically delete if I don’t answer them right away, because I usually do answer right away.

      Would you please send the question again.

      Thank you.

      Alison

      Reply
  5. Dana

    Dear Alison,

    I’m wondering if you can give me some advice about my friendships.

    I recently officially cut ties with a 12 year friendship with one of my best friends. It was a long time coming though. We first met in high school and she was my first heartfelt best friend and I was hers too. Then we graduated and she and I pursued different studies. She had a very toxic relationship with a guy since high school graduation and after several on-and-offs with him (for 4 years), I stopped giving advice to her because she always asked for them, never listened to them anyways and after all the promises she made, she never respected herself and kept drowning in that relationship. But I was still around to hang out. Then she finally got off of that relationship. She found another guy. A senior this time. I was so happy for and proud of her. She finally did it! But my happiness didn’t last. This senior guy was worse. He was physically and verbally abusive to her. She became a different person. She was also abusive as well. I talked her in, talked her out, soft and gentle, harsh and loud, nothing worked. And what’s worst is she didn’t keep the relationship inside, she would talk about it to every person she met and started befriending fake superficial girls who she didn’t like anyways. I guess my harsh remarks to respect herself had been taken a toll on our friendship. She started refusing to hang out with me, making plans with those new fake friends, or our other mutual best friends without me, and it had been going on for the past 4 years. We cut ties officially a few months back on a group chat after a burst out. That was my best friend Amy.

    Our other mutual best friends, Beth and Chen, we became distant too. Beth and I were more compact when we used to work for the same company 4 years ago. Chen lives in another country since 7 years ago, and comes back once or twice a year. It’s been two years Beth, Chen and I last hanged out. They all have other circles of friends and Beth is even best friends with a few of them.

    So, I feel like they walked out of my life. But they were my only best friends. I loved them. I cared about them. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have a huge circle of friends and cherish the real values. I’m outspoken and don’t accept garbage from people. I also happen to know a few more things than my friends and that’s why they turn to me for advice and I’m happy to help them. On negative side, I can be very critical and don’t have patience for stupidity, superficiality, and bad romantic relationships. I’m not too focused on looks and selfies, but two of my girls are. I’m punctual and I can go out in a few minutes. They are always late, take two hours to get ready, take tons of selfies before we get down to anything. And you know it was okay when we had a lot of time younger. Now, we’ve got jobs and life and such.

    So, I guess that’s why they left me. I don’t have a true dear close friend anymore and that’s always in the back of my head and bothering me. I still have friends that are true, but not close. I feel like I need day by day close best friends that I can talk to, open up, hang out, shop, you know. I’m 26 now and it’s scaring me I won’t find another close friend and I’ll live alone when/if my romantic relationship fails. In my social network, I see everybody else is with their best friends and going on trips and I’m always finding myself alone, (I’m not lonely). I want to understand is this a part of growing up? Is this normal for adults not to have close best friends that they hang out all the time? This doesn’t sound like me but what can I do to amend myself to be liked and accepted by new people in order to become best friends? Will I ever have meaningful close friendships again?

    Thank you so much in advance.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Dana,

      Thank you for your question.

      Yes, I think you will have meaningful close friendships again, but they might be different, mostly in a good way. Yet that will take some effort on your part.

      I think what you’re describing is healthy. I think when you’re young, if you’re lucky, you tend to get a best friend or group of friends more easily because there’s a sense of mutual security. When you are young, you are still sort of discovering who you are. So you are more easy going and less critical of others, or you are critical but a bit codependent. It’s fun and gives you security to have one or more best friends that you can count on to hang out with and talk to.

      As you get a little older, you generally develop your thoughts, opinions, and values more, and one of two things happens. You either squash those opinions around those old friends for security’s sake, or you start speaking up and having more differences with your friends. They may not like that you don’t go along as much anymore, or you may not like their choices, either of which can lead to the end of the friendship. It’s part of growing apart. One person may grow more than the other, or you just grow to be different types of people.

      It sounds to me as though your friends, particularly the first one, just wanted someone to complain to, but wasn’t really interested in improving her relationships and her life. So it was annoying for her to be with you because you didn’t want to put up with her bad life choices anymore. Although it is a loss, it is also growth on your part, which will open up new possibilities for you in the future. I’m sure you could have kept them all as friends if you had hidden your opinions and played along with the parameters of their friendships. But that would not have been very fulfilling.

      Now you will have to make more of an effort to make friends. But I would not rush to find a best friend or a click of friends. I suggest being open to having a variety of friends, which will start out as acquaintances. It’s great if you can join a couple of groups or activities, sports, volunteer organizations, etc. that you are interested in. Then when you meet different people that you might like, suggest going to coffee or a movie or some small event, which is no big deal. It’s a little like dating. You’re more successful at it if you are confident and friendly but not pushy or needy.

      You may find that no one person will be the perfect friend. But rather than trying to get close to one person, put yourself out there to many people and gradually develop friendships (without being too needy and aggressive) over time. If you take your time getting to know many people, you can easily back off from certain people when you find that you are not interested in them. I would also suggest inviting a few people over for dinner. Make it fun. Eventually, a couple people will want to get together with you again, and over time you will have a variety of friends, one to see a movie with, one who might be a flake, but can be fun to go to a party or bar with, one to go to an art show with, one to talk about politics with, etc. Then you will meet friends of friends, and have more variety and richness in your life.

      I don’t know if having one best friend or only one group of friends is the ideal. But over time, if you don’t fear rejection and if you can make some effort without seeming needy, you will enjoy having a variety of friends.

      Let me know if you have further questions. And let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Just one more thing. Have a positive casual approach. “hey do you want to get coffee after work?” “I’m going to the gallery walk on Wednesday. You should come.”

      Also, introduce yourself to more people in your sphere–wherever you are–who seem like self-empowered people. Friendship starts with acquaintance. And outgoing people who are not clingy tend to be irresistible. Even if you are an introvert, you can develop the skills to introduce yourself and suggest meeting up somewhere that is not too much of a commitment.

      Reply
    3. Alison Post author

      Also, next time you have a friend whom you give advice to, and the friend continues to ignore your advice, don’t keep trying to give advice. Simply say that it’s discouraging that they repeat the same harmful behavior, and you don’t want to hear complaining about their relationships. It’s just too negative for everyone involved including yourself, because it isn’t leading to any change.

      In the case of a friend who is in an abusive relationship, tell them clearly, “I am always here for you if you decide to leave or do something about it. I want what’s best for you.” But then don’t participate in listening to endless complaints unless you sense a desire to get help to change the situation. Tell them clearly, “That is abuse, you need help. You should leave. Let me know if I can ever help you.” But making your friendship only about listening to complaints about abuse will not be gratifying or helpful to anyone.

      Reply
  6. Marie

    Hello,
    I’m wondering if you can offer me a temperature check, so to speak. My husband was raised in a family where his father was cold and removed and his mother was overly emotional. Hence he is very averse to histrionics. I was raised by two very emotionally volatile parents, hence I’m a bit of a powder keg myself (but working on it). We have been married for 14 years and its been a roller coaster relationship the entire time. Lots of fighting and conflict. We are both type A personalities. He is ADD. He is a physician and somewhat old school and pretty self absorbed. Also he’s VERY defensive with a fragile ego and shows little empathy. I think he has some narcissistic traits. He thinks I have some bipolar traits. I have done quite a bit of therapy in my life and work on myself a lot. He has told two marriage counselors that all the problems in our marriage are due to me. At any rate, he sometimes barks orders at me or is rude and condescending, and when things heat up he uses profanity and calls me names. If I tell him something bothers me (like the way he spoke to me) he will almost alway say I’m being “unreasonable” and that he is “setting a boundary” and won’t allow me to talk about it. Or he says “this conversation is over” and walks away. He does things that can be very selfish and rude and if I complain he says I’m being “toxic”. Other times he will tell me to “stay out of his business if I give any sort of feedback. He just feels impossible to live with because he rarely says he’s sorry and he is clueless that his behavior can be rude and abrasive and how this affects people. His best friend of 25 years just “broke up with him” but didn’t tell him why; his friend told me it was because my husband had become a “pri*k”. We have a 15 year old daughter, she’s seen us fight a lot although we are better with keeping it away from her. He is semi retired and so am I so we are both home quite a bit during the day and I think thats what causes us to fight. I just don’t know if I should stay with him at least until my daughter graduates.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m so sorry to hear all of that. My question is why are you staying with him? It is one thing if he loses his temper occasionally or is rude once a week and then apologizes, or if he wants to work on it and is accountable for his actions, and most of all, tries to make you happy. But calling you names, not apologizing, not owning any responsibility–why are you staying with him?

      I would be happy discuss this more, but need to hear the answer to give a more considerate answer. I’m not being facetious. It may be fear, security, or a desire to have an intact family, or maybe he is generally fun and engaging. Looking forward to hearing back from you.
      Alison

      Reply
      1. Marie

        Dear Alison,
        Thank you so much for your reply. I think I stay with him for many different reasons: 1) we’ve both been married before so we don’t want another failed marriage 2) we have a kid together and its hard for me to think about breaking our family apart for her sake 3) he is very smart and that is something I really need in a mate 4) we have mostly the same values regarding religion, politics, money etc 5) he can be fun and impulsive (his ADD side) which plays to my more hesitant controlling side 6) we are financially stable but he is the primary breadwinner so I’d have to go back to full time work 7) we are both in our early 50’s and that feels like a pretty advanced age to give up and try to start over.
        That being said, this is probably one of the hardest relationships I’ve ever been in. At times I think there is definitely someone better for me (or that being alone would be better) but then I wonder if I’m victim of the grass is always greener syndrome. What bothers me the most is that I can’t seem to find a way to talk to him where he listens and doesn’t get defensive. We actually both were taught the Imago technique by a counselor but he is just not able to do it. Its been about 3 years since we’ve seen a counselor and I don’t know if he will go again. The thought of even bringing it up to him makes me very nervous because he’s told me before he’s not doing any more counseling. I realize if I’m going to stay with him the rest of my life I need to move to acceptance phase. But I’m struggling mightily for a clear answer on what the best thing is to do.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hello,

          It’s helpful to know what is preventing you from leaving such an unhappy and unhealthy relationship. I think you might suspect what my response to your situation might be.

          First, you say you don’t want another failed relationship. Is staying in a failed relationship better than leaving one? We all make mistakes, have different challenges in our life, and have to adjust to external events and to changes in our relationships. We have to learn. I believe that staying in a failed relationship with very little if any hope for joy, mutual growth, and deepening love, is not good for you or your daughter.

          Second, you say that you are hesitant to end your relationship because you are in your fifties. You could easily live and thrive for another 35 or 40 years. Your best years are likely ahead of you. People can learn and have new relationships, grow, find joy and happiness in many ways. My mother is 85, making new friends and living the happiest phase of her life. Now that your husband is spending more time at home, ask yourself whether things are improving and will continue to improve, or the reverse. Ask yourself whether you can enjoy your life more in the next 30-40 years with him at your side or without? What you have described is an abusive relationship so I suspect the answer would be the latter.

          Regarding your daughter, I think staying in an abusive relationship is not good for anyone around you, especially your loved ones. On the contrary, I think seeing a parent who has the courage to seek a better life can make a huge difference for the child. Give your daughter some credit, she clearly recognizes there is a problem. I think explaining the situation, without unnecessarily disparaging your husband, is important. Showing her that you have the self-respect, can set clear boundaries and can take action to improve your own life will set a great example for her. In this situation there can be no greater gift.

          You seem to be a very capable and thoughtful person. I am sure you will find, and if necessary obtain full-time work and attract more positive people into your orbit. Independence from an abusive relationship can be liberating and without limitation.

          Good for you for taking responsibility in the conflicts between the two of you. Given that you recognize that you can be controlling and volatile, you can work on becoming a more effective communicator. Read or listen to tapes on nonviolent communication. Through practice, you will see how much more effective it is to listen and then to express yourself in a way that isn’t likely to cause the other person to be defensive. The IMAGO method is great too, and not so different, although sometimes it can seem contrived. The most important thing is the underlying intent to be understanding and not to control the other person, while also candidly expressing your important desires and needs in a positive way.

          If you do leave your husband, there is no need to blame him or to be hostile. Explain the situation in a “nonviolent” way. For example, “We have many values in common, I have enjoyed your wit, we share values, and most importantly, we have a beautiful daughter together. However, I need to be able to have two-way communication with my partner, to share more joy together, to find ways to grow together. I feel more and more sad and frustrated that we can’t talk together. I also want to be in a relationship where there is mutual respect, curiosity and love. I’m not blaming you, but I’m sure you understand that our relationship is becoming more and more unhappy for both of us. If you do not want to find a way to resolve our ongoing problems, I think it’s best that we separate. This makes me sad to say and I certainly don’t want to hurt you, but I can’t foresee continuing on the way we have been.” This is obviously just an example.

          Best of luck, and let me know if you have other questions.

          Alison

          Reply
  7. Lina

    I can’t accept my boyfriend the way he is.

    To start off this story, I need to share you about my ex. My ex was much older guy and he’s experienced in life, work and relationships. I looked up to him. Everything he did was smooth. He was detailed, keen and efficient. My second and current boyfriend is 2 years junior and I feel annoyed and disappointed at his shortcomings. I’m the leader and have the power in the relationship.

    Your pursuer-distancer article is so much relatable here. With my ex, I was the pursuer. With my current boyfriend, I’m the distancer. But I’m willing to work on this as I know he has other good qualities that I like. He loves me and he won’t let go of me. He always calls and wants to spend time with me, even if it’s just at home. He does not complain, get angry easily and he likes everything I do. He listens. He offers me good massages and is really good in bed. He compliments me, thinks I’m hot and tells me beautiful even when I’m in my pjs and taking off makeup. He drinks and smokes a little, does not do drugs, cheat, gamble. He’s a nice guy. Maybe he does all this because he does not really have a life, which I’ve talked to him about it and asked him to re-connect with old friends and make new friends at his workplace. He’s not as outspoken and independent as I am either.

    We don’t usually fight, but when we do, it’s always about his lack of ability to lead. I like to lead and I usually do, but I also expect him to lead. Whether it is just going to see a movie or how we’ll spend the coming weekend or planning a vacation. I want to have the knowledge that my partner is someone I can count on; when I can’t or don’t have time/ability to plan a vacation, he would come up with perfect itinery in hand to surprise me. I want a relationship where I’m excited with new ideas, passions, where I’m challenged, where he pushes me to the edge for improvement. He once asked if I knew my ex accomplished anything when he was his age.

    Do you consider this is something fixable or this is a deal-breaker? Also a small thing, do you think I’m just being shallow to think that he’s not as tall as I want him to be?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      That last question made me laugh. I know a couple of tall women with shorter men, and in both cases the women are very confident, and the men are comfortable with themselves. In fact both women will even wear heels and not care about exaggerating their height difference. I think it’s probably some sort of preference based on biology. I don’t think that’s very important, but it’s probably diplomatic not to say anything about it.

      I don’t think his lack of leadership and planning vacations, etc. is at all a deal breaker. No person has it all. You learned a lot from the older ex, but I bet he became a bit controlling, or needed to be admired, or wasn’t quite as complimentary, giving and dependable as your current boyfriend. Often kind, giving, amorous, loyal men are not as exciting and do not take control as much as other men. Maybe you will decide that you don’t want to stay with him, but until you do, I would appreciate all his good qualities, and avoid criticizing him for not being the leading type. On the other hand, you might not do all of the planning. You could suggest that he plan an evening or vacation without telling you the details. But then you should roll with whatever he suggests and avoid complaining that he didn’t do a good job. That way he’ll gain confidence and enjoy taking on the lead more. But he may never be as in control as you wish him to be. Either way, beware of criticizing him too much or pushing him to be different than he is. Give him the opportunity to grow and try being different without focusing too much on him changing.

      I think that nobody will have it all, and this boyfriend does some to have some really valuable qualities, like being so positive about you. You don’t know how rare that is, and how it can keep a relationship growing for decades. It also allows you more freedom to do what you want without having to worry about him taking it personally.

      Let me know how it goes. Good luck and enjoy all the positive that he seems to have.

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      One more thing. In a relationship where one person has more of the power in the relationship, it’s important to hold back from being controlling and critical to prevent the relationship from becoming more and more one-sided, and to avoid making your partner feel horrible, in which case he’ll never gain his own power. It’s great to be self-empowered in your own life, but try to resist using your power over him. He has many good qualities and is young it appears. In a relationship that has an accepting, encouraging, and loving atmosphere, he is apt to gain his own power, although he probably won’t become a full-on leader type.

      Reply
      1. Lina

        Dear Alison,

        Thanks so much for your reply.

        I am also dealing with a lot of stress at my current workplace which is a start-up and I’m the second in charge. The stress is not with the work, the stress is with the people I work with. My team is not as sharp as I wish they be. Like my previous relationship, in all my previous jobs, I worked with amazing people who were more experienced and intellectual comparing to myself. But now I don’t feel as challenged as I used to be. The water now flows from north to south because I’m in the north now. I was reading online and came across this. https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-get-over-my-low-tolerance-of-stupid-people. One of them suggests that “Try switching to a role where everyone around you is more talented than you. It is very rewarding to be challenged constantly.”

        So aparently, my work life mirrors with my personal life. In both places, I need to be more challenged. I feel the need to surround myself with smarter people where I keep learning new things.

        My sharp-tongued good friends would say that I’m out of my boyfriend’s league and honestly, but not in arrogance (I feel bad), I kind of believe so. My introvert boyfriend does not have many friends, does not go out, doesn’t have many ideas, doesn’t know a lot. My ex when he was my boyfriend’s age would have been very different. He had been a social and party animal and involved with a lot of women, drinking and just doing stupid stuff that he regretted later on. So ex got the commitment issue (emotionally unavailable?) when we broke up and current boyfriend is not very impressive.

        I’ve stopped giving snarky comments at my boyfriend recently and started to replace them with more constructive remarks, as I’m doing the same to my staff. Funny, my boyfriend once commented that I treat him like one of my staff_ I asked for timeline, research, action plan and checklist when we were planning for the previous vacations. I also had to do this because time was being wasted and if I say I’ll do this week, I get it done this week, but he was not that in the moment.

        I’m willing to work this out. I compromise with him that I’ll be more appreciative and less judgmental, and he’ll be more leading and less indifferent. I cannot have the cake and keep the cake too, can I? 🙂

        Your answers and advices are always helpful (I will work as you suggest) and I’m grateful to be writing to you. Thanks so much.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          It could be that he will always be slightly disappointing and frustrating for you to be with. You don’t have to have someone who is equally intelligent as you in the same areas, but if you are constantly judging him for being tame and uninteresting, then it’s not really fair to him to continue a long-term relationship, because he will always sense that you find him to be inadequate. Yet he seems to be a kind, loyal, and loving man.

          In the meantime, I would definitely work on yourself as you seem to be doing, to be focused on your own reactions rather than on his inadequacies.

          I do believe in having, keeping, and eating the cake if you can! The thing about dessert though is that you might like chocolate cake as well as blackberry pie, but mixing them together isn’t so great. Any individual person isn’t going to have all the qualities that you want. You have to decide which ones are the most important to you and then overlook what’s not quite stellar in that person. By learning to be accepting, you’ll bring out the best in the person.

          So you will have to figure out if your boyfriend really will always be slightly disappointing to you, and if so, you might do both of you a favor by moving on. Just don’t overlook the value of his qualities of being loving, etc. If many of your friends, whom you respect, are surprised that you are with him, that may be something to consider as well.

          By the way, I looked at the link you sent and liked this comment:

          Although there are some great answers here, I feel that they didn’t answer the question that was asked. They’re encouraging you to find the inner smartness in everyone. The question was, how do you increase your tolerance for stupid people? The answer is, don’t hold them individually responsible for their own intelligence, just like you wouldn’t hold someone responsible for where they were born or to whom. Much of intelligence has to do with genes and upbringing. If you want to be more tolerant, you should be grateful that you were born with the capabilities you were, and that you had people around you to encourage you and help you do something with them. Some people don’t have that luxury, and to be intolerant of them is akin to having any other prejudice.

          Be patient with people; keep your attitude in check when people aren’t doing anything to intentionally upset you. Take an opportunity to share what you know with them in a truly nurturing fashion, not because you think you’re better than them. Share your approach to learning and consider it an opportunity to better someone.

          In a primary relationship, however, there has to be a strong grounding of respect. If intelligence, ambition, and leadership are really important to you, it might be difficult for the two of you to deal with your ongoing efforts to overlook your judgment against him.

          Let me know what happens.

          By

          Reply
  8. JMM

    Hello Dr. Poulsen – I’m so glad I bumped into your website and blog accidentally while scouring the web for some answers. I hope you can help me. About 7 years ago, I had a major falling out with my oldest daughter F, over a problem she was having with her oldest daughter (my first granddaughter) C, who was 16 at the time and having the usual teenage mother-daughter disagreements. In a nutshell, F lost C, who ran away and decided to live with her dad, who was divorced from F. F was furious and took the path of wanting to punish C. She withheld most of C’s personal belongings, etc. , which didn’t work because C went to Court to make it official for her dad to have sole custody of her. With that, the Court ordered F to release all her belongings to C in her new home. Next, F decided that our entire family, her sisters, her dad and me, was to ostracize C. F called a family meeting and ordered all of us not to return her phone calls, not to see her, and to erase her from our lives. She claimed that it was the best thing to do while she and her husband thought out their next move. The order didn’t set well with my middle daughter, K and me. I immediately said NO at the meeting and asked all of them, “How do you tell a grandma, who has a loving relationship with her granddaughter, to cut off ties with said granddaughter?” You can’t and you won’t, I said. F firmly maintained that C was her daughter and she believed it was right for C to be punished. I told her I was having none of it.

    So it ended with everyone not speaking to me and K. I was prohibited from seeing my other granddaughters from my youngest daughter B. It as extremely painful for me not to see them, but it was what it was at that time. I maintained a close and honest relationship with C. I told her the truth about me and K being ostracized by the family, and the family’s belief that I was being disloyal to her mother, F, who claimed to only be doing what was best.

    My daughter K and I maintained a good relationship throughout the turmoil. We spend the holidays with C, just the three of us, and we made the best of it. Throughout this saga, I spoke to C almost daily, about the benefits of her reaching out to her mom and talking things over. I encouraged to at least make the effort. It took a while, but after 4 years, she started to realize that she needed her mom in so many ways, so she went to see her and they reconciled.

    My daughter, however, continues to be estranged from me and her sister K. F almost died from a sepsis infection on Thanksgiving 2015. K and I went to see her at the hospital and we were able to see her and speak with her. However, she refused to carry it forward, declining any and all attempts to get together as a family. So K and I, to this day, are estranged from F. C is getting well with her, and my daughter B and I are speaking civilly. I’ve been reconciled with her children, as well. K and I don’t have much of a relationship with B, either, but I get to see her children, my grandchildren, so that’s good enough for me.

    Dr. Poulsen, is it OK that my daughter K and I have not resumed our familial ties with her sisters F and B? K and I seem to be emotionally OK with it and we have no hard feelings. There were two recent elderly deaths in their father’s side, so she’s seen them at the various family gatherings, but there is no hanging out or friendly conversations. I haven’t seen F since the hospital. She sends a Xmas card but no birthday or Mother’s Day greetings. B does send Mother’s Day cards, as well as Xmas cards, and I do get to see her every other week or so when I see my grandbabies.

    Should I resign myself to family relationships being the way they are till I die? I’m 66 years old, I’m active, I have a good job. Do some families really break up and go on as if the relationships never existed? I hope you can help me. Thank you so much…

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your question.

      This is such a sad situation, but I agree with the way you’ve handled it. Sadly, your daughter F handles conflict with severity and uses punishment, manipulation, threats, coercion, and cutting off relationships to deal with others she doesn’t agree with. This is really a tragic way to deal with family members, and never ends well, even if others capitulate. Unfortunately, you can’t control or force someone like that to be reasonable. I am quite surprised that your daughter now has a good relationship with her. Do you have any idea why F became that way?

      I’m glad that you have one daughter who is more reasonable, and I think it is a great blessing for your granddaughter C that the two of you refused to cut her off. Someone who runs away is someone who really needs someone to care about them and their wellbeing. Cutting them off only causes them to become angry or depressed, and to act out in more harmful ways. It is very important that you both continued to communicate with C.

      I would resign yourself to family relationships being the way they are, but continue to reach out in whatever way is least hurtful to you if you feel like it, and only in whatever way is most likely to get a positive response. In other words, there’s no need to beg for connection if that’s likely to get you a negative response. Ironically, the more needy you are when you reach out, the less likely you will be in getting a positive response.

      Often the best way to interact with unpleasant family members is to be polite and stay somewhat on the surface. If you send a note or talk at an event, you can make the first move and ask “how are you?” and whatever else is safe. Then pleasantly walk away. Over time, they may feel more comfortable being more engaging. And if not, you haven’t lost much.

      You say you are active and have a good job. That is fantastic. I would focus your social energies on the K and C, and other more reasonable family members who enhance your life, as well as reaching out to other non-family members who will truly appreciate your friendship.

      Let me know if you have any other more specific questions. Good luck. Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
  9. Linda

    Hi, I realized tonight that I was really ‘snarky’ to my husband, and I don’t want to be like that. I’m having trouble though, with the way he speaks to me, and it just boiled over. First, he can be rather loud, and he frequently interrupts or speaks over me and others. I don’t believe he even realizes he does it, or that he criticizes me as often as he does, about so many things. Whatever I’m doing, I don’t seem to be doing it the way he thinks I should. When I call him on these things, he either gets angry, and I hate arguments, or he jokes it away. He is good to me in many ways, and I don’t want this to poison our relationship, but it is really bothering me and I am obviously not handling it properly.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      It’s always good to apologize for being snarky or rude, even if the other person behaved the same way. You can apologize and ask the other person to talk to you more civilly as well.

      There are a few different things going on here that don’t seem too serious if you learn to handle it better and if he responds well.

      First being loud and interrupting, I wrote a very short blog about that: “I can’t stand it when people talk over me.” The main thing is that you either learn to keep talking without being angry (as though you’re in Italy!) or you say “Wait, I’m getting to the good part” and then you immediately finish what you were saying (again without being angry, in fact, with a smile on your face.) Or you could talk to him and just say that he may not be aware of it but he interrupts a lot and it doesn’t feel good to be interrupted. Then use the “Wait, let me finish,…” quickly, assertively and non-chalantly without anger.

      The criticism is more serious, but you can change the way you take it in, or rather, don’t take it in. Criticism can destroy a relationship. So you may have to talk to him about it, and tell him that it makes you lose your desire and attraction for him when he criticizes you. Remind him that you are two separate people, and you’d prefer it if he only said something when it was very important and that he does so in a positive constructive way. Tell him that given all the criticism he has of you, you have one important criticism for him: he needs to let things slide!!! Tell him it is crucial that he hold his tongue if he wants you to continue to be open and loving toward you, because constant criticism shuts a person down. Not just you, but any person.

      So, the thing that you can do other than talking to him about it, is to handle his criticisms differently. I really need some examples of how he criticizes you. But say it’s something minor, like “You’re driving too slowly,” or “Load the dishwasher like this.” Then if you don’t feel like accommodating his request, you keep calm, even smile, raise your eyebrows and say something like, “I like my way of doing it, thank you,” but you’re welcome to drive/dry the dishes. Don’t get angry and defensive.

      Or you could say, “Sure, I will do it your way, if you would avoid criticizing me for three days. Deal?” And smile.

      If he gets angry after you calmly express how his criticism makes you feel, then still stay calm. Just say, it makes me sad when I tell you how your criticizing makes me feel, and your response is anger. I am not attacking you. I thought you would want to know that your repeated criticisms cause me to withdraw from you. The key is that you stay empowered and compassionate toward him. Do not become like a child or an angry adult. You have to retain positive emotional linkage for this kind of discussion to work, but you must also stay empowered. “I want what’s best for you, for me, and for the relationship. I am on your side. So I want you to know that when you only give constructive criticism once in a while, I feel better about being with you.”

      Let me know how it goes, or send me a specific example.

      Also you might use the search function in my blog for other articles on criticism and contempt.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  10. Valerie

    Dear Dr.Alison,

    I’m in a sensitive situation. I’m 26 female and my bf is 24 male. Together 9 months serious relationship. I guess we’re not both quite mature as we fight and break up and make up in the next day. But last Friday, there was the biggest fight and we broke up. (To me, I saw his eyes and the way he left, I felt this was the real deal. But to him, he later said he’d always knew we’d be back together.)

    The reason we broke up last week was because he lied to me. He had been having crush on some girl and texting her, going on group trip which she organized and I found out, big fight and we both agreed that he wouldn’t contact her again and that was his last chance. Next day, he called her and deleted the call record on the phone and I only found out because when he came over, he received a text from her why he had called her earlier. Otherwise, he’d hide it and that’s why I felt so betrayed and we broke up and I felt that was it.

    I felt so bad and did things I had never done before over the weekend. Drunk and feeling awful, in the next 8 hours I found myself having slept with a one-night stand, which was horrible. So, 4 days later after we broke up, he emailed me asking if we wanted to get back together. We met for coffee and first thing I told him about my weekend.

    Now, he’s in so much pain and I’m too. I know I made a mistake and I also wanted to be with him again. He says he still loves me and wants me, but he doesn’t want to touch me or comes to my apartment where I made the mistake. I want to help him and relieve his pain, so I offered to do requests by him, like, I would move and find a new apartment, and I would not go night-outs anymore for a year. But this is not helpful enough. If you were me, what would you do to make him feel better? How would you advise him to deal with it?

    I’m sorry for the long email.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Wow, what a rough week!

      I would not get back together with someone who is texting and meeting with another girl, and then lying about it. Period. I can’t give you advice on how to get back together because I can predict that it won’t work out.

      I would also find a way of dealing with your own pain that doesn’t involve getting drunk and having a one-night stand, not because I’m old-fashioned, but because as you have now experienced, it didn’t improve your life at all. It really hurt it. There will be a lot of challenges in any relationship, although hopefully not cheating and lying, and you need to have a way to deal with those disappointments in a way that doesn’t sabotage your own life. Is there any group or individual counseling that you could go to to gain the tools to deal with problems other than fighting and arguing, or drinking? Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s “nonviolent communication” is a great method for having difficult discussions with others without getting into nasty conflict. There are groups in most cities where you could attend and it could improve your life. Please try googling it.

      Regarding your bf, I would tell him that you were hurting and ending up responding the wrong way. Tell him you want to improve your life, and avoid fighting, lying and cheating. You don’t trust him and a good relationship is based on trust. Wish him the best, and move on.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  11. Jess

    Alison, thanks for your blog.

    I’ve become a distancer. I’ve been in and out of relationships with very little time in between and I’ve lost my confidence. My boyfriend says “everyone fights” but I’ve become hyper sensitive to criticism. I don’t want to mess up his schooling (when I bring up complaints, he gets so frazzled and down that I feel like distancing myself more) so I have kept a lot of pain to myself. He is NOT mean in fights – not classically mean at least. He says things like “I’m going to be miserable forever” or “I shouldn’t have had class today” in a serious tone, which may just be him being dramatic and not passive aggressive. Nonetheless, I don’t forget easily. I have low self esteem at the moment so comments like that are no joke. The thing is I know nothing is perfect I life, I know I’ve ended every relationship I’ve been in for greener grass, and I know my self esteem issues make it hard to see clearly. Yet I’m also a quiet girl, easy going to the point I can be a pushover and now I assume that in order for someone to like someone like me they must be manipulative. I can leave the relationship, I’m not afraid of being alone. But I am afraid that I’d be leaving because I’m a coward. Love his family, he loves mine, and he’s a big loyal goof. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi, I’m glad you like the blog.

      It sounds like you are young and self-aware, which is great for allowing maximum growth. So you can start balancing out your being a pushover, quiet, and afraid to speak up. It will be a lot easier and more effective to speak up if you change your complaints (or your unexpressed complaints) to empowered, unembarrassed, positive expressions of your feelings and desires, followed by specific doable requests.

      So, for example, say it bothers you that he says, “I’m going to be miserable forever,” either because he is insulting you that way or just looking weak himself. How could you stay calm and neutral, and say something like, “Hey I know you’re feeling bad and just exaggerating, but I want you to know that when you say that, it makes me feel bad/sad/like retreating from you. It makes me feel as though you dislike me, and I don’t want to be around someone who dislikes me. If there’s something that you want to say to me or ask me to do, please say it directly. Let’s have a positive, constructive discussion.”

      The key is that you stay calm and self-empowered. Express your feelings without becoming mean or weak. Respect his autonomy, while requiring respect and kindness toward yourself.

      Self-esteem is an interesting subject. When you have self-esteem, it’s easier to avoid taking things personally and to stand up for yourself without becoming overly-emotional. But the reverse is also true, which is fortunate for you. IF you stop taking things personally and start standing up for yourself without becoming mean or overly-emotional, you will develop self-esteem. You may feel as though you have to fake it at first, but it will become more natural through practice.

      You might search my site for articles on “nonviolent communication” and “self-respect.” If you like, send me specific examples to consider.

      Let me know how it goes. All the best.

      Reply
  12. elisabeth

    “After you are away for a six months or a year and only spend time with people who are more positive and don’t take advantage of you, you will feel better about yourself and less needy.” — I was planning a question about leaving a damaging friendship, because I am feeling scared and insecure, but this sentence you wrote in response to someone else is what I need to hear and believe. Thank you for your work! Elisabeth

    Reply
  13. Elles

    Hi Alison,

    Your topic of Pursuer vs Distancer really struck me dumb, because I really believe I am in that kind of marriage right now. I am the Pursuer in our relationship.

    My husband works days; I work nights, so we only see each other a total of 2-4 hours every weekdays. I would like to have more emotional intimacy with my husband but I’m having difficulties on how to do it. His idea of couple bonding is to watch TV, a movie or browse through social media. My idea of bonding is more of activities. Our interests doesn’t match–I’m an artsy bookworm who have never done any sports, he is an adrenaline junkie who mountain bikes regularly.

    I want to foster emotional intimacy, but it’s hard if I feel like my husband is fine with none. When we’re at home, he usually watches TV or check social media because he says he has nothing to really talk about. It came to a point that I am now starting to resent him–I’ve complained about his dependence on his phone, the TV, even pursuing mountain biking with friends. I’ve tried talking to him way before but he doesn’t really understand the problem. Now things are escalating when talks about my need for a connection is stressing us both, and our conversations are full of frustrations.

    I am not giving up on our marriage, but I don’t know what to do. The stress of trying to talk or look for a solution is now making it hard for me to sleep properly or concentrate.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      So sorry to hear this. How long have you been married? Do you have children? When did things start to change to the point where he spends a lot of time on social media rather than talk to you? Did anything else occur around that time?

      It’s difficult to give advice here. Part of the problem seems to be your work schedule. It’s normal for someone to come home and need to relax. For him relaxing might be watching TV, checking social media, while for you it’s talking to your spouse and connecting. Ideally, you could talk to each other and plan some time relaxing (not talking together) when you’re both home, and then some time over dinner and a walk or some other activity, together.

      What disturbs me is that he says that you have nothing to talk about together. If partners care about each other, they don’t have to have deep conversations all the time, but they can be friendly and curious about their different interests. They can also be comfortable and friendly being together without talking all the time. His comment seems quite negative. The other thing that is concerning is that you two seem to be polarizing into you wanting more and more connection, and becoming more and more disappointed, which pushes him away, and makes him stop desiring you.

      Depending on the answers to the questions above, I would advise two directions for you to go. One is to start be surprising, that is, change your free-time routine, do some different things on your own, a sport, a hobby, see friends, a lecture, or just go on a walk, but without being rude or cold to him. Don’t always be home. Don’t try hard to please him, but don’t be cold either. Give him space, and live your life to make it more interesting and fulfilling, which will make you a bit more interesting and mysterious. (See my article on why playing hard to get is not playing a game, if you think I’m asking you to be manipulative, which I’m not.)

      Second, after some time, I don’t know, a week or two, talk with him without being needy, clingy, desperate, hurt, or angry, and without talking too much, and simply tell him you’d like to be in a relationship where you don’t do everything together, but where you do some enjoyable things together. Ask him if he wants that with you as well. If so, ask him to think about how he imagines the ideal balance. And if not, you have some important choices to make.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  14. David Raby

    Great article on “Venting and Triangulation”. As a guy, how do you explain to a girlfriend that you have gone No contact with your grandiose Narcissist Mother? Case in point one girl once said “you should always love your mother no matter how badly she has treated you”. How do you explain to a girlfriend that has never had a narcissist parent about the situation and how little or No contact is often the only solution?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you.

      That may be tough, but you are right that sometimes little or no contact is the only way to survive with any self-respect or chance of happiness when you have a grandiose narcissistic parent. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose who your parents are. But you do get to choose whom to spend time with. Most people do better in life if they eventually understand why their deeply flawed parent become the way the did, but that doesn’t mean that you should suffer humiliation and abuse at their hands (or vocal cords.) There are many degrees of flawed parents, and often true Narcissists are at the very abusive end of the scale.

      The best way to get your girlfriend to understand this is to explain to her how your mother treated you specifically, and how she made you feel. Give her concrete examples of how you actually felt or feel when you are around her, and what the consequences of those feelings are for you–whether those feelings are confusion, hatred, self-loathing, confusion, inadequacy, fear.

      Also you might find articles or a movie about malignant narcissism to really get the point across about how it feels to be targeted by her.

      You might tell your girlfriend that you will continue to be cordial, or to check in with your mother annually, and that you will always allow for the possibility of her changing, but that the negative impact on your wellbeing is too much to handle at this time. There is no upside even for her for you to pretend to love her, as it does her no good to be given the opportunity to be manipulative and controlling toward you.

      If your girlfriend still doesn’t understand, you might ask her to imagine that a person had been sexually abused by a parent, and imagine asking that person as an adult to love and spend time with the abusive parent. Most people would cringe at that example. Then you could explain that although the abuse you experienced was not sexual, it still left you feeling whatever your feelings were: scared, humiliated, dominated, and abused.

      Please let me know how it goes and how you are best able to explain yourself.

      Alison

      Reply
  15. Kimberly

    Looks like my issue was deleted was so hoping I found the right gorum to get honest answers. It keep saying waiting for mediation now its no where to be found. Still hurting confused n now disappointed. … Still love the websight just cant understand why my issue was deleted.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,
      I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened. Some comments get put into spam automatically, but I couldn’t find it in spam. Would you mind sending it again please.
      Alison

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        Here is what I sent to you yesterday morning:
        Sorry to say, but if you do stay, he will go back to his old ways, guaranteed. People don’t change from taking advantage of you financially and being emotionally abusive and accusatory to being kind and loving. After you are away for a six months or a year and only spend time with people who are more positive and don’t take advantage of you, you will feel better about yourself and less needy. Don’t let fear stop you from seeking a better life for you and your son. Somebody who spends time gambling and hanging out with friends puts you at much too low of a priority. Good luck. Be strong and you will have a better life.

        Reply
  16. Polly

    Hi,
    I have a “growth mentality” and I guess my husband has a “fixed”. I want to grow and change in every area of my (our) lives. I want to become better people and find more happiness. My husband wants to be the same. He is insecure and likes comforts and approval and takes me wanting change as a personal offense to the life he provides. He says I’m never happy. But I am happy.. I’m just happiest when we are moving in new directions and growth! He loves movies and food and I want to read and be outdoors and learn. We have little children and I really don’t want to divorce. We seem to
    Want such different things that I fear we won’t make each other happy for the long run. Is there hope for such different mindsets being together? He will not read a book.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      From what you’ve said here, I would recommend continuing to grow, read, go outdoors, and learn. I would make sure you don’t show contempt for your husband’s lack of interest in doing the same. I would not badger him to read and become more exciting, which he would take as an insult, and as a result become more entrenched. He probably won’t start reading, and changing the way you would like him to, but if you show contempt, or if you try to push him too much, he will become surly and unpleasant and find more things to criticize about you.

      I bet that there were qualities about him that you liked when you met, and there’s a reason you liked those qualities. Perhaps, in part, the fact that he is predictable and not seeking novelty and growth means that he is loyal and won’t bring chaos into your life. I would recommend spending a little time trying to appreciate what he does and likes to do, whether it’s watch football, go to movies, or eat delicious foods. You don’t have to do everything together by any means. But it would be nice if you can find a way to do a couple of the things he likes to do and really appreciate them or try to understand why he likes them. Then also do your own thing.

      Regarding divorce, who knows what will happen. If you continue to grow, and thereby grow dramatically apart and can no longer get along, then that will become clear over time. But there is a good chance too that you will continue to grow while honoring who he is as a person, a mate and a father, and that you can be different from him, yet have mutual respect and love for each other. The best way to find out is to work on developing yourself, which includes being respectful of him and his differences.

      If you like, let me know what happens.

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Another thing to add. While reading generally sounds better than watching a movie, learning sounds better than enjoying food, and going outdoors sounds better than being comfortable at home–there is a basic difference in all of these activities. You enjoy growing and seeking and improving, while he enjoys being. In a way both are important. It really isn’t all bad to enjoy eating, seeing movies, and enjoying comforts. In fact, it’s important to enjoy the present even while seeking more in the future. Ideally, we would do both–enjoy being, and trying to become more than what we are. As we can’t change someone else, we can learn from them, while also maintaining our own preferences. I’m not implying that you don’t enjoy the present, and I can see why you would be frustrated with someone who isn’t trying to better himself and explore life more. I’m just trying to help you appreciate what is good in your husband, while you continue to go on your path.

      Reply
  17. Bina

    I wanted to say thank you for being so generous with your time, knowledge and resources! I have benefited from every post, even if it doesn’t really relate to me. I enjoy reading your insights and wisdom, and I marvel at how willing you are to share them with us. You’re not just a great psychologist, you’re a real philanthropist!

    Reply
  18. Nancy

    What should someone do when they are told by a person “People around here are gossiping about you…. they are saying ‘you are taking photos of people here’ (from my 2nd flr. apt), ‘you moved here because of wanting to be further away from your mother” ……” . I asked this person several times who it was that was saying these types of things and he told me outright “If you say I told you these things, I will outright deny that I ever said this.”. He also claims he ‘wanted to help me’. I don’t consider it ‘help’ when he only lets me know that rumors are supposedly going around & is willing to tell me that, but does not have the ?courage? to name them. What type of a person is very willing to tell you about the supposed gossiping but not who is spreading it?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I think I need a little more information. That first comment–that you are “taking photos of people here” is a weird thing to say. Do you live close? Why would you take photos? Regarding the second comment, who would know why you moved? It’s also a strange thing to say, and even if it were true, who cares?

      So without knowing more, I think the best way to respond, is with courteous confidence and non-chalance. Imagine the person approached you again, you could say something like, “I know you’re trying to help, and I appreciate that, but these are strange things for someone to say about me. They aren’t true or very interesting.” Then change the subject. (This way you imply how uninteresting the gossiper is without calling names, being defensive, or being hostile.)

      Or even better would be to laugh, and say, “what a strange thing for the person to say, but thanks for trying to be warn me,” and smile non-chalantly. The way to avoid letting gossip have power over you is to not let it have power over you, by showing confidence and not being too reactive. You could also use the line “I’m learning the most surprising things about myself. People must find me very interesting,” and smile in a teasing way.

      By the way, it’s much harder to deal with someone spreading really harmful rumors.

      The answer to your last question is that the person who told you this might sincerely want to help you, but is afraid of getting in trouble by the gossiper. I would be nice to that person, but don’t tell anybody ANYTHING confidential, and don’t show vulnerability around these people. And I suppose I would avoid acting too curious about the situation. Fake all the self-assurance you can.

      Good luck!

      Alison

      Reply
  19. joy

    I’ve been in a relationship for twelve years. My boyfriend is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy. He gets upset whenever I try to tell him how I feel or if I’m angry or frustrated about something. He takes it as criticism. The reason I’m upset never gets addressed, instead he makes me feel that I’ve done something wrong by being upset. I do feel he is selfish and unthoughtful a lot of the time, but I know I do not want to leave him. I’m not sure if it’s attraction or chemistry but I’m in love with him and I can’t imagine leaving him. He tells me he loves me and doesn’t want me to leave but he won’t even talk about anything thats bothering me, he just gets upset and goes, “here you go again, why can’t we just hangout why do you always have to bring things up?” I don’t feel important to him and thats not a good feeling.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      It’s hard for me to help you. I can’t understand staying with someone who doesn’t listen to you at all and who is that onesided and hostile toward you. It would help if you would give me an example as to one of your frustrations and how you approach it. It is possible that you could change the way you approach him, but the way you describe it here, it sounds as though he is very defensive and not very considerate. It could be a combination of his being defensive and your expressing yourself in an ineffective way.

      Perhaps he feels that you are “nagging” him all the time and just shuts down when you talk to him. In that case, it might be helpful for one or both of you to get counseling to learn how to talk to one another without leading to conflict. Sometimes action speaks louder than words.

      In the meantime I would keep an active life outside of your relationship with friends andfamily and pursue other pursuits and hobbies so that your self-esteem doesn’t get dragged down by his negative attitude toward you.

      Let me know if you’d like to share a couple of the arguments or complaints that you have of him and how you express yourself.

      Best of luck!

      Alison

      Reply
  20. Bhoomi

    Dear Alison, Thank You so much for your response to me  I appreciate it very much !! I now feel like I have someone to share with..

    I am totally hooked to your blog .

    You TOTALLY got me for Point #1

    I read all the 2 articles that you suggested to me and it completely relates to my situation
    I am that type “ If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done “ It is the Truth of my life and I am slowly trying to let go of things , ( Its not easy .. )

    He is very laid back and I can’t take it – so, I meddle in all things and take in charge to get it done

    If I trust him to get a job done, either he will never get it done or get it done the very next day paying the highest dollar ( without shopping etc ., )

    But, I am trying.. slowly to let go and be like him ( laid back ) and put him the front seat for some things .

    The day after I posted the Question , he hugged me for few minutes and apologized for his behavior

    I melted with tears – and did not say a word ( just hugged him tight )

    Point # 2 : My husband is not the type who can be controlled –– To me– It’s not about controlling, It is about correcting each other when you are in a relationship

    Point #3 : I join him to mostly all parties (with friends and family ) except to his work related happy hour ones and some guys only parties – for a married man, how many times a month is considered fair to go out and hang out as a single man ? I don’t enjoy going out with my girl friends . I treat him as my husband and my BFF more than any one (( Again, that’s me  ))

    Social Drinking is fine as long as it does not get too much and I HATE the fact that he found some new friends who smoke and drink , who kind of retriggered his old habits .

    I understand that “ALL is good in Balance” Too much or too less of anything will cause imbalance

    I will take your advice and keep your points in mind .

    God Bless You for all you do and Thanks a TON 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello again,

      I’m so glad that I am being somewhat helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I think being organized and responsible are excellent traits. You just have to beware of polarizing with your husband who is already laid back, and then resenting him and feeling more and more frustrated. Also, you might check out the blog I posted on sowhatireallymeant.com just two days ago regarding the same issue.

      Relationships give you the opportunity to grow, and here is an opportunity for both of you. The hard part is not telling him too much that he needs to grow, but doing it yourself, and then he will probably respond in kind hopefully eventually.

      Regarding the hug, sometimes if you just change your energy about a problem, the other person will feel it and respond to you differently. I don’t know if he was responding to your being upset or to your trying to be less critical, but it would be good to take note.

      That’s good that you don’t have to struggle against being controlling. However, it’s also important not to be overly critical. It’s best to let the small stuff slide. It’s also important to criticize in a way that doesn’t demean the other person. You might search under my blog or google “nonviolent communication,” which shows how to do this. Tone of voice and intention are the most important aspects. But overall, try to avoid too much criticism or he will want to go out more with casual friends to drink and laugh rather than to be criticized. Criticism makes the other person feel bad and want to avoid you. Think about when you first started dating. You probably had a great time without ever trying to correct one another.

      Now, if he does something disrespectful to you, then it’s time to respond either with words or actions that will be effective. If you don’t, then it’s likely to get worse. But you don’t have to be imperious or hostile. If, for instance, he comes home late without telling you, it might be appropriate to go to the movies or a friend’s house and leave him a note. If you are always waiting for him when he gets home late, he never gets to miss you. If instead he comes home late to a note saying “went to dinner, see you soon” he starts to wonder where you are. But you have to do this without being purposely punitive. When he asks why you left, just say you wanted to get out and enjoy the evening. Don’t be negative.

      People are different regarding how much they go out. It would be disappointing if he went out with single men and women rather than stayed home with you, especially if he does so a lot. If I were you, I would join him quite a bit and also try to find other activities to make you more interesting and mysterious to him, and not always merely at home waiting for him. It sounds as though you don’t really feel like doing other things and are comfortable at home, but I do recommend that you join him AND go somewhere benign but away from home (take your kids or get a babysitter if you have kids) once in a while when he goes out, so that he starts waiting for you! He will lose desire for you if you are always there waiting for him.

      Write back anytime and good luck!

      Alison

      Reply
  21. Frida

    Dear Alison,
    In 2014 my husband had an emotional affair with his first love/girlfriend. After three children and being married for over 25 years he had a dream about his ex girlfriend and the following day he found her in a social network (married/lives in a different country). After corresponding for two years on and off, he met her during a week-long business trip and had a handful of encounters culminating in the last night together in a hotel; naked but unable to consummate due to his lack of erection.
    I suspected his behaviour was off but wrongly attributed his grumpiness to work stress. When I pressed for an explanation shortly after he returned home, he confessed to be torn between both of us…
    After my initial horror I encouraged him to follow his heart/her. But he chose me after claiming having an epiphany and coming to the realisation that he would miss me if he started a new relationship with her. Although he’s remorseful and was sorry to have hurt people, he’s not really repentant of his actions [I imagine he enjoyed the attention/validation].
    To say I was shocked is putting it lightly. I felt betrayed and would have never anticipated he acting like this (I projected so much onto him!). I was stunned that he would be so unhappy and disloyal. To be fair, our relationship was in need of a shake up as it was tending towards complacency; he had previously raised the issue of feeling neglected and no getting enough attention from me. -I think I’m a distancer while he’s a pursuer-

    I chose not to leave him because he’s a decent person: sex is good, he is a good provider and we’re good friends. I apologised for my 50% contribution to marital decay. But I still feel/am very disappointed that a relationship of nearly 30yrs based on friendship, history and three children (honest love???) is equal to the memory of one of his first relationships. That he feels this profound, soul-mate attachment towards her…that he considered starting over with her after no seeing her for 30+yrs.

    Fast forward 18mths, things are more settled and our interactions have improved considerably, thanks (mostly) to my commitment to self-growth.
    My problem is I’m not sure what reconciliation means. Our post-affair agreements involved asking for professional help individually and focusing in our new future together. In my view, (ideally) he would be taking steps towards his own growth, but he finds introspection a bit challenging. I never forced him to attended counselling and never set any conditions apart from breaking up with her which he did 4wks after disclosure. These are the facts:
    • I went to therapy for about 10 sessions and found it useful;
    • He went to 4 sessions with a different therapist and didn’t find it productive. He stopped going b/c the explanations about the why he did it (addiction to a fantasy… a crutch to rely on in times of stress…) don’t satisfy him. He argues that those explanations are ‘theories’ and not the facts;
    • He (still) doesn’t know why he acted this way and we agree his behaviour is somewhat out of character [he explains he never cheated before and only wanted to be with this woman rather than any woman –I believe him-];
    • He recognises that his ex girlfriend has been a bit of an obsession for him (thinking on and off about her during our marriage);
    • He kept all the (affair) emails between them for about a year, why?? [he deleted them after I complained he wasn’t really trying to rebuild us]. If he is not personally motivated to rid himself of such obvious mementos as these emails, isn’t this a clear signal about his lack of desire to excise this woman entirely from his life???;
    • A few months ago I found he was checking her name in a social media site, why?? [he says he’s anxious and curious about what happened to her as she dropped out completely after he told her he wasn’t going to be with her];
    • So, what all this action and inaction is telling me???;
    • He doesn’t seem to reflect on his own flaws and failings and the damage and harm he has done to me/us;
    • Is he still invested on her??? Why was he willing to risk his marriage for someone who he claims he doesn’t want???
    • What is love??? I feel a fake! I feel I’m the one between them… I’m not playing victim but feel a bit lost and fragile.
    • Do you think these doubts/questions are part of the reconciliation process/healing or a pattern that’s manifested now? His choice to cheat was informed by their view on the world, no?
    • I’m also hypervigilant and reluctant to trust him completely. Understandably he’s appalled, but it takes years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. He views forgiveness as (me) forgetting everything and going back to the way we were before…ha! I feel manipulated by him because he keeps on ‘demanding’ my understanding (Well, you forgave me!) but he doesn’t seem to see that his actions don’t always give me motivation to stick around.
    • He explains he still wonders about her and can’t completely get her out of his head. I have the feeling that he will contact her again. Has my understanding given him permission to relapse??

    I’m making a lot of effort to be closer and considerate towards his needs as I’m naturally a very independent person. These small changes have brought me/us immense rewards; I’m more in touch with my vulnerability and, as you explain, all my relationships have improved 100%.
    Finding out that he’s still looking for her name, even when he didn’t go any further than that, is heart breaking. I feel he’s putting a wedge in our relationship and now he’s the one distancing…
    I told him that obviously the problem is mine as I’m not able to give him what he wants and maybe we should separate. He doesn’t want to hear about us breaking up.

    What do you think?
    Thank you so much for your thorough and didactic exploration of human nature and relationships. Your website is truly enlightening!

    Frida

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Frida,

      This is difficult to respond to because it is a difficult situation. I admire your ability to look at the complexity of your feelings and the relationship challenges you face. Unfortunately I can’t give you any definitive answers. But I will give you some of my thoughts as I read through your email.

      Good for you for owning your part of the relationship challenges–being a distancer and perhaps not giving him much attention. However, he could have had some serious discussions with you about that or asked to go to counseling rather than become unfaithful.

      Regarding getting professional help, everyone responds to counseling and individual counselors differently. Thus, it would not be right for you to get angry at him for not getting more professional help. I know you didn’t say that you are angry at him. I’m just suggesting that your best remedy is to get your own help and guidance to help empower you in your interactions with him, rather than to push him to grow and develop the way you would like him to. He will either grow as a response to your self-empowerment and development or he will not. But if you try to push him, he will rebel and resent you, as well as feel like a child around you. You don’t want to be in a position of nagging him, or controlling him, or pleading with him.

      However, if it were me, I would draw a line about contacting and checking up on his previous girlfriend. If they had not gotten together, and he simply looked her up a couple of times, then fine. It’s natural to retain some strong feelings for first loves. But I think he is harming his relationship with you by either obsessing over her, or by contacting or looking her up after having betrayed you and nearly wrecked your 30 relationship. There can be no trust when someone has been so sneaky and hurtful toward you. For him to ask you to trust him is manipulative. The trick is not to become like an angry mother, but to draw a line that you are willing to abide by. I would make him choose. That will only increase his respect for you or cause him to make a decision sooner rather than later. Also, it strikes me that he could have better things to do with his time. Why isn’t he pursuing something more interesting–sports, work, hobbies, friendships, adventures with you??

      I would probably say something like “If you can’t resist looking her up and fantasizing about her based on your projections and fantasy facebook photos, then you owe me the courtesy of letting me know so I can live my life and move on without being with someone whose mind is focused on a fantasy.” You can’t have it both ways, and it’s very demeaning to me to try to have it both ways. I love you, but I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t respect me enough to resist the temptation of following a past girlfriend.”

      These kind of circumstances, which are so poignant and hurtful, can lead us to improve relationships and at least grow within ourselves. But you can’t control the other person. You can only stand up for what you desire and need in a respectful, compassionate and firm way. But you have to be willing to follow through.

      Let me know what happens, or if you have further questions.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Frida

        Sorry about publishing my comment before finishing; feel free to add this part to my previous question.

        I agree wholeheartedly with all your suggestions and don’t nag him, but I’d like my husband to find out why he reached out to his ex-gf in such a deceitful manner b/c I feel it would give me/him “closure”.
        I’m confused…Is this a need (so I can move on)? Or is this a want (my ego likes reassurance and exclusivity)? Does it matter to know the why? Does it change anything?
        Thanks again! Frida

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I think the reason he reached out to his ex-girlfriend in such a deceitful manner is because he knew it was a sort of betrayal of you. He felt guilty about it as he was interested in her in more than just re-connecting casually. He felt it could lead to something and that he did not have the ability to set appropriate boundaries. So he was secretive and deceptive about it.

          I think in our culture wanting exclusivity is normal. If a couple decides to have an open marriage, that may be fine too, but only if both partners are willing and honest about the rules of their relationship. If one person decides to live according to his own rules and cheats on his wife, he is not only cheating on her sexually, but he is cheating her of the choice to leave him and live her life according to her desires–i.e., with a faithful and trustworthy partner.

          Deception destroys the fabric and trust of a relationship. Sometimes a couple can get through mild deception, but only if there’s strong motivation on both sides, especially the deceiver’s side, to be open and candid. You might check out my article about privacy vs. secrecy in a relationship: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/04/01/privacy-vs-secrecy-my-husband-has-blocked-me-from-his-facebook-and-other-social-media-accounts/. You cannot force your husband to become honest, but you can protect yourself financially, go to counseling together, and do what it takes to improve your life so that you become less emotionally dependent on him (and more desirable to him), which will enable you to make appropriate decisions should he be deceitful or unfaithful again.

          Good luck!

          Alisn

          Reply
  22. Bhoomi

    Dear Allison , I read your BLOG and enjoy it so much ..

    Love the way you explain and I can totally relate to most of your topics.

    Here is my Long Question – please let me know your Opinion

    I am 37 years old and my hubby is 42 .

    We have been married for 15 years – we are 2 completely diff personalities and somehow survived all along with 2 beautiful kids ( ages 12 and 7 )
    I am a typical organized , hardworking & old fashioned TAURUS , while My husband is a typical Lazy, spontaneous & Broad minded SAGGITTARIUS

    He is a very fun loving , outgoing personality , very kind and helping and loves to Have his own space
    We both are very friendly and very outgoing – except that I hate too much partying or too much outing – I long to relax at home and eat a simple food rather than going out every weekend

    When we first met , he told me that he drinks and smokes ( rarely ) and that He will stop smoking after we get married
    I hate SMOKING and DRINKING and cannot stand it – and he knows that

    For the past 10+ years , I never saw him smoke , but he drinks ( social drinker ) I never complained about it , as he would drink at parties or take some beer when friends visit our house

    But, lately – there have been some changes in our friendship circle and His work peer circle ( especially female coworkers) —wherein he is drinking more ( once a week ) and started to smoke ( may be like once / twice a month)

    When I first questioned him about this , he resists and says that it’s all OK And that he is not overdoing it and he knows his Limits – and
    Now, I see that he is drinking 1-2 times per week and recently I saw him right in front of me and he was smoking with an attitude

    This is getting worse month by month and I am at a point where I hate those friends ( of him- Partyholics and alcoholics ) who retriggered those habits and hate to see a phone call / text from them

    I am feeling bad that I am spying on his phone to see where he is heading ..

    We have been arguing a lot ( verbally and few physically ) lately just because of this reason ,

    1) I am worried that he is driving home after few drinks – from after work happy hour
    2) I am worried that this will affect his HEALTH and our Relationship obviously
    3) First time , he lied to me that he was stuck in a late meeting ( I found out next day that he was at a happy hour with his female workers ) – he knows that I will flip and crib about that

    I cannot see him change or lie to me like this ….. I feel like I spoiled him and gave too much of myself to him and so he takes me for granted .

    I ask him “ why are you doing this after 15 years “

    One day .. His answer to me : “ I have not been drinking and smoking just for YOU all these years… and I can’t be like that anymore – Let me be myself and don’t take my freedom “

    Last Night … His answer to me : “ you made me drink and lie — you don’t have your pure love for me and that’s why I drink and trying to escape from you and your nagging ”

    I know ADDITCITONS are hard to give up , But , he does not admit that they are BAD habits .
    His response :: “ people with dirty habits are far better than people with dirty minds “

    I kind of know how to handle him most of the times – The KEY is .. he over does it when I tell him to stop doing something – when I ignore, he will not over do .
    But, In this scenario, I am worried that If I don’t stop him now, it will be too hard to get him back out of this addiction

    I love love love my husband to death and I did not share my pain with any of my family or friends
    So, you can imagine the pressure I have in me right now ……

    Please help ..
    –Bhoomi.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I will respond to a number of different things that you have said and give you some things to think about. It’s hard to know exactly what to recommend without knowing the situation better.

      1. You say you are organized and hard-working, he is lazy and spontaneous. I recommend that you read three of my articles about this particular dynamic and about polarizing. In essence, it’s important that you become more fun and spontaneous. Otherwise, the two of you will continue to polarize and experience more and more frustration and conflict. He may then seek other people or women to have fun with, if he experiences you as scolding him and too serious all the time.

      Please read: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/personality-traits/order-and-spontaneity/
      as well as https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2016/07/19/overfunctioning-and-underfunctioning-if-i-dont-take-care-of-things-nothing-will-ever-get-done/
      and https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2012/10/03/opposites-attract-cant-you-ever-stop-and-just-sit-down-with-me/

      2. Avoid being like a parent to your husband, or your relationship will lose all desire. Moreover, as you are experiencing right now, it feels bad to try to control another person and to be angry at that person all the time. He is telling you that he experiences you as nagging. That is something to pay attention to.

      3. Drinking once or twice a week doesn’t seem to me to be an addiction necessarily, unless he is drinking a lot, very frequently, or engaging in harmful behavior. If he is engaging in excessive drinking, then I would refer to Alanon to see how you can best respond to him. I know that arguing about it will not be helpful, and in fact perhaps backfire.

      I would be more concerned that he is enjoying himself with other people while you are home suffering and worried–particularly given the fact that he is hanging out with female coworkers.

      What I will recommend may not come easily to you. I think you should get a babysitter and join him in the bar–you don’t have to drink, you can be the designated driver. You should try to have fun with him. You need to let him be who he is, and enjoy his company to keep your relationship going. If the drinking becomes excessive, go to Alanon to figure out what to do, but avoid becoming like an angry mother. Go have fun with him once or twice a week, and then tempt him to come home early. Then try to do other fun things together that don’t involve going to a bar.

      Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  23. Wesley Ruth

    It appears that we gossip about others all the time. It has also been said that we gossip about ourselves also. Just what are some examples of how we would gossip about ourselves? It would appear that we do it out of a feeling of insignificance for one reason. But what I would like to know is what would be some examples of what we might say to others when we engage in gossip about ourselves. Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      People often brag about themselves, either directly, such as bragging about sports accomplishments or traveling or how much money they make, or indirectly–by dropping names, for example. I wouldn’t say that that is gossip, but it is one way people might compensate for feeling insignificant.

      Malignant gossip about oneself might be talking about outrageous things a person has done that are not good things, but may impress others because they are outrageous–for example, drinking a lot, or doing drugs, crashing a car, or sleeping around.

      Thanks for your question.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Wesley Ruth

        As someone who has been interested in the study of Self Esteem, this question has been on my mind as of late. I too felt that to gossip about ourselves, bragging was not really an examlpe of such. However, I could not really come up with examples that I felt answered the question. Your explanition of what gossiping about ourselves hit the nail right on the head. I can not thank you enough for your insight and wisdom.

        I think at the core of gossip, either of others or about ourselves is a sense of insignificance or unworthiness. Either way it appears to be a defence method of trying to pump up that lack of worth by making others look smaller or making yourself look bigger. Either way is dysfuntional. The solution to gossip is to understand and accept yourself as unconditionally worthy, simply because you are alive, you exist, and you are a creation of God. Knowing this, gossip ends right there.

        Knowing who you are and what you do are two different things. The worthiness is taken care of. Our performance, behavoior and actions still need some work.

        As I said , I could understand the gossip about others but was not able to put my finger on the gossip about ourselves. You did that for me extremly well and with razor sharpness and again, I must say thank you very,very much.

        Reply
  24. Elaine

    I gossip but I don’t know why. I say something nice about someone then at a later time I talk about them. What is my problem? I have been doing this for 20 years. Can you give me any advice as I need it badly. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. People gossip because it makes them feel superior to the person being gossiped about temporarily, and other people give them attention and are interested in hearing the gossip. It is a good habit to kick though. You might listen to my two videos on why people gossip and the difference between malicious and benign gossip. Let me know if those videos don’t inspire to gossip less, and then I can try to think of ways to work toward it.
      Thanks for your question.
      Alison
      1. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2014/09/27/how-to-distinguish-harmless-from-malicious-gossip/
      2. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2014/09/28/how-to-respond-to-malicious-gossip/

      Reply
  25. Karen

    Thank you so much for your response. It helps a lot. I would never have framed that as honoring myself instead of playing games, which I was trying hard not to do. But you’re right; of course, you’re right. I was too eager to be with someone who was so different than my ex-husband that I didn’t make enough demands. I thought my patience, understanding and flexibility would be something he’d appreciate. I got that very wrong!

    I’ve been no contact for nearly a month. I don’t know if he’ll ever contact me again, but if he does, I’ll take you advice. I’ll also take these lessons forward and into my next relationship.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Yes, it feels wrong when you feel as though you are playing a game. Yet it only feels like a game because you don’t feel like behaving that way. Your desire to be with him was so strong that other desires and reasonable understanding of relationship dynamics got pushed aside, which caused you to pursue too much and become too accommodating and available, which sadly became self-defeating.

      Practicing playing a new part is the way we learn to behave differently, whether we want to become more responsible, more fun, or more desirable, or to have better boundaries or be taken seriously, for example–we have to fake it until we make it. Nobody is good at acting any certain way without practicing, and we generally practice by copying those people we find good at those behaviors.

      Don’t lose your joy and enthusiasm. Just keep some balance and don’t always be available. Desire requires some distance and separation (not necessarily physically) so that you want and imagine having what is not always there in front of you. How can you desire someone who is always ready to accommodate and agree with you and spend time with you with no notice?

      Good luck and let me know how it goes in the future.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Ziggy

      I dated my ex boyfriend back in 2011 due to family issues on both sides we just stopped seeing and speaking in Dec of 2015 we got back in contact and I fell head over heels for him the problem is I feel like I had no voice or opinion in the relationship he swears I like to argue but I would try my best to avoid one we broke up many times in the last couple months I apologize for my mistakes but he never did HE WAS ALWAYS RIGHT I feLT like he was trying to change me I didn’t mind making comprises but it felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough we have been broken up a week now but I saw and heard it in his voice that he isn’t Coming back I barely eat or sleep missing him I do want him back but I also know it would only work if he owns his flaws and respect my thoughts wishes and opinions HE Told ME he LOVES ME AND I DID FEEL LIKE HE DID WILL HE COME BACK AND HOW do I get him to listen to what I need him to do or dnt do how do I get him to not be SO PERFECT HE LIVES FOR PERFECTION HE MAKE ME FEELS LIKE BECAUSE I HAVE A LAID BACK PERSONALITY TOWARDS LIFE I’M WRONG I THINK HIM KNOWING My DAD WAS A PREACHER HE THINKS I SHOULD ACT A CERTAIN WAY

      Reply
      1. Ziggy

        Are issues are I smoke cigarettes and curse which I did in 2011 when we first dated he doesn’t like it fine I dnt smoke in his house or curse because his children live with him but last week his daughter spent the night with me so when he came at 10pm she was up eating cake and ice cream with the other kids he asked y I said nicely bae it’s a sleep over that’s what kids do he like if she was home she’ll be sleeping I’m like it’s a sleep over relax the kids went upstairs and I started smoking he got mad I said your daughter is upstairs he like you know I dnt like smoke around her I tried to reason but no luck so I put it out he continued son i asked him to change the subject he continued still I then said I respect your house but you cnt force rules in mine he definitely got mad I said let the whole subject go he still didn’t by now the kids were in the dinner room playing a game I joined them to avoid a bigger argument he then told his daughter to get her things I asked why he said I was disrespecting her but she didn’t want to leave I said let’s talk bout it dnt take it out on her he refused I stood in front of my door he threw me I still was calm but he threw me twice more so I hit him now he isn’t responding to my calls or text I know I have some faults in the incident but he does as well but I love and want this to work out will he come back and will he listen and compromise for me

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          It’s best that you leave this relationship before the physical abuse on both sides increases. There is no excuse for physical abuse on the part of you or your boyfriend. He should be free to leave your house with his daughter without your blocking the door. You should not have blocked the door; he should not have pushed or thrown you, and you should not have hit him. The fact that he is not returning your calls or texts suggests that he realizes that a relationship that has become not only verbally and emotionally abusive, but not physically abusive can go nowhere but downhill.

          I would let go of this relationship and focus on yourself, how to communicate your needs more effectively and how to consider other people’s desires more as well.

          Good luck.

          Reply
      2. Alison Post author

        It doesn’t sound as though you are meant to be together. You say that he’s trying to change you, specifically to get you to stop smoking, swearing, and arguing, especially around his daughter, even if it’s at your house. You are free to do what you want at your own house. Yet, he feels disrespected by your smoking at your house when his daughter is there. For him, that’s very important and it sounds reasonable. It’s also reasonable for you to choose to smoke at your house when his daughter is there. But realize that you are choosing smoking over your boyfriend. He feels disrespected by your not being able to respect his wishes. You feel disrespected for being asked not to smoke. So the two of you are not compatible. Neither person is wrong, but you are not meant to be together if you choose not to make some reasonable compromises to stay together.

        You say you’re head over heals over this man. Yet love is more than a feeling. Love is the act of being respectful and kind, even when you don’t feel like being loving, and even when you are asked to make reasonable compromises.

        You ask me “how do I get him to listen to what I need him to do or not to do?” You sit down with him and have a respectful conversation without ANY judgment against him, and you make a request. For example, you could say, “I really care about you and don’t want to fight. I am used to swearing, but I want to stop. When I accidentally swear, would you just say “Excuse me?” without getting mad. That would really help.”

        I’m not sure what you want him to do or not do. The point is, tell him respectfully what your needs and desires are and then make a request. The key is that it is a request, not a command. He is free not to agree, and you can’t and shouldn’t argue about that. A good relationship is based on free will and a desire to please the other person to some degree, but not on controlling and manipulating the other person.

        Reply
        1. Ziggy

          I have the feeling we’re not meant but I believe in trying and I have tried so hard to talk to him to defuse and argument but he’s so dominant and believes he’s always right I am willing to even try to quit smoking something I never that I would say but it won’t be easy I need him to have patients with me and he doesn’t then he starts talking to me like he’s a physicist I hate that the most this is when we get into arguments

          Reply
          1. Ziggy

            He’s doesn’t respond to my messages or calls I have stop trying hoping he calms down and reaches out to me buy no matter how I ask of things from him it’s doesn’t agree I have said I dnt like the (dr Phil ) remarks towards me because I smoke doesn’t make me a bad person he then goes into my family situation and it’s like he’s throwing it up in my face or using it to get me to do what he wants I can’t stand that I’M ALWAYS TRYING TO TALK CALMLY BUT HE THINKS HE KNOWS SO MUCH SOME MIGHT BE TRUE BUT HIS APPROACH IS NOT WHAT I WANT BUT HE DAYS I’M SPOIL AND A BABY HE CANT HOLD MY HAND UGHH

  26. Karen

    Hi, I just got out of a 2 year non-relationship with a man who claimed he was emotionally unavailable, but seemed to be taking all the steps to have a relationship. Back in Feb I told him I loved him and a little over a month later he responded that he loved me too. Then, a month after that he broke it off saying, “I can’t fit you into my life.” I know there are plenty of places that I screwed this up, but I thought we had something really good together. It’s been a month since the breakup and I can’t stop crying.

    I was very understanding about the demands on his time, but I was getting frustrated that he refused to plan ahead. Apparently asking for that was too demanding and he ended a 2 year relationship over it. I know I was the pursuer and did make myself too available to him. However, I did let him initiate most of the contact. Plus, he was the one who first brought up marriage and moving in together. He told me several times that he could see this lasting for a long time. I had told him that while I’ve never wanted kids of my own, I have always wanted to be an aunt. Later, he told me he had been thinking about how I could play an “aunt-like” role in his kids’ lives Not long after that he said, “you know, you wouldn’t be an aunt, you’d be a step-mom.”

    Unfortunately, I listened to his offhand remarks more than I listened to his direct statements where he said he was emotionally unavailable and not ready for a relationship. When I asked for more planning, he broke it off. Was I being unreasonable? It also would have been nice if he’d follow through on some of the things he offered/promised me. For over a year he’d been saying we should take a trip to CO, but it never happened. He asked me several times if I would go with him to Phoenix; again…never happened. Last October he also promised me an occasional weekend (he generally has the kids then), but again, I never got a weekend unless his kids were already busy. I never expected to come first even on a weekly basis, but it was
    tiring to NEVER be first or a priority.

    I tried very hard not to be demanding, clingy, or have too many expectations. When we were together it seemed like a great relationship. I’m devastated that it’s over and am now questioning myself. Is planning in advance an unreasonable expectation? I really do love him and it seems ridiculous to throw away 2 years over this. I know I can’t change his needs, and if he wants this to be over, there’s nothing to do about it. I’m just questioning if I asked for something unreasonable.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I’m sorry about your suffering. From what you’ve said it seems that he is unavailable emotionally, though part of him really enjoyed the relationship and loved you, and that you were too careful and too grateful for any time and energy he had for you, which I’m guessing contributed to his lack of strong commitment toward you. I appreciate that you realized that his children come first. But it sounds to me that your expectations were too low, which may have resulted in his desiring you less.

      No, you were not asking for something unreasonable. It’s very reasonable to want someone to have you as a high enough priority that they can plan ahead of time to meet you, and that they follow through on most of their plans with you, barring emergencies with the kids or work. Sometimes, however, it is more effective to simply not be available as much, so that the other person ends up having to plan ahead of time to see you. If you are always available at the last minute, even if you generally wait for him to call and make the plans, there will never be any need for him to call ahead of time. Talking about you being a priority in his life and his planning ahead is not nearly as effective as simply not being available when he doesn’t make you a priority.

      It’s hard for me to tell whether he is just overwhelmed emotionally with his responsibilities in his life and afraid of having more people having expectations of him, or whether you allowed yourself to be diminished just to be with him, which led him to desire you less. Probably some of both. While it seems nice that you were not too demanding and didn’t have too many expectations, it sounds as though you were too easy and too grateful to be with him. When someone is too accommodating and always there at your beck and call, they become uninteresting.

      My advice to you is to stop crying. It’s been a month. Start living your life fully. If he does call again, I would say you’re busy, because you will be busy with people or activities or staying home to read or chill. Do NOT drop everything to see him, even if you’re dying to see him. If he continues to call, then see him again, but plan for a week or at least several days in the future. Enjoy your time together, but leave early, and stay unavailable unless he plans ahead of time.

      This is not simply playing a game. You will be honoring yourself, and in turn, he will appreciate you more and enjoy seeing you even more.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      PS You’re not throwing away two years. Every moment is fleeting. Cherish the good from your relationship and learn from the rest.

      Reply
  27. Wilene

    Alison,

    I believe your the only teacher of your kind. I have been doing this dance my whole life and have never found any articles or information perfectly to the point. First, I would like to know if you take long distance clients and fees? Second, I would like to talk to you about promoting you and your book. My business is http://www.wcdenterprises.com and represent speakers. I could really get behind what you are doing because I think this is probably the theme of most relationships in some form or another and you have really laid it out brilliantly.

    Reply
  28. Michelle

    Dr. Polusen, I respect your advise and enjoy your articles (especially the narcassistic interview)

    I’m going to make this as concise and clear as possible without unnecessary details.
    I’m currently at a crossroads, I am married with a gentleman that is from another culture he’s latino and I’m American. He has always been the way I’m going to describe but due to needing guidance in life and support at the age of 21, I have dealt with these problems I’m going to describe; so no he did not “change” on me.

    He treats me like a child that I was, he will use subtle forms on manipulation such as, if you don’t act like xyz (his perception of how I “should” behave) he will return things he bought me, change plans that we made and other forms of “punishment”. He does not see this as manipulation, but I believe that it is. He invalidates my feeling when I express them to him by saying, “you don’t feel that way or I did not do that to you, etc.” Which only escalates the problem(s). He does a lot of blaming, if xyz did not do that then I would have not done that. He does this with me and coworkers (where he’s frequently let go at jobs). He’s very critical of me and I never felt that I am good enough for him that there’s something that could be better in me, he’s made that clear to me several occassions. The list can go on and on, but these are the biggest factors that are driving us apart beyond repair at this point. I have so many doubts about having a family and future with someone who is clearly so out of touch with reality. I have set my doubts, feeling aside and have tried to plow through life without correcting these problems, but to no avail it’s not working.

    I have asked him to get help, please come with me to counseling and do everything that we need to better our quality of life, but he does not see anything wrong with him. I have one foot out the door and he is aware of this and isn’t showing any shift toward improving. His ego is the biggest driving force behind his unwillingness to change.

    How long do you wait for someone to wake up and step up? Am I fighting a battle that I can not ever win.

    Am I sacrificing my quality of my life for someone that’s unappreciative and unwilling to change for the better? Instead of getting out in the dating world and hoping for the best at the age of 32.

    Sincerely,
    Sacred and afraid

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      Controlling, manipulative behavior as well as constant criticism will destroy a relationship. There would be hope for your relationship if your husband recognized his tendencies to control and criticize, apologized after he behaved that way, and was willing to go to counseling to change his habits. But the fact that he blames you and is not willing to change his own behavior is unfortunate. It definitely takes two people willing and motivated to treat each other with respect (as equal and independent) and love for a relationship to work.

      Here is an essay I wrote that has to do with marrying someone with more money. However, the same things can be said for marrying someone who is taking care of you and becomes controlling, or someone who has a macho demeanor. The good news is that you don’t have children at this point.

      Good luck, and you might google some of my articles on breaking up and separating.

      All the best to you.

      Alison

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2012/04/27/marrying-into-money-%E2%80%9Che-used-to-take-care-of-me-and-now-he-treats-me-like-a-child-giving-me-an-allowance-%E2%80%9D/

      Reply
      1. Michelle

        Alison,
        So without acknowledgement of the ineffective behavior with a acknowledgement there will never be a fully functioning productive healthy relationship. I guess that would be the same with discounting my feeling, if I say you did xyz and he says I never did that or that did not hurt your feelings, etc.

        All these are destructive behaviors and will not allow the relationship to grow and develop.
        So without that acknowledgement I’m fighting a battle that I won’t win, because I can not force anyone to change.

        So at the end of the day these traits are “toxic” and/or a lack of compatibility just having different world views?

        Thank you in advance.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi,

          If I’m understanding you correctly, I would have to agree. People have to acknowledge their weaknesses in order to improve themselves. More importantly, in a relationship, you should want the best for your partner, as long as you do not suffer in order to support and encourage your partner. No one is perfect, and everyone makes occasional mistakes (I don’t mean major mistakes like infidelity). But you should want to apologize if you have hurt your partner. If your partner is more concerned about being right than figuring out how the two of you can come to understand each other and get to some sort of win/win situation, than that he or she is going to have a difficult time having a long term successful relationship.

          If you want to give me more specifics, I can try to respond to those.

          Good luck.

          Alison

          Reply
  29. Anna

    Sorry I forgot to mention that have taken steps to become a more independent and self
    Reliant Woman, both physically and emotionally. I feel
    Better as a person and I feel more stable and content but conversely my independent thinking has me questioning our relationship. I feel like with emotional independence comes emotional disconnectedness from my partner and the people I Love. Which scares Me. If people can be content on their own why be in a relationship? What’s the point? Sorry that was the last comment, so much for condensing my questions

    Reply
  30. Anna

    I should also mention that I have really helped him understand his emotions and feel comfortable expressing them. I have brought out a much needed emotional identity in him and after many discussions he finally decided to tell his Mom that he Loves her. (Two years ago) Though he said they both knew they loved one and other they’ve never vocalized it. But ever since then they both say it to one and other daily so I know he values my thoughts and opinions. He brings out a pragmatic side in me and I help him tap into his emotions in a healthy and productive way. We love each other and want our family to work… I just need guidance and perhaps a swift kick in the stubborn behind 🙂

    Reply
  31. Anna

    This was so very insightful and eye opening and acutely describes my relationship. I really need some advice and I’m praying you will respond at your earliest convenience. I’ll try to condense my question and get right to it but first some background on my Partner (The distancer). He is a very pragmatic and independent Man who was raised as an only child by a single mother and Grandmother. His mother is an introvert and extremely independent often having to leave him alone so she could work two jobs to make ends meet (My Mother was the same as was my upbringing but I come from a home with 6 brothers and sisters so I’m extremely extroverted and learned to socialize, communicate and express myself with my siblings). He and his mother never expressed themselves or talked about the absence of his Father and to compound that when his Grandmother (who acted as a father figure and filled some deep emotional voids) died she didn’t discuss his feelings or anything else for that matter with him. Instead he went into a deep depression and she sent him to therapists in an attempt to help him and I’m not sure it did. It happened and life kept moving forward. That traumatic event I believe is what shaped his emotional disconnectedness. As a young man with no one to talk to or tell him it’s okay to express himself he found refuge in Marijuana (like most boys finding themselves) and has never looked back. I feel it acts as an emotional blanket for him so he doesn’t need much else. Now fast forward to he and I. We met almost five years ago through a mutual friend and once I saw him I decided I was going to have him. Things were amazing for the first little while and we did everything together while maintains our separate identities. He wanted to be with me everyday and we would take trips to different places and just have fun. It was truly a Love I’d never experienced. I was his first Love and the first Woman he ever Loved and he Definately made me feel that. I’m not sure why but I became doubtful of his Love and intentions, in hind sight I was insecure and didn’t believe someone so amazing could feel the way way I knew he felt about me so I abruptly without any warning cut him off and told him not to contact me ever again (my ex was a lying cheating dog so I have trust issues that I’ve since then worked on and come a long way). I really regret that. He went into a deep depression and made attempts to contact me and my sister so that he could understand the situation better. A year goes by and I felt I should give him some closure so I reached out and emailed him. We got back together and he told me he loved me (he’s never told another person including his own mother at that point that he loves them, I was the first) and I ended up doing the same thing. I pulled the rug from beneath him. Months later I contacted him and we got back together. This time I was in it for the long haul. Initially He was a forceful pursuer while I was the distancer. Not sure if he was what I wanted but I cared for him and wanted to be in his life. I loved him but he was doing enough pursuing for the both of us I didn’t need to do anything. I know he resented me for the way I treated him while he was pursuing me and we’ve talked about that later on and moved forward. We moved in together about a year ago and things couldn’t be more perfect. We were more happy than we could ever remember being. Both in love and both on the same page. We got pregnant and are both now the parents of a gorgeous little Boy. But things have progressively gotten worse. I became extremely emotionally and socially dependent on him. We have gone to therapy and both enjoyed it and want to continue going but with the baby and having recently moved we haven’t found the time or the money. Our counsellor also told us about the aggressor and defender theory and gave us ways of dealing with it which we did and it worked. But things have gotten to the point where I feel I want out (we don’t have time to put therapy into practise anymore with the baby and other variables) and I’m not sure if he feels the same way. Emotionally he’s completely closed off to me, he becomes very passive aggressive when I try to initiate any conversation about our relationship. He has come to me dimple magically and respectfully and told me I need to be more independent because he wants a Woman that is self reliant but also because it’s better for me, but I became very defensive and felt I was being judged so I didn’t take his concerns seriously. He’s at his breaking point and frustrated as I’m pursuing intimacy, closeness and any type of connection whereas he wants to focus on himself having invested so much time into focusing on me and my needs his own needs have dissipated. I don’t know what to do. I asked him if he still loves me and he said he’s not sure and ever since then I have backed off and given him space. Not asking about his feelings and pursing anything unless it pertains to bills and our son he seems to be happier but I’m not. I’m sorry there is so much to write that I haven’t articulated myself clearly but I hope you understand the gist of my pain and concerns. Please help

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      You’ve described the situation very clearly. I am amazed that he got back together with you twice after you suddenly cut him off. Most people would not do that. I doubt that he would do it again.

      My advice to you might be very difficult while you are feeling ambivalent and somewhat insecure. But if you have the willpower and fortitude, I think you could save your relationship and have quite a good relationship once again. And if not, then at least you will make your relationship with the father of your son the best it can be, and you will grow as a person.

      The key is that you learn to avoid fearing being loved or not loved and that you learn to be independent emotionally yet simultaneously show that you care and engage intimately. Independence does not mean becoming cold and distant. It means not being dependent on how another person feels at any one moment. It means having the strength to withstand someone else’s emotional confusion or differing opinions without trying to manipulate them into needing you, showing that care about you, or agreeing with you. It means not cutting someone off when you fear their reactions. It means not punishing someone when they’re not sure about how they feel about you.

      What he told you was right–you should become more self-reliant. The problem with your becoming defensive when he was honest with you was that he will fear being honest with you in the future. Intimacy requires that each person can be candid (as well as somewhat diplomatic) without the other person getting defensive or becoming controlling or manipulative through their reactivity (withdrawing, anger, pleading, etc.) If you ever want true intimacy and trust in a relationship, you will have to learn not to be defensive. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with the other person. But listen to their opinions without getting upset.

      So imagine if you had responded, “You’re right. I do need to become more self-reliant. Thank you for being so honest with me.” That would go a long way toward him feeling happy and comfortable around you, because he doesn’t have to walk on eggshells. It may not be too late to start being more open with him and less defensive. But at this point, I would start by having a little more joy in the relationship. Try to do some light-hearted enjoyable things with no pressure.

      Continue to pursue healthy, enjoyable independent pursuits, while engaging your partner in some fun pursuits with and without your son. The challenge for you is to be able to love and be loved without strings attached and without fear. Don’t ask him if he loves you. Obviously, if you are too needy, and then distant, he will not know whether he loves you. Don’t worry so much about how he feels about you. Instead be your best self balanced between independent and enjoying togetherness. Grow and pursue some independent pursuits. But remain pleasant, engaging, and fun. Get back some of your light heartedness. Right now you may not know whether you want to stay together, because you are both distance, hurt and not your best selves. Don’t make such a big decision until you have improved your existing relationship.

      Whether or not your relationship works out, he is in your life for life, given that you have a child together. Treat him with respect. Resist all urges to be needy without cutting yourself off from him emotionally.

      It may feel awkward to do stuff together when you’ve both been hurt and defensive. You could say something like, “Life is short. We have this beautiful child. Let’s go to the park and have some fun with him.” And then have a good fun attitude at the park. Continue to do some things on your own, but be friendly, not needy, when you see him, and every now and then think of something enjoyable to do together and see how things change.

      let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Michelle

      Anna,
      I read this book called “Attached by Amir Levine. It could help you understand the patterns and how to deal with people how have the type of attachment theory that you described (distancer ) and how to deal with people like that. It also helps you understand how you feel more “anxious” by wanting to talk about the relationship, etc. and how it’s the other person that assists by making us feel “safe”. It was a eye opener to me, I’ve always been “anxious” attachment style and I’ve learned to deal with it in a more productive way.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  32. Sarah

    Dear Dr. Alison,
    I recently came across your article about resentment. I’m hoping you can help me.
    I’m a 17 year old girl, and I have built up anger towards my mother. It’s been like this since forever. From a young age, I always wanted to be like my father. I associated myself with him, I have his humour, personality, etc. Every attempt you could possibly think of at being like him, that’s what I tried. Being close to him was something I wanted, but we never got to that point. He’d sit on the computer all day and night in the basement. Because of me wanting to be like him, I’m more of a tomboy now, as I feared when I was young, me being girly would make him hate me.
    Him and my mom left each other when I was about 6. Eventfully I saw him every second weekend. He moved a few years ago, 4000 km away from me, and we barely talk now. I know he still loves and cares about me, but it hurts a lot.
    My mother is another story. Everything she does aggravates me. I always talk back to her, give her attitude and sometimes look at her in disgust. I know that probably sounds bad, but I don’t know why. She can’t get a job for the life of her, she was on welfare and that barely supported my brother and I after my dad left. We got evicted from our one townhouse, and forced to move into a small, horrible basement apartment in a very bad area. Now we live with her and her boyfriend, and we have for a few years now. The situation is still not ideal, as her boyfriend has basically been supporting us. My brothers abusive, always has been. He’s 24, and just yesterday, him and I got into a huge fight. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, or plays a role.
    If someone were to compare me to my mother or say I looked like her, I’d deny it and it would anger me so much, saying I’m like my dad in every way. The thought of getting close with her leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I never felt like she cared about me, either. There’s been times where I would come home from school and I’d be mad about something, I’d try and vent to her.. And she’d roll her eyes and never care to listen. I just “annoyed” her. I don’t even want to hug her, I haven’t told her I loved her in years. I just can’t.
    I can feel myself becoming cold towards everyone more and more each day. I lost motivation for school, and I’ve turned to self harm. I don’t know what to do anymore. I want to get out of this house, my boyfriend wants me to live with him.. But we’re long distance and my mom isn’t very supportive of that, either. I can’t live with him yet.. But my brother and my mom are getting too hard for me to handle. What do I do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I am so sorry to hear about your situation and that you are causing yourself harm. Is there any way to ask to live with your dad? I assume that would be difficult, but it is worth asking. And don’t hesitate to call or contact your dad even though he doesn’t contact you much. Some people are just like that, not because they don’t care, but because they feel awkward calling and making contact–especially the types who sit at the computer working all day.

      My hope for you would be that eventually, and the sooner the better, you would move from having contempt for your mom to feeling pity for her. ALthough I can see why you are disgusted, angry, and sad at your situation, not having a decent, reasonable, caring adult around you, contempt will only make the situation worse. If you could see that it is sad that she wasn’t able to be a great mom whom you could love and respect, and who could give you what you need, but that she just isn’t capable of it, perhaps because of her own upbringing or her own problems, then maybe you could focus your energy on how to improve your life. The self-harm may come from feeling desperate and hopeless and wanting someone to come to help you, which is only a normal desire. You are 17 and haven’t experienced respect and love for a adult in your life since you were six. Is there any counselor you could see at school or at some other organization, or any adult whom you could talk to? It would really help if you had some stable and encouraging adult to talk to on a regular basis.

      I would recommend trying to avoid showing your contempt for your mom and brother, even though you feel it. You want to keep your situation at home as safe as possible for you until you can find a way to move out. Also, the more you show contempt, the worse others will behave. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m not suggesting that if you’re nice that she’ll suddenly be wonderful, but there will be at least a minimal change for the better.

      Unfortunately you might have to act as your own parent. How can you behave to make the situation as palatable as possible until you can move out. I know showing your contempt is a way to feel powerful or express your anger, but it does put you in danger and will only make things worse.

      Psychologically speaking, the sooner you can understand that your mother simply doesn’t have the capacity to give you what you need, the better for you to avoid taking everything personally, and to grow into a happier, more capable person yourself. I’ve know many people who have not received love from a parent they respect, and have even experienced terrible forms of abuse, who as adults have learned to live very full, happy lives. One thing they have in common is to let go of the resentment that can kill your spirit, and to find away out of the turmoil. I know it is difficult to let go of resentment when you are living in close quarters with people you don’t like or respect. But try to think rationally the best path for you to take to get out on your own in a safe place and to have the best possibility to create a better life for youself.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  33. Jacqui

    Hi, I am 68 and my husband is 74. I don’t like sex and have never really enjoyed it. I did explain this to my husband when we were courting.
    When I was younger I used to have a few drinks and that would allow me to have sex but not know as 3 glasses of wine make me feel tired not sexy.
    We have been married for 34 years and now it has come to the point that I know he wants sex but I just cant bring myself to do it. I have no desires and I think its unnecessary but I know that’s not good for him. In general we get on very well but I know when he gets irritable its because he wants sex and I then start to feel generally unwell, which I believe is caused by stress knowing that I don’t want to so my body reacts with pains, headaches etc etc. and everything is fine until the next time he needs sex (it’s as though he forgives me because I’m not well and then he needs sex and it’s like a vicious circle). There are lots of other things that have happened during my younger life which may have a bearing on why I don’t like sex but it’s a long story so won’t go there! I suffer from high blood pressure and when I get upset it obviously goes up higher. I don’t want to make him unhappy but I can’t do something that makes me ill or unhappy too.
    Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I do try to explain and discuss everything he is a good man and listens but then it all happens again within a week and as mentioned before, it’s like a vicious circle.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      This is a difficult question for me to answer. I normally think that sex is a vital part of a vital intimate relationship. Often the lack of sex is caused by other problems or symptoms in the relationship, such as exhaustion, resentment, disrespect, lack of self-care of one or both partners, depression, or lack of effort because of predictability or boredom. In these cases, it’s well worth it to get to the bottom of the issue and improve the problems. As a result, the relationship will be better and sex will be more desirable.

      Also, often the longer a woman doesn’t have sex, the less appealing the idea of it is. There has to be more seduction, not so much physical seduction but romance, music, kindness, fun, candlelight, non-sexual caressing and that sort of thing to get her aroused after a long dry spell. It seems as though it’s opposite for a man. The longer he goes without it, the more he wants it. Of course, people vary quite a lot. These are just my generalizations.

      What’s different in your case is that you never liked sex and you let him know in the beginning. Nevertheless, you love him and don’t want him to feel unloved and unfulfilled. I don’t think your age is a big deal as there are plenty of people much older than you who enjoy fulfilling sex. I do think it’s unhealthy and causing unnecessary stress that you have to react with physical symptoms to keep him at bay. It would be so much better if you could be honest with him, in a kind and candid way. I’m sure he has his share of feeling rejected and so forth that could be alleviated if you could speak with him in a candid way, even if you don’t understand all of your feelings. You know, explain that you feel bad about disappointing him because you love him; you don’t want him to feel rejected (unless you secretly do!); that you feel pressured and fearful (or however you feel) when he wants to have sex; etc.

      I am not a sex expert but there are sex experts who will prescribe hugging without sex for a while, and then gradually more gentle affection, for people who have no desire for sex perhaps because of sexual abuse or trauma. The key is that the person less interested in sex is always in control. But it can be quite life-enhancing to at least become more comfortable with physical affection. How do you think he would respond if you started with just more physical affection? What do you think about allowing him to have sex with someone else?

      The fact that you get high blood pressure and feel very stressed about the situation makes me think that you could feel a lot better if you saw the right therapist about your anxiety around this issue, even if you decided never to have sex again. There seems to be something underlying those strong feelings that if considered and discussed gently with the right person could be freeing for you.

      All the best. Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  34. Tim

    Hi Dr. Poulsen,

    I came across your article “Why People Gossip and How to Avoid it” doing research for my next blog post in a series about Successful People vs Unsuccessful People. I am citing a few things from your article and putting in a link to this article from my post which I will publish on 5/10/16.

    I really liked this article. I hope you don’t mind my linking out to your article from my blog. Thanks!

    Be Hopeful,

    Tim

    Reply
  35. ANONYMOUS

    I wish I could talk to you in person. I have never done this before but here goes. So difficult to write briefly about a relationship that has been a lifetime; that of my youngest sister and I. I am 64 and she is 54. Although I am the oldest and used to be her caretaker when we were very young, I have spent most of my life seeking her approval, just as I did with our father. So, in retrospect, I feel we have not had a very honest relationship as I am often doing and saying things which I think will please her instead of being authentic. (This is something I having been grappling with in all my relationships. ) But I often don’t….please her. We have had a very hot and cold relationship for many years – mostly on – but when it is off, it is really off and I do not know if we can recover from this latest issue as I feel just DONE. I don’t know how you can help much with just seeing this one issue when you don’t know the dynamics that have been going on for so long. it all seems like such small stuff really that has escalated into big because of co-dependence and poor communication. Anyways, the latest event IS that I was going to meet her for an hour on her way through town on a road trip to give her some sheets I had purchased for her and also her bd present which was, in my mind, very special and I was excited to give it to her. A friend contacted her when he found out she would briefly be in town – someone she likes very much (only as a friend, as she is happily married) and hasn’t seen in several years due to his schedule. I offered that she probably would want to devote her time to just him and that I would just drop by their breakfast meeting briefly to deliver her gifts. She told me that NO, she didn’t want me to come at all. I wrote back and told her I was hurt about this. A month went by, we talked in the meantime, but I felt something was wrong. There have been many cases of hurt in the past and I try to just suck it up. I continually think we are making good progress, we do have some wonderful times together, but always feel a wall comes up when we are getting too close and something happens to sabotage it. She says I take things too personally. I have worked very hard at always seeing my part in things, taken responsibility and trying to move on. We have had some serious setbacks but then get back on track but never really talk about what happened. She doesn’t want to. So after the latest incident of me being hurt and telling her, a month later she sent me a late night email. She said she had a very strong physical and emotional reaction to my email where I said I was hurt. She said she felt like she was being blamed for something and didn’t think she had done anything wrong. What she wishes about our relationship is that I know that she loves me, that she doesn’t ever want to hurt me and that I trust her and trust that she is doing her best and that her decisions are based on many factors and what she needs at the time. She feels that perhaps my expectations of her leave me feeling hurt and disappointed. That when I am hurt due to my own perceptions or assumptions, she resents having to take it on. She admits that she doesn’t ‘have to take it on, but of course she does by her nature and it is tough and frustrating. “

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I think you can succeed in changing your existing dynamic with your sister. It will be hard because you have a long history that started with you being the caretaker. When she was young, she needed you, and you (similar to most parents) probably unconsciously got used to equating being needed with being loved, because there is some equivalency when a child needs a caretaker. However, as she stopped needing you, she gained the power in the relationship, which is hurtful to you. Additionally you have craved your dad’s approval, and are still seeking approval externally.

      While most people like approval, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying approval, when people crave someone’s approval or external approval too much, they come across as needy and insecure, and are therefore less likely to achieve it. Moreover, as in the case with your sister, if she senses that you really want her approval and attention, she will feel burdened by you, as she suggests.

      Your sister’s physical reaction of fear of being responsible for your wellbeing is understandable and common in all sorts of relationships. It is the underlying core problem in the pursuer/distancer dynamic. I think it’s great that she is being honest with you.

      Your goal should be to be responsible for your own wellbeing and to avoid behavior that makes her feel you need her appreciation too much. You don’t want her to second guess what she says and does around you, because she’s always afraid that your feelings will be hurt. It’s never good when your loved ones feel as though they have to walk on eggshells. It’s better when they feel you are resilient and not dependent on them for your wellbeing. Yes, you should love her and enjoy her company, but remind yourself that you don’t need her to validate you. Through your future behavior of enjoying her but not needing her validation and not being hurt by her rejection, she will learn that she doesn’t have to be careful not hurt you. then she will enjoy being with you more.

      So, I would suggest the following:

      1. Change your language and tone with her. Don’t ever complain about her hurting you. Avoid sounding weak and needy. Instead, be casual and positive. Do not take things personally, or at least do not show that you are taking things personally. For example, if she says, “Don’t come over tonight,” just say, “No problem,” and then make other plans for yourself. Causing her to feel guilty by seeming hurt will cause her to distance herself even more.

      Now there is a ways to say, “I can’t wait to see you and give you my gift!” in a totally positive way that doesn’t invoke any guilt in her. That’s very different and much more enticing, when there is absolutely no guilt or hurt attached to the tone of voice.

      Regarding the email she sent, you might email her back and say something like, “It wasn’t a big deal. I was just looking forward to seeing you. I know you love me. I wasn’t really hurt, just disappointed not see you. Sorry to make you feel bad, but thanks for letting me know.” (Then you can change the subject and say something about your own life. e.g., “I just read this fabulous book/ You’ve got to see the movie…/ I’m so excited to go to…”)

      When you want to get together, be upbeat, casual and positive. Also back off a bit so that the relationship’s reciprocal. When someone pushes you away, it’s a sign that you are pushing for too much connection.

      2. Make less effort to please, to have fun and be yourself, and perhaps to be a bit “selfish” in a good way. Read the article below on “The Receiver and the Giver” to see that people often like being with people who are receivers, because they are more enjoyable to be with. Of course a balance is best. But I sense that you are a bit too much of a giver for your own good and for your relationship with your sister. And 64 years of age is not too late for tweaking that balance!

      Specifically, do less for her and buy her fewer special gifts. Believe it or not, doing too much for her can be a burden for her. She has to feel gratitude yet she senses that you want her gratitude and reciprocity. I’m sure you don’t feel that way. Trust me, you can be kind and friendly, but more casual about it and without putting too much effort into the relationship, and she will be surprised and respond better over time.

      3. To help you with this, make efforts to make new acquaintances, start a new hobby or sport or book club, push yourself to do some exciting, challenging activities that allow you to focus on yourself and others not including your sister. Then when you do see your sister, you will have more things going on in your life. Again though, beware of the tendency to impress her and get her approval. When you see her, make it light and fun, and then leave early. Don’t wait until she gets tired of being with you. You don’t want her to feel as though she has to spend a long time with you to make you feel worthwhile.

      One more thought. I know it’s hard not to take things personally or be hurt. Basically, the message is that she feels overwhelmed by your (unconscious) expectations of her, and that causes her to feel repelled by you. Instead of being hurt, look at the situation like a scientist or a chef. Negative reactions in a relationship mean there’s a lack of balance of certain ingredients. You don’t have to throw out the whole meal or quit cooking. You need to adjust the quantity and balance of the ingredients.

      I put together a few different articles and a video that may speak to you. Most of them are about romantic partners, but also hold true for any close relationship.

      Please let me know how it goes.

      video: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/02/22/pursuing-connection-with-a-distancer-we-never-spend-time-together/

      Articles:
      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/06/06/%E2%80%9Chow-could-he-leave-me-i-did-everything-for-him-%E2%80%9D-being-needed-versus-being-wanted/

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/personality-traits/pleaser-and-receiver/

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2014/12/01/it-hurts-that-my-fiance-thinks-i-am-smothering-him-he-wants-me-to-let-him-catch-his-breath-after-he-gets-off-work-im-scared-that-im-going-to-lose-him-because-im-n/

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/05/05/four-problems-with-helping-too-much-%E2%80%9Ci%E2%80%99m-exhausted-from-helping-others-all-the-time-%E2%80%9D/

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2013/08/07/communicating-effectively-under-stress/

      Reply
  36. Alex

    Dear Dr.Alison,

    Can I just say that your website is amazing? Your articles really make sense to me and I can relate to so much.
    I have a problem that I would like to find answers to why and how to fix it. My name is Alex and I’m 25 and single.

    My problem is I find myself attracted to unavailable men_ married men, men with girlfriends, or even single but emotionally unavailable men. I am naturally in favour of marriage. I believe in love and marriage and I sincerely have no cruel intentions of whatsoever to jeopardize anybody’s marriages or their families. With religion and moral teachings in my head, I know this is very wrong, but I can’t help it and I need help.

    I can honestly say that I’ve never started any of this. They would start as work colleagues and we’d go out as group and I know they have families and they know me too and we’d become very good friends. Only when they’ve started to express their attraction towards me, I start to feel attracted to them. So far I haven’t involved in sexual encounters yet with any of them, but I’ve kissed and made out with them. I swear I’m not a home-wrecker, who just seeks out and targets for those men and steals happiness and money. Is this purely physical? Why are they so tempting to me? Is this pattern all gonna go away when I settle down with a boyfriend? What is wrong with me? I am an attractive and capable woman. Can you help me Dr.Alison?

    Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Alex.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Alex,

      I will have to get back to you next Wednesday, as I’m out of town right now. Let me ask you, were either of your parents a bit controlling, even a subtle manipulative way, where you felt you should be accommodating, even though you might be giving up your own wishes? Sometimes when a relationship with a parent or a first serious boyfriend left you feeling like you don’t have total freedom to do whatever you want, that could explain being attracted to unavailable men.

      If that were the case, it might be interesting to read up about “differentiation” and “emotional fusion” — you can find articles in the search box in my blog. Here are a couple of articles that may be relevant: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/intimacy/passion-vs-predictability/ and
      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2013/02/10/intimacy-vs-agreement-i-better-not-disagree-with-his-point-of-view-or-hell-get-upset/

      The other idea I have has to do with being attracted to someone who carries qualities that are opposite to you. So, for instance, if you were brought up to be a “good girl,” a guy who’s willing to cheat on his wife has some qualities that are contrary to you. When a man who is taken shows desire for you, that may feels good, yet it doesn’t carry with it the risks of blowing the possibility of developing a deeper relationship. So, ironically, although it’s risky, it’s safer than starting a relationship with someone who is available. You know, fear of failure.

      This article is about attractions outside the marriage. So it could be more about the men you’re attracted to than you. But part of it explains why we’re attracted to certain types. So it could be pertinent: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/intimacy/affairs-and-attractions/

      Give me some more of your thoughts regarding this, and I’ll think about it some more.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Alex

        Dear Dr. Alison,

        Thank you for your reply.
        Yes my parents can be very controlling, overbearing, violent, and conservative. I can’t talk to my parents. My ideas and take-ons about life differ from theirs so much and I’m basically the black sheep of the family. But I don’t blame them, their parents were like that. I’m grateful for what they have taught me and brought me up so far, but sometimes I wish they were more like my friends’ parents whom my friends can confide in and even hug and kiss often.

        About the other idea… I guess I’ve always pictured a good-natured, family guy as a partner. I don’t even like affairs and adultery. But I’m committing one as the other woman now. My previous serious relationship was a big failure too: like the Fused Couple from your first article. From the article “Attractions outside the Marriage”, I guess that these men who show their attraction to me think I have something that their wives lack of. I don’t want to take away what they have with their primary lives but I admit it feels quite good that they desire me. And so, I’m caught in between: feeling good and feeling bad that I’ve become the lowlife evil person who I’ve always been taught to avoid becoming and I fear to become. I won’t start nothing from my side, but if they start getting physical, I worry I won’t be able to control myself. Am I making myself less guilty in this way? I’m not such a good girl…

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi Alex,

          Well I think that the way you were treated by your parents explains a good deal. You don’t have the experience of having a mutually respectful, loving relationship with a parent. I’m not saying that they didn’t love you in their own way. And it’s very good for your future that you don’t blame and hate them, but instead understand that because of their own upbringing they were incapable of doing much better. That attitude will really help in your own development.

          So my feeling is that unconsciously you fear long-term intimate relationships because you don’t feel equipped for handling the small amounts of negativity that can start to occur in a relationship and then lead to terrible conflict and disappointment, and that you therefore fear that long-term relationships come at too great a cost.

          But it’s nice to feel desirable. So, it makes sense that you would flirt with unavailable men–it may even be subtle flirting, not really going after them. In fact you may not feel that you are flirting, but are simply putting on that vibe without knowing.

          Regarding your previous serious relationship, a lot of relationships are not so ideal when people are young, because each person is figuring out who they are. We can learn from experience though, if we make an effort.

          I would recommend reading and going to classes on healthy intimate relationships. Read John Gottman. It would be great if you could get some counseling with someone you like and respect who focuses on relationship and communication skills. Learning how to communicate effectively, when you are irritated, annoyed, or feeling disrespected is critical in a relationship. Those things happen in all relationships, and if you either retreat and withdraw, accommodate without wanting to, or attack the other person, the relationship will suffer, and you will suffer. So it’s crucial to learn to communicate your needs, desires, and complaints without offending the other person. You could also read or listen to the audio, or find a class on “nonviolent communication” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. He is outstanding. Classes are the best because you have to practice in front of other people and then you get feedback when your tone of voice isn’t effective, etc. And that kind of communication is so helpful in all aspects of life. You could also search my site with the term “nonviolent communication” for a synopsis on the subject.

          I would recommend CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) because it focuses on your how to adapt your own behavior in situations you dread. I think that when you develop the skills to handle such situations when someone is negative, controlling, or angry, you will be less attracted to unavailable men, because you will be feel better about handling available men, while retaining your self-respect.

          Let me know how it goes.

          Alison

          Reply
  37. Bina Shah

    Dear Dr. Alison,

    I just recently found your web site and am fascinated by all the different perspectives you offer. You’ve given me a lot to think about and it’s already making me want to alter my outlook on relationships so that I can find more freedom even as I stay connected to another person.
    My question to you is, what is the best way to demonstrate the beauty of connection to a typical distancer? I have made all the typical mistakes of a pursuer in the past. I don’t want to do this again. But I would like to find out about a more positive way of illustrating to the person I care about that connection can be a beautiful thing, if done with balance and sensitivity and respect.
    Many thanks in advance for your advice.
    Best,
    Bina

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Bina,

      Thank you for your appreciation.

      You may hope for an easier answer, but I don’t think there is one. The best way to approach the Distancer so that he/she recognizes the beauty of the connection is to enjoy your time together without engulfing or overwhelming or pressuring the Distancer for more connection. Often the Distancer retains distance or space because unconsciously he or she fears being controlled or feeling obligated to give up his autonomy. Strangely enough, often the Distancer is not great at setting boundaries in a clear but compassionate way with intimates or people who are close. (One of many reasons this can have developed is that he had a parent who would somehow punish him when he set boundaries, for example, with anger or cold withdrawal.) Thus it becomes easier to simply stay emotionally distant than to connect and then have to feel uncomfortable in trying to set boundaries.

      So it’s good to avoid manipulating or pressuring the Distancer into doing things with you, staying longer, or opening up and talking more…

      Over time, the Distancer may feel that it is not as threatening to be open with you as it was as a child, for instance.

      So, for example, when the Distancer says or hints that he prefers to stay home than meet you, say with kindness and ease, and without guilt or manipulation, “Too bad. I’ll miss you. Have a great evening.” Tone of voice is key–no guilt trip.

      Or, for example, when the Distancer opens up and expresses an emotion or something personal, be careful not to criticize or analyze or pump him for too much information. It’s better to really listen, and then say something like, “I appreciate you’re telling me that.” And then allow the subject to be changed if he is starting to feel uncomfortable. In these ways, the Distancer will learn over time that the earlier threat of intrusion or control is no longer a real threat, and he will probably slowly open up (especially if he is younger.) But don’t expect a big change. Part of the beauty of relationships is learning from the person you are drawn to. In what ways could you learn to become more like him?

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  38. Confused Best Friend

    Hi Dr. Alison,

    My name is Zoey. I stumbled upon your website while googling trying to find an answer to my problem. I decided to ask you here since I see that you do read each and every asked question and answer kindly.

    This is not a romantic relationship problem, rather it’s a friendship between four girls. I have three best friends, which we’ll call them Anne, Beth, and Claire. Anne, Beth, and I, we’ve known each other since high school and it’s been 10 years now since we’ve been best friends. Clair joined in later and it’s been around 6 years the four of us been best friends. Myself and Anne had been the closest of four. Anne and I were so close_ we thought alike, we looked alike, we liked alike, or so I thought we did and we declared each other BFFs. She had nobody else that was so close to her like me and it was mutual on my side too. I’m using past tense here since it is not how it used to be anymore. Beth has lived in overseas since 5 years ago and comes back home once or twice a year. So, our big gatherings naturally fall in those two times when all four of us are together in the same place.

    If you don’t want to read the rest, the short story is I observe that we four are no longer “Best Friends” anymore. We are just in good and sort-of close friends category now. I’d like to know if I was wrong for 1) losing Anne because I don’t like her personality and choices anymore and 2) losing Claire because our BFF is not exclusive anymore. And 3) is it normal not to have a best friend?

    Story with Anne
    Anne has had two boyfriends, one since she was 17 through 21 and the current one. Both relationships are super toxic, being verbally abusive, physically abusive, cheating, jealousy, obsession, stalking, etc. etc. For the first few years, I was the only one who wanted to listen to her while Beth and Claire said “no more.” Don’t get me wrong, Anne is no mediocre girl. She’s very pretty, her father’s loaded, herself was a pre-med student, now a doctor, she’s intelligent, she’s feisty, sassy. But when it comes to relationships, she turns into this undesirably stalking girlfriend, with no self-confidence, ditching girlfriends multiple times because either she has plans with her boyfriend or she isn’t in the mood (which mainly constitutes to recent fight with her boyfriend). But I loved her so much. But she didn’t change. Everybody has their heart broken and hurt and has prioritized romantic relationship over friendships, but you need to evolve once you get older. But she still keeps her head down in the relationship mud and doesn’t try to get out. She hasn’t had a job yet, she’s been studying all her life. She talks about vanity and gossip, who’s dating who, who’s broken up, she talks about celebrities and affairs and she likes Vampire Diaries, mainly because the actors (I-dont-even-know-who) are cute, mostly what we talk about is her boyfriend problems. Beth, Claire and I all have jobs and failed/successful relationships, but I think Anne ‘s still stuck at sweet 16. I feel that I don’t like her personality anymore. I’ve started to think she’s shallow and doesn’t thrive for life. She doesn’t learn anything and she can’t talk about any other world stuff than her relationships and medicine. Her social media is full of relationship quotes and lessons, but what’s the point? She’s on Facebook every hour. I don’t like her choices and her way of thinking anymore. (She thinks that she’s getting revenge to stay in a bad relationship because the guy cannot cheat and stuck with her.) These ideas were okay when we were 16 or even 21. But we are 25 years old now. So it’s been 2 or 3 years that I don’t hang out with her as much and she now has a new girl friend that she lies she hates her guts but all her social media is full of her and herself. I tried to make the connection we used to have by calling her, making plans, but she kept saying she’s very busy and we only see each other once a year when Beth comes home. And I only get her updates from her Facebook. She’s going out with friends alright, but just not with me, and Claire anymore. I feel like it’s my fault I gave up on her and I hurt her by being harsh and it’s not her fault that she doesn’t make any effort to reconnect anymore. But I also ponder if it is alright not to be best friends with her anymore because we don’t get and click.

    Story with Claire
    Claire was not the most prettiest among the four of us. She was not popular back then. I just heard from Beth the other day that Claire’s goal was to be popular and have a lot of friends and she now has made it. She has multiple circles of friends now and in each circle, she is the best friend. Don’t get me wrong. Claire is a very very good friend, she helps out a lot. She supports and listens when in need. But the last time I saw her was a year ago when Beth came home. She says she’s also very busy, her weekends are packed with outings with other friends. She has two other best friends apart from us which we didn’t know and with whom she’s been on overseas vacation goals, friendship goals, and doing many many stuff together. Claire is also feeling guilty of admitting that. Claire explained herself that we are not their type.

    Beth and I are still connected. Beth is an ER nurse, so she’s quite busy and she doesn’t respond to us so much and she lives overseas, so she’s okay. She’s also very mature, she understands. She knows that we must resolve the tensions between us. The problem is all of Anne, Beth, and Claire claims that we are still “best friends”. I have my own other circles of friends, from acquaintances, colleagues from good to very good to very close friends, but nobody compares to Anne, Beth and Claire. These three girls know all the ups and downs of my life, my secrets, my everything. But I get their updates once a year or twice a year. We don’t hang out anymore, we don’t have similar interests anymore. We are each other’s very close friends, but I don’t think it’s been a while we no longer are best friends.

    Is this all normal? What do I do? What should I try and what should I not? Can I still find another heart-felt soulmate best friend, you know, the go-to person, with whom to talk about anything, or hang out just doing nothing? I don’t need many best friends, I just need one. But I don’t have none at the moment.

    Thank you Dr. Alison.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear Zoe,

      I just wrote you a long answer and it all got deleted. Anyway, I will do it again.

      I’d like to know if I was wrong for 1) losing Anne because I don’t like her personality and choices anymore and 2) losing Claire because our BFF is not exclusive anymore. And 3) is it normal not to have a best friend?

      1. No it’s normal and healthy for people to change and their relationships to change. It would not be healthy to spend time with someone whose choices and personality you don’t like. It’s sad because it’s a loss, but that kind of loss is part of life. And there’s opportunity in that loss as well–to meet new and different people who are making good and interesting choices.

      2. Here I have to disagree with you. It’s not good to be possessive in a friendship. It’s more interesting and healthier to avoid jealousy, to encourage your friends to have other friends, and to have more friends yourself.

      3. Most people probably don’t have one best friend. I personally think it’s best to have a variety of friends. No one can fulfill everything in a friendship with another person, and it’s nice to have different friends.

      Regarding Anne, I don’t think it’s helpful for you to hang out with someone who spends all their time on social media, who isn’t working, who doesn’t seem to want to hang out with you, and who gets into abusive relationships with men, and then spends a lot of time complaining about it. It’s sad, but it’s what she is going through now. If you felt like it you could write her a letter or email that reminds her of her potential. Something like “I remember how excited you were about studying and about medicine. It makes me sad to see that you aren’t pursuing that passion and that you’ve been with abusive men. I know you’re better than that and just want to let you know that I want the best for you, and know you can have a positive, exciting life.”

      Regarding Claire having other friends, you should encourage her blossoming life and new friends, or at least pretend that you are happy for her. Jealousy and possessiveness are based in fear of loss. So it makes sense that you fear losing her friendship. But those emotions will backfire and cause her to back away from you. Enjoy her friendship, show interest in her new friends and develop new friends yourself. More importantly plan some new pursuits such as sports or travel to make your life more interesting to you.

      You might search on my blog the term “pursuer” and read about the pursuer/distancer dynamic. I write about romantic relationships but it applies to all relationships.

      I think you are fortunate to have had this close group of best friends for so many years. You will always have a special bond because you knew each other when you were young. However, you will develop other close friends, though perhaps not one bff. Over time as your interests change, your new friends will become special in a different way. I would make more of an effort to do new things, to invite potential friends to lunch, a movie, going to dinner, or whatever you like to do. It takes more effort when you’re an adult, because you’re not simply at school together. But I would warm against looking for one best friend. Instead develop several friendships and see what happens. And also continue to see your old group once a year or whatever. But give up trying to recreate what you once had. Instead be grateful for it and appreciate what you still have with that group. But also move on.

      Good luck!!

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      PS You said you feel harsh that you gave up on Claire. But on the other hand, you don’t want to enable bad behavior. By listening to ongoing complaints about abusive relationships, you would be enabling her. It’s better to tell her that she should get out of the bad relationships, but that it is repetitive and boring to others for her to dwell on these terrible relationships because that kind of obsessive complaining doesn’t enhance anyone’s life. By stating what you think with compassion but not hanging around for her to continue to repeat mistakes and complain about them is boundary setting, example setting, and helpful, even if she doesn’t take the hint for a few years.

      Reply
    3. Alison Post author

      One more PS. I appreciate your asking the three questions early on in case I didn’t have time to read the whole email. That was very thoughtful. And you laid out the facts and questions very clearly. Thanks!

      Reply
  39. Hilary

    I’ve found your website at a key time in my life. At 46, I just recently ended a 7 year relationship, which followed a 12 year marriage. So many lessons learned! I am now really conscious that I commit too early. But I felt hopeless about my ability to ever be in a successful relationship, one where I can work on different and more evolved layers of myself instead of the same issues I’ve had in the past.

    Your clear words and explanations of boundaries, intimacy and emotional fusion rang so true. I know that some of the mistakes I’ve made had to do with committing to soon to people I was not really compatible with but I knew that there was more going on. More that I could work to change about how my behavior affected my relationships.

    It is revolutionary to me that my problems with intimacy stem from a lack of self acceptance and that the validation I sought from my partner was not a sign of s living relationship but a dysfunctional behavior. So empowering! And working on self knowledge and acceptance is tangible goal for me to work on during this period of healing solitude.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your comment. I think it’s part of life to live and learn. We all have different situations, relationships and experiences through which to learn. They are not necessarily mistakes, if we try to see them as part of life, and try to improve our lives through the experiences.

      I’m glad you are seeking growth, taking responsibility (though not all of it!) and moving toward healing and acceptance.

      All the best,

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Michelle

        Alison,
        Do you have any books or materials you can recommend for someone that is still lacks at times low-self esteem and seeks validation from others. I have seen a counselor for this and have improved somewhat, but still need to stay on top of strengthening those two areas.

        Thank you.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          The psychology books I like on relationships (and self-respect with relationships) are by John Gottman, Hal and Sidra Stone, and David Schnarch. For non-psychology books, I remember liking both “Why Men Love Bitches” though I’m not crazy about the title, and “Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts,” also not my favorite title. (Both titles sound a little sexist, but if you read them more loosely for what they have to offer, I think there’s something practical to be learned.) What both of these books do is give examples of how women would behave in certain situations where someone starts being controlling, demeaning, or neglectful. I do think that it is really helpful to have specific examples of how to respond, because relationships usually start out well, but slowly deteriorate. You can avoid this deterioration when you have an effective way to respond to little actions or statements of disrespect, long before the patterns get out of hand.

          In terms of raising your own self-esteem, you can work simultaneously on improving several areas of your life: becoming capable of new activities, that is, learning things that excite you, having new friends and acquaintances who are interesting and positive on the whole, remaining capable of being independent, staying healthy physically, learning to have boundaries while being respectful (or nice), challenging yourself to do interesting new things, and even some volunteering or being helpful to others if you have time, will all raise your self-esteem.

          You also might google my site with the words “validation” and “differentiation.” Differentiation is all about developing self-esteem.

          Please let me know how it goes.

          Alison

          Reply
  40. Simone

    Dear Alison, I once read a quote that said ‘in in therapy to learn how to deal with those who should be in therapy’. This is almost true of my life at this moment. Anongst others I am quite concerned about my father. He has always been a very anxious person, afraid of making mistakes, critical of everything, paralysed by fear, pessimistic and sceptical of everything, disbelieving of everything, worries about things and does nothing to fix his problems he only complains about them, thinks he knows better and so doesn’t accept help from loved ones to fix them either, dislikes change, always always thinks of the negative reasons why he can’t do something or that something won’t work or something will get worse before even attempting it so that he gives himself a strong enough reason not to do it, procrastinates and he is absolutely debilitated by this self-fulfilling prophecy that life is not to be enjoyed. As you can imagine he is quite unhappy. The worst part of it all is that he refuses to accept the reality. My mother left him for all these reasons about 25 years ago and as he is aging he is becoming more and more set in his ways. I love my father very very much but I am absolutely exhausted by his ways. I have tried to help him in so many different ways but he shuts me down each time in different ways either by denying things, pretending he never said/did something, changing the subject, telling me to stop lecturing him, telling me I’m wrong in my opinion of him or pretending he’s taking my advice on board only to criticise the whole concept a while later and ridicule it. I have tried to teach him about mindfulness, meditation and so on but it is so alien to him that he thinks it’s all mumbo-jumbo. The softly softly approach hasn’t worked nor the tough love approach. I realise that people can’t be helped unless they want to open their hearts and minds to your help. Is there anything at all that I can do? Thank you

    Reply
    1. Simone

      Sorry I forgot to add that his internal dialogue is so loud that he tells me that his brain overheats, that he likens it to an engine that has been running on full power for too long. He finds it virtually impossible to focus on one thing at a time. His mind is scattered and his glazed expression proves it when you speak to him and you get no reaction or response. He is not always like this but he very easily feels overwhelmed by life.

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        I think it would be great if you could get him to ten sessions of a great behavioral cognitive therapist. He won’t have to discuss all the painful events in his life and his childhood–so it’s not so daunting for some people. It is a very effective and pretty rational way to deal with these kind of problems for someone who is not drawn to meditation and so forth. Of course, you can’t force him, but you can give him a little information and suggest it as a way of gaining control over his mind and his anguish. Good luck.

        Reply
      2. Alison Post author

        Make sure you don’t criticize him. Say something like, “It makes me so sad to see you suffer. It would be a gift to me if you would give this a try. It would make me happy if you could find a way to alleviate your mental suffering.”

        Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Hi S,

      It’s very moving that you care about your dad so much and really want to help him get relief from his mental anguish. However, what you said is right: “people can’t be helped unless they want to open their hearts and minds to your help.” Given that you have tried and that he is not open to change, you should let go of your desire to change him. At this point, it is the kind thing to do.

      If he ever is capable and willing to gain peace of mind, he knows he can talk to you. In fact, it is more likely that he will try to change if you give up trying to help him, although given his age and the details you describe, it is quite unlikely. He is used to his way of being.

      What you can do though is find ways to connect with him on a regular basis, whether that means connecting in person once a month or calling a couple times a week for five minutes–whatever is neither a burden on you nor on him. Your challenge is to let him be without trying to change him or criticize him, but also without fueling or exacerbating the anxiety he feels, and without your participating in any complaining or worrying that he does. There must be something you can talk about even briefly that doesn’t cause frustration and conflict between the two of you–the weather, your activities, etc. The point is to connect warmly and without trying to change him. When he complains or worries, acknowledge him and change the subject, even if it is to talk about the interesting or everyday things you are doing. Try not to focus on him too much.

      Here are a few articles I recommend you read:

      “I’m shocked at how much I criticize my Dad for letting other people walk all over him and for not standing up for himself.” and

      “I never call my mom and dad because we have nothing to talk about.”
      “Giving advice.”

      Motivating Change:“I can’t stop criticizing my partner.”

      Remember you can only change how you behave and what you think about. There are many people who do not want to change. Try to appreciate the good about him and focus on your own life, while continuing to connect with him.

      Let me know how it goes.
      Best, Alison

      Reply
  41. Sue

    Dear Alison,
    Shortly after my son go married, his wife became very hostile towards me and then a few years later decided she (they) didn’t want to have any contact with us at all. I’ve tried many times at reconciliation and at one point almost reached my dauther-in-law only to have my son step in and ruin it all. After weeks of e-mails back and forth with my her (she didn’t want to meet face to face or talk on the phone) we had finally come to a place where she was willing to ‘let bygones be bygones’. I was thrilled! Then my son sent me an e-mail demanding ‘an explanation for my past ‘behaviours’, wich only brought up bad feelings/old hurts between her and I and all was lost. I couldn’t believe he would do that. We were so close! Anyway, my questions is when do you know it’s time to stop trying. I miss him so much Alison, and I have a granddaughter who really doesn’t know me and a grandson I’ve never met. I feel like such a doormat but continue to hope. Please help.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear S,

      It’s difficult to know what to recommend without knowing more. What bygones are they talking about? Why are they so angry? What are the past behaviors they are talking about?

      Sometimes simply apologizing and explaining why you behaved a certain way is what the other party wants and needs, without attacking the other party. If you feel you have treated them unfairly, or that they may have misunderstood the way you behaved, then I would write a letter of apology, without any hidden attacks, even if they are justified. I would be happy to look at a letter if you like. It is amazing how easy it is for people to say or write things that are taken the wrong way.

      It sounds to me that whether or not you did something hurtful, that perhaps your daughter-in-law is possessive and is unconsciously driving a wedge between you and your son. This would be a sad situation, and I would probably recommend the same thing. Don’t compete against her. Simply apologize for whatever they think you’ve done to your son as well.

      It would greatly help me to understand what they think you’ve done. Let me know, so I can respond better.

      Alison

      Reply
  42. Sue

    My daughter uses my grandchildren to manipulate me by refusing to let me see them. I would like to sit down and talk to her about this but don’t know how to start the conversation; she very angry and can be very difficult to talk to.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Sue

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      That is very sad. Do you know why your daughter is angry at you? Do you think an appropriately phrased letter may help? Often letters, if written without being judgmental are a good way to get someone to listen to you, especially if you mention your feelings, and ask her to express what you can do to fix things: e.g., “I am so sad that you are angry at me, and would like to repair…”

      If you would like to send me a draft letter, I can look at it and make suggested edits. When you are close to a situation, it is very easy to say things that can be taken as criticism or sound excessively pleading. So it is often helpful to have someone reasonable take a look at the letter.

      The key with angry people is not to put them on the defensive any more. This is hard because they often hold exaggerated judgments and beliefs, which you would like to justify.

      Another key is taking baby steps that may be irresistible. This may be over the top, but as an example, “I have a beautiful antique chest that you may like in your house. If you’re interested, please come by and take a look. It would mean so much to me if you brought the grandkids to say a quick hello.” Breaking the ice is often the hardest.

      Good luck, and feel free to send a sample letter.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Hello Sue,

      That is very sad. Do you know why your daughter is angry at you? Do you think an appropriately phrased letter may help? Often letters, if written without being judgmental are a good way to get someone to listen to you, especially if you mention your feelings, and ask her to express what you can do to fix things: e.g., “I am so sad that you are angry at me, and would like to repair…”

      If you would like to send me a draft letter, I can look at it and make suggested edits. When you are close to a situation, it is very easy to say things that can be taken as criticism or sound excessively pleading. So it is often helpful to have someone reasonable take a look at the letter.

      The key with angry people is not to put them on the defensive any more. This is hard because they often hold exaggerated judgments and beliefs, which you would like to justify.

      Another key is taking baby steps that may be irresistible. This may be over the top, but as an example, “I have a beautiful antique chest that you may like in your house. If you’re interested, please come by and take a look. It would mean so much to me if you brought the grandkids to say a quick hello.” Breaking the ice is often the hardest.

      Good luck, and feel free to send a sample letter.

      Alison

      Reply
  43. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    Is an excruciatingly carcinogenic career accountable for a prematurely shortened lifespan? Please excuse my brazenness and feel free to be totally honest. I actually welcome the prospect of a short life [my own], since in my opinion, longevity isn’t everything if it lacks every single element of vitality…

    Thank you for your time and feedback.

    Best,

    Anonymous

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Probably, though there are always exceptions. Yes, vitality is makes life more livable, or at least enjoyable.

      I hope you don’t have to work near carcinogens in your work. Take care.

      Best, Alison

      Reply
    2. Anonynous

      Dear Alison,

      Thank you for your kind words. The work, however, IS the carcinogen and I’m going to forcefully eradicate it if it’s the last thing that I do! My obituary is NOT going to read: Cause of death- Carcinogenic career!

      Best,

      Anonymous

      Reply
  44. Anonymous

    Re: Pursuit and Distancing

    Hi. I loved your article. It was very helpful. I plan to read more.

    Here is my issue and scenario are in the context of work: I am a distancer. I work with two other women. One in particular is a pursuer. We will call her Kate. We will call the other Donna. Kathy has accused me of not being a team player and withdrawing. Yes, I do withdraw. However, not only do I carry my weight on the team but I routinely save our collective behinds on projects. I also feel that they collude (consciously & unconsciously) to minimize & diminish me. I feel their behavior is reactive as well (fine, she doesn’t want to be with us we’ll do it ourselves). One the one hand, I get how or why they may react that way (although I think it’s childish (which at times makes me angry)). However, on the over hand, it baffles me simply because I’m just not into them like that. I just want collaboration without all the emotional “she doesn’t like us” stuff.

    They worked together for a year before I joined the team. Prior to joining the team I worked in the office next door to theirs. We were a cool friendly but they were and are protective of each other. They have what I call a symbiotic co-dependent relationship. I don’t go to lunch with them or attempt to get inside of their friendship. I didn’t feel I needed to do that–all of that chatty Kathy, getting to know you stuff. Logically, for team building purposes, I should have done it but emotionally I’m tired of pursuers. A friend says that my need for independence & autonomy feels threatening to them despite the fact that I am (or can be) a personal person.

    Kathy and I recently had a blow up at work. If I were nice I might say she was anxious and unsure about the project and her ability to deliver. We were under a right deadline. I am more of the type who says/feels/thinks “I am a professional. There is no way will I not churn out a product. I will not allow myself to look less than good doing this.” With that I’m able to get thru & produce something. My anxiety isn’t necessary outward or emotive. Kathy & Donna are the direct opposite. When I don’t show outward signs of anxiety but quietly start working toward a goal (in my mind that’s what I am doing) then all hell breaks lose. It’s like I’m at once the barrier yet fully responsible for whatever failure or success is up ahead. My friend says that given Kathy’s personality that she needs to feel connected & not shut out, particularly during times of stress. Donna and Kathy are similar in that regard but Donna is able to pull herself together quicker and provide “leadership” for Kathy and, therefore, emotional support. Me? I find myself resenting them for (1) trying to push their inner turmoil off onto me; (2) acting as if I’m the problem (both sets of behavior can be problematic); and (3) that I have to provide some sort of emotional bridge for them in order for them to feel connected and therefore secure enough to do the work. What about me? Why doesn’t my need for autonomy get recognized as a real and legitimate need to be repeated and honored?

    I don’t care about having a relationship with them. Truth be told–I’d rather not but I do care about my professional (and personal) reputation. They are telling people that our work atmosphere is tense (which it is) and they implicate me for that while not taking a reflective look at themselves. Kathy and I have talked throughout the year and on more than one occasion about perceptions (usually to blame me). She’s admitted that she has had some misperceptions about whether or not I care about our collective project. I find that insulting for a lot of reasons. Anyway, this past week we had another blow-up. Kathy got emotional. Donna’s contribution was minimal (family issues). I did the lion’s share of the work. I’m pissed at the atmosphere I feel Kathy initiated yet it seems like ok being blamed again. The supervisor plans to meet with us on Monday.

    Any advise or insight that you can give as a way to move forward is greatly appreciated. This distancer wants to get over her resentment but it’s hard. Because I am angry, I don’t want to make any adjustments to help them feel more secure–grow up!! And honestly, their behavior has left a bad taste in my mouth. Hence, I really don’t care to have a more fuller relationship with them. Donna, I can respect for her knowledge. Kathy, no so much–particularly because she a followers and a pursuer.

    Please help. Thanks.

    Sorry for the length of my entry.

    Aisha

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Well, this is a tough situation and I don’t have a clear solution for you. It sure would be better to work with people who contribute more and don’t feel jealous and needy. There clearly is not need for you to become close friends with these women. However, if they feel that you are aloof and feel you are superior, they may try to prove the opposite. It sounds as though you are trying to be personable and friendly without becoming too close. But they must feel that you hold them in a bit of contempt.

      Also, the fact that you do good work and sometimes do the lion’s share of work can cause them to try to attack you or make you look bad for other reasons. That’s the way guilt sometimes work, especially when it is in combination with feelings of rejection.

      Let’s look at a couple of things you’ve said:

      “My anxiety isn’t necessary outward or emotive. Kathy & Donna are the direct opposite. When I don’t show outward signs of anxiety but quietly start working toward a goal (in my mind that’s what I am doing) then all hell breaks lose. It’s like I’m at once the barrier yet fully responsible for whatever failure or success is up ahead.”

      Often people who feel anxiety only feel better when they spread it and complain about it and become over-reactive. One thing that might help is if you tell them that you are anxious as well, but that your way of dealing with it is to work hard. You don’t have to act anxious. But by telling them that you are anxious but have a different way of handling it, will make you seem more accessible, and they may stop trying to get you to react.

      “A friend says that my need for independence & autonomy feels threatening to them despite the fact that I am (or can be) a personal person.”

      Yes, it is threatening to them. Again, if you tell them, if the circumstances ever permit–ie when you sense they are trying to get you to react or when they are acting needy, that you have a strong need for independence and autonomy, and that it is nothing personal, then again that makes you more human and less offensive toward them (even though you actually are repelled by them personally.) But there’s no reason to be hurtful on purpose, particularly when you have to continue to work with them.

      “I find myself resenting them for (1) trying to push their inner turmoil off onto me; (2) acting as if I’m the problem (both sets of behavior can be problematic); and (3) that I have to provide some sort of emotional bridge for them in order for them to feel connected and therefore secure enough to do the work. What about me? Why doesn’t my need for autonomy get recognized as a real and legitimate need to be repeated and honored?”

      Often autonomous people don’t express their needs as do pursuers or needier people. If you did express those needs, they may not try to provoke reactions from you as much. Often overly-emotional people try to get the calm person to react because it bothers them that they don’t show their emotions. While you don’t have to become emotional, it may help to express that you do have some feelings and needs (but avoid showing too much vulnerability of course.)

      “Anyway, this past week we had another blow-up. Kathy got emotional. Donna’s contribution was minimal (family issues). I did the lion’s share of the work. I’m pissed at the atmosphere I feel Kathy initiated yet it seems like ok being blamed again. The supervisor plans to meet with us on Monday.”

      I would try to express kindness while maintaining your dignity. “I understand that Donna had family issues–that can happen to anyone. When we’re under a deadline, I will work as hard as possible to do a great job, as you can see I did most of the work.” I’m not sure if your would say that, but somehow make sure they know you are very productive. “Perhaps we all differ in how much emotional support we each need. While I like brainstorming, exchanging ideas, and teamwork, I get my best work done independently.” Don’t hesitate to mention how much work you actually do, but don’t belittle the other women.

      Sorry I don’t have more for you. I’d be curious to see how it goes. If the supervisor is psychologically astute, you could say something like, “Sometimes I feel as though they want to become close friends and resent my independence. But I do have a strong need for autonomy, which I think is complementary to teamwork.” I would also mention your disappointment when the others try to implicate you. But don’t say “implicate” and don’t use judgmental language, because you don’t want them to become hostile. Instead, describe the facts in a neutral way without becoming long-winded.

      I would read my article on emotional vs. logical people: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/04/12/%E2%80%9Che-tells-me-to-stop-being-so-emotional-does-he-want-me-to-be-cold-and-unfeeling-like-him%E2%80%9D-2/

      Good luck!

      Reply
  45. Peter seligman

    Hi Alison. It was a pleasure to meet and hear you speak this evening at the library in SV. I truly look forward to reading your book and gaining insights which I can use to move forward to a better place. Take and thank you.

    Reply
  46. Chelsea

    I am in a new relationship, we have been dating for 6 months. I have a 7 year old son, and have been a single parent since my son was born. His father and I do have equal time-sharing, so he is in his life. My boyfriend now has a 1 1/2 year old daughter, and is divorced. We have introduced our kids to each other slowly, obviously my son has taken more from that than his young daughter, due to the age. But now that we’ve introduced, my boyfriend feels like he should be able to correct my child when he is misbehaving, not physically, but, for example, if he is talking back to me, my boyfriend doesn’t like to see him be disrespectful, so he wants to tell him to not talk that way or what have you. My boyfriend has discussed this with me on several occasions, and I’ve always told him that if my son is being disrespectful to him or if I am not in the room and he is doing something that is going to hurt himself or someone else, he can, as an adult in the situation, tell him to stop or not talk to him that way, etc.. I don’t feel comfortable with him interjecting if it’s a circumstance where my son and I are having an issue, I would like to handle it. His response was that he might have to excuse himself from the situation if he’s not allowed to interject because he doesn’t like to see my son being disrespectful.

    I don’t feel like allowing him to interject at this stage in our relationship is appropriate, and for some reason he has a hard time understanding this. Am I wrong? What should I do in this situation?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I feel quite torn in your situation. Like your boyfriend, I would feel very uncomfortable witnessing your seven year old son being disrespectful toward you. I would also lose a bit of respect for you for not handling it yourself. However, if I were in your situation, I might not like his interjecting either. It really depends on how he would interject. If he could do so with warmth or humor or at least without severity, that would be best.

      What I really think would be best is that you handle any rudeness from your son better immediately. As a result, your boyfriend will not feel the need to interject, and more importantly, your son will not treat you with disrespect. That kind of behavior will only get worse over the years. I’m sure you are very busy as a single mother and that you have a lot going on. Yet the best investment in time to avoid painful struggles in the future is to squelch disrespect from your children early on (and repeatedly through the years.) The most effective way is not through anger, but through stopping conversations and not giving him what he wants when he is disrespectful.

      A tone of voice that is resolute but not mean is critical. Use a reminder to be respectful, then if that doesn’t work, take some small action, give him a consequence. Here are a couple of articles and two videos:

      1. “My child is so disrespectful.”

      2. “I’ve told you kids a thousand times to say “Thank you, #!*%*!!”

      3. Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting

      4. How to Respond to Rudeness:“I TOLD you to get it for me!!!”

      Best, Alison

      Reply
  47. confused anon

    hello, my problem is pretty straightforward: i cannot mentally integrate the ideas of affectionate caring and sex going together. intellectually, of course, i can, but emotionally i can’t with regards to myself. it’s to the point where if i’m having a conversation with someone where i think they’re being friendly and i find out that they’re flirting with me, i will feel disappointed and slightly betrayed, because my mind semi-unconsciously goes to “oh, well then. i guess they weren’t interested in me as a person”.
    how can i fix this? as you can imagine, it’s leading to me being unable to carry on a romantic life.
    (now that i think about it, actually, my unconscious belief that caring and sex don’t go together explains why i feel guilty whenever i feel attracted to someone–because it’s tantamount to admitting i don’t give a shit about them as an individual.)

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello confused anon,

      This is an interesting problem: When you find out someone’s flirting with you, you’re disappointed because you think they are not interested in you as a person.

      I think there are two situations that would lead to this kind of thinking.

      1. Someone who has been brought up or has experienced life in such a way to believe that sexual attraction is somehow bad or dirty.

      2. Someone who is often viewed primarily in a sexual way for reasons they are not quite aware of, while they desire to be viewed with more respect or in a more whole way.

      These are two quite different types of people.

      Regarding the first. I believe that between any two people who like each other and are drawn to each other, whether same-sex friends, parent-child, married person and single friend, acquaintances at a bus stop, there is what’s called “eros”–that is an energy of attraction, that is not primarily sexual. Flirting is based on this attraction, and relationships are more enjoyable when there is some of this energy. If someone makes unwanted sexual or inappropriate comments, then it’s good to cool down your energy toward them. But I think someone who has good boundaries in terms of not doing anything inappropriate can enjoy flirting, or mild flirting at least. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone being attracted to a person. In fact, I view it as a positive in any relationship. I also don’t think that attraction and flirting means that a person isn’t interested in you as a person. There are ways to respond that will send the message that you’re not interested in that kind of relationship but that you appreciate the compliment. Of course, as I implied before, if the other person is lewd, lascivious or inappropriate, then I would cool down your warm energy quickly. Here’s an article I wrote about flirting: Blamed for being Attractive:“My husband accuses me of being flirtatious, which I’m not. People are just drawn to me.”

      2. Regarding the second situation, where a person tends to call forth sexual comments and inappropriate behavior frequently without intending to, then it’s important to figure out how you are sending those messages. you could ask some friends, etc. I have an article concerning being treated as a sex object: “I’m tired of being treated as a sex object.”

      If you’d like to give me more details, I’d be happy to consider them.

      All the best, Alison

      Reply
      1. confused anon

        to be honest, I think I am both of those people. but what I’m trying to get at is that my notion of the Venn diagram of caring and sex is two circles a foot apart from each other. that is to say, while intellectually I understand all that, the notion of having sex with someone I care about–while something I want–seems (to the emotional part of my brain) something inherently impossible and that fills me with terror and dread. how can I change this?

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Terror and dread are strong emotions. There must be a history to your reactions. I think some sort of therapy with the right therapist might help. EMDR can be quite effective with traumatic events, which change the way the brain reacts in certain circumstances. I would look for therapy that is effective for trauma. I like voice dialogue as it goes beyond talk therapy and can help you develop disowned parts of yourself, while understanding how you have gotten into your current situations.

          I’m sorry not to be of greater help. But this seems to be a situation, as you yourself express, that intellectual understanding won’t change. I might be able to say a bit more if you could explain why you think sex and caring are so separate for you.

          Reply
  48. Alison Post author

    Perhaps if you saw her as pitiful rather than infernal, you would feel less hostile toward her. WHile you may not ever want to associate with her, learning to view her demeanor as an inability to have healthy relationships may give her less power over your emotions. Once she has less power to make you upset, she will probably bother you less. No, she probably won’t apologize. But she is continuing to have too much power over your ability to stay centered and peaceful. Is there anyway you can see her malice against you as a sad state of being about her, rather than something she has power to do over you?

    Again, the stronger your reactions against her, “righteously IGNORING her completely”–the more she senses she has power over you. If you were to acknowledge her but not spend time with her or be reactive, she would lose power over you.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I wish you the best of luck. If you don’t feel that acknowledging her is an option, then I suggest making your responses less obvious, to avoid giving her the satisfaction of holding power over you.

      I also think you would do well to focus on something/someone else when you start ruminating and feeling pain about what she has done to you. Here is an article I wrote about the unhealthy effects of rumination–no matter how warranted those negative feelings are!! You don’t want to end up suffering even more. The psychological habit that is as unhealthy as smoking: Rumination.

      Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Dear Alison,

        Thank you very much for directing me to your informative article about rumination. From now on, external distractions are going to be expertly deflected and stonewalled altogether!

        Best,

        Anonymous

        Reply
  49. male pursuer/pleaser

    Hi Alison,
    when i read your pursuer/distancer article, it was so dead on in explaining the demise of my relationship with my gf of 2 years, that i actually felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. i feel i can now understand how/why the passion (who felt it so strongly for me in the beginning, and foresaw a real future for us, as i did with her) could be extinguished and cause her to break up with me, after i felt i had “given so much.”

    for the sake of brevity, let’s just consider this a textbook case where i, the male, 30, was the pursuer and pleaser and anxious attachment type, and she (26) was the distancer and the receiver and the avoidant type.

    admittedly, the end of our relationship was not so sudden, and it came after months of unpleasantness and near relationship ending moments. all the signs were there — diminishing physical intimacy, less and less time together, constant fighting, contempt, less and less to talk about, you name it.

    at first, i was shocked and appalled that she would “give up without a fight.” but when i look back and am honest, she did communicate her needs for space, for independence, etc. admittedly, not always in the most constructive and un-hurtful manner, but i should have been able to get past the bruised ego and read through the lines. perhaps out of a lack of self-discipline, or a bruised ego, or a lack of time to focus on it… i was not actually able to give her what she needed — perhaps due to my own insecurity, and my over-dependence on her and the relationship.

    i definitely think she got scared at how emotionally fused we had become in the first year of our relationship, and she wanted to regain some of her independence, identity, autonomy, and space — especially after we moved to a new city together and she started a new job.

    but me, not being able to realize this as central to who she was and to a healthy relationship, and feeling somewhat rejected by the decrease in co-dependency… only redoubled my attempts to create connection with her, and please and help and nurture and take care of her. which of course only pushed her away further, and in turn only made me more insecure, and so on and so forth until we both couldn’t take it any longer.

    i can see now how my co-dependency, the emotional fusion, the replacement of my own autonomy and independence with her happiness and my identity in this relationship… was exactly the problem. it was self-defeating, and we were stuck in an unhealthy cycle. i was not giving myself enough self-love and invested too much in the relationship, when i should have been investing in myself and growing. i became an unattractive man, needy, codependent, and suffocating of my independent partner.

    things weren’t good for a long while; we had ups and downs, fights and near break ups. but we always resolved, and would say sorry and i love you. i earnestly believe her now that we both wanted and tried to make it work. but i feel that neither of us were able to properly identify the vicious cycle, and then take the necessary steps to correct it.

    i was trying so hard to make it work — but trying all the wrong things. buying more gifts, planning trips together, and focusing so much on trying to fix the relationship… trying to get her to talk and open up… checking up on her to see what she was up to… all of which only served to further kill the separateness and balance that creates the passion and desire and possibility of a health relationship.

    seeing this now, i am able to start letting go of the anger, and resentment, and feelings of betrayal that i felt when we broke up. i feel i can forgive her, and understand her reasons, and how she feels. because i was the one to push her away! it was by way of my unhealthy emotional attachment and stifling her autonomy and independence.

    of course i realize it’s a two way street. e.g. while she Said she wanted to make it work — i felt like She didn’t really take all the steps possible to work on it and meet me halfway. she didn’t make our time together a priority at all; would yes me and make promises that she didn’t keep; most importantly, i felt like she wasn’t actually being honest in telling me and communicating her needs and how she felt. i think she repressed them and just told me what she thought i wanted to hear, perhaps just to avoid confrontation — which itself i realize is a big red flag on Her part. Moreover, i think she kept acting in a way that made it harder for me to be secure, independent, and not needy. almost as if — the more i made her feel guilty about wanting to be independent, the more she wanted to do it and go out to bars with her girlfriends and so on and so forth. that hurt me, and only served to further lower my self-esteem and worth, which then made me seek more approval and validation, and thus become more and more unattractive and burdensome… so on and so forth.

    the question that burns in my brain right now is: is this a cycle that can be fixed… if the relationship has been ended?

    once the distancer/receiver (26) has decided that the spark is gone between us, and that this is not going to work, and that she is not ready or willing to fight and fix it (at least not right now now, her being focused on figuring out her career, exploring the world, being independent and being free)… is there any way to re-extinguish the spark?

    of course i know that so long as she is unwilling to put in the effort, there is no use…
    she is younger, and in a phase right now where she wants to be selfish, and has been given the advice that “relationships at this stage ‘should be easy.’ and with that i agree somewhat: we’re not married, we don’t have kids, we don’t live together. given this, is it really worth fighting so hard for? aren’t there plenty of other fish in the sea that might be easier to swim with? and why am i fighting so hard, if it wasn’t that easy to begin with?

    but let me put it this way: once a pursuer has pushed away the distancer so far away, so as to feel that she has fallen out of love with the pursuer… can the spark/desire/chemistry/attraction ever be re-kindled? can the pursuer earnestly balance his needs for autonomy and intimacy, in such a way that will attract the distancer and draw her into being equal, secure, balanced healthy relationship?

    Now that i can see the vicious cycle so clearly, i feel like i know what i have to do: focus on myself, make myself happy, be who i am, pursue my passions, and not put anyone else’s needs before mine. and to do this not for her sake or to successfully win her back, but for my own sake!!

    and i know also that there are things She would need to change if this were to work: like being able to clearly communicate her needs and boundaries in all her relationships (work, family, friends), and to be balanced enough herself so that she is able to give and receive in equal parts, without guilt, without repression, etc.

    maybe this means she is too young and immature for a serious long lasting relationship. but if that is the case, then is it something will learn and grow out of? and will she come to learn the error of her ways?

    let’s say for arguments sake she does grow out of it and realize that she is attracted to me again and that i am the one she wants to be with and it’s worth fighting to make work:

    the additional question is: given that the spark was easily extinguished now, and that she was ready to call it quits so easily (seemingly without a proper fight, in my opinion) — should i even want it to work out between us again? isn’t the fact that she has given up now, and not wanting to put in the effort to work it out because she wants to be selfish, evidence enough that she’s not willing to put in the effort to make it work? and that is she just a selfish, fair-weather person who thinks everything should be easy, and isn’t actually suited for a long-term relationship through thick and thin?

    Or, is her decision excusable, given how oppressive and controlling and potentially even subtly narcissistic i have been in my pursuing/pleasing?

    i know not to wait around for her, and i know the best thing to do is to make myself happy, be the person i want to be, and learn from this, so that i can be in a happy healthy relationship, if not with her than with someone else. moreover, i see now how being in this relationship, and wanting it to work so badly, was in fact the biggest impediment to my becoming the person i want to be.

    but i guess a part of me is now willing to forgive her for this because i am realizing: if she never broke up with me, and didn’t have the courage to end this unhealthy vicious cycle, even if it meant hurting me intensely — i may never have realized all this about myself! and i would not have seen as clearly as i do now, how these patterns of behavior and dependence are so detrimental to a normal healthy loving relationship where there is passion and separateness and self-growth and intimacy. There were so many things i needed to work on that i didn’t do while i was in the relationship. but now, i see them so much more clearly and more urgently motivated to change them. not for her, but for myself.

    and if this is the case — then in a way — i should thank her, no? if this motivates me to become the man i know i can be, should be, want to be?

    but then i suppose you can also say: well, if i do indeed then become the man i want to be and am happy on my own — why do i want/need this one for?

    whether i should want her back, i guess, would depend on whether or not she too has equally grown on her own to become the woman she wants to be, and if that is indeed someone i want to be with once i am who I want to be…

    sigh. a lot of questions here for you. i’ve never ever posted on a message board for help — but your analysis and advice here has been so spot on and helpful, that you have inspired me to seek your counsel on this question.

    thanks in advance,

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Male Pursuer/Pleaser,

      Yes, a lot of questions, but they seem to be essentially the same question. I think that given your history together, and the fact that you’re not married and don’t have children together, it will be much more likely that you can develop a more balanced happy relationship with another woman. Even if your ex-girlfriend were interested in getting back together, every time you made a normal attempt to connect with her, she would get on her guard, which would be unfortunate. Some efforts to connect in relationship are normal and necessary. You would be walking on eggshells, and she would continue to be very sensitive to being controlled, to being needed, and to being oppressed. While you need to develop more independence and an ability to let others come to you, your desire to connect and be caring is not at all bad; it can be wonderful. It’s just out of balance. Thus, you are asking for continued frustration and disappointment when you hope to get back together. So, I definitely do not recommend getting back together with her. Of course it’s possible that you have another girlfriend and develop more self-confidence and an ability to value your separateness, and it is possible that your ex will mature as well, which could be followed by her renewed interest in you–down the road a couple of years. But I would not make that your goal. It will be infinitely easier to start a new relationship and avoid developing these polarized patterns. A good part of your growth and development would be to avoid acting on your desire to pursue your ex.

      The fact that you still long for her is likely a reflection of the fact that your unconscious wants to develop some qualities that she possesses. I find it interesting that you use the word “selfish” several times to describe her. Negative judgment often reveals opportunities for growth in oneself. I would consider how you could become more “selfish” but in a positive way, without losing the good qualities of caring that you already possess. Ask yourself what is good about being selfish. Why are you attracted to someone who is selfish? Are there ways in which you could pursue your own desires (other than pursuing your ex) for your own enjoyment and satisfaction. While this may seem selfish to you, in fact it makes you a more vital, exciting, passionate, and desirable person if you pursue your own interests more fully. I’m not suggesting that you go to bars with friends as your ex-girlfriend does. Your interests could even be weird or quiet interests–reading, uni-cycling. The only thing that matters is that you pursue what interests you, and if you don’t know what interests you, you can try different things–sports, classes, etc. Ironically, by becoming more “selfish, you actually contribute more vitality to acquaintances, friends and loved ones in your midst.

      So to answer your questions about whether to thank your ex or to by angry that she didn’t try harder, I would say it’s best to remember the good times, and learn from the negative patterns that you both participated in, but not to hold grudges or bitter resentment, and not to act on any residual yearning that you feel.

      In the future when you start dating, I would take it slowly. Don’t over-talk the relationship. Keep some separation and your own interests. Allow others to desire you.

      By the way, I am just listening to a great audio by John Gottman called “The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples.” It is outstanding and based on scientific research not just idealistic theories. You might consider listening to it. Good luck!

      Reply
  50. Dallas

    Hi Alison

    My girlfriend and I just called the quits after only 6 months, things went really well when we first started dating, I believe it was because we were both on equal ground, I worked a lot she worked and we didn’t live with each other. I also had friends in the same timezone and hobbies. We would see each other 2-4 times a week and it was enough.

    She had just moved back to our country and was planning on going back to the country she left, she asked me to come with her, after some thought I agreed. I left one month after she left as I needed to save, she also had a job that started as a live in nanny, so the plan was to live individually but close to each other like back home.

    There was an incident shortly before she left though that caused trust issues, I caught her sexting online with a friend from the country we were going to, at this point I already had a visa and plane ticket. I brought it up and she eventually apologized and said she would cut all contact with him, which I believe she did. There after I didn’t fully trust her, I wanted to and I tried and she tried to gain it back by being transparent with facebook, But it was never fully restored.

    For the first months here together in the new country life was pretty good we would see each other often, I found a job right away not a very good one but a job. Was trying to get back into some hobbies here, but I was finding it difficult to make friends as I’m not very good at it with out a common interest to spark it. I feel like I became dependent on her as I didn’t have anyone else yet, I wanted to see her all the time when I wasn’t busy. It became a problem because the more I wanted to see her the more she would distance herself from me, so we agreed to spend less time together as it was taxing on her, and it worked out pretty well. I tried my best to not pursue her to often but would slip up, and sometimes she would happily see me, other she would get angry. We did end up finding a balance.

    She started having doubts about us, first it was age, we are 4 years apart. Then it was my introverted personality, she is very comfortable in crowds I am not. She is really good at making friends me not so much, quite opposite ends of the scale in some aspects. Next it was her independence she was losing but we came to an agreement on that she was always open and honest and talked about her doubts and I did my best to help her through them, and we always worked it out, we loved each other and still do even through the breakup I believe. We always talked about the future, she would mention taking my last name, our children pets everything we talked and imagined it.

    This next thing she brought to me really tested us and ending up breaking us. It was that she needed more sexual experience, she laid it out all on the table and we discussed and argued, it scared the hell out of me. Its something I thought I could never agree to. She wanted a open break or relationship till she could check off a few things she wanted to try. We almost broke up without my decision. I agreed to an open relationship with a few terms till she could get this done and finished. I didn’t want anymore doubts and didn’t want her to leave me, she assured me this was just sexual experiences and not any emotional attachments but is something she couldn’t compromise with.

    Shortly after we started she brought up an old relationship she had with an abusive ex that he contacted her. I asked if you have been replying which she said yes. I lost it and we fought but made up later that night she said she would deal with him. The next day we fought about it again and broke it off. We then agreed to an open break which half way through she broke up with me, then told me she found another guy that gave her butterflies, she said she still loved me but would rather have those butterflies which I don’t give her anymore. I feel butterflies are fleeting, they come and go throughout a relationship and you have to work at it, and especially after everything that went on between us I can see why they left but they can always come back, I hope and believe that.

    I know my writing is terrible but I’ve tried to just lay the facts out so you can see where it went wrong or what caused it. And it may just be young love but I truly love her wish things didn’t change when we got here. But the least I want is to learn from this so your professional opinion would help me a lot I think. And if there is any chance of saving something so broken.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Often it’s hard for me to respond without knowing more details, but in this case, it is pretty clear that you will be better off moving on. I’m sorry for the pain, as I see that you love her. First, four years of age difference either way makes no difference. The sexting incidence, however, is a big red flag. Before I got to the part where she wants more sexual experience and wants to have an open relationship, I thought this is probably not the woman for a good long-term relationship. But after reading the rest of your email, there is no question in my mind that she is not only too immature for a long-term relationship, but not somebody with the character to be trusted. She sounds quite selfish and impulsive, although I’m sure she can be very loving and fun as well. I hope you will not be tempted back to her, despite her desire to keep you in the wings just in case it doesn’t work out with someone else. I hope you have the strength to find someone else who would be delighted to be with you without looking for more experiences with having butterflies.

      Trust me, she will lose her butterflies for that other guy. Also there are couples who have only had one partner and have the most wonderful sexual relationships, and there are people who have had hundreds of partners who may know a lot of positions but are unable to have satisfying sexual relationships. In order to have a satisfying sexual relationship and emotional relationship, you have to be present. You can’t be constantly looking around for someone better.

      I would go back to your country or somewhere else where you can find interests and friends that appeal to you and date new women who would appreciate you more fully.

      Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
  51. Ginger

    I admit that I suffer from insecurity, retroactive jealousy and low esteem – but only with intimate relationships.

    I know how this got started (anxious preoccupied relationship with mother) and I know the triggers. Unfortunately, this whole “thing” is ruining my life. I am nearly four years into a relationship (after finally having the strength to leave a 22 marriage to the epitome of a narcissistic man whose emotional abuse left me broken).

    All I want is inner peace and for my stomach to stop hurting. I cannot stop ruminating about the 70 women my boyfriend has been with as well as his 5-6 prior girlfriends. And he talks about previous conquests so easily..”I banged this broad one night when her husband was out..” “I banged that chick on the copy machine at work” “I shacked up with this one for a year,”
    “I once banged four chicks in one night when I was 19,” things like that. Why does a man tell you those things? Because he wants I share all of his life with me? I don’t understand why I wake up and the ruminations/intrusive/obsessive thoughts begin. He says we have a great future together except for my self lacerating thoughts and propensity to focus on the negatives.

    He is 49 never married. I’m a year older and I’ve moved in with him about a few years ago – first ever woman to meet his family – but I keep thinking I’m not worthy of him. I know this really is old unresolved stuff yet I default to this thinking.

    Only recently he finally revealed to me that I am the only one he has ever been in love with. He spent most of his adult life avoiding potential relationships by having affairs with much older women. Only twice in his life he considered marriage but those two women were not quite what he wanted.

    I have worked and worked to make myself accept that this is something wonderful but I keep coming back to this default way of thinking.

    He says that because we are “old” we can only have sex 1-2x per week.
    He also said that he is OLD and has no drive and that’s how it is – could easily get by without sex but that is not his intention and wants to continue but doesn’t like that I get concerned when X number of days go by without it. I am completely crushed by this statement. We do kiss daily, hold hands in public and even when laying in bed and watching tv. There is so much good in this relationship but I focus on the sex to a crazy degree.

    I keep thinking all of these others got the best of him. But really I am the only one who has his heart. I regret not sleeping around when I was younger and remaining in a sexless marriage for far too long. I struggle with the effects of menopause and have been on hormones for a safe amount of time. I have lost my libido as well but in my mind I keep wanting it all the time. I feel I have missed out on everything.

    Do I just let the sex go and don’t keep pressuring him. Do I just take care of myself? I say that the best sex I have ever had was with mySelf – i find that to be pitiful but it is true.

    I feel so, so down about this. Is it me or is this decreasing sex something I should be concerned about? Is this normal in the course of a relationship and/or with the aging process?
    Falling in love at midlife makes me feel like I am 14 all over again – I really thought I finally found the sexual relationship I never had before. maybe I am looking at it from my insecurity. and why do I keep ruminating about these women??? I just want to relax and enjoy!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thanks for sending in this question. There is a lot here to respond to. My greatest concern is the fact that your stomach is often in pain. While you may be in love and feel you are not worthy of this man, it appears that something in you feels otherwise. And I see why you have stomach pains, feel insecure and can’t stop ruminating about his past experiences with other women. To live with a man who nonchalantly brags about banging a woman on a copy machine, sleeping with 70 women, having affairs while with a girlfriend, shacking up with women, and sleeping with four women in one night, would tend to raise some serious red flags. For instance,

      1. he objectifies women, talking about them in a base way,

      2. he is not to be trusted, (how could you trust someone who has repeatedly cheated?)

      3. he fears intimacy (and thus is not interested in sex with someone he’s living with), and

      4. he treats you with disrespect by talking about all this so cavalierly, almost as a warning.

      I’m sorry to say that there is very good reason that you are continuing to feel insecure and have low self-esteem given that you are with someone who shows little respect toward women in general and you in particular.

      I think your sexual relationship with him reflects the whole situation. To enjoy good sex in a long-term intimate relationship, there needs to be desire for intimacy, both emotional and physical, and there needs to be respect, and passion for life and the other person. I believe you are too accepting of his mediocre treatment of you and women in general (which reflects his fear of intimacy and narcissistic pursuit of conquest in the past). Your acceptance of this behavior causes him to devalue you and lose desire for you. This degrading way of treating women and bragging about it may be his unconscious way of avoiding intimacy.

      You may regret remaining in a sexless marriage for 22 years with a narcissist. But we all live and learn. Try to learn from that experience and avoid repeating it. However, I would not regret not sleeping around. Generally, people who sleep around a lot do not gain the ability to have positive intimate relationships.

      If I were you, I would really pay attention to your stomach pains. That is a serious signal that should not accompany a good long-term relationship. Whenever he talks about women in a demeaning or objectifying manner, I would tell him that you are not at all interested in his past conquests and that you lose respect for him when he debases himself and women in general. I would tell him that anyone can sleep around, but that you want to be with someone who has the guts to be able to have great sex with someone he is intimate with.

      Frankly, I would leave someone who treated me in this manner. If he has any respect for you, he would honor and treasure you, and would be circumspect about his past behavior with women, realizing that it was a defense mechanism against true intimacy.

      Good luck to you.

      Reply
      1. G

        A bit more –
        1. he objectifies women, talking about them in a base way, *i have asked him before why he tells me this and he said that he was being honest about his past and wanted me to know it so I would never be shocked if anyone ever mentioned it to me. He also told me that he is not the same person he used to be. Prior to us being together, he was alone for 2 years – not even a fling.

        2. he is not to be trusted, (how could you trust someone who has repeatedly cheated?) *as you said, we all make bad choices and the fact is that the woman gladly participated with him in those instances. He is not involved with social media, does not communicate electronically (except for work), tells me exactly where he is or will be at all times and follows through on everything he says.

        3. he fears intimacy (and thus is not interested in sex with someone he’s living with), and *i have to wonder if I am the one with the intimacy issues as I cannot ever climax with anyone but myself; I am sad bc I don’t think this will ever change. I have serious trust issues and abandonment fears going back to childhood – a parent with a bad temper, comparing me to others and who used to threaten “I’m going to die and you will be sorry” to manipulate me emotionally

        4. he treats you with disrespect by talking about all this so cavalierly, almost as a warning.
        *he maintains he was younger, in altered states and had poor judgment and didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life and avoided potential relationships because he was not anywhere ready to settle down. He is settled in his career and is ready now. He is a self defined late bloomer.

        Yet I simply cannot stop obsessing about these women – women who have no careers, don’t take care of themselves, who have little morals, etc.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi again,

          1. I’m glad he is not the same person he used to be, and I hope that he has changed. I still have a problem with being with someone who views women as objects to bang and shack up with. Just using that language perpetuates a view toward women that isn’t very positive. If I were you I’d ask him not to use that kind of terminology because it is a turn-off.

          2. We all make choices and some mistakes, but we do not all repeatedly cheat on our girlfriends or boyfriends, or participate in having affairs with married people. People who repeatedly cheat generally do not change, unless it suits them for the time being. The fact that other people cheated willingly does not mitigate the fact that he repeatedly cheated. I hope he has truly come to some epiphany and realized that he doesn’t want to be like that.

          3. It could well be that you fear intimacy as well. I recommend reading some of David Schnarch’s books on sex. You could definitely change but it would take continued gradual change and being able to ask him to help arouse you in a way that works. It may be uncomfortable to ask for things like that, but it’s worth it. Passion and intimacy are all about risking being true to yourself with another person. You childhood abandonment issues are really sad and terrible. But it’s amazing what horrible things people get through. You can always be abandoned by someone, and most of us will eventually, at least by death of a partner, etc. So you have to learn to be there for yourself and stand up for yourself and nurture and love yourself and avoid living in fear of being abandoned.

          4. I hope you are right about him. It is quite possible.

          Rumination is terrible. You might read my recent article on rumination: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/04/16/the-psychological-habit-that-is-as-unhealthy-as-smoking-rumination/ and seriously pick out a few things that you will force yourself to do every time you ruminate. Eventually your ruminating will lessen, and you’ll get something productive done in the meantime!

          Let me know how it goes. Good luck!

          Reply
        2. Alison Post author

          One more thought. Generally when people obsess over certain people, those people generally possess a quality that is developed that is not developed in the person obsessing or fantasizing. So even though you don’t know all those women, there is probably a part of you that has been disowned but is ready to be developed and has something to do with your projection on to these women. I would guess that it has to do with being open, sexual, sensual, etc. Once you push yourself to develop this part of yourself for some time, the obsession will naturally stop. Look at the fact that you said earlier that you wished you had slept around when you were younger. I think that may be more of a wish to be more comfortable with being sexual, and it’s definitely not too late for that. Start by reading some of David Schnarch’s books and perhaps “Mama Gina’ School of Womanly Arts.” Good luck and enjoy.

          Reply
  52. J

    Hi Alison,

    It’s been 3 weeks of no contact since we couldn’t agree on his need for privacy and my need for transparency. I asked him that day if he could make some compromise. He said no can do_ wouldn’t change his mind about privacy. So I said then there’s only one way for us – to divorce. He said “ok.” The next day, he emailed me that he’s been thinking about me and missing me and wish he could find a way to make this all different and normal. I didn’t reply his email. Two days later, I sent him mutual agreement divorce papers with my side filled in via international courier. This was just bluff because we both need to be present in front of the judge and I did it to see how he reacted or would come around to try us again. I unblocked him to shoot a text asking for the exact address, he didn’t reply. I emailed him, he didn’t reply at all. And that was it. No contact at all since 3 weeks ago.

    I’ve been talking to my best friends and they all say to ditch him and not to contact him. I blocked him on Whatsapp, but I can still see his last online timestamps. He’s still up till 2am 3am there, changing his profile picture and status once a week. I saw him smiling in one of his friends FB picture where his buddies are with significant others and he’s alone, but smiling. I mean, his life seems going on without a bump. Last Friday night, I got a FaceTime call from him. He must have mistakenly pressed it while attempting to delete the recents or while calling somebody else, because it only lasted three seconds and he hang up. My delight became disappointment.

    I have made it 3 weeks so far. I’ve been reading a lot, going out, you know just to take my mind off of him and most of the days I make it well. Some days I have breakdowns. I’m not happy. I miss him. I miss us. I feel life is meaningless and purposeless. But I resist contacting him. We had had fights and spoken about divorce a couple of times before this, but neither of us ever made it to more than 4 days. But this has been 3 weeks now.

    Q1. Why doesn’t he contact me at all? Not even a bit about the divorce process?
    Q2. Is he really moving on or suffering but pretending like me?
    Q3. Is 3 weeks too soon for him to come around contacting me? or Will he ever contact me?
    Q4. Has he started another relationship already? Just like he did with me while he was freshly separated with his ex-wife? But at least with his ex-wife, he was still contacting her during divorce process. Maybe because she had control of joint accounts and with me, nothing whatsoever attached.
    Q5. Should I contact him for the last time to ask him if he wants to try for the last time? But will this make me powerless and only lead back to where we were_ the roadblock when he sits firmly on no peeking, no password sharing, no access to his digital media, but just trust him blindly? I’m willing to compromise. I can loosen up a bit on my transparency.
    Q6. I mean why wouldn’t he try after all he said I was the one? Is he really done? How he wanted to build a family, have babies with my eyes, teach son soccer, meaningless life is to be alone. He’s 40 and I’m 24.

    I do have a plan. I’m gonna wait till the end of May. It gives us two months, I’ve been rushing… If no contact – nothing, I’ll be getting a lawyer to start the process.

    Thank you Alison.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi J,

      I know you’re suffering for the moment and that life may seem temporarily meaningless. I will respond to your questions, but first I’d like you to imagine that you are a wise woman who has seen it all and are looking in at this relationship from a detached and wise point of view. Detach yourself from your personal feelings of need and loneliness. Now, send me an answer to those six questions you ask from this point of view.

      While you are considering these questions from a wise long-term point of view, remember human nature. People generally don’t change unless they have enormous motivation and desire to do so, and self-discipline. Your husband isn’t even pretending he wants to change!!! Also remember that one person’s desire for another is based on valuing that other person and not having them, I mean never completely being able to control and possess them because they have enough self-value and self-respect that they can withstand feelings of pain and loneliness and disappointment without lowering succumbing to another person’s dishonesty, secrecy, lack of integrity, or laziness, etc. In other words, your husband is unlikely to desire you in the long-term as long as you will lower your standards for him. Why would he chase and desire someone who will give up her values to be able to have him?

      We all have different parts of ourselves and all the parts are important–even the vulnerable, needy parts. However, we should make long-term important decisions with the wise part of ourselves not the vulnerable, needy parts. The wise part should take into account the long-term welfare of all the parts. So, I’d like to ask you to access that part of yourself, and look at your six questions and give me the answers, and then I’ll give you my opinion, okay?

      All the best to you, Alison

      Reply
      1. J

        Hi Alison,

        Is this because I’m not desirable enough? I understand men are visual and he seems to like pretty little things. Now that I think of it, I was 22 when we met, young, skinny, attractive, professional, driven, full of hopes and dreams. He is overweight, but I never mind it. The girl he had inappropriate online activities with is 11 years younger than him. And there were a couple of other girls he flirted around in the beginning of our dating were also 12 years younger than him. All very pretty. I’m being very vulnerable and insecure right now and I keep coming across his social media and I’m finding out more that he uses Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook much more than I do. I assume he’s also keeping in touch occasionally with ex-gfs. He’s a social butterfly but I don’t think he lets everybody know he’s married or talks about me very much. He did a lot of Public Display of Affections and put me on pedestal when we were dating in my country, but when we arrived his country married, it kind of changed. He was all by himself in my country, so I never left him unwelcomed. Even my best friends complained I was always choosing him over them. Don’t get me wrong, he still did PDA in front of his best buddies and family in his country, but I never got to meet those other buddies and gals he went out dinners and drinks with because he never mentioned. He started to leave me at home and going out 5 nights a week, coming back home 2-3-4am. Yes I admit, I gained 10 more pounds due to contraceptive, became inactive and didn’t have a job in his country, because I didn’t speak Spanish well enough. I’m not as sexy as latinas, but I’m not fat and still attractive. I did all other housewife duties_ I cook delicious, keep the house clean and tidy, he would come home late tipsy, puff a little weed or cigarette, go to bed in full clothes, I would take them off of him, put comfy clothes on him, give him snacks, water, tea, juice anything he asked for, then massage him till he fell asleep. I loved doing them because he enjoyed. I had to ask him to smoke a little weed every now and then, because he’d be so funny, loving, not grumpy and irritated when he was high which reminded me of the man I fell in love with……. Anyway, what’s past is past.

        To answer the questions with distant and non-personal pov,
        A1. He doesn’t contact me at all, not even to talk about divorce process, because he doesn’t have any material attachment with me and he couldn’t care less if I divorce him or not. (There’s no property, finances, or children to settle. Money isn’t what I’m after. I just left and came home all by myself. I’d ask him if he could visit my country to divorce, it’d be done in 30 minutes despite of expensive flight ticket. If not, I’d have to go through lawyer, judge, court, decree and would take at least 6 months because he’s not present here. He said “Dream on.”)

        A2. I think he’s old and experienced enough to get out of suffering quickly. He thinks being vulnerable is weakness and he’ll find the void with friends, and parties. He may feel a little sad but I guess he’s already on the path of moving on.

        A3. With being 3 weeks now, I doubt that he will…. he has blocked me in FB, rejected me on Instagram, and Whatsapp already…. while he’s actively using them and cracking jokes with other people.

        A4. There was no proof of infidelity as far as I’m concerned, but also no proof of being committed and faithful either….. maybe he’s already started some form of a relationship, or maybe not. But it’s more likely that he has because he seems to need other ppl to get over someone. Only one month after he left his ex-wife to come work in my country, he had started asking me out, and flirting and kissing some other girls. I just recently found out that he hadn’t announced the divorce to his ex-wife until he fell in love with me.

        A5. I shouldn’t and I will not. He’s not gonna change his stand…. just like you said, unless he has huge motivation and desire.

        A6. He maybe really done. My best friends have recently told me “hun, we didn’t wanna tell you because you were so much in love and he seemed to love you here, but we thought he was sleazy. The ways he treated you there aren’t right. He verbally kicked you out several times even though how much he knows you gave up everything for him and went with him across the world. He’s a d***. He took advantage of you, your love and trust. You’re only 24, you have a professional job, income, family and friends. You didn’t have a problem finding a job, you got it right away as soon as you came back and just because you didn’t speak Spanish, you couldn’t find a job there and look how he treated you. And you’re not the kind of girl who cannot stand being single. You’ve done enough for him. You deserve better.” I’m not playing the victim, I played my role terribly as well.

        Sorry for my long letter again Alison. It sucks. It’s very hard…. 🙁

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Okay, I like your answers 1-6. But the fist paragraph is off target. You are not desirable right now because you are so desperate to have him despite his being sleazy, going out drinking almost every night until 2 or 3 AM and despite his hiding everything from you. There are women who have gained ten pounds and are very desirable because they maintain their self-respect, their high expectations (or they leave), and continue to live their own lives with friends, passions and some sort of work or pursuits. Don’t underestimate the desirability of self-respect.

          Your feelings of love at this point are based on fear, loneliness and a misplaced desire for what you once felt when together. You have to continue to use your wisdom (as you did in answering 1-6) to be able to leave and move on. Even if it takes six months and a lawyer, I would get back to your country, or at least find friends and a job in his country, and start living a fuller life. I guarantee you that every moment you spend continuing to hope that he will change or that he will simply want you again on his lousy terms is a wasted moment. You will eventually find that out. So the sooner you stop dwelling on a fantasy that can’t come true given how he acts not only toward you but just in general, the sooner you can feel good again.

          In the future, avoid becoming the all-encompassing giving person, while giving up your life, your job, and your friends. Read my article “The Pleaser and The Receiver” https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/personality-traits/pleaser-and-receiver/. Also read my article on Rumination: sowhatireallymeant.com

          Let me also say that it doesn’t matter whether he has started another relationship or not. He hides things from you and he goes out drinking every night. He is basically selfish and has little if any self-discipline–not relationship material, despite how much fun he was at the beginning!

          The main thing for you is to focus on how to become more independent emotionally and to keep your standards high so that you do not become all-consumed by any future relationships, and then give up your own integrity and wise decision-making.

          In such a situation, I do think a change of location would be helpful, particularly since you don’t have a strong community or job keeping your there. Distract yourself from dwelling on this man by pursuing new interests, work and friends. Try to make every action and word come from a place of dignity and grace, not desperation and fear. Over time, your life will improve substantially.

          Good luck J. Let me know how it goes.

          Reply
  53. mw

    dr. Alison,
    I’ve been in a should-we-or-shouldn’t-we situation with someone for a while now. we’ve ultimately decided that we shouldn’t for a variety of reasons (her anger issues, she’ll probably leave the country within the year, etc), but one of them is something that’s been bothering me in general for a long time: sex. specifically, lovemaking-type sex. she says she would want to be in a relationship where she can make love to her girlfriend, but that kind of sex scares the shit out of me. like, if we’re making out and she starts looking at me all gently and lovingly I start to feel overwhelmed and dissociate and/or start crying. and it’s not just her–the thought of lovemaking in general makes me feel both a sort of pining wishing I were someone who could do it and a plethora of negative symptoms: fear, anxiety, and nausea and emotional numbness if I think or talk about it for too long. while I don’t plan on pursuing a relationship with this girl, I feel really sad about this being a deal breaker, which I think it is. I’ve offered to try, but she said that I would just be doing it to try to please her, and she’s right. but I want to be someone who can please/satisfy her romantic partners. I feel like my inability to have emotionally intimate sex is going to fuck over my future relationships, and sometimes I get to thinking that nobody will want me because of it. what do I do?
    (note: I can have sex, it just has to be be the kinky/bdsm/roleplaying type sex)

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. This is a great question with some deep ramifications. Often there is a reason that someone feels overwhelmed when being looked at with a lot of vulnerability, especially when in the close proximity and intimacy of making love. Two situations come to mind that could cause such a strong negative reaction:

      1) As a baby or child, there was a parent/caretaker who was very vulnerable, perhaps even needy, and did not have the appropriate amount of self-empowerment. For a child, it is a very frightening to feel that you have to emotionally take care of the person who’s supposed to take care of you. Even a nonverbal baby would respond to this with discomfort. That would cause a person to avoid future situations where any vulnerability is involved. When someone gazes at you with love, it might feel as though someone is wanting so much from you that you would be depleted or even risk losing your sense of self.

      2) A child or baby whose vulnerability, needs, and feelings of love were not adequately met would learn to shut down those feelings, as they would be too frustrating and disappointing to experience. When a baby or child cries or gazes curiously or lovingly at a parent, and the parent does not mirror the child by snuggling, being loving or soothing, but responds with coldness, irritation, or neglect, the child learns to avoid and fear showing vulnerability.

      When people experience either too many strings attached, as with a needy parent, or a parent without the ability to tolerate any vulnerability, then normal amounts of anxiety in the face of intimacy become extreme.

      Ideally, a parent mirrors a child and is loving and soothing, but without needing the child to soothe the parent, that is, without neediness. The parent is loving and independent. Love requires being vulnerable. Yet love, as opposed to codependence, also requires some independence, or differentiation—the ability to withstand discomfort and anxiety without having to manipulate another person to validate you or soothe you.

      So you’re right to think that it would be good for you to learn to be vulnerable in order to deepen your intimacy and love with another person. However, I don’t think it’s great to force yourself to be totally vulnerable with someone. The key is to remain self-empowered while gradually deepening your vulnerability, but without becoming emotionally dependent on another person or allowing yourself to become burdened by their desire to become too emotionally dependent on you. It is good to continue in the face of a little anxiety. But take baby steps.

      Here are a few suggestions. Give longer hugs. Try looking at your partner, or even other friends and family, a little longer, without quickly looking away. Give compliments and express appreciation to people while really looking at the person. You may feel a little anxiety, but with practice it will diminish and your connection with people will deepen. You will be flexing your vulnerability while self-empowered muscle—the ability to really connect. Even though hugs and compliments do not involve sex, they involve the same psychological muscle.

      You say you like role-playing. Try role playing a romantic loving person. The fact that it’s role play may allow you to pretend to be loving, which will make it easier to really do eventually. In fact, it’s through imitating and role playing that children develop their personalities. There’s probably a reason you never imitated someone being loving. It’s not to late to imitate and learn to act that way, but only do so in a way that you like, in a self-empowered way, not in a weak, meek way.

      Read some of David Schnarch’s books on sex and relationships and differentiation, and some of my articles too on differentiation or fusion.

      A great thing to do would be to take dance lessons from great instructors, not for the steps, but for the connection, lead, follow and the attitude. Blues, salsa, swing, and all the ballroom dances. Again there’s role play involved, as each dance has a totally different feeling around the music and the interaction. Each dance is a metaphor for a different way that a couple can relate—light-hearted, formal, sexy, wild, romantic, sweet, hot, etc. Moreover, if your relationship is over, being a good dancer is also a great way to meet a lot of women. Again, facing your anxiety in learning a new sport, which involves connecting with other people, will not only make you more confident physically and emotionally, but it will enhance your ability to withstand discomfort. And it will bring a lot of joy and fun.

      Basically, the key is to know that a moderate amount of anxiety is good. Become more differentiated by increasing your ability to withstand discomfort and anxiety, but do so gradually, so you don’t freak out. It’s just like weight lifting—you’ve got to practice, and only gradually increase the weights. Don’t allow yourself to become too codependent or responsible for the other person’s feelings. Be considerate but not a caretaker.

      Let me know if any of this rings true.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. mw

        “1) As a baby or child, there was a parent/caretaker who was very vulnerable, perhaps even needy, and did not have the appropriate amount of self-empowerment. For a child, it is a very frightening to feel that you have to emotionally take care of the person who’s supposed to take care of you. Even a nonverbal baby would respond to this with discomfort. That would cause a person to avoid future situations where any vulnerability is involved. When someone gazes at you with love, it might feel as though someone is wanting so much from you that you would be depleted or even risk losing your sense of self.

        2) A child or baby whose vulnerability, needs, and feelings of love were not adequately met would learn to shut down those feelings, as they would be too frustrating and disappointing to experience. When a baby or child cries or gazes curiously or lovingly at a parent, and the parent does not mirror the child by snuggling, being loving or soothing, but responds with coldness, irritation, or neglect, the child learns to avoid and fear showing vulnerability.”

        dear lord, that first one is my mother to a T. i mean, i know that things like this usually trace back to parents and early childhood, but i’d always figured “well, i was hugged a lot as a child, so i guess i don’t really have anything there”…whoops. i also really completely stopped trusting my mother when i was 11 or 12; maybe on some level i realized that i didn’t want to be her emotional support.

        as to your advice to role play at intimacy–that sounds like great advice, and almost like practicing romance through imitation the way children do when they play “house”. “There’s probably a reason you never imitated someone being loving” hits like a very true punch to the gut. i wonder what the reason is. sigh.

        the other thing is i don’t even know if /i/ want to have the prolonged eye contact-y type of sex. it’s, again, emotionally overwhelming (and not very sexually arousing) and i don’t know if i should just accept that this isn’t something i can do right now or if i should try to tough out learning to do it for my partners’ sake and for the sake of not feeling broken or deficient. i think she and probably a lot of other people take it as a personal rejection, and i’m afraid that nobody will want me if i can’t. is it possible to have a happy relationship without that kind of sex (vanilla, slow, eye contact, heavily emotional)?

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I’m on a trip for several days, and would rather respond when I get back. Basically I suggest not to force yourself to do anything that’s totally unappealing. But a more multifaceted life and more versatile love life can be more fulfilling. I predict there will be a time or a woman with whom you may want more emotional intimacy (sometimes, not all the time)–gradually–and you won’t feel that it’s sappy. I would just try to have a bit more intimacy in different areas of your life, but particularly with independent types that aren’t going to glom on to you.

          Reply
        2. Alison Post author

          PS Another reason I would do this proactively on your terms is that life has a way of bringing you the qualities that you are ignoring in your life. If you remain emotionally distant, your unconscious is attracted to emotionally needy people, even though you may not like that consciously. If you try to balance that within yourself, you’ll draw more balanced people into your life.

          Also, I would explain to your girlfriend/ex? how you feel and why when she wants to gaze into your eyes. Intimacy is more about being candid than just gazing at each other.

          Reply
        3. Alison Post author

          It is probably possible to have a happy relationship without the vanilla type of slow eye-contact sex, but not with someone who craves that kind of sex, or simply craves that kind of connection.

          When this situation comes up, I think it’s best to explain how it makes you feel. That is, tell your girlfriend that you are not rejecting her, but that you feel overwhelmed because it triggers a feeling of obligation to emotionally validate another person. It’s really the feeling of obligation that is a turn off. If you explain how this felt as a child, a girlfriend should understand and also feel moved or grateful that you are expressing why you feel the way you do. That’s what intimacy is–being honest despite the other person’s reaction. If she doesn’t understand, then she may be too focused on her needs and not really loving you.

          If eye contact during sex is a turn off for you, I still think it is worth developing your tolerance for anxiety by developing your emotional intensity ability when you’re not having sex. Yet, don’t simply fuse with another person. You should make sure you maintain your sense of self, what you believe, and what your desires and needs are, to avoid becoming an emotional crutch to another person.

          Now that you’re an adult, you can start developing your ability to connect deeply without giving up who you are, and without feeling obliged to emotionally support another person. As a child, one can’t risk disappointing the needy parent until one is old enough to be somewhat independent. But as an adult, you must learn to withstand disappointing others by being honest with them despite their disappointment. It’s no longer necessary to leave every uncomfortable situation.

          Let me know how it goes. You might read one of David Schnarch’s books as well.

          Good luck!

          Reply
  54. J

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you so much for your reply. It really meant a lot to me. I just needed to hear from someone like you and be strong enough to move on.

    What this all started is on a particular day about 5 months ago where I snooped on his computer and found nasty sexual texting and videochatting with a particular “friend” of his which he had always mentioned “a very good friend” and whom I’ve met twice. Things to note: 1) this cybersex activity occurred one month before we started dating. (here, Alison, I can totally understand and do not give a business to whatever happened before me. because it’s “before” me, but pls continue to read.) 2) Through their FB msgs, it seems pretty clear to me that, throughout our one-year dating, they have been in a lot contact, which to me, he kept under the table. Things like calling “baby” (He’s latino though, but pls read on.) Things like “hey where r u? I’ve been waiting for u.” Things like they share a mutual nickname. Things like “ohhh ur bad. u tortured me to come to bed. I’m in bed. Let’s FaceTime.” Things like “call me in the morning ok?” Even though I didn’t find any inappropriate sexting through their FB msgs anymore after we started dating, the thing that bothered me is they could still be doing it on Whatsapp which I didn’t have access to and there was clearly certain interest between them, right? Am I being too insecure to think like that? Or overreacting? Is their chat normal? They texted and video chatted at least twice a week while we were dating. I’ve met other very good women friends of his and didn’t feel awkward. They were all latinas hugging him and smooching all over him and joking him and congratulating us and I didn’t find them inappropriate. But this particular girl when I first met was different. Two of them didn’t look very close enough to what a very good friend might have reacted which triggered my gut instinct.

    Did I mention he was my first love and boyfriend and I was naive and blind enough to completely believed in his 100% devotion and love. We were all over each other. We did so many things together. We went on trips a lot. His actions and behaviours were all for me, all over me, not just his words. His life was wake up, me, work, me, lunch, me, work, me, me, me, and sleep. When we married and moved to his country, he changed. We met a lot of his friends and also he introduced me to her. I remember her name because he said she’s a very good friend. But I got an itchy instinct. I held it in till we came home and asked him right out what had happened between them. He paused and answered there was a shared kiss in the night when they first met 2 years ago and nothing more. I asked him twice and he got mad. I asked him to show me their Whatsapp conversation. He didn’t and the next morning, he made the stupidest mistake in life_ he deleted it all. So this made me more suspicious. But he didn’t see her again and text her so frequently anymore so I let it go. He had been very private about his mobile phone and computer and iPad (this is another huge thing btwn us, I’ll tell you later.) One day he left his computer open and I snooped and I found out those nasty chats. I called him right away and I also called her right away. She was honest enough to listen to me and assured me there was nothing going on between them and that he told her he met this wonderful girl and bringing her home, and she explained those nasty chats was a long time ago before me and it was over and nothing physical had reached. I believed her.

    So long story already Alison. This put a trauma inside my head. This is the main reason I left and agreed to separate. We agreed to work on the relationship, ourselves, and respect fidelity and him to get rid of her from personal life and online life which he did after much reluctance. I have no doubts about him and her anymore. I know he’s done with her. Not just because he said so, but also because he showed me he deleted her from FB and iPhone contacts. I’ve communicated with him that this emotional infidelity he had made me lost trust in him and there are two parts of rebuilding this trust_ 1) his efforts to regain my trust again by being totally honest and open about everything 2) my efforts to start learning to trust him again.

    Now my trauma is there is a possibility that there might be more girls like that one right now because I never know. I don’t have the visibility. He asks to trust him. I don’t have access to any of his social media because he blocked me. He says “Why do you think I married you and brought you all the way here and share my life with you? Why do you think I’m staying with you if I wanted to mess around with other women? If I wanted so, I would have left you there. The reason I blocked you is because you’re gonna see my posts and incriminate me why is this, who is that, why you don’t post any picture with me and all those problems. I’m done fighting. I’ve proven you enough of my love and you don’t believe me. I’m miserable, you’re miserable. You can’t move on and leave the past in the past, you always bring it up and do you think this is a good way to move forward with our relationship?”

    Alison, I’m too honest, too straight, and too serious. Maybe I’m the problem. I feel like I gave him everything since day 1 and left all my family and friends to elope with him and look what I got, his non-100% love and devotion. To me, a marriage means a lot. It is a social and public bonding of two people to share their lives till the end in every aspect. I expect total honesty, openness, and transparency. (Of course we didn’t talk about this before we made the decision.) I don’t have to snoop when I have all the visibility. I don’t have to lose trust when I’m made sure of his activities. I don’t have to push for deeper conversations about us when he has a will to be open. I don’t have to long for emotional connection with him when he also makes efforts with me. This is a two-way street. He keeps saying he wants to come back to me and lives here for good. But I don’t feel like he’s trying so hard to get connected and interviews. I’ve asked him several times to update his Linkedin because it’s a great tool to network. I’ve reached out to several people and sent his CV to them. Why do I have to push? Shouldn’t he be enthusiastic when he knows there are only two priorities for us right now 1) work on our relationship 2) get a job here?

    I’ve tried him to see a therapist and he refused. In his first marriage, he tried and didn’t work. I’ve tried him to read articles, given him links to your website. He didn’t read. I’ve written down personal reflections in emails, he didn’t open them. He says he’s practical and all those therapists and links are too generalized and what we really need to see and work on is our current issues. I’ve lost self-esteem in this relationship. I have a full-time job here but I go to work, come home, eat, wait for him to have a Skype call, sleep. This is all. I’m not motivated to do any other things. I sometimes go to dinner with my girls to talk about problems. I’ve lost the power and control in this relationship. I had it all when we were dating. He would beg me if I didn’t speak to him for an evening and called me constantly. Karma has slapped me in the face. The situation is now he is the one to call all the shots. I’m just avoiding bigger problems and putting up till he gets back here with a job and I’m not feeling fullfilled. I love him so much and I feel like I can’t lose him. But sometimes I think “What if we weren’t married right now and just bf and gf?” I answered “I’d kick him to the curb.” But I know I’ll be doing this because I want him to realize what he’s losing. He always says “Love is a choice. I’m with you because I want to. I don’t want to lose you but I can, if I have to. I’m not gonna let anybody to step over me anymore. I won’t beg you if you want to leave.”

    When we had big fights, he had mentioned the following and later apologized and said he didn’t mean them at all. He has said things like “You know, I can just drop this call right now and you’ll never hear from me again.” “Keep dreaming I’ll be coming there.” “I’m out of this relationship for a while. I don’t think I love you anymore.” “I’m so done with you. All I want is peace and you can’t give it to me. I’m old. I’ve had enough.” They hurt me so much Alison. I would be so shocked to hear them and numb he would directly call me on FaceTime after 10 mins (he always texts me, but he calls when it’s urgent) and apologized for his anger and things he didn’t mean and how much he loves me and he said these things because he’s too frustrated and I’m pushing him to the edge. He has anger and violence issues btw. But because he threatens like this, I’ve also lost sense of security in our marriage. I talked to him when he’s calm, I said “Honey the thing is not when we’re in good terms and being lovely. The thing is when we’re not, how you handle conflicts. Don’t say the things you’ll regret later. You control yourself. You don’t threaten.” Then he would apologized and went on talking for another hour greatly and I forgave him.

    I am sure he loves me dearly. His love fullfills me when we’re good. He is very affectionate and caring and is a guy who doesn’t have a problem sharing housechores and cooking when he’s good. But he is a jerk. He is selfish and macho. He doesn’t like to be challenged. And I’m not submissive, quiet, soft-spoken dainty wife who just nods and obeys. I wanna have the power equality. He says he has experiences and knows what he is and what he wants. So therefore, it’s his way or the high way. He says all he wants is peace and tranquility and if I cannot give them or anybody else, he rather stays alone. He doesn’t need anybody. And for me, I want a man who can be still good to me when we argue, who can fight fair and not threatening, after all every couple fights right? I want to have the secure feeling that he’ll be there for me even when we fight. Because this gives me motivation to get pass the fight faster and better. I don’t have a problem working full-time and taking care of the house and pleasing him. But all I need is 100% commitment and knowledge that I’m his first priority at all times. But now it’s not the case. Like you said I’m down in his priorities. He lost interest in me. He doesn’t wanna know about me. I mean he asks me how was my day, any news. But he doesn’t ask about my interests, friends, hobbies and he doesn’t share his either. He doesn’t desire me because I’m always the one to start conversing. I know not to keep score, but…

    Last night we talked. I think this is it. He said firmly he will not negotiate on any terms about his privacy. It’s his private life. The things that he talks with his friends and who he talks to is his privacy. His phone, computer and social media are his privacy. He says it’s normal for all couples. I mean Alison, I understand about privacy that diary is your privacy, your thoughts and ideas and what you keep to yourself and what you do privately alone “alone” is your privacy. But when you can’t share with me but share with other people is not. It’s secrecy. I told him that and he disagreed. And I also stood my ground that honesty, openness and transparency are very important for me and in my marriage. These are the only fundamentals to build a great relationship, because love is not enough. He says he has nothing to hide, but I cannot touch his privacy. I say I have nothing to hide, and all my devices and accounts are open to him. And since we cannot meet in the middle, I suggest divorce and he says “ok”. I blocked him on Whatsapp and I said we’d contact via email only.

    Am I making a mistake Alison? Do I stay and work on it or do I move on? Some friends say to hang on for a while because we just got married and it’s always like this in the first year and maybe don’t push him too hard for now and leave him be and when he gets here, we’ll be able to work better because the imporance is he loves me. In my heart, I know he loves me and he has future family dreams with me. He said his first marriage was for all the wrong reasons and I’m the one for him, that he wants to have babies with me and he knows he can spend his life with me because he knows how much I love him and dedicated to him. But I’m at a point where I find it hard to trust anybody’s words, but their actions, thanks to him. And what if I waited and we still had unyeilding disagreement over his need for privacy and my need for transparency? Over his need for separate finances and my expectation for “What’s all mine is yours”?

    I am very glad and grateful that you listen and reply to me in such a great way. Your feedbacks mean a lot to me. I don’t have anybody like you to talk to here in my country. I really like your websites and your articles are written in a way I can relate to. I cannot express enough thanks to you.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      J,
      I have to respond more fully later. But a long-term relationship is not tenable with this kind of secrecy–blocking you from social media (as you said very different from having a private diary.) Even if he’s doing nothing secretive, you can’t sustain a primary relationship with someone like that. You can’t trust someone who is not transparent. Trust can only be earned not blindly given. That’s why they say “trust but verify.”

      There are so many things you say in this email that show that he won’t do what it takes to give it a chance to work.

      You will get over your sadness, but you do need to start living your life and stop hoping for something he is not able to give. The charm, “love”, and affection he gives you when he’s in a good mood will count for less and less as time goes on. When you do decide to really end it, be careful not to listen to his promises and avoid being taken again by his warmth and devotion to get you back. It’s about actions not promises. Interestingly, he’s not even making empty promises.

      Alison

      Reply
          1. J

            Yes I see. Another very good article! I don’t know how you do it. How do you apply in your relationship? It’s easier said than done.

    2. Alison Post author

      Hi J,

      I’ll try to respond to several things you say, but because of the length of your email, my response may not be terribly well-organized.

      First, even if the cyber-sexting was prior to dating, the fact that you say it was “nasty” suggests that he is drawn toward that sort of excitement. I’m not being prudish here either, but it’s a bit of a red flag for long-term relationships.

      Everything you quote in the rest of that first long paragraph from their texts to each other after you started dating is totally inappropriate. I would get out of the relationship permanently based on that alone. You are not going to have a good relationship with someone who is sexually flirting and texting with another woman while he’s with you, even if he claims to have stopped. Period. No, you are not being insecure.

      You say he was 100% devoted to you when you first met. I know you may be surprised by this, but I often think a person should be a bit wary of someone who drops everything to be with him or her and comes on super strong at the beginning. Very often those types like the chase and eventually fall in love with someone else once the relationship becomes predictable.

      You say he called you constantly when you first got together. Although that sounds nice, it actually indicates that he is sort of lacks some self-discipline, like his addictive texting. He’s all or nothing about anything new and exciting. He is unable to constrain himself against obsessive behavior. The anger issues show impulsivity and a lack of self-control as well. Do you realize that self-control is one of the greatest attributes corresponding to successful relationships and success in work? Resisting instant gratification is key for happiness in relationships and work.

      It is nice to be swept off your feet. But once you’ve experienced someone going from 100% charm to zero, you’ll find that other qualities become more important for long-term relationships. Of course you also have some control over how much time you spend together at the beginning of a relationship. I never think it’s good to spend all your free time together. You always have to keep a multifaceted life going on. It keeps you more objective about the whole situation. It also keeps the relationship from imploding. Too much at the beginning often results in the fire fizzling. You want to keep it sizzling slowly for the long-term. Don’t get me wrong. I love romance! But I like it best when you can keep the romance going for a long time, which means you’ve got to resist spending all your time together at the beginning.

      You say, “I gave him everything since day one.” You probably did that because it was your first love. You feel as though you are made for each other. Falling in love is an amazing feeling, but as I said before, love is not enough. So in the future, never give anyone everything. Enjoy the feeling of falling in love, but maintain your own life. Take it more slowly. Don’t assume someone is perfect because you are crazy about him. Have the self-discipline to see the person less than every day. Take time to find out what the person’s character is, ethics, goals, values, whether his respect for you increases or decreases, etc.

      You say he doesn’t ask you about you or your interests. Have you read my article about narcissism? I don’t know if it fits. But it might, in which case, the quest for validation and the disintegration of respect all make sense.

      PRIVACY: Here is the major problem that makes a relationship with this man untenable. When you marry someone, you decide to live your lives together and give up the right to some of your privacy. You choose that on purpose because the payoff is a loving trusting relationship. You decide that your primary emotional (and physical) relationship is with your spouse. Keeping secrets and having outside secretive relationships (even if only emotional or online) undermine your primary relationship. You cannot put your spouse in the role where he or she is playing detective. Couples shouldn’t block each other from social networks, and they shouldn’t have passwords and hide things from each other. While it would be weird if I read every email my husband wrote, it would weird if he hid anything from me. So if I felt like it, I could check his email anytime. As you said about diaries, people can keep some thoughts secret, but secret relationships undermine the marriage.

      You seem to equate his need for “privacy” with your need for transparency. They are not equal. His need for privacy is simply is desire for instant gratification, flirting, and who knows what, while you are seeking a candid honest relationship where the relationship is more important than whatsapping and potential sexting.

      To me the important thing is not that he says he loves you. The important things are
      1. how you treat each other all the time,
      2. that your relationship is more important than instant gratification,
      3. that there is mutual respect and self-respect,
      4. that you each flourish as human beings while together, and
      5. that you both feel and act better because you are together.
      Theses are all based on actions and attitudes, not just the words “I love you,” which could be disguising the real feeling of “I don’t want to lose you, but I’m not willing to give up all my impulses to flirt and have other secretive relationships and thereby keep my options open.”

      I think if you can have the self-discipline to start pursuing other activities and interests and meet positive people, over time, you will see that you can flourish better alone, and eventually with someone who honors and respects you fully and willingly.

      By the way, are you making efforts to improve your life and not simply come home hoping to skype? I hope so.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. J

        Hi Alison,

        As much hard as it is to see this relationship that I’ve invested all of me comes to an end and the dreams, hopes, and future fall into pieces, I am not going to continue. But to be brutally honest, yes, there is still the last string of hope, but it has to be solid_ only if a miracle hits him to come into realization and he actually changes his behaviours and proves with actions starting by opening up his online life to me and more honesty and transparency. But I doubt that this will happen…. He’s not even making any promise.

        Thank you so much Alison for all your advice.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi J,

          I’m sorry for the disappointment and pain you’re feeling.

          Everyone has their own challenges. But they become much easier when you learn to choose someone for all the right reasons. But this usually takes getting hurt, often due to our own projections, not because the other person is terrible. When you’re young and fall in love, it’s easy to jump in quickly and hope everything will work out well. But the beginning and development of a relationship really impact the future patterns of the relationship. So for example, if you start out by giving all power and decision-making to your loved one, because you’re so in love, it’s likely to stay that way.

          Relationships become easier as you grow older and as you have had some experience I think. But you still have to work on yourself. Some people have to work on being kinder, others have to work on being less needy, some on being more responsible, others on being more fun, most people can work on some sort of balance.

          Coincidentally, my next blog will be on how to handle breaking up or having a spouse who is having an affair. And the key that I’ve seen is to act and speak with dignity and grace. When you feel overwhelmed, angry, hurt, or fearful, call forth all the dignity and grace you can, so that no matter what happens you won’t regret how you behaved. Moreover, this will make you more attractive to your husband/ex, and will help you move on in a positive direction.

          Good luck J. It will work out. Just keep what’s best for you in the long-term at heart and in mind.

          Alison

          Reply
  55. J

    Hi Alison,

    I really like your articles and thank you for writing them. I need your advise.
    My husband and I got married a year ago. We met and dated a year before we married. We’ve had so much problems and now we are separated for 4 months. This 12 hours long-distance is killing me. Among several issues we have, what I’d like to understand better and get your point of view and advise is about chatting on Whatsapp.
    My husband has become the biggest fan of Whatsapp. He texts all the time with his friends. Two things to note here is 1)he doesn’t have a job right now and I do, 2)we love each other dearly. He is online on Whatsapp all the time. I can see his last seen timestamp. Right before he closes his eyes to sleep and right at the second he opens his eye waking up, he grabs his phone and starts browsing who’s left him messages and replies them. Even when he wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, he goes online. He texts even while he’s driving. He texts when he goes out for beers. He texts when he’s having lunch.
    I can understand when someone doesn’t have a job and have all the time, it’s natural to go online so much. But the problem is with me. He doesn’t have the need to text or chat with me like he does with his friends. He doesn’t share his daily activities like he does with his friends. He jokes and sends funny pictures and videos with his friends on Whatsapp, but not to me. Sometimes, he goes online as soon as he wakes up and starts chatting with his friends and I’m here looking at his last seen and online status and waiting for him to text me. He doesn’t immediately reply to me as well, but I see him online for like half an hour. He says when he’s out for dinner or driving or doing whatever, he’s busy and can’t talk to me. But I see him online!! If I complain about these, he says I’m nagging him and what’s the big deal he doesn’t text me for a morning or an evening. And he also says he doesn’t feel like talking to me because I make him miserable with questions of why’s all the time. Most of the time, he withdraws and I end up feeling empty. He says he loves me dearly and I shouldn’t compare myself with his friends like this. But then I have a question, why does he chat with them every minute of the day and not with me? What is attracting him? What is so fun about his friends? I’m ending up stalking his last seen all the time and feel the urge to ask him why he texts his friends and not me. We always Skype every day and I’m trying to control not to bother him on this matter but it’s bothering me! When he’s in good mood and I explain him calmly, he seems to understand and he pours out his love and we then make up and I then have the understanding and forgiveness to promise myself not to bother him. But it only lasts 2 days and we wind up arguing again because he doesn’t text me one morning and goes straight off outside to do stuff or he’s online for the whole night and doesn’t bother to text me, while I see him online when he probably has been chatting with friends. Nobody goes online this much unless something’s attracting right? If I’m doing wrong, please help me understand.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi.

      Thank you for your question. I do have advice, although it won’t be easy for you. But the fact that you asked me my opinion after reading some of my articles suggest that you are ready to hear it and act on it.

      You have several problems:

      1. Your husband is an addict, that is, he cannot stop pursuing an activity that gives him immediate gratification at the expense of harming himself and/or others. He is harming himself by not improving his life and getting a job, and harming his relationship with you, not to speak of texting while driving.
      2. He has lost desire for you. He is putting other people and activities way ahead of you.
      3. You are losing your self-respect continuing on this path, which will cause things to get worse.

      1. Addiction:

      Let me quote from “The Neurological Basis for Digital Addiction” by Jeanene Swanson 10/06/14

      “So what happens is, you hear a sound [alerting you to an incoming text message], and your brain says, ‘There might be something good there, I’m going to check it.’” At that point, the mesolimbic dopamine circuits are activated, and a small surge of the neurotransmitter is released in the brain. “What you’re getting addicted to is the dopaminergic hit. With texting addiction, there is an added element of waiting for a response,” Karter says. “It is the anticipation that hooks us.”

      His digital (internet/texting) addiction is more serious than it sounds because it is the number one preoccupation in his life. He is allowing it to destroy his relationship with you, even though he says he loves you, which keeps you hanging in there. The time consumed doing it preventing him from getting a job or doing something he can feel proud of in his life. If he spent the combined amount of time looking for work or getting more qualifications through full-time school and a side job as he does texting, his self-respect would increase because he would feel capable and independent. However, he doesn’t have the self-discipline to do that.

      The only way that will change is if he experiences enough loss and other negative consequences that he decides to change. The only way you can help him along the way is to no longer be there enabling this behavior. Perhaps losing you, including chatting and seeing each other, might wake him up. From what you’ve said, however, I doubt it.

      2. He’s lost respect and desire for you.

      Your husband isn’t interested in texting and chatting with you much because he knows you are always available, and you have started nagging him. Even if you didn’t complain though, he would be more drawn to texting with others because of the fun, flirting, and excitement of fun texts. It’s like having the dopamine rush of smoking cigarettes all day long. Over the long-term, you’ve wasted a lot of money, time, and probably wrecked your health. Yet each hit feels so good to smokers, they don’t have the necessary motivation and self-discipline to stop.

      It doesn’t matter that he pours out his love to you when he’s in a good mood. The fact that he spends his time focused on immediate gratification is causing him to be incapable of have a good long-term relationship.

      I recommend that you stop complaining and nagging him. But more importantly I recommend that you stop or greatly limit your relationship with him. You should not be in a relationship with someone who does not respect and desire you and treat you as more special than his texting buddies and gals. He will never respect and desire you again if you are simply there waiting and hoping for him to show up when he neglects you. He is not interested in a relationship with you except as a matter of convenience. Yes, he says he loves you, but any words can be said to keep all one’s options open. Please look at his behavior!! If that’s love, I wouldn’t want it.

      3. Loss of self-respect.

      I know you say you love your husband. However, love is not enough because love disappears if there are not two people cherishing and nourishing it. Are you sure your love hasn’t turned into need out of emptiness and fear? Same with him.

      To sustain a long-term fulfilling relationship, there must be mutual respect and self-respect. Your husband is not nourishing this love at all, and you are losing your self-respect by putting up with it. Notice that you feel empty when he withdraws. You will only get over that when you stop obsessing over his chatting and what’sapping. You will only get over it when you yourself have the self-discipline to move on and avoid contacting someone who is living for his addiction, and not for your relationship.

      If you stop all contact with him, I predict that he will start contacting you more, which might make you happy temporarily. But I also predict that once you are there for him again, he will go back to more “exciting” interactions with others (those dopamine hits received when receiving texts from people you don’t know that well.)

      So rather than focusing on him, focus on your own challenge, which is not to waste your time enabling and hoping for an addict to change. Just as his challenge is to resist pursuing these empty interactions for the fleeting dopamine hits, your challenge is to resist contacting him and continuing to hope for a fulfilling relationship with someone who is becoming less and less capable of having one.

      If I were you, I would say in a kind voice something like, “I’m so sorry but I’ve lost respect for you seeing you wasting your time texting. I know you’re better than that. I want to be with someone who wants to do something with his life, and puts me and our relationship first. I wish you the best of luck.” I would then stop or greatly limit communicating with him. If not, you will become much more miserable in the future and it will take much longer to build back your self-respect.

      Sorry to be harsh, but it’s all right there in your letter, despite your feelings and his proclamations of love.

      I recommend that you read the following:

      1. my article on the pursuer and the distancer and some of the comments below it https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/intimacy/pursuit-and-distancing/,
      2. “Why men marry bitches” or “Why men love bitches” (the title is a little off-putting and doesn’t represent what’s in the books),
      3. Try looking at a blog by Matthew Hussey http://www.gettheguy.co.uk/ who is definitely trying to sell seminars, but I think you might get something out of some of his articles and videos, including one called “3 Texting Secrets that Men can’t resist” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLoFQLGPgik

      Good luck and let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  56. Junie

    Dear Alison,

    I read your article on “Pursuit and Distancing” and I would like to thank you for writing it because I felt that it totally resonated with how I felt. I would like to ask you for your advice on my relationship with my fiance of 2 years. Things started out very well but we are both working in different industries. He is in finance (and hence the long, working hours) and I am in the education sector. Things started off brilliantly and we got engaged 2 years later. However, as he advanced in his career, I began to feel emotionally neglected and I felt that I was always trying to fight for his time amongst all the various activities and social events that he has. And presumably because he is a Distancer and I a Pursuer, I have threatened to break up with him for about 4 times in the course of our 2 years together. After he left for his business trip and me on a holiday, I have not seen him or talked properly to him for close to a month now and I am really quite unsure with how I should proceed. I vacillate between breaking up and staying with him (because of our past happy memories) but he has made it very clear that his priority now is his career and money. He does not want to marry a wife who will presumably be quarrelsome and constantly threaten to break up with him. I react in this manner because I would like to get him to communicate and to perhaps spend a little bit more time with me but as soon as I press him to do so, he seems to withdraw into himself to the point that when he does come over to my place to look for me, I have a nagging feeling that it is forced, rather than one done because he really misses me. Of course, our intimacy has also been affected because of this. He says “He is not in the mood” and “he has not found himself” whenever I suggest being intimate. He mentioned that I have a very childish approach to dealing with relationships but I felt that he ought to have prioritized his time and to be fully present when he is around me. We are currently in a complicated relationship though I would like to resolve this issue with him and to move forward. Thank you for your help and advice Alison.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Thanks for sending in your comment. I’m sorry for the anguish you must be feeling.

      I think it is pretty clear from all that you’ve said that you need to back off and find a way to enjoy your life without putting any pressure on him. Avoid nagging. In fact, avoid calling. If he calls you or you do see him, make it fun, short and sweet. Find other things to do so that you are not available for him. Either he has found someone else or he feels you have become needy and an obligation to him, both of which zap all the desire and passion out of the relationship.

      I don’t think there’s a need to break up, but I would definitely avoid threatening to break up. Instead start enjoying life and new pursuits and adventures and meet other people and find new activities. That is the only way he’ll be drawn to you again–if you are interesting, fun, and not very available. If it’s too late for that, then you won’t have wasted your time because you’ll have kick-started your engagement in life again.

      Here are a couple of other articles I have written that may be helpful. I also recommend that you read “Why men love bitches” or “Why men marry bitches.” I’m not crazy about the titles, but the specific advice in them are based on psychologically-sound principles. While you may think the author and I are advocating game-playing, we are not. It is simply human nature to be drawn to people who are not needy and who do not nag and manipulate, but who are enjoying their lives with passion.

      Good luck. It will take a lot of will power. But if you do not have the will power, I predict that passion will not reignite your relationship. Let me know how it goes.

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2014/12/28/my-girlfriend-said-she-needed-time-and-space-to-re-evaluate-our-relationship-for-us-to-work-on-ourselves-and-then-see-where-we-want-to-go-from-there-i-was-reassured-that-her-moving-out-was-not-an/

      https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/01/06/at-first-he-was-the-pursuer-but-now-hes-the-distancer-when-i-asked-him-whether-this-relationship-was-going-anywhere-he-told-me-that-for-him-our-relationship-has-not-developed-into-anythi/

      Reply
  57. Ira lawrence

    Hi there, I need help. I finaly meant someone perfect for me but I don’t know how to be with her I hope you can help. I am 37 and she is 38 we have both been pretty much A sexual and set in our ways. She is very much an introvert and I am border line. I am coming from a devasting relationship with a alcoholic. She’s scared I am not over her but the fact I had to take care of, be mean to and eventually throw a helpless person to fen for themselves left me feeling extremely guilty. I truely believe I moved on but the girl I want to be with says I am selfesh in the way I can not give from the heart there are always strings attached. I am thinking perhaps she is right and maybe the fact that I never got any appreciation from my ex perhaps I am carrying it over and trying to get from the girl I really want. Could I be doing this self consciously because I don’t see myself doing it but I do not question her judgement. Can you help me understand this better. Thank you for any direction

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Sorry for the delay in responding to you.

      It’s hard for me to answer your questions without having a specific example. She says you are selfish and that there are always strings attached. What is an example of that? What behavior is she objecting to? It does worry me that she making such strong negative judgments against you. Or is she making them in a kind way to explain her feelings?

      In what ways do you feel that you are not getting enough appreciation? Are you perhaps diving into the relationship too rapidly?

      As regards your former girlfriend, are you still seeing her, or are you just talking to your current girlfriend about your guilty feelings for kicking your ex out? It’s best probably to simply deal with your guilty feelings on your own rather than to subject your new girlfriend to them for two reasons. 1. It will seem as though you are overly emotionally involved with your old girlfriend, and 2. talking about guilty feelings or about your previous girlfriend doesn’t help you, your old girlfriend or your new one. I think the guilty feelings are fine. You simply don’t feel good about having been mean to your old girlfriend. It’s human to feel that way. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should have behaved much differently. Continuing a devastating relationship with an alcoholic doesn’t do anyone any good. So this is probably a case where you will just have to be sad about the way it ended, but shouldn’t dwell on it any longer. If you did do anything inappropriate, then write her a letter and apologize, but continuing to feel guilty won’t help.

      If you give me more concrete examples of what your current girlfriend is complaining about, I’ll respond more fully.

      Reply
  58. Anon

    Dear Allison,

    I wrote to ask your advice a few months ago about a man with whom I’d been for half a decade, whose behaviour was atrocious and who you identified as a narcissist. In hindsight – and to which I was wilfully blind as a self-defence mechanism: who wants to acknowledge that they’ve been played for so long? – you were absolutely, 100% right. I had been stupid enough to ignore your advice and attempt to salvage the “relationship” – only to be told in callous tones that he’d already f***** someone else (his words). This had the effect of arousing absolute disgust – I was able to emotionally disengage. I’ve met someone recently who is absolutely lovely – a truly dear, intelligent, honest, deeply attractive man – and while it’s early days, and I am not going to mistake infatuation for love, I am really very happy. I suppose that I just want to say “thank you, thank you” for your excellent, measured and sage advice – and to advise all your other readers to follow your words of wisdom to the letter!!!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you so much for letting me know this great news. It makes me so happy to hear that you are with someone who is kind and honest. In a way it’s good that the previous man showed his true colors so terribly so that you could no longer be taken in by whatever charm he had occasionally shown you. It is usually the people who see the best in others who can be duped by a narcissist. Now that you’ve grown wiser you can truly appreciate people who have empathy and are giving.

      Take care and enjoy!

      Reply
  59. Christina

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you so much for your reply, this was all very eye-opening. I completely understand and agree that I need to be more mindful of how accommodating I am in relationships, and that I need to prioritize my own pursuits and dreams rather than putting them on hold for a boyfriend.

    We dated for a year and four months and would spend almost every day together. Due to school and work, this “hang-out time” was always at night and would almost always lead to a sleep-over. I practically lived at his place. Everything was simple, routine almost, and most time together was spent doing homework and sleeping. I can see how this would cause us to lose a bit of desire for each other.

    During the first couple of weeks in January, we weren’t able to spend as much time together. Our schedules just completely conflicted. I took on a couple of jobs, so I started sleeping at my place so as not to wake him up so early. Instead of every day, I would see him maybe every 3 or 4 days, and very briefly. I wasn’t always able to come over when he asked me too, whereas in the past I was almost always available. Interestingly, this is when he started becoming very distant. We would hang out after not seeing each other for almost a week, and he would be short and disinterested the entire time. This is why I am so confused.

    Wasn’t I giving him the distance he needed? Even if not purposely, we weren’t spending every single day together. While breaking up with me, he mentioned that it was really hard for him that we didn’t see each other as often, and with his busy schedule, he felt an extra pressure to spend time with me when he perhaps wanted a night with the guys. (I have never intentionally put this pressure on him, I was usually very understanding and would make other plans). Within the two weeks prior to the breakup, I noticed (without snooping) that he was texting and snapchatting with a couple of other girls, whom I’d never heard him mention. This was not his normal behavior, and while I don’t accuse him of anything because I trust him, he was very noticeably secretive about this. I wonder if this was him simply looking for the next big, exciting thing?

    Why then, after weeks of this distant behavior, does he now go out of his way to contact me, to be affectionate, more affectionate than he’s ever been? I have no intention of restarting this relationship, I know that for myself. I am just so puzzled over the thought process behind his actions.

    This is what I’ve come to: I am 22 years old with one foot in the real world, working to support myself financially and make my dreams happen. He is 20 years old, still has a year and a half left of college, is completely dependent on his family financially, and simply wants to have fun. Perhaps we just have different mindsets, and they don’t fit as well together as they did in our first year of dating when we were both still in school. Thoughts?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. Your words are much appreciated and very thought-provoking.

    Best,

    Christina

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Chistina,

      I can’t really know for sure without talking to you more, but my guess is that he felt threatened or uncomfortable when there was more distance between you after being used to being together with you all the time. Alternatively, because you had spent so much time together and everything became rather routine, you both lost a bit of desire and passion for each other, and when he ended up being alone more often, he started going out and meeting other girls–or one other girl. When you suddenly feel that excitement of meeting new people who are interested in you, you ask yourself if you’ve fallen out of love with the person you have started taking for granted. As you said at the end of your email, maybe he simply wants to have fun.

      It is nice to be able to learn lessons about balancing separateness and togetherness at such a young age. It can be a lot more painful to figure out after 20 years of marriage.

      If you get back together, or when you have another relationship, you might try maintaining a little more balance at the beginning. When you are crazy about each other and the relationship is new, it’s easy to spend inordinate amounts of time together or to start being very routine about the time spent together. But eventually other responsibilities and interests call you, and you or your partner inevitably think that there’s something missing in the relationship.

      That backlash from too much togetherness can be avoided if you keep more of a balance from the beginning. No two people make a perfect whole. So any partner will become disappointing if you spend too much time with him or her. It’s best to keep a more multifaceted lifestyle and not become too dependent on routinely spending a lot of time with your partner. You are doing both of you a favor.

      All the best,

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Trisha

      I am a 51 year old widow mother raising a 16 year old boy. I did not come up in a positive family, and I thought I could do better than my parents. Knowing now that they did the best they could, and I realize the same. But, I see what I did wrong, and I am extremely bothered by the way I raised my son. When my son was two, his dad went to prison, and 6 1/2 years later his dad came home. I divorced him due to his strong drug addiction; as this is what sent him to prison in the first place. Also, my son’s father passed away 2008 (2 years after release from prison) due to cancer. In order for my son to have some bonding, I allowed his dad to move in our home with the agreement to live in the living room on a hospital bed. During the years in prison, I took my son every weekend for 6 1/2 years to see his dad.
      I felt terribly sorry for my son, because his dad was away for this length of time. Therefore, I over-spent on material things for my son all those years. Also, I became my sons (bestfriend). I was in denial that my actions would hurt my son, and myself.
      My son is very selfish, very rude, very angry at the world, and he is non-sociable with the outside world. His world is in video games on the internet. He is overweight, and in public school, my son was bullied almost to suicide. So I took my son out of public school, and he is being home schooled. I am aware of not getting any social skills. My son has a very high IQ. Making the grade has never been the problem.
      I am disabled, and I am overweight as well. I am trying to get up enough of money to get us an Elipictic stepper exerciser. But these types has a weight limit, and I can not afford an expensive one.
      My 78 year old mother lives with me. I moved my mom in with me and my son, because I did not want her to go to a nursing home. My son is rude to me, and his nana. This worries me because I think back on what my parents were like raising me.
      Now, I have a selfish, angered, lazy son who is rude to me and his nana; he wants things and does not want to give.
      How can I teach my son to be respectful, and show he cares? Also, how can I get him to love himself?
      sincerely,
      Trisha

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        Hi Trisha,

        Thank you for your comment. First of all, it’s helpful that you are looking into improving your life and your situation with your son. It’s important that while you try to improve your life and your relationship, that you don’t spend too much time beating yourself up for the past. It seems you have plenty of challenges in your life. So there is no need to make yourself feel worse.

        Second, I think you need to focus on improving your life, because it is your example of improving your life and of being courageous in the face of challenges that will have the greatest impact on your son, perhaps not immediately but eventually. Rather than an elliptic stepper exerciser, what about going on walks outside? Walking outside is free, it gets you in the outdoors, which is good for you psyche, and the vitamin D from the sun is good for your health and state of mind. It would be good for you not to always be at home and to demonstrate to your son that you can and do leave the house frequently despite discomfort you feel in doing so.

        I also recommend buying some sort of ipod or mp3 player and downloading books (there are plenty of free ones) to listen to while you take walks. You will be able to go farther if you pick interesting books, and you will learn something.

        Lets look at four reasons teenagers and children at any age tend to be rude to their parents:

        1. The parent doesn’t have enough self-respect and the child senses that and is angry about it.

        The parent needs to gain self-respect by pushing herself to do do things on a daily basis that will improve her life.

        She also needs to have consequences each time the child is rude. For instance, when the child demands something, the parent says, something like “You need to ask politely,” and then not give the child what he wants until he’s polite.

        2. The parent over-protects, smothers, or controls the child, and the child is pushing the parent away for needed separation.

        The parent needs to back off being protective and advising the child. Ironically, over-protecting a child makes the child more vulnerable. In extreme cases such as you mentioned where suicide is a risk, of course there needs to be some protection and counseling. But in general, allowing a child to deal with the normal difficulties in the world prepares a child for the world.

        3. The parent is overly indulgent and doesn’t set boundaries out of fear of harming the child’s self-esteem or fear of the child not liking the parent.

        This is the opposite of the truth. Children whose parents fear setting boundaries develop a lot of anxiety and don’t develop self-esteem. Children who have parents who role model boundary-setting and self-discipline gain self-esteem because they learn the ability to set boundaries and to have self-discipline. Note that boundary-setting does not mean extreme strictness, but an ability to say “no” and mean it. Indulgence and compliments do not create self-esteem.

        4. The child lashes out as a way to experience power, as the child does not feel self-empowered in the real world. In other words, the child becomes a bully toward those psychologically weaker, because he is often the victim of bullies in the real world.

        A child needs to feel self-empowered by being able to set goals and achieve them. This involves having self-discipline and toughness in the face of difficulties. It also helps if the parent expects the child to work hard and treat others kindly.

        So, in summary, a parent who develops self-respect, who’s able to set boundaries and invoke consequences, who treats a child with respect (not indulgence), and who expects the child to work hard and treat others well sets the stage for a child to develop self-respect.

        At this point, you might consider focusing on improving your life, expecting more from your son, and not being afraid to say “no” to him. Every time he is rude, correct him without hostility but without being overly sweet either. Say, “You will do better in the world if you’re polite. Try a better tone of voice if you want something from me.” And then walk away.

        Also, find a way for him to be in the world socially. Let him go to school again. He will become completely disabled if he can’t deal with others. This may be the reason he is lashing out, because he feels incompetent and fearful. There must be some sort of option where he can be involved with other people out in the world.

        Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

        Alison

        PS There is a good blog called zenhabits in which the writer talks quite often about changing your lifestyle, and he has actually quit smoking and eating unhealthy food, and started exercising. It may inspire you.

        Reply
      2. Alison Post author

        Hi Trisha,
        I just published a blog inspired by your email. You might check sowhatireallymeant.com. I edited the letter I sent to you a bit, and changed your name.
        Bye. Take care,
        Alison

        Reply
  60. Thomas Fiffer

    Alison,

    I am an executive editor at The Good Men Project and would like to reprint your article on compassion. We would provide a link to your original post. Please let me know if you will grant us permission.

    Thank you.

    Tom

    Reply
  61. M.

    A person who has done me some favors seems to want my attention and I am not sure why. Admittedly I am a very sensitive person and I feel uneasy when he is around. He is a bit intrusive and has no qualms about making plans I would not have made. I am a more private type person and value my privacy. I like to be with my wife but need no on else usually. I deplore “small talk”. Your article is excellent.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Perhaps he just wants a friend. Do you feel uneasy because you are not used to people being trying to become friends or do you dislike him and feel he is too intrusive? If you are not drawn to him as a friend at all, you can be polite and simply say no to his plans in a respectful way. “Sorry I’ve got plans at home. I hope you have a good evening.” or something like that. After a few rejections, he will probably back away. If not, you can be a little more straightforward and say something like, “I’m not very social, but actually prefer to read at home/spend every evening home. Thanks anyway.” Good luck.

      Reply
  62. Christina

    Hi Dr. Alison,

    Thanks for all of your enlightening articles! I learned that I’m most likely a Pursuer, and that my boyfriend (now ex) of a year and 4 months was a Distancer. Our relationship was simple and easy. We were exclusively together, but it was never a very “lovey-dovey” relationship, which I actually appreciated. However, in our first year he was decently affectionate and would go out of his way to do cute things to make me smile. However, once hit our one-year mark, things in my life started to get complicated and I tended to lean on him for support. He was great at comforting me, but after a while I could tell he was getting a little tired of it. Things started to not be as simple as the’d been. We would never fight, but it was always a little boring, and we spent most of our very limited time together either on our phones or watching TV. He finally brought it up mid-January, and we agreed to give each other a couple days of space to think by ourselves. I stood by this, but he texted me the next night and we had an amazing, perfect night together. For the next five days, he went back and forth between being his normal, fun, somewhat affectionate self when we were alone, and being really distant and short with me when his friends were around. That’s never been the norm. A week later he broke up with me.

    Luckily, I had enough support that I was able to get back on my feet fairly quickly and get on with my life. I still miss him tremendously, but I’ve been able to realize for myself that this breakup was for the best. I can now work on myself and pursue my dreams, and not be tempted to put my life on hold for him. It’s now been a week and a half of no-contact space, and out of the blue he calls me to see how I am, and if I would be up to meeting up and talking. I agreed, and we ended up hanging out all day, he spent the night, and we spent the whole next day together as well. Despite the numerous “just-friends” comments he made, he was more affectionate than he’s ever been, even when his friends were in the room, and I was incredibly comforted. However, on my way out the door, he didn’t kiss me goodbye and has been very limited in his contact with me.

    I am so confused and frustrated. What does he want? How should I approach him about this? I know for myself that it’s not the best idea for us to be together, especially since I’m moving in August and neither of us are into long-distance relationships, but I’m just so happy with him. I could really use your insight, and would be interested in exchanging emails with you or doing skype sessions. I can’t afford to let this consume me.

    Thanks so much,

    Christina 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks for your comment. First of all, I wonder how much time you did spend together while you were together. You said it was very limited, but on the other hand, you said you decided to take a couple of days of space, and he called the next night. Seeing each other every day is not very limited.

      In the future, I think the moment you see that your partner/boyfriend is taking you for granted or a bit bored, it’s time to focus a bit more on your own interests, read a book at home without him (unless you are living together), go out with friends, take a class, and simply not be together every day (maybe not for a week.) Look at the following passage that you wrote, because it indicates that you were melding too much into him–too much for your own good and too much to sustain his interest and a passionate relationship:

      “I still miss him tremendously, but I’ve been able to realize for myself that this breakup was for the best. I can now work on myself and pursue my dreams, and not be tempted to put my life on hold for him.”

      You put your life and dreams on hold for him. Well that is certainly not good for you, and it sure makes him lose his attraction to you. There is nothing more attractive and desirable than a man or woman who has dreams and is pursuing his or her life, and sadly nothing more dull than someone who gives up their interests and dreams to follow you and pursue you, and not much else.

      Yet you don’t need to be alone to pursue your interests. You can be in relationship. But you don’t have to see each other everyday. And when you haven’t seen each other for a week and a half and there is finally some passion and excitement again, you don’t have to stay together for two and a half days until you are so used to each other again that desire vanishes. End the date while there is still excitement, so he will be longing to see you again (and vice versa.)

      I recommend reading on the topic of desire–I have a couple of articles if you search “desire,” and also there are a couple of very good books, one of which is: “Why men love bitches” (despite the annoying title–and I recommend this book for men who are pursuers as well.) Also search for my articles or others on “fusion” and “differentiation” or read David Schnarch’s books.

      When you can be with a particular person all the time or at any time you want to you lose desire for that person. Desire and excitement requires having time apart so that you can look forward to being with that person. Desire requires imagining being with the person when you are not with the person. Whoever is the person in control of how often you see each other loses some desire. Desire requires not having control over the person. It requires two separate individuals.

      I’m not talking about a game of playing hard to get. I’m talking about not being a person who simply fuses into another person. It is a gift to the other person to allow them to desire you. It is not a gift to be waiting for them all the time, put your life on hold in order to be available at their whim. It is important for you that you follow your own pursuits and resist the temptation to become “one” with the other person.

      The fact that you put your life on hold while with your boyfriend and the fact that you felt a little relief at the break-up mean that you were repressing important parts of yourself in order to accommodate him. You need to do that less! He and other future potential boyfriends will be more drawn to you more as you find more strength in yourself to follow your dreams.

      So, I recommend that if he calls you, wait a day or two or three to see him, then have a marvelous time together without leaning on him over problems you have, and then leave after a reasonable time, so desire is still in the air between you. Pursue your other interests. Figure out why you say, “I know for myself that it’s not the best idea for us to be together.” What are you not able to do and pursue while you are with him? How could you imagine being with him or somebody else without accommodating the person so much that it gets in the way of you living your life? No matter how this relationship ends up, start to find this balance of pursuing your dreams and spending some (not a lot of) time with another person. That will be key to living a more fulfilling life.

      Good luck,
      Alison

      Reply
  63. Esther

    Yes, he struggles with trying to keep his life from becoming overwhelmed/anxiety free by the smallest things on a daily basis.

    I decided to go to the graduation and as it turns out I had to sit separately and towards the rear away from his daughters, friends and one sister (out of 9 siblings, three of which live in the area) because traffic was bad.

    It was interesting though as both the President of the school and the invited Speaker touched on the same topics that should have made him think. Part of the ceremony included each graduate receiving a flower which they were to give to the one person and the only person who “supported you during both the highs and the lows of being in school, who cooked meals for you, who put up with you when you were unbearable, who allowed you the space to study, who gave you gas money so you could get to school, who helped you study, who encouraged you when you were overwhelmed.” The speaker also encouraged the graduates as well to do the same but related one story about her own dealings with her son. While her son was away at college,
    he called one day sounding as though the world was coming to an end….”Mooommm!” She said – “Lord, what’s wrong with my baby?! Honey, what’s going on? Everything alright?” Her son then says – “Mom it’s so cold in here. I have frostbite in my hands. They won’t turn the heat up any higher than 68. The dorm manager just told me to “suck it up!”” She said – “Now, I thought to myself…I know my baby is used to being in the house where we have it nice and warm and he never has to worry about the struggles because we have it covered. I was ready to drive down to the school to “fix things” for him. But how will he learn to deal with life if I were to come to the rescue and start acting out because my son is uncomfortable? So I told him this is what he should do – throw on some gloves and “Suck it up!” Now he was mad at me for not helping him but I knew he would get over it within the next week because he was
    going to need food money.” I think this was a perfect timing graduation.

    He was sitting towards the back so was one of the first to walk out after the ceremony. I was able to be the first to greet him after, congratulated him and thanked him for the invite. He then said he was going to find his daughters and asked me if I was ok. To which I said I was even though I was sad inside but it wasn’t my day and I was there
    for support. He reminded me about meeting up for dinner and I said I wasn’t going because I didn’t want to make things anymore difficult for his daughters than they already were. He said his daughters weren’t going to be there and the people that were are the ones we were with all the time. He started to walk away but turned around to hand me the flower and said he couldn’t have given it to anyone else for which I thanked him. He couldn’t find his daughters and we decided to walk out together so I could say my hellos to his best friend who he thought was there. I waited alone while he was with his daughters a short distance away taking pictures and it turned out his
    best friend didn’t show either. So I just walked away towards my car and drove home.

    Dinner was ok but he was a bit standoffish (no kiss, no hug as greeting) so I felt uncomfortable but was able to chat with one of his best friends as well as his nieces and nephews who have embraced me into the family and are always a lot of fun to be around. I wasn’t hungry so it was a long night and emotionally exhausting. I said my goodbyes to his sister and expressed my thanks for her supporting him on this day then drove home. I decided not to make contact while his sister was still in town. I haven’t heard from him since we parted ways on Friday. I’m trying to focus on work, rearranging furniture and bible study – just trying to keep busy. I have my emotional moments but I have been working on myself during the last year and have learned to accept how I feel and not to keep my emotions inside because that does me more harm than good. After the doomed phone conversations with his daughters, I have not gotten involved or in the middle but have offered parenting advice on rare occasion (most of the time I mind my own business) and I no longer try to help him feel
    less overwhelmed so that he can learn how to solve his life crisis on his own. I would try to offer suggestions in the past and he would ignore them but would turn around and tell me a short while later what another friend suggested which worked which was exactly what I had advised in the first place. No, he doesn’t see how he handles things as a result of his fears and anxiety. He’s reactive not proactive. Usually stuck in
    the problem, not the solution.

    Thank you for the article references. They have been insightful and encouraging. Thank you sincerely for your insight as I didn’t know where to turn for answers to my questions. I needed professional advice not friendly advice.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      Thanks for describing the eventful graduation. It’s so interesting that that particular story was told at the graduation. It’s funny though, if people are not really willing and motivated to look at their own participation in relationship dynamics, they can hear all the relevant stories in the world and they won’t have an impact on them. It’s hard enough to change when you are super motivated to improve yourself. But when you are not aware of your own tendencies and are not trying to become aware of those tendencies, then only life crises tend to make an impact strong enough to cause a possible change.

      I am relieved that he gave you the flower though.

      I think you should feel good about yourself as regards how you behaved at the graduation. I know it’s sad not to hear from him. Perhaps over time he will contact you again.

      I would focus on yourself. Often a change in one person will result in a change in the other. But pursuing him or trying to get him to see how he’s enabling his daughters’ manipulative (and mean-spirited) behavior will only backfire. I wish there were an easier solution.

      Take care. Alison

      Reply
  64. Esther

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for the feedback. Yes, it would be nice if my son and my partner would hit it off. Maybe someday….

    What has my partner done exactly? That’s the problem. He’s done nothing but keep us all apart. I have never met his oldest daughter and I met the youngest, once about 2 years ago for all of 5 minutes when he had to meet her at the mall and I had to drive him because he had no car at the time which meant I had to drive her home as well. Otherwise, we’ve only spoken once on the phone trying to figure out and resolve an emotional issue he was having which didn’t end well because we were all at fault for aiding in his state at the time. I requested that when he visits to try and keep things drama free for a while and I would do the same at home while he got himself together during a trying time in his life because he kept returning from his visits emotionally distraught. It would take weeks to get him back to a point where he didn’t feel so guilty about not being somewhere he didn’t want to be. He left over 10 years ago. They didn’t appreciate my honesty but I don’t believe in lying to young people especially when they know the situation. At the time he said I should not have gotten involved but he picked up the phone, dialed and handed it to me to speak to his daughters. I have not gotten involved in any of their drama since and there has been loads.

    He won’t call or text when he’s with them and I don’t bother him as I don’t want the girls to believe I’m trying to come between them during his time with them. I respect their time together. I relate as I come from a family where my father was absent most of my life.

    As you can read, I haven’t had the chance to cause issues even if I were that type of person. Funny thing is, his ex-wife and I get along and have had many long and pleasant phone conversations until he told her he didn’t want her talking to me anymore.

    Just got off the phone with him and his daughter is having an emotional time right now after she’s done something he has to try and fix for her so he doesn’t want her to be anymore upset. He doesn’t want me to feel ignored when he greets me then goes to be with his daughters. I expressed my feelings as you suggested and advised as long as he respects my place in his life and we all act respectfully it’ll be alright. He said to come to the graduation because there will be other people for me to talk to. He then just informs me that there will be a dinner as well. He said his daughters have expressed that they will never visit with his grandkids at his home as long as he’s with me. He said he will not allow that to happen because he wants his children with him. I asked him why we are dealing with what if’s or potential outcomes. He said he didn’t want to take the chance. He’s decided that it’s too much to deal with and will not be returning back to live with me and that he wants me to move on and find someone that deserves me more than he does and that he has some growing up to do. So there goes the relationship. What a turn of events. Wow……I’m numb.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Wow, that is unbelievable. I am so sorry.

      It sounds as though his daughters are able to manipulate him through being emotional, and that he is unable to remain emotionally separate, which is a pity for him and for his daughters, and of course for you. He is only enabling their lack of self-empowerment. He is highly anxious around drama and other people’s emotional anxiety and conflict. Thus, he has to become physically separate from people (his first wife, his daughters at first, and now you) because he cannot deal objectively with his own anxiety around other people’s emotions or distress. He can’t handle being around you and his daughters at the same time because his own anxiety is too high. So in essence, his daughters can manipulate him by not liking you or by threatening not to visit him if he stays with you.

      Moreover, it sounds as though he is completely fused with his daughters–having to fix their problems when they are emotional. That is not helpful for his daughters. It enables codependency, fusion, and manipulation.

      It is very difficult over the long-term to live with someone who cannot handle normal amounts of anxiety. He has to fight to keep his life anxiety-free, which of course is impossible if you have relationships with other people. He has been trying to keep his life anxiety-free by keeping you apart from his daughters. This one little event of graduation where you would be together with them is creating so much anxiety in him that he is basically freaking out and doing anything to appease his daughters.

      One of the keys to being able to have a committed, intimate (and I mean here deep and honest), and trusting relationship is to be able to withstand discomfort, conflict, distress, and the other person’s anxiety without falling apart or having to withdraw, in other words, being differentiated. There is nothing better for a relationship than being able to stay calm and present in the face of anxiety. Unfortunately, your partner is quite undifferentiated.

      “He kept returning from his visits emotionally distraught. It would take weeks to get him back to a point where he didn’t feel so guilty about not being somewhere he didn’t want to be.”

      This is a man who needs to develop some emotional separation from others. He needs to develop what Murray Bowen (and David Schnarch) call “differentiation.” He should not be emotionally distraught for weeks, and you should not be working hard on easing his anxiety. This only creates a vicious cycle of escalating anxiety.

      I would not be surprised if he is so overwhelmed by his own inability to remain calm and by the possibility of conflict between you and the daughters at the graduation and the dinner, that his anxiety has pushed him to decide not to live with you anymore. Convenient timing. The daughters are displaying so much anxiety about the situation–even threatening not to visit him in the future–that he couldn’t handle it anymore. A mature response would be similar to your own response to your son: “It makes me sad when you threaten to not visit. I’m sorry you don’t like her. But I do. Let’s be mature and compassionate here. If we all make an effort to be courteous, everything will work out.” But he feels he has to accommodate them in order to eliminate the anxiety he feels. He cannot stand up for himself or you. That is not good for him, his daughters, or you.

      By all means, don’t let yourself become emotionally fused at this time. That would only make things worse, and he will simply blame you for his own problems handling every-day normal issues. (I have a couple of articles on fusion and differentiation, if you want to search my blog for them.) Don’t over-react and don’t try to manipulate him. Over-reaction could include sudden withdrawal and not going to the graduation, which is what he wants.

      Instead, if you could, think about saying something like, “if that’s what you want, fine. But we care for each other. So I still want to celebrate your graduation with you.” If it were me, I would still go to the graduation and the dinner. Otherwise, if you do back out, he will have learned that he can throw a tantrum or threaten to break up in order to avoid facing an uncomfortable position. After this event passes by, he may relent and get back together. Or he may not, given his very low tolerance for discomfort.

      If you do get back together with him, I would avoid getting in the middle of his issues with his daughters, and I would avoid helping him to get out of his feeling emotionally distraught. Otherwise you are playing into his codependency. However, given his inability to handle such normal awkward situations, I fear though that over time that you will lose respect for him.

      I do think he has some growing up to do. But the way to grow up is not to act impetuously out of one’s fears, but to withstand discomfort and do the right thing.

      Sending you best wishes.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      P.S. I told you what I would do in those circumstances. Yet there is a greater risk of losing him permanently if you expect him to grow and deal with the discomfort of being with you and his daughters simultaneously. It doesn’t sound to me as though he wants to grow or that he sees his handling of the situation as a result of his fears and anxiety.

      You do have another option, however, but it comes with some negative consequences that will corrosively sneak into the relationship over the long-term. You could decide not to go to the graduation and let him know that you’ll be completely accommodating about his desire to keep you separate from his daughters so as to avoid anxiety, and perhaps he will want to continue seeing you and even living with you. You could offer to stay elsewhere when his daughters come to visit. I don’t recommend this. But it is an option. I recommend being honest with yourself about whether you would not become resentful of him and lose respect for him over time.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  65. Esther

    Hi Alison,
    I’ve been in a co-habitating relationship for 5 years now, plan on getting married and we have this recurring problem. I have a 25 year old son and my partner has two daughters (27 and 18). Our kids don’t like the respective partner. I had a talk with my son several years ago and we tried to figure out why he doesn’t like my partner but his reply was that he didn’t know but that he just didn’t. I expressed my appreciation for his feelings and tried to pinpoint his dislikes but to no avail. I expressed to my son that my relationship with him would not change and that I would love him no matter what but that I recognized that he would be leaving the nest and moving on with his life and I would like to have a companion in my life so unless he was being abused somehow I would remain in the relationship. My son still has very little interaction but remains civil at least. My partner unfortunately has not done the same. I’m sure the girls felt the same with his other girlfriends. I thankfully don’t carry their issues with me on my shoulders and would hope that someday they would seek help to let go of their resentments that has more to do with their father than with me. Whether or not we have a relationship, is ok with me as I focus more on my relationship with my partner. So the problem is that I supported the household while he went to school full-time and it’s time for his graduation. He has invited the 3 of us to his graduation and has advised me: “You’re there but you’re not there. I want you to be there but I don’t want to cause issues for the girls.” This was painful to hear. I expressed to him that I didn’t think that was the right way to handle the situation since I feel it really hasn’t been handled at all. I know my self-worth but somehow I feel that his request devalues my position in his life. I recently expressed that I wanted our relationship to be between us only or with a couples therapist and not have any influences (ie., well-meaning friends with relationship advice, our children) to which he agreed but he is disregarding my feelings. What do you think? I know the final decision is with me but should I be ok with being pushed to the side/ignored during a day when I wished to express how proud I am he completed this goal? Should I just stay home and let him have his day with his daughters? Or should I swallow my pride and just go for continued support?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      Thank you for your comment and question. I like the way you handled things with your son. You talked to him respectfully to find out what the particular problem he has with your partner. You don’t demand that he likes him, but you expect him to treat him with civility. It sure would be nice if they really hit it off. But it’s certainly not a requirement.

      Regarding your partner and his talk with his girls, you say that he has not done the same. What else has he done exactly? It would help to have more specifics about his behavior as regards the girls and you.

      Specifically, regarding your current situation, I would go to the graduation. I would understand his desire if you had just started dating, but not under the current circumstances of living together (particularly for so long.) I would try to appease his fears, but also remind him that he is living with you as one of the most significant people in his life (it’s not even necessary to mention that you supported the household during his school.) I would remind him that everyone is grown up and that grown ups can all be at the same event and treat each other respectfully. Even if the girls were still children, the fact that you are living together means that he should treat you respectfully as part of the family.

      If you let his fear of discomfort around his daughters drive him to treat you as a girlfriend of convenience rather than a partner, then he is letting his immaturity and discomfort run the relationship, and you will resent him, and the relationship will deteriorate. It is also important for him to show his daughters that he can handle an uncomfortable situation and stand up for someone he’s living with, and that he doesn’t treat women hypocritically. He can do all this in a respectful way.

      However, if he becomes unpleasant during the event or ignores you, I would remain courteous and respectful at the event, but then have a serious conversation when the girls are not around. If he lets their distaste for you lead him to treat you poorly, then he shouldn’t be living with you. He may be getting a degree, but it’s time for him to be a man as well, which means embracing his daughters and his partner, rather than choosing between them (this is assuming of course that nothing terrible has occurred between you and the daughters.) He needs to withstand his discomfort in order to do the right thing.

      Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      PS What did he mean by “You’re there but you’re not there. I want you to be there but I don’t want to cause issues for the girls.” Do you usually cause issues? If not, what does he mean? If it is inappropriate for him to say that, I would definitely talk to him about it, but I would do so without attacking. Something like, “You said “such and such,” which implied to me that I treat your girls disrespectfully. Could you clarify what you meant, as I don’t think that’s fair.” Keep your tone of voice neutral, curious, and almost friendly, and then let him speak. Defend yourself and call him on his own behavior candidly but without attacking. It helps to say, “I know you care a lot for your girls and I certainly don’t want to get between you. But I also don’t want to be diminished by anyone, particularly by someone I am living with. I am always respectful to your daughters. I expect you to treat me well in front of them, and not to ask me to become invisible.”

      I’m making up this dialogue as I’m not sure what kind of issues he thinks you cause. In essence, I wouldn’t swallow your pride, but I would talk to him constructively, and I would go to the graduation.

      Reply
  66. Cherrie

    Dear Alison,

    Answering your question, I think seeing my boyfriend once a week sounds reasonable, and of course I want a long term relationship that eventually leads to marriage.
    I trust that he is not having an affair behind my back as we promised to be faithful to each other, if I don’t trust him I will not still be in this relationship. I also know that he is making an effort to keep in touch by texting and calling me, but maybe just not as much effort as I expect. As I said his job requires him to stay most of the month overseas for client meetings and fund raising activities, for the past six months business has not been good and that makes him busier than ever. I want to be supportive and understanding during this difficult time without ignoring what I need in a relationship.
    Do his actions show that he is using busy work schedules as an excuse to avoid committing to a relationship? Do you mean if he cares about me and value our relationship he should be able to come back and see me more frequently?
    Doc I know work is his first priority, and I don’t want to be one of those girlfriends who ask him to choose between career and love, because I know that will not end well. I just don’t want to give up without trying my best to work through our problems.

    Cherrie

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Cherrie,

      I missed the part about him being based in Hong Kong. So that might change things a bit, although maybe not. Let me ask you, how many days a month is he in your home town? And then how long does he stay? Does he stay just that one night that you have date night? Or is he back for two or three nights, but only sees you one night? Could he come back more frequently? Is he going to remain based in Hong Kong? Does he invite you to visit in Hong Kong? Have you met his family and friends? Have you talked to him about what he would do if his business becomes successful?

      I still think that work will remain his top priority whether of not his business does well. Is that something you want? Do you have work and passions that are your top priority so that you won’t feel insignificant over time.

      Yes, I do think that if he valued your relationship more he would make an effort to see you more often, and he would see you more than just once when he comes back to visit, unless he’s only there for one evening. I also think he would invite to stay in his home in Hong Kong. This is difficult, but if it were me, I think I would avoid waiting for years to see where this relationship goes. He may be wonderful, but he seems quite unavailable for a relationship. He is focused on work and sees you rarely, and doesn’t involve you his his life in Hong Kong to visit, has he? Why not?

      At least keep your social life active and meet some other people. I’m not suggesting being unfaithful to him at this point, but I would try to meet some other people.

      Take care,

      Alison

      Reply
  67. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    My boyfriend and i have been dating for over a year and a half now. He is a fund manager and has been trying to develop his own business with his partner; his work requires a lot of travel outside of town and his schedule is always changing. When we first started dating, he told me his job is based in Hong Kong but will travel a lot and will be very busy, i guess i assumed he will be the gone for the week and back in the weekend type (i now know i should have never assumed anything…), soon i found out that he is traveling for work much more than he is staying in town, but we still get to see each other several days a month, and when he is away, he texts me everyday asking me how i am.
    The past six months their business is not doing very well and they need to work extra hard on fund-raising, so i only get to see him roughly once each month. When he comes back we will have dinner together and i’ll spend the night at his place, which has always been the “date pattern” for us, since he is always so busy. When he is away he still texts me every day and we call each other once a week to have a quick chat before he has to run to another meeting.
    Not long after we’re together i feel like we are not spending enough time together and since his schedule is always full of client meetings, the only date activity we can afford is dinner. I understand it takes a lot of effort to run a successful business, especially when it is just at the beginning level, he is practically doing 3 peoples’ jobs. I keep hoping things will get better over time, like he told me, if they can make more money and hire some people to help them with the fund-raising, he won’t have to travel so much and can spend more time with me, but this process can easily take years.
    Maybe it’s my impatience speaking, lately i’ve been having these mood swings and I’ve been thinking a lot about our situation. I worry if we keep spending so little time together our feelings for each other will fade over time. When I’m at a concert, a movie, or a barbecue with friends, i wish he could be with me, but he can’t because he has to work. Sometimes I wonder if we are living 2 different lives rather than sharing one: i cannot help him with his work or take care of him when he is sick during business trips, he cannot be here when i need a hug or a shoulder to lean on. There is that particular time of month i started being moody and negative, feeling neglected and always being second to his work.
    Believe it or not we used to talk less frequently on the phone because he said he is not good at phone conversations, face to face suits him more. But i convinced him weekly phone calls are the next best thing we can depend on for communication since we can only see each other face to face once per month. I wish i could talk to him for 10 mins each day, but afraid that will sound to needy. 2 months ago i visited him in Singapore when he was having a conference there, most of the days i was alone as he was at that conference 12 hours a day. I’m fine with that as long as sightseeing distracts me and i get to see him when we get back to the hotel. Sadly we cannot always do this kind of trips together as his schedule constantly changes hence it is difficult for us to plan things ahead.
    I talked to him about my worries and he asked me to be patient and accept that he has a busy life. To me it is hard to wait patiently and accept not being in priority when i don’t know how long i have to wait. Let’s say in 5 years his business will be stable and he will have more time for our relationship, can we maintain our intimacy and closeness for this long when we barely see each other? How do two people get to know each other better without spending enough time together? What if finally we can date like normal couples do and find out we are not suitable for each other? I dare not even ask him if he wants me in his future.
    I absolutely hate being moody every month like a vicious cycle, and i know i cannot rush things – i will be grateful if i can see him once every 2 weeks instead of every month! I told him that and he said this is a difficult time but he will try, like he does every time, but somehow i don’t think hopes are high. When we cannot make plans to visit each other frequently due to his ever-changing schedule and we cannot call often due to his ever-present business meetings, what can i do to keep us close? Are there really nothing i can do besides keep telling him how i feel (which sounds more and more like whining) and waiting ?!?!?!?!?!
    I’d be very grateful if you could give me some insights, whether i should change how i consider things, or there are some ways to work it out that we haven’t thought of yet?

    Many thanks,
    Cherrie

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Cherrie,
      Before I answer your question, which I will do this afternoon, I would like you to describe to me your ideal relationship with a man, that is, time spent together, time spent apart, etc. Of course nothing in life will match your ideal. But it’s good to have a rough idea of what you would like in a relationship. How many evenings would you spend together? Would you eventually get married or live together and have every dinner together, etc.
      Thank you.
      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Hi Cherrie,

      While whining definitely doesn’t help, there is good reason for you to feel moody and whiny. I’m sorry to say that you must listen to your instincts, which are just barely speaking up in this email, but they are saying that once a month is not enough. I think that getting together twice a month is not nearly enough even for a workaholic if you’ve been dating for a year and a half. I know plenty of very busy workaholics who can squeeze in an hour every day of the week for someone they care about.

      People tell you who they are by their actions. He is either a workaholic who puts relationship very far down on his list of priorities, or he’s got other relationships going on and is not being honest with you. It really doesn’t matter which is the case. If he is being completely honest with you but is simply married to his work, you are still far down on his priorities. That will not change, even if his business becomes successful. If he ever changes, it will be when he is much older and realizes what he has been missing out on. At that point, if you are still around, he will have lost respect for you, I predict, because you expected and put up with so very little.

      I suggest that you stop being intimate with him and start seeing other people. If you like, you can still see him once a month, but be honest and tell him that you want to be with someone who is available for a relationship, and that you are only willing to be friends at this point. You don’t need to complain. Be matter of fact and enjoy the evening, but I would avoid intimacy, unless you can truly enjoy intimacy with him without having any expectations of a real relationship.

      I would even suggest to you that you decide not to available for dates the next couple of times that he calls. You have been on call for him. I believe that both he and you put him up on a pedestal, which diminishes your self worth and your value in his eyes.

      There is a small chance that if you stop being available as his once-a-month girl that he will gain more interest in you. However, I would not trust him to continue making you a priority.

      Sorry to disappoint you, but the sooner you stop having false hopes, the sooner you can move on to meet someone who will value you more highly.

      Please let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  68. Marta

    Hi Alison,
    Thank you so much for your advice and for helping. Does this apply even when he has said he wants to end the relationship? It feels like I’m not “allowed” to ask him to do activities right now. So, I was trying to give him space to figure out if that’s what he really wants, as well as determining his opinions on things (because he said he wanted to end it because didn’t feel like himself, and had stopped doing things he enjoyed out of fear of conflict – which to me seems like things he needs to heal in himself, rather than in the relationship. But I realise I have no control over what he does or whether he helps himself; still, I want to support as much as I can even if that’s just by giving him the space to reflect and work on his fear of conflict).

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Sorry, I forgot that in the first email you said that he wants to end the relationship. Since you are living together and still on good terms, I would still ask him casually once to go do something (casual, not date-like, but exciting) and then have a great time. If that works, do it now and then. Or if that seems inappropriate, just have some fun at home together without making a plan. In other words, connect and enjoy him, and then give him lots of space.

      Reply
      1. Marta

        Thanks Alison, I forgot to mention it. Thanks very much for the advice – I’ve suggested going geocaching in a few days’ time (it was an activity we tried once which was fun) and he said yes. I also tried to be less distant tonight – like I said, I wasn’t intending to, but I fear I may have come across as mean or distant the past few days, so tonight I made an effort to be friendlier and warm, while still trying to give space. It went well and we had a really good conversation. Last week when I made an effort to be friendly/warm he initiated a tickle fight, which confused me a little bit because it got slightly inappropriate (although it didn’t cross any lines). It happened 2 nights in a row and then after that I got a bit more distant because I wasn’t sure where the right level of friendliness and distance was.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          It sounds to me as though he still cares for you quite a bit. He is probably confused as well. Part of him wants to work on himself and become more independent, and part of him is attracted to you and still cares a lot for you. It would be nice for you, it sounds like, if he can discover that he can keep both parts alive while in relationship with you (although you are not officially in a relationship.) I would try to keep going like this, giving space, being warm, doing something together occasionally that’s interesting or fun (geocaching–wow, I had never heard of it and just looked it up), and continuing to enjoy your separate friends and pursuits as well as being home alone. I believe this is the best way for you to perhaps re-ignite your relationship with him, as well as to enjoy your own life if he decides on a different path. Thanks for letting me know what’s happening.

          Reply
  69. Marta

    Hi Alison,
    I haven’t yet been on my weekend away but I am booking a week away at the end of the month (somehow it morphed from a weekend into a week-long vacation after my friend suggested several more places to check out!). It will be shortly after he has gone away for a week away with some friends so we will have some time apart.

    I have taken your advice about giving him plenty of space, going out of the house and doing my own thing and being friendly but not too much. I have really enjoyed my increased social life. However, I’ve found the more time I spend out of the house, the more he does too (almost like we are competing with each other!), and in the last week or two we now see each other very little and he seems more and more distant. I am not sure if I am reading too much into it but now I am getting worried I have come across as mean or cold, or I’ve gone too far.

    On the positive side, he told me the other day he’d been thinking about some of his problems, and he’s resolved to be less afraid of conflict and even told me of a couple of instances recently where he stood up to friends.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      That sounds pretty good, but definitely don’t come across as mean or cold! In fact do something together once in a while and have a great time. Don’t make it too heavy, but make sure you enjoy each other as you did when you first met, and do a few exciting or new adventuresome things together.

      Research does show that when two people do exciting (even scary) things together, that they are more likely to develop the chemicals in their brains tied to the feeling of being in love. That may sound like a contrived way to keep the excitement going in your relationship, but it is better than the alternatives of drifting apart or being so comfortable that things become boring. There is a happy medium between solitude and togetherness, and between comfort and excitement. Excitement can mean doing anything new together.

      You cannot control another person or a relationship outcome. But from what you’ve said, it seems that you needed to do some things on your own a bit more. It’s also important that you do some exciting or fun things together as well.

      That’s good to hear that he is starting to be able to stand up to friends, you, and others in general. Otherwise he will simply become too accommodating and resentful, which will make him unhappy. You can only be intimate in relationships when you can maintain your sense of self, which includes standing up for yourself.

      Thanks for letting me know what’s going on. Good luck and enjoy your trip.

      Reply
  70. Jo

    Hi Alison,

    I need advice. My husband breaks promises. My husband and I are newly wed and we had some big conflicts and now on a break for almost two months. To make the story short, my husband had emotional texting with a fling and he lied all about her to me. So I lost trust in him and we decided it’s best to take a time-off to reflect. Before the day I left his country, I asked him to get rid of her from all his digital media and he said he would do it, no problem. I felt very good about his promise and went back to my country thinking positive about this break. But here I am in my country, almost two months apart, my husband has promised me three times during this time apart that he’d take care of that task, but he broken them. He assured me he hasn’t been talking to this woman since we last fought about her two months ago and he has no interest in her and the only reason he hasn’t done it is because of laziness. I made myself very clear to him that she’s a threat to our marriage. He says he doesn’t want to do this but he will in order to please me and make me at peace.

    First time, he said “I’ll do it today.” He didn’t and I confronted him and he said he was watching TV.
    Second time, I asked him “I’ll leave you alone, but give me a time, 3 days? 5 days? Take your time.” He said “It’ll get done by the end of the week.” He didn’t and I raged.
    Then I backed off and asked him 3 days break and no contact. When we contact again, he was very loving and listening and we talked for 2 hours and I feel like we’re connected again. Then I had an unpleasant feeling a night ago and opened up to him. He says “I’ll do it today honey, I’ll give you peace on that.” I thanked him and said I just wanted to leave this behind so much. Now till today, he hasn’t done it. He hasn’t removed her from his online accounts at all.

    I love him so much and it’s hard to let go. I wanna work on this marriage. He loves me as well. But how do I get him to get it done? I cannot make any more clearer that this woman should not be between us. He said “It’s because of your ego.” I told him we are rebuilding the trust broken and I think we can because we have great love. But it’s two way street. I will need to learn to just trust you again and you will need to not lie to me anymore and firstly, we need to get rid of this woman.” He nods but his actions are not following up!

    What do I make of this? Is he really being lazy or is she such a temptation to let go? Am I overreacting or it’s not too much that I ask of him? He knows this is a big issue between us to move on and he claims this woman doesn’t mean anything to him and I’m the queen of his life. But I need actions! I can’t trust his words when he keeps failing me like this! I have tried high way and down way. I have tried demanding, I have tried softening, nothing works! Please help!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Laziness is a choice. So it doesn’t matter whether someone is lazy or tempted. It amounts to the same thing. If he were to lose his job or go a week without any food if he didn’t disengage from her in his digital media, I bet he would no longer be too lazy to make the changes he promised you. Thus, he is choosing to break his promises to you and to keep open the possibility of more communication and relationship with this other girl over respecting you and his promises to you.

      I would like to know more precisely how he has lied to you and what the extent of his “fling” is with this girl before I recommend leaving him. Is he continuing to communicate with her? As you may know, I think it is fine to have friends of the opposite sex as long as the depth of intimacy and the time spent together doesn’t threaten the primary relationship, and as long as there are no secrets kept. It seems as though his involvement with her is definitely threatening your own relationship.

      It also appears to me from what you’ve said that he does not have the willpower to resist short-term gratification for long-term fulfillment. People like that can be charming and fun to have a fling with, to have as friends, and to to go out with, but are generally very frustrating and disappointing if not heart-breaking to deal with in long-term relationships. They can be very romantic and say the right things in order to get their way, but they are not to be trusted.

      You say you want to work on your marriage. Unfortunately, it takes two people to work on a marriage. Don’t get in the habit of being the only one working on the marriage. If he is indeed continuing an ongoing relationship with the other girl despite the threat to your relationship and despite his promises to you, I could not recommend staying with him because it takes two motivated people to sustain a long-term fulfilling relationship. Good luck.

      Reply
      1. Jenie

        Well Alison good news, he has done it. He removed her from all his digital life. Reluctant and annoyed, but he did it. He started getting pissed off when I asked if he did it. He ended our Skype call abruptly and told me “This is just bullshit! I’ve never had someone asking me this kind of stuff! I don’t tell you who you can talk to and who you can’t! This is going against my life principles!!” Then I called him back, asked him to calm down, assured him I wasn’t angry, asked him if we could just talk calmly, let him know again that I felt our marriage threatened by this woman, and then I’d drop this subject forever, I promised.” He calmed down and validated my last question and I thanked him and told him I was very much relieved and he said “thank you” too.

        So now I’m so relieved he did it. But if he did continue talking to her even after blocking her from everywhere, then it’d be totally a black and white answer for me.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi. I’m glad to hear that you seem to have worked this out.

          Here is an article about primary linkage that I’ve written that might be helpful for him to read. It’s about how people often make their children their primary connection and end up losing their partnership connection, but it relates to anything including emotional affairs: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/parenting/who-comes-first/ There is such a fine line between avoiding becoming controlling while allowing each person freedom, and making sure that the primary linkage in your relationship is not at risk because of new relationships becoming stronger than the primary relationship.

          And here is an article on how to know if you can trust each other: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2013/01/10/can-i-trust-you/

          Take care. Good luck.

          Reply
  71. Marta

    Hi Alison,
    I just wanted to let you know that I tried this and was successful so far in one disagreement (over difference of opinion)! It was hard having the willpower to not immediately get reactive but I managed to do it; I’m sure that I will slip up sometimes but I feel like it is possible. Thanks for the advice on boundary setting too – I think that is something I also need to work on, setting and especially maintaining a boundary.

    I’ve also ordered Non Violent Communication and will begin listening tomorrow, and I’m planning to go away for a weekend in February. Thanks so much for all your help and advice.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m so glad to hear that. I know it does take willpower. But the more you think about it and practice it, the better your relationship will get, and the easier it becomes! Just beware of being taken by surprise. Let me know how it goes after your weekend in February.
      Good for you and good luck!
      You’re welcome!

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      I’m so glad to hear that. I know it does take willpower. But the more you think about it and practice it, the better your relationship will get, and the easier it becomes! Just beware of being taken by surprise. Good for you and good luck!
      You’re welcome! Let me know what it’s like after your weekend away.

      Reply
  72. Marta

    Hi Alison,
    Thank you so much for the advice and for taking the time to reply to me!

    That is an excellent suggestion about Marshall Rosenberg’s CDs. I have ordered them! He doesn’t really like reading that much, but he loves listening to the radio and podcasts so CDs are a great option I hadn’t thought of. I think I will listen to them myself as well, they seem like they could be beneficial to me.

    I am currently reading your book and came upon a description of being reactive and I’ve realized I am very reactive in a lot of situations especially if something’s triggered me although I don’t usually realize until afterwards what it is; do you have any suggestions on how to prevent it? In the moment I find it hard to stay calm sometimes. I’m trying to see this whole situation as an opportunity (albeit a painful one) to reassess my own attitudes and actions and become a better communicator myself, as well as use it as an opportunity to practice communicating better.

    Thanks for the advice, when you say be available less, do you mean less physically present or emotionally? I am trying to spend less time together and go out with friends more. However, I have always been someone who needs a lot of solitude and time at home reading, writing and thinking, so last week for example I went out with friends every night and ended up exhausting myself so this weekend I didn’t feel like going out (and only accepted one invitation from a friend, on Sunday) which meant we ended up spending most of the weekend together as he didn’t go out either. Even at the time I felt like it might not be the best idea but I wasn’t quite sure what to do. The good news was things seemed better and less tense the more time I was out, and he seemed more positive when he did see me.

    Thanks, and I will let you know what happens.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      Most people don’t totally stop being reactive–it’s part of life. But they can get much better at catching themselves being reactive, apologizing, or handling the situation more effectively. I could answer your question better if you told me what kind of situations trigger you most easily. So, for instance, you may be triggered when you feel ignored, not appreciated, disagreed with, or not seen as special, or when you’re spoken to in a rude tone of voice or a multitude of other situations.

      First, you’d have to consider whether your expectations are realistic and healthy. If they are, you’d then consider what the most effective way to deal with it would be. Once you know that you can be more effective by responding differently, it makes it a lot easier to remain calm. And if you still feel reactive, you can just say, “I’m going for a walk,” or “I need a moment,” and take some time to cool down.

      I suppose I mean that both physically and emotionally unavailable. It’s tricky because you don’t want to play games or punish him. It’s good to go out with friends, but you don’t want to exhaust yourself and go out all the time. Perhaps you could visit your family or friends for a weekend, go out a little with friends when you’re home, engage him a little when you’re home, but don’t be predictably there all the time. He will miss you and desire your company more if you’re not simply waiting for him or in the next room all the time. It is human nature to miss someone more when that person is not around all the time.

      Good luck. Alison

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        PS I just realized that perhaps you meant sexually by the term “physically.” If so, I don’t think being withholding in that sense is usually good unless there are underlying issues that need to be worked on and it doesn’t seem right to have sex. I mean more being physically not always around. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, unless it’s excessive, negligent, or done to punish someone.

        Reply
        1. Marta

          I’ve been considering this for the last few weeks – I think I’m still uncovering my triggers, but I think mainly it’s being disagreed with (I feel this means the other person doesn’t like or love me – I know this is illogical, but it’s hard to stop my reaction), or feeling disrespected or unsafe. For example, someone shouting and getting in my face makes me feel unsafe, or feeling disrespected if someone doesn’t respect my wishes (for example, when I asked a friend several times not to talk to me about a certain situation and he did anyway). Since I’ve been more conscious of this in the last few weeks, I’ve made an effort to understand why I react. It’s only happened twice, but in both instances I took some time afterwards to work out why I was reactive, and apologize. However, I’m still finding it hard not to react in the heat of the moment.

          Thanks for the clarification – I didn’t mean sex. I wouldn’t withhold sex! I think that’s wrong, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. I meant physically as in being in the same room/house vs. always being outside the house.
          Thanks, I am thinking I will try for a balance of going out and not exhausting myself and I think I might try going out on my own more, that way I can balance being out of the house, and being on my own.

          Reply
          1. Alison Post author

            It’s important to learn to avoid becoming defensive or triggered when someone disagrees with you. Don’t immediately contradict the person. A great phrase is “What makes you think that?” or “How did you get to that conclusion?” with a curious tone of voice (not sarcastic) and then to really listen. Then give your opinion without sounding superior: “The way I see it is…”. Then you might have an interesting discussion, or at least avoid hostility. It takes willpower not to jump in and defend your point of view. But it will really pay off. You might learn where the other person is coming from and what he or she really means, and then the other person will be much more willing to listen to your opinion if you’ve really listened to his or hers.

            Being shouted out, having someone get in your face, or being disrespected, on the other hand, are very different matters. You should not let any of these slide. However, you need to think of the safest and most effective way to respond. If someone is shouting at you, avoid taking it personally, and also avoid that relationship, unless that person rarely ever shouts and immediately apologizes. If shouting is frequent or there is not a quick sincere apology, then mitigate or eliminate that relationship. If the person is not violent, say something like, “Please calm down. I’m going to have to leave otherwise,” and then leave. If the person could be violent, find the safest way to get away and then stay away period.

            Your example of asking the friend not to talk to you about a certain situation may not be one of total disrespect, but of forgetting, or desperately wanting to gossip or get your opinion. I would try to calmly remind the person of your desires again: “Hey, I really don’t want to hear about it, sorry.” Polite and firm, and if necessary, leave as well. But you don’t need to get defensive or hostile. Effective boundaries don’t have to be aggressive, just certain.

            Your plan sounds good, and you might think about leaving for a weekend.

            Take care.

            Alison

  73. Marta

    Dr. Poulsen,
    My partner, who I have lived with for the last year (we’ve been together 2 years) told me last month he wants to break up. It came as a complete and utter shock because I thought our relationship was very solid, and would have rated it a 9/10 on a scale of 10. He told me all the time he was happy, he said I love you a lot, we had a great sex life and were very physically affectionate… I was really happy, too – I felt like we really encouraged each other to try new things and be our best, we had lots of fun together. My friends, (one couple had spent the night at our house the week before), were also completely shocked and said they always observed us as being very caring and connected.
    He says that he didn’t feel like himself, and that he’s scared of conflict, so over time he stopped doing a lot of little things that he thought would bother me. I am horrified, because I had no idea he was doing this, and I feel awful he felt that way. We’ve since been to couples counseling, and the counselor suggested that we had a pursuer/distancer dynamic and he was the distancer and was feeling overwhelmed/suffocated in the relationship. I read through your description but I’m not sure if it quite fits. I didn’t feel like it anyway – we did spend a lot of time together since we live together, but we probably went out twice a week separately with friends and I always thought we had a healthy respect for each other’s space because when we were at home together we’d quite often happily do separate activities, or at the weekend go to a coffee shop and read separately (we also did go out on dates together 2-3 times a week, so it felt balanced to me but I guess maybe it didn’t to him, he just didn’t make it known).
    I have a lot of anxiety issues, stemming from my childhood with controlling and manipulative parents – so I’m seeing this as a wake-up call to deal with these, and am seeking help. I’m also terrified I might have picked up some of their controlling tendencies, so I want to address that as well. My partner admits he has people-pleasing problems, as well as always feeling like he’s lost himself in every relationship he’s been in, but he doesn’t seem keen to address this.
    He’s said he definitely does want to end things, but we’re going to be living together another few months due to financial concerns. We still spend time together and he told me he’s still in love with me, is still attracted to me, and doesn’t want to be with anyone else – he just ‘finds it hard to explain’ but doesn’t want to be together. I read in your advice that in the pursuer/distancer dynamic the best thing for the pursuer to do is back off and focus on their own activities. I’m trying to do this but it’s hard, but I feel like this would give us the best chance to work things out now or in the future (should he change his mind) and I suppose it’s better for my own wellbeing, too.
    However, I’m really worried about him (and his future happiness with or without me) and am finding it hard not to try and push him to talk about things. I feel like his fear of conflict and losing himself stem from childhood. He grew up witnessing domestic violence between his parents plus a victim of verbal/emotional abuse himself but he won’t really talk about his childhood with the counselor (or anyone apart from me) and doesn’t seem to – or doesn’t want to – deal with this issue. He also says he doesn’t know himself at all, or know his opinions on feelings on really any issue. Can I encourage him to deal with his issues? Is it even possible to get someone to confront their past? Or am I better off just going along with the pursuer/distancer advice and distancing myself? Or leading by example by confronting my own issues?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I’m so sorry. What a terrible disappointment for you.

      I don’t see this relationship dynamic primarily as a pursuer/distancing problem, though perhaps that’s a symptom. It sounds as though he had to develop a very accommodating personality–pleaser–as to avoid conflict. If there was domestic violence when he was a child, pleasing and accommodating becomes a defense against what feels like a life-or-death situation, and in some cases it is. It would not be easy for someone from that background with that defense mechanism to change. The good news for him is that he is sensing that there are parts of himself that he is repressing that he needs to develop. Otherwise, he would simply become depressed and not make any changes in your relationship. He senses that he needs to develop a stronger sense of self along with specific opinions and feelings, and in his case, that is much easier to do when there’s no one around too close to have to please.

      The best thing you can do is to avoid being reactive when he tells you news that you don’t want to hear. You can tell him that although you’re sad about the situation, you are glad that he was able to tell you how he feels. When he says something or wants to do something that contradicts what you think or what you want to do, stay calm and connected, respect what he wants and don’t try to manipulate or control him. Yet don’t let your own feelings and desires go underground. Express them calmly and clearly state that you are just communicating with him but don’t want him to accommodate you unless he really wants to. It’s so important in a good relationship for each person to be able discuss where they disagree without feeling controlled or guilty, and then to be able to decide to accommodate sometimes, and not to other times.

      I believe that people should not be pushed into confronting their issues. You should be honest with them and not cater to their weaknesses. But often when people don’t want to go to counseling, they are not ready for it. However, I think nonviolent communication is a great method to learn for anyone, especially those who avoid conflict, to learn how to express his or her opinions, desires and needs. It is particularly helpful for people who worry that disagreement is unpleasant and hostile. Maybe you could get a couple of Marshall Rosenberg’s cds on nonviolent communication and maybe he’d listen to them.

      Re-reading your email, you do spend a lot of time together. Perhaps, while you’re still living together, I would back off a bit and spend more time doing your own thing. This might allow him to miss you more. Avoid be controlling or reactive. I would advise being being friendly but less available. Give him space to develop opinions as well as desire for you. There’s no guarantee about the future. Yet it does sound as though you have a good relationship, but he needs to have the space to find out what he wants.

      There is always the chance that something completely different going on, ie, that he has met someone else but isn’t telling you. I don’t want you to be unnecessarily suspicious or worried, but keep your eyes open just in case. In any case, I still would recommend respecting his differing opinions being reactive or controlling, and being less available while still warm.

      let me know what happens. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  74. Annise

    Dr. Paulsen,

    Greetings. I am currently married but separated. We have been married for 12 years but we have recently been separated for 2 months now. We only have one child, a 5 year old boy. We separated because I could tell he was not happy and he asked for time and space from the marriage to sort his feelings out and get some mental space. We both agreed to a temporary separation.

    Our marriage hasn’t been the best due to my childish ways of dealing with my emotions and I think this has worn on him over the years. I have in the past been very angry with my husband because of his distance and isolation and lack of intimacy with me. After reading your website I see we have the pursuer vs distancer relationship. I have abandonment issues from childhood that I had no idea I had until this situation happened. I am having a very hard time because all of my fears are now coming true: I am now alone, my husband and best friend is now gone and it’s just me and our 5 year old son. I’ve been trying to be strong and show him I’ve changed but his heart is so cold and he’s also stated he is no longer in love with me…..in fact he says he hasn’t been for years now. I didn’t know this. I thought we were fine. So this feels like a truck has just hit me. I did ask if it is another woman and he says it is not. He just feels tired and overwhelmed from work, me and our son. He feels he has lost himself in this marriage.

    Soo. Now I am trying to get myself together to show up differently. I want him to come back home and I want to try one more time. He doesn’t want to do counseling so I’ve been reading books, and going to therapy to help me get myself together. He says he can tell I’ve changed. What I am having a hard time doing is how to act when he comes over. He comes over every day to see our son and to see me, but after a few hours of his visit he goes to a space he’s renting at night. I know time is on my side, but I just don’t know what to do to soften his heart and get him to come back home. I sometimes write him letters or give cards. I do not cry or beg, but I can tell he’s very uncomfortable around me. He will leave if I start talking about the relationship. I don’t want us to divorce. I feel so much pressure to get him to fall in love with me again and come home. Please help.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m so sorry about the pain and suffering you are experiencing. This is definitely one of the most difficult things someone can go through. But you do sound strong and willing to work to transform parts or you that may be a little one-sided.

      If you want my specific advice, here it is: I would be kind and courteous to your husband when he comes over but not inquisitive; I would not bring up the relationship; I would leave for part of his visit, or go to the other room and work on the computer or make a phone call, so that it isn’t clear that you need to be with him every single moment he’s there; don’t do too much for him while still being respectful. In fact, I would make plans when he comes over, at least half the time–go to the market, see a friend, take a bike ride. He will never desire you if you are clearly always wanting to be with him. But have a respectful, positive attitude. Desire requires not knowing that you can snap your fingers and the other person will come running.

      For yourself, and to enhance the possibility of desire from him, try to make your life more multifacted even if you feel sad and alone. Work, volunteer, make an effort to see friends and not talk about your marriage and separation. See funny movies, read interesting books, take up a new sport. This may all sound as though I think you should distract yourself. In part it is healthy to distract yourself from obsessive thinking, which is bound to occur when you are experiencing the loss and pain of separation. However, the main purpose is to bolster or reactivate parts of yourself OTHER than the part that is needy and clingy and will push your husband away. I’m not suggesting a false cheeriness. But I am suggesting an attitude that combines dignity with an openness to what life still has to offer you. That kind of attitude is life-sustaining, and by the way is more attractive than if you spend all of his visits with him.

      In the future, have the will power to resist plying open someone who is closed and distance, because pushing for closeness only backfires. In a way, we all have to learn that no one can provide for us what we must provide for ourselves, whether that’s constant or deep connection or validation. It’s only when we no longer seek it from others that we are lucky enough to receive it from others on occasion.

      Good luck and let me know how the visits go and how you decide to spend your time when he visits.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Also, think of what a burden it might have been for him to feel that he was always disappointing you and making you angry. He wouldn’t feel self-empowered or full of desire when you are never satisfied with what he has to offer. Ironically, the more you need from him, the less empowered he feels. Instead, he feels overwhelmed and drained.

      If you become more independent emotionally and less always there in his space, and if you respect him as he is, he will feel better about himself in your presence. Act as though you are two people fortunate to be able to cross paths, without any need to change each other.

      Reply
      1. Anissa

        Thank you Dr. Paulsen!

        I will follow your advice. I will also follow up in a few months to let you know how things turned out. I purchased your book today for kindle so I look forward to learning more.

        One more thing: I never looked at my marriage that he felt burdened and fustrated trying to a good husband. Now that I look back that is exactly what he was dealing with. I took him for granted and I was very selfish. This makes me feel so bad and I’ve told him I am very sorry for being this way to him.

        After experiencing this separation now I feel like I’ve come out of being underwater and now I can see, breathe and hear my husband. THANK YOU!!

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi again,

          If you were married for 12 years, nothing is all one person’s fault. It is a two-way dynamic. There was something about him that was drawn to you as a pursuer, and something else that perhaps triggered your anger. For instance, it would have been nice if very early on he could have talked to you in such a way that you would have listened and heard him. But he probably simply blamed himself for being inadequate. Or it would have been nice if he had been able to connect with you on a deeper level so that you would not have felt so needy or angry. Yet he may have been incapable for one reason or another.

          Everyone who risks being in relationship experiences frustration and hopefully learns how to improve relationships. Relationships are one of the fundamental ways we learn about ourselves and what we need to do to become more whole. Many people prefer to live more constricted and miserable lives rather than look at themselves and see how they can improve. But if you have the ego strength to be accountable for your part in the relationship, then you have a great opportunity to improve your life. I have seen couples who separate and even break up, change for the better, and get back together with a much better relationship. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get back together. Whether or not you do, if you can learn to be more self-contained, your relationship with him, with your son, and with others in your life will be more fulfilling.

          Take care.

          Alison

          Reply
  75. alex

    Hello,
    So to start off. I want to say I am the Persuer and a 34 yr old male. We were together for 6 years and have a child that is 5 now my ex is 31. We have been separated for 1 year and have tried to connect again twice. The problem is I pursue and do all to make her happy. I have learned a lot from this and have figured out that she was “distance” but then trust became and issue. Not that I don’t trust her but I just had the thoughts that what if she is with someone else and me just being stung along. Or that I am only good until someone else comes along. Thats what I have felt when things where ok then we became intimate and it went back to bad. So I felt it was sex or my appearance, etc. I had asked her and she said its none of that and that I just lack passion.
    So after all this searching and coming across your site, I was amazed that I found out what I was possibly doing wrong. I’m not sure if it is to late now. She’s graduating college which i was part of and not invited now., This last time things were ok but right before christmas we got intimate again and throughout the next week, she became distant. An ex came into the picture that weekend and I confronted her but she said they where just friends and to believe her that there was nothing there. She has asked for space and does not contact me unless I contact her.
    Issue is I can’t fully not contact her because we have a child that we split custody. I am looking for some insite to repair this if even possible. I have learned from all this and your site. What should I do to fix things ?
    We had a talk when she asked for space, so I asked what she even liked about me. She likes that I help her out around the house, am a good father to our child and that I’m attractive. She said she cares and loves me but were was the passion.
    I’m lost and would love to fix it… please help with anything ….
    Thank you,
    Alex

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your question. I think it might be beneficial to read my articles on the “pleaser and receiver” https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/personality-traits/pleaser-and-receiver/ and some various articles I have written on “helping too much,” “accommodating” and “desire”. You can insert those tags into the search request on my blog.

      Your last paragraph reveals the picture fairly clearly, and it is nothing to be ashamed about. You are helpful, a good father, responsible (I assume), and caring. You said at the beginning that you do all you can to make her happy and to pursue her. She loves you. So that is not the problem. These are all positive traits, unless they become excessive or one-sided, which it looks as though they have.

      She says she lacks passion for you. If you want to be together, it sounds as though you would want her to desire you, to want you, to feel passion for you. Desire is less likely to occur for someone who is too parental, caring and pursuing. This doesn’t mean that you should become uncaring and cold. It means that you have to become more independent emotionally, and not there for her completely no matter what. You are not doing yourself or her a favor by always trying to please her and make her happy. Ever notice how the guys that all the girls like (in the movies anyway) are somewhat selfish? I’m not suggesting that you become a selfish jerk, but there is something attractive about a guy (or a girl) who has his own interests in mind and doesn’t risk becoming a doormat. Being considerate, loving, and responsible are very important in long-term relationships. But to keep the spark of desire alive as well, you need to be able to be more independent, and avoid being needy, parental, or too accommodating.

      So in your situation, I would suggest being respectful and courteous as usual when you meet or talk on the phone about your child. I would suggest not lingering on the phone, hoping for more engagement with her, or trying to go out with her. Absolutely let her make the next move, and if she ever does, perhaps don’t accommodate her desire to talk more or see each other more right away. She will probably become intrigued. This is not a game that I’m suggesting. It’s a matter of self-respect and it’s a gift to her (if it’s not too late) to allow mutual desire to develop. If you’re always there when she wants you, desire will never develop. Even if your relationship doesn’t re-ignite, other new relationships will benefit from your not doing all the pursuing and accommodation. So, pursue other interests, activities, and friends to keep you more engaged and less focused on her. It makes a person more attractive when they are passionate about other things, and when they are busy.

      The thing that is hard to get past is the praise you probably receive for being kind and thoughtful. Positive responses for being a giving person tend to increase a person’s efforts to be giving. However, unless there is mutuality, increased pleasing and giving will cause the other person to lose desire.

      I think that sex and intimacy simply reflect the other dynamics going on in the relationship. If you do have intimate relationships with her again or someone else, balance your desire to please with an ability to receive and experience your own pleasure and say what you like, etc. That will actually enhance the desire of the other person for you. Don’t only focus on pleasing the other person. Owning your own pleasure, desires and enjoyment is contagious.

      The most difficult thing for you that would help your chances of re-igniting your relationship with her or having a new mutually passionate relationship with someone else is to NOT be focused on getting her back.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  76. Brian

    Dr. Paulsen,

    we met up last night and she further addressed the things that she would like to see in me change (ie. personal past issues that have arisen… I begin therapy soon, attending local group therapy currently, and have began looking for apartments and townhouses around my college campus).

    Our relationship is quite steady actually (a healthy amount of compromise, a great deal of understanding for each other’s needs and wants, open communication, affection is there, along with passion and emotion). She has been concerned, though, about my family issues and those dynamics that have played into our relationship. My dad left the family during my third stage of child development (3-6: initiative or self-guilt). He was an authoritarian parent who placed guilt of his own short-comings on others instead of taking responsibility for what happened that he could control. His sense of punishment was via physical punishment that others would consider to be child abuse to today’s standards. My mother’s parenting style bordered neglectful and authoritative (there were boundaries established and rules, but were hardly enforced). Those issues were never resolved and I have a sense of still being in that stage of development (initiative or self-guilt), but have worked through the other stages as they came (and arguably, that stage of development has affected the other stages of development as they came up). I fully understand that this page/blog is geared towards the relationship, but since the relationship involves two egos (by Freudian terms, two selves) to interact, the emotional baggage of a self may be a detriment to the relationship altogether. From her perspective, those issues need to be addressed before our relationship can further into something bigger than what it is as of current.

    As of lately, I began to look into New Age Spirituality to aid me on solving those issues that I’m having and that have impacted the relationship that I have with my girlfriend. I began to look at the Karmic lessons that I’m supposed to learn from my parents and to further it, to look at the karmic lessons I learned from my grandparents. I noticed that I gave too much of myself to others and other things that I never maintained myself (extra hours at work to the point of 80-90 hour a week, helping other people through their issues, etc.) which was the karmic lesson that I learned from my mom and from her parents. I noticed that I never gained an appreciation of myself through out that whole period as well or even self-respect or acknowledgment of my accomplishments (even attending the NMUN conference in New York). I learned the karmic lesson from my dad quite well, which was to take responsibility for actions and to not be a complete authoritarian about everything in life, to be as Bruce Lee once said “be like water”, but a lesson that I learned from my dad was to take ownership of my actions (something he never did), which includes my accomplishments as of yet (first in my family to attend a four year university and to even aim at a JD or LLM/MBA and that means a lot for the great-grandson of a Turkish immigrant; I spent time at the UN, people have considered me to be a person of high integrity and extremely intelligent due to language aptitude, hard working, and diligent).

    I might have found a solution to my own problems and how they interact within my own relationship with my girlfriend. I also feel like I’m on the right path to finding resolve to those issues in order to foster for a growing relationship with the woman whom I love.

    Regards,

    Brian

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Brian,

      You sure are making a lot of efforts to becoming a more whole human being, and I applaud you for that. It is quite a challenge to come from a family with two parents as you describe them. I suppose one thing to beware of is going to the other extreme–that is, taking too much responsibility, or trying to prove your self-worth (working 80 hours a week) since your parents unfortunately weren’t able to give you a parental relationship that fosters feelings of self-worth.

      I am still not sure what the issues are between you and your girlfriend, that is, how the issues of your past have played out in your relationship. Do you lose your temper with your girlfriend? Do you feel insecure? Are you doing everything for her and engulfing her?

      But I’ll address some of things that you have said. First, I do believe the best way to grow is through interaction with the world and in relationship, balanced with some solitude and pursuit of your own interests. It is quite possible to work on yourself for years without having any deep relationships and think you are developing, and then find that you have not developed much when it comes to relationship. It is through practice engaging other people, experiences, mistakes and adjustments that we learn to improve ourselves and our relationships. So while it might be appropriate for you and your girlfriend to take a break, don’t assume that you can work on yourself and then get back together and everything will be different. You need to practice your reactions and interactions with people that you care about in real life. To improve relationships you need a lot of thought about how to change your reactions, and then you need a lot of practice to ingrain the new habits. Balancing togetherness and separateness is a good way to do this, because the time apart gives you some space to see things a bit more objectively and then think about how you want to adjust the relationship and your reactions. Yet, too much separateness doesn’t allow you to interact, react, and then think about what you want to adjust.

      Anyone who has worked 80-90 hours a week (or even 60-70) helping others has a tendency to help others at the expense of his or herself. This is a tendency that you will have to continue to beware of. If you ever get a chance to work with a voice dialogue facilitator, that is wonderful transformative work.

      Good luck. Alison

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Dr. Paulsen,

        Thanks. We still interact with each other. I’m currently working on my issues (Therapy, group therapy sessions as well, along with having more time to play music along with doing things that I want to do for myself). Our togetherness and our separateness are evenly balanced as well, which is a good thing. We spend time together and then time apart. It affords me the opportunity to react and to interact with with her, and it also affords us the time to work on ourselves. I also haven’t limited myself to being a hermit either. I’m actually in the middle of planning a weekend trip to go ice climbing up north.

        My past issues have affected my self-worth immensely, which has left me feeling insecure at times. I have never lost my temper at her and have never belittled her to make her feel inferior to me.

        My dad and I (after a rocky relationship) have started working together to pursue a hop farm, which I can see as a way to better the relationship between my dad and me. I’ve also started managing a community garden around my hometown, which has become a meditative thing for me (gardening is seriously cheaper than therapy, plus you get tomatoes out of the whole deal).

        I’ve cut back on hours at work by far since I left that place of employment. Believe me, I feel a lot better since I left it (the weight of the restaurant is now off of my shoulders) and now I have time for myself. I’ve also struck a balance between work and college, which has benefitted me while I have started working on myself from a long hiatus away from myself.

        Regards,

        Brian

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Brian,
          This all sounds excellent, especially for someone so young–gardening, ice climbing, balancing relationship, work, and your own interests, being open to the possibility of improving your relationship with your dad. I’m not sure how I could help. I wish you the best of luck!
          Alison

          Reply
  77. Nancy

    Hi Dr. Paulsen,

    We are ready to move forward with distance sessions with you. I have group Skype capability and either of us has 3 way calling on our phones. It seems like Skype would be the closest thing to sitting down together in the same room…

    Looking forward to getting on your calendar, learning your rates and moving forward!

    With healthy regards (and best wishes for a Happy New Year),

    Reply
  78. Anon

    Dear Allison,
    I have never reached out for advice like this before, but I am completely conflicted, and don’t know how to respond to a messy situation.
    I was with my ex fiance for 5 years. We never stopped having our first break basically and lived with each other since day 1. He soon asked me to marry him. I accepted. We seemed absolutely sympa in every way – completely intellectually, politically, enthusiasms, humour all compatible. Then there was a reason the wedding didn’t happen. Five further proposals ensued but none of them came to anything. In the meantime he had several online affairs, alternated affection with contempt, lost his temper with me in a number of ways. He financially supported me, I looked after him, put all my part time earnings into the house, looked after his daughter, supported him through court cases – anger issues/false accusation. Now, I have a problem with listening and fly off the handle pretty easily, but he lectured me constantly to try to force me to change myself in pretty much every way. He also sabotaged my friendships, and after a family member died this year and I had a massive cancer scare acted obnoxious and refused to talk about marriage again, so I walked out. I returned later but he shut me out – it was all my fault, his behaviour wasn’t addressed at all – so we separated at the beginning of this month. The problem is that I, a well educated and intelligent, miss him like hell and don’t seem to be able to break the habit of contacting him. What on earth do I do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      It sounds like your ex-fiancé is quite narcissistic. Please read my articles and others like those of Sam Vaknin on my site on narcissism. Everything you say about him fits perfectly, from the wonderful beginning of the relationship to the proposals, the online affairs, which feed his need for validation and praise, to the contempt, accusations, sabotaging your friendships, and lack of empathy.

      It is natural to miss someone you have been emotionally involved with for so long. But you will miss him less after the first three months of no contact, and then after a year, things will be much easier. It is critical that you stay away and waste no more time of your precious life with someone like that. He will be able to charm you again as that is a narcissist’s greatest gift. It is up to you to avoid becoming weak. Over time, it will become easier.

      Remember that in a good relationship, the number one thing partners want for each other is that they thrive and are happy. You can find someone who embraces your friends, who cares for you, who feels sad for you when a family member dies, who never (or hardly ever!!) shows contempt toward you. Contempt is the worst thing for a relationship. It also erodes a person’s self-respect, which will make it harder for that person to stand up and leave an abusive person. Ongoing contempt is abusive.

      Pretend you have decided to quit smoking. After a year, you will be preaching to smokers the dangers of smoking. But during that year, you’ve got to be strong and decide flatly that you will not smoke again. You simply have to use your will power to avoid smoking. You can make it a bit easier by avoiding places with smoking and people who smoke, and you can buy lots of gum, but it will still take will power and keeping at the forefront of your mind the better alternative life you will have without smoking.

      Similarly, you simply have to decide to avoid this man who has treated you terribly, and by the way, is extremely likely to get worse. You can make it a bit easier by keeping busy with positive friends and family. If you can afford it, travel is a great way to free yourself of old habits. But it will take will power for you to avoid contacting him, and it helps to keep at the forefront of your mind the fact that in good relationships partners LOVE each other and SUPPORT each other and are KIND to each other and want the other to be HAPPY!

      If you continue to contact him, you are selling yourself short. Yes, it’s difficult and painful, but you can avoid sabotaging yourself by giving into your feelings of loneliness. Good luck! Please let me know how it goes.

      Let me know how it goes. Here’s my article on narcissism: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/personality-traits/narcissism/

      Reply
  79. Brian

    Allison,

    My girlfriend and I have decided to take space and time apart to work on ourselves and to relax from the stresses of the holidays. I, myself am a college student and she has her post-graduate degree. During finals, she brought up the issue that she needed time and space to re-evaluate our relationship, for us to work on ourselves, and to come back to see where we want to go from there. There was not an argument about it and I complied and respectfully voiced my thoughts and opinions towards it (I didn’t lash out emotionally and I solely agreed to a separation phase to aid us in sorting out our personal issues). I was then reassured that it was not an end to our relationship, but putting it on hold while we sort our some of our own personal issues, re-evaluate our relationship, and to see where we want to go from there. We also agreed that we could still see each other, fidelity still is respected, and we could also continue to communicate with each other. In the event that a continuance of our relationship is to exist, we also agreed that a gradual moving back in phase would be necessary in order for her to readjust to us living together and to establish ground rules that were not established with which to begin. We’ve been together for a year now and have only lived together for a few months. She is more introverted than I am and our relationship has been great with a few minor arguments.
    I am solely asking for sound advice on this issue and what would be a healthy way of dealing with it.
    Best regards,
    Brian

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Brian,

      That’s mature of you not to lash out about your girlfriend’s desire to step back and re-evaluate your relationship. It’s not helpful to attack or lash out.

      It would be helpful to know what was going on that wasn’t ideal while you were living together. Do you know why she wants to take time and space apart from you? If you don’t know why, then I would say that it’s important for you two to be able to talk openly about what is not working in the relationship. No relationship is perfect. So one of the key ingredients in a long-term relationship is being able to be honest (while diplomatic) about changes you would like to see and boundaries that need setting. If people are too polite and worried about hurting each others’ feelings by saying things like “I just need some space to evaluate the relationship,” then a long-term intimate relationship will not work. You need to be able to be frank about difficult issues. While blame and attacking are counter-productive, honest expression of your needs and desires in a relationship is key. You say she is introverted. That’s fine, but is she able to talk to you openly and honestly?

      Another question that you might ask yourself is whether your girlfriend is calling all the shots and you are handing over all the control of the relationship. In other words, ask yourself how you truly feel about her wanting to separate yet wanting to keep her options open by saying you will both be faithful to each other and might get back together… unless of course she decides not to. Notice she reassured you, which assumes that you will be there waiting for her. Are you still boyfriend and girlfriend? Or is she trying to have it both ways–keeping you waiting for her, while she decides what she really wants.

      If all this is her decision, and you are not clearly together, I would keep your life engaged, and avoid sitting around waiting for her to decide whether she can do better. It’s actually always good to keep your life engaged, even if you are living together or married.

      I don’t know enough details, but if you get the feeling that she is backing away and not being totally clear and honest with you about her reasons, I would make sure you do not pursue her too avidly, which would push her away more. Give her space and maintain other friendships and social activities.

      Thanks for writing in. Good luck. If you’d like to give me a few more details, that would help.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Allison,

        We openly communicate with each other about boundaries that need to be set (she needs her space.. I give it to her without any questions or hesitation). We also both know and
        Actively communicate openly about things (how we feel about each other, our relationship, etc).

        She also knows that the ball is in my court, per se. She told me that if I wanted to date other people, I’m more than welcome to do such. I haven’t done so because I feel like it isn’t in my best interests and in the best interests of our relationship.

        As of lately, there isn’t a sense of losing one another (we still see each other and I’ll spend the night from time to time with her). Our relationship semantics have changed from
        If to when she’s ready for us to live together. I’ve actively focused on my issues and still value the relationship that I have with her.

        Regards,

        Brian

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I’m glad to hear that. I’m not sure then what advice you’d like to get from me without my knowing what the issues are. If you’d like to give me an example of a relationship dynamic you have or an challenging issue, I’d be happy to give you my opinion.
          All the best.

          Reply
  80. taylor

    I too would b interested in doing a skype session, except I’m the opposite. I am a pursuer, though I see my self as purser light. I’m the opposite of the woman above. my and my ex were together 7 yrs, and did break up.I have never really recovered. And even though she has dated, none have been as long or as deep as the relationship she had with me. And everyone still believes we really belong with each other. we recently went out a few times after being apart 6 yrs, and lol got people walking up to us at dinner commenting on how well we looked together. I want her back. I just dont know how to do it.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I recently started doing skype sessions and they are surprisingly similar to face to face sessions, much better than phone sessions.

      A good long-term relationship has to be mutual and reciprocal. It can’t be pursued at all costs by one person. Learning to have the patience to wait for the other person to develop some desire for you is very important. You can make some moves, as long as you are not making all the moves.

      Why did you break up? What was the problem before?

      Unfortunately, if you didn’t recover from the breakup 7 years ago, even if you do get back together, your ex will carry the power over your happiness. It’s important to be able to back away if you are not being treated with mutual respect. It’s critical for there to be some balance in efforts to be together. With a distancer, this is best accomplished by learning patience and keeping your thoughts and time occupied with other pursuits on a regular basis. Do not allow yourself to become obsessed with her.

      From the little that you have written, it seems that the best approach would be to start dating a bit, but don’t ask for a commitment or for her thoughts about the future together. Focus on having fun, and also on maintaining plenty of time apart. If you have always been the pursuer, I would suggest allowing there to be a bit more mystery. I don’t mean game-playing hard to get. Yet, don’t be too eager. You really have to leave enough space and time between your moments together so that she can develop desire for you. Otherwise you will fall into the same pattern as before.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  81. Anonymous

    Hi Alison,

    I have recently come across your work and I am simultaneously in a tumultuous breakup of an eight year relationship. (He is a Pursuer and I am a
    Distancer). We love each other very very much.

    I have felt a relentless undercurrent for 3 years or more, that our relationship drains the energy I need to pursue my career dreams. I have finally put a stake in the ground over that, but am having a Guilt-fest and feel generally miserable (it goes without saying that he is also in misery).

    Without writing all the dynamics here, I’d like to know if you have a private counseling practice? If so, where are you located or even better, would it be possible to participate via Skype? We have talked about counseling many times before, but never act on it.

    I am not convinced that I wouldn’t be best served by letting go and allowing new and different energies into my life and breaking up is the first step on that journey. Is it pain, fear and guilt calling me backward? I KNOW, we can eventually improve our relations, but I am not sure the cost is worth it (so MUCH energy toward the relationship will once more, potentiate my career sacrifice). That thought, in and of itself is very draining.

    Can we work with you in person or via Skype?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      I live in Ketchum, Idaho. I do have a counseling practice, but could do something over skype, although I have not done that before.

      I am curious as to what happened around three years ago to cause your relationship to become draining. Can you think of any changes around that time? Why does your relationship involve sacrificing your career potential? Why does the relationship take so much energy? Are you spending a lot of time disagreeing about some issue, or what exactly?

      Also, do you happen to live near Seattle? Whether or not you stay together, in addition to counseling, I highly recommend going to a John Gottman’s couples workshop. Here is the schedule: http://www.gottman.com/events/

      Talk to you soon.

      Reply
  82. kourtney

    Dear Allison,
    I am happily married to my husband for three years. We are living with my in-laws and my brother-in-law(bil) and his wife. I am having problems with my bil and his wife and my in-laws.
    My bil and his wife were married a year ago. They are both very competitive and aggressive. My bil’s wife compares everything with me and tries to do everything better than me. If I buy a good-looking dress, she buys something similar to it with better accessories and tries to show it off to me. She even competes with me for the number of Facebook friends and the number of likes for photos. And she has her husband to back her up for all the activities. I know that they are being immature and their behavior didn’t affect me at first. But now its really bothering me to the point that I hold back on certain things like making purchases or working on a new idea or a project because I feel that both my bil and his wife will compete with me and it gives me anxiety.
    My in-laws blindly favor their second daughter-in-law which is my bil’s wife. They compare her with me and say things like she is more prettier than me and that she is their favorite. She has not done a single house-chore till now and gets away with it everytime saying that she still needs time to settle down in the new house(Although when I got married I had to start cooking from day one). I feel like I am not being treated fair.
    I have discussed this situation with my husband but he just replies saying that I should be the bigger person and not mind such things because I am the older one (Although my bil’s wife is only 3 years younger than me).
    I feel anxious all the time. Please advice and thank you in-advance for going through my post.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      My advice to you is to plan to move out as soon as possible. However, I would be careful not make a scene with your husband or anyone in the family about this because they will simply use that to further criticize you.

      I cannot imagine living with a mother-in-law who would say the things you mentioned. Yes, I agree with your husband to be the bigger person and ignore all of these mean-spirited comments and competitiveness. If you show that you feel hurt, you will simply fan the flames. The best thing would be to laugh, not in a mean sarcastic way, but simply in a good hearted way.

      If I were you I would find outside work, outside friends, and engage in the family dynamics less, while still being respectful and polite.

      This is about you and your husband, not so much about you and the rest of the family. As long as you are living in your in-laws house, they have power over you, and they certainly aren’t the people I’d like to live with.

      I would find a way to make it financially feasible to move out, even into the smallest of studios, to regain your peace and tranquility. You will need to speak to your husband in private in a positive, self-empowered way. Something like, “I care for your family, but our relationship and our lives will thrive if we live on our own. It’s very important to me. I’d feel much happier living with you alone in a small studio. Let’s make a plan. And I’d like to ask you not to bring your family into this decision. It’s between us and about us.”

      Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  83. Anonymous

    Hi Allison,
    I like your blog and enjoy your advice. I would very much like your advice with the problem that I am facing. I am a very open person and I share all my information with my husband. However my husband is the opposite and he feels that its not necessary to tell me all the things. He only shares the information when I ask about it. I feel violated and hurt. I feel like giving him too much and not receiving anything from him. Please help me.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. This is an interesting and not uncommon situation. First of all, I wouldn’t feel hurt by his being much less open than you. I’m sure there are good reasons for it. For instance, he may have grown up in a family where you don’t talk about feelings because it’s seen as weak, or he may be more of a man of action or responsibility and not a man of words and ideas. When you’re not raised to talk a lot, it’s awkward to suddenly change.

      Often people who are very open are attracted to people who talk less and vice versa. They both need to develop some of the other person’s qualities. There is something appealing about each way of being. And each opposite can also become unattractive, if too extreme and excessive. The problem is that if you try to pry him with questions and if he senses that you are never feel satisfied with him, he may clam up even more.

      To avoid polarizing it may be helpful if you let him know that you enjoy it when he talks, or ask him questions but try not to show disappointment, and always crave more. Also consider whether you could be a little less open and talk a little less. It doesn’t hurt to maintain a little mystery. Of course, I don’t know you, but consider whether your husband or others think you talk too much. (I may be completely on the wrong track here, so forgive me if I am.) But desire comes from the imagination, and when someone is always around and saying everything he or she thinks, that desire tends to diminish.

      Also find other people to talk to more. No one person has all the qualities you may find desirable.

      If I’m on the wrong track, let me know a few more details, and I’ll try to respond.

      One question I’d like to ask you is what initially attracting you to your husband?

      Best, Alison

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Dear Allison,
        Thank you for the helpful information. My husband says that I smile a lot and I am very amiable and that’s what attracted him to me. I felt that my husband was strong and stable and I liked those qualities in him.
        My in-laws are very reserved and conservative on the other hand my parents are very out-going and forth coming. So that might explain my husbands and my behavior.
        Now I would like to take steps to be to be less open so that I might not feel so vulnerable. Can you give me any advice? Thanks.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Sounds very nice and familiar. Did you ever see “My big fat Greek Wedding”? I’m sure your family’s very different, but the theme’s similar.

          You don’t need to change who you are. Maybe just make sure you resist being open about everything all the time if you tend to be that way. More importantly, try to appreciate your husband’s good qualities and try not to change him, criticize him, or feel hurt by him. Over time, attempts to change a person, criticism, and disappointment makes a person feel inadequate and tends to bring out the worst in him and the relationship. It’s sad to see relationships that start out well disintegrate because we want the other person to become more like us.

          If you like, compliment him or show appreciation when he does talk or open up. But don’t be too manipulative about it. Over time, through love and appreciation, he will probably open up a bit, but it’s unlikely that he’ll change fundamentally.

          Strong and stable are two wonderful qualities for a person to have to make a relationship successful in the long-term. In contrast, some men who are very charming and loquacious can be less dependable and stable for long-term relationships.

          Please let me know how it goes, or if you have more specific questions.

          Alison

          Reply
  84. Jeni

    Dear Alison, I really enjoy your blogs and your practical advice . I wonder if you could suggest how I can deal with my 83 year old father. I have got to the point now ( im 50) that i just feel i cannot handle even a phone call from him let alone see him in person. I keep telling myself im being silly but every time i have any contact it upsets me so much i get very anxious and cant sleep. Ever since i can remember he was always criticising me and upsetting me. As a child he would rage at me a lot and hit me, i dont remember anyone else protecting me like my mum and i dont remember him hitting my sister or mum or shouting and raging at them so i feel v confused and wonder why me? I dont think i was bruised or anything. He would just say i needed to be spanked in fact he denies he ever did anything bad. My sister gets angry when i try to say anything was less than perfect and my mum passed away a number of years ago. His health is deteriorating but he plays mind games where he tries to say hes really ill and sounds like hes dying on the phone. Theres no way i could ever look after him but hes under the impression i should be ( i live 50 miles away) and i know other people who havent seen this side of him think im hard and uncaring and i think he plays on this. I feel v guilty writing this down as i keep thinking maybe im being too dramatic as i am a sensitive person and many people of my generation had strict parents. Can you give me any advice? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear Jeni,

      In essence, your father was abusive and he’s continuing in that vein. You need to draw a boundary, not only with him but with your siblings and acquaintances.

      I think it’s time to set aside your guilt and listen to the part of you that has been manipulated and hurt, shouted and raged at, and physically hit. You must listen to that part of you that becomes anxious and can’t sleep after talking to your father. It is that guilt that is hurting you now.

      There are many reasons you could feel guilty that have nothing to do with what is best for you. For instance, you may have been brought up to be accommodating despite abuse. Moreover, being raised with constant criticism and being raged at would lead a person to grow up doubting her own value and her need to be respected. That is part of the vicious cycle of abuse. Once abused, you wonder whether you deserve it or whether you are over-reacting if you cut the abuser out of your life. That self-doubt makes you a target for further abuse — by your father, your sister, and even yourself.

      The problem is that your father was abusive and has related to you in a way that demeans you and makes you suffer, and he still is manipulative and selfish, never considering what is best for you. Unfortunately, when you have a parent who does not consider what is best for you, it is more difficult to learn to do it for yourself. Now is the time to do it.

      I think it is clear from what you say that you need to draw a boundary and drop the guilt. You could avoid all contact. Or if you like, you could send an occasional card, but only if you feel like it. If you want to, although it doesn’t sound like you do, you could make a phone call and be honest “Don’t suggest my taking care of you. As a young girl, I felt scared and anxious around you because you criticized me, shouted at me and hit me. As a result, I can’t bear being near you.”

      Whether you ever talk to your father again, make very limited contact, or confront him openly, I think the most important piece for you is to own the fact that you will not subject yourself to any more abuse from him or others, and that you don’t need your sister or others to understand and agree with you. If they ask you why you don’t visit him, you can say, “My experience with him was very different from yours,” and leave it at that. Don’t get into details because then you will be defending yourself, once more opening yourself up to manipulation, arguments, and judgments.

      Please let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Jeff,
      I’ll respond to your first email tomorrow. I’m not sure I can erase your last name so I won’t approve it. you could either send it again without your last name, or I’ll just respond without posting it.
      All the best, Until tomorrow,
      Alison

      Reply
  85. Mikeal Roderick

    Dear Alison,

    I have been involved with a 28 year old woman, I am 29, for about 8 months now. When I say involved, I mean intimate behavior, basically boyfriend/girlfriend but without the title. There is a reason behind that. My girl is 2 years removed from a divorce and moved to our current city to start a new life. She is a self proclaimed man hater and has all the qualities of Misandry. (Rocky relationships with Father, ex-spouse, boss, male co-workers etc…) When we first started dating she made it known that she would never marry again, didn’t plan on having children and didn’t want a boyfriend. When I say this is a woman scorned, you have no idea!! This is a woman who married at 20 to a high-school sweetheart. Married into a very strict religion built a life that she was heavily invested in and by 25 was divorced and crushed by what was supposed to be the marriage that lasted a lifetime. The cause of the divorce was due to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse that led to her losing her love for her husband. Fast forward back to me. I come in, basically sweep her off her feet. Show her there is a good guy left and have built something worth writing home about. I actually have. We have met family (her mom, my dad, her sister) but this relationship isn’t without conflict. Now I know that conflict is growth trying to happen and all that, but there seems to be a reacurring theme that rears it’s ugly hear every few week, days or months. There is no telling. It just happens. No matter how great things are going, she pulls away. Leaving me to pursue. Now i’m definately not the desperate type. I enjoy our time together as does she and we always have an awesome time just doing whatever. We share common interests in fitness, entertainment and food so there is no disconnect there. It just seems the closer we get, there is a pull away soon after. Then I have to assert my dominance and bring things back to “normal”. Now normally I wouldn’t work this hard, but the girl is worth it. She has obvious needs for attention and affection., She has told me she likes to be smothered. She also stated that I don’t give the amount of affection that she’s used to. (I’m working on it) I can be overly affectionate but it just seems too needy and I don’t want to project that. Right now we both have jobs that have simmilar schedules. On the weekdays, she works days as do I and the weekends she works nights. I also travel 2 hours for school twice a week so I stay out of town 2 nights a week. I have had this schedule for half of our relationship. Now remember this girl has told me that she dosen’t want a relationship. Now obviously we are in one and have been in one and she recognizes that so we both agreed that what she dosen’t want is a title. But that hasn’t stopped her from asking the “What are we” question several times. I usually just remind her that this is how she wants it to be and that placing titles would probably do more harm than good and she would just fight me anyway. Why mess up a good thing? I probably wouldn’t object to having a title, but I’m just not sure if she’s hinting to place a title or just trying to see where my heads at because I’m the only guy that doesn’t want to be her boyfriend. So where I’m asking advice is this. At least twice over the last week she has pulled away. The first time I went over to her place and we talked it over for two hours, let her man bash, listened to her problems, then we made up and it was fine. Currently she has pulled away again to “look at some things” which is the reason she has used since day 1. These little episodes usually last 1-2 days and then once I take control they subside. On this last episode I kinda don’t want to do anything, just let her be but that’s not the answer. It’s like one day she’s giving 110% and the next 10%. As for me, I’m pretty consistent. I know when to ramp it up, but now after reading you article on pursuit vs. distance I feel that pursuing may do more harm than good. Through this whole relationship I have used unorthodox methods of maintaining attraction that are not always by the book. I feel like normal ways of going about things just wouldn’t work in our case. So should I pull hard every time she pulls away? Or should I just let her flee. She’s so attention desperate and needy that she takes it personal when I’m not around or I don’t call for a day. I’m used to it after 8 months, but I just figured it would stop after a while. That she would eventually realize that I’m not out to hurt her. I only want the best. But it pushes me away when she pushes me away. I still have the desire to fight for what I want, but at what point does it become too much. I know she’s been through a lot and is a damaged woman but why do I feel like the emotional punching bag for a crime that I did not commit!!?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your comment. I think it’s important for you not to walk on eggshells in your relationship because your girlfriend has been a victim in the past. To do so continues to put her in a victim status. Perhaps she unconsciously likes sustaining her victim status because she is able to get a lot of attention that way. But believe me, no matter how wonderful she is, venting and man-hating is going to get old, unattractive, and depressing. So I wouldn’t encourage her to talk about how much she hates the men in her past. That is not going to help her become self-empowered. She should focus on how to improve her life and relationships–yes, with an eye toward repeating past mistakes. While couples should be able to talk about their feelings and their past, they also need to respect the other person and keep negative venting to a minimum.

      I notice in this longish email that you talk mostly about your girlfriend and her feelings. But notice in the last statement you say that you feel like an emotional punching bag for a crime you did not commit. I think part of the reason for that is that you seem to lay priority on her feelings over your own until her behavior becomes quite unreasonable. It’s wonderful to be considerate, but it’s also important to be in touch with your own feelings, and speak up when you are feeling overwhelmed, disrespected, or neglected. Otherwise, things will compound.

      The fact that you see yourself perhaps as more of the pursuer, or at least that you need to “assert your dominance” or take control in order to stop her from withdrawing, does not mean that the answer is for you is to distance, or to pull back and let her flee. I would suggest that you talk to her from a position of self-empowerment and honest vulnerability–it’s a key and difficult emotional stance, which requires that you are not pleading, whining, commanding, asserting your will or falling apart. Rather you say calmly, as you wrote to me, something like, “you pull away every couple of weeks and sometimes twice a week, and it surprises me and actually pushes me away. I don’t mind if you need more space, but I would really prefer it if you told me that you need some space and why. I care for you a lot, but it’s unnecessarily mysterious for you to withdraw without simply saying why. It would more respectful and make me feel better if you just say what you’re doing or what you want. I don’t want to be guessing.”

      You say she’s very attention desperate and needy. When she complains that you didn’t call, just calmly respond that you can’t call from work very much and that she shouldn’t take it personally, or something like that. Don’t get pulled into being defensive, reactive, or manipulated. Otherwise, the cycle of neediness, disappointment, and demands will only get worse. Maybe give her a couple of my articles on neediness and desire. It’s funny that you see yourself as more of the pursuer and yet she is the needy one. Often the pursuer is the needy one. Perhaps she is more of the pursuer but does so in a more covert way. I’m not sure.

      Good luck. Please let me know how it goes. Take care.

      Reply
      1. Mikeal Roderick

        Hi Allison,

        Things have been better. Maybe 2 pull aways since we last spoke, but they aren’t really pull aways like before. More like seond guessing if she wants to be i this relationship or not. Tonight she told me she is afraid of being in love with me and dosen’t think she can be what I deserve. She says she loves me and I love her, but her past issues are preventing her from “going all in” She hasn’t mentioned needing space or anything, rather time. I tried to talk about setting goals for our relationship and she almost packed her bags and left my house. ALL in all, we spent about 2 hours talking (she mostly cried) talking about feelings, emotions and whats holding her back. Nothing new since day 1, just the same old stuff. My anxiety level is increasing but I’m still ready to be here for her unconditionaly. I just don’t et the same vibe from her even though she may want to deep at heart. Advice?

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi Rod,

          It sounds as though you definitely want to be in a relationship with her. If that’s the case, then perhaps you could do as she asks and not put pressure on her and not set goals for the relationship at this point. Instead, see if you can spend some enjoyable time together, while also giving her time, which is another way of saying space in my view. If she feels pressured to decide where this relationship is going, she may back off. If instead you court her and spend some fun time together without overly pursuing her, then you can see where it will go.

          In order for her to have a chance to desire you, she needs a bit of space too. If she feels too much pressure and anxiety from you about the relationship, she is likely to back off.

          I know it’s hard to have patience. But it’s important to develop some patience for most good things.

          Good luck.

          Alison

          Reply
          1. Mikeal Roderick

            OMG it is like you are her or are reading her mind or can see this relationship or something. You couldn’t be more right!! This morning even after all the crying and reaching common ground and sleeping peacefully, she went off the deep end again this morning and we had a major breakdown. Oh yes, I forgot to also add to this equation her best friend Emma, who is like another boyfriend! she demands so much of her time 4-6 days a week), we do a lot of things together as a threesome, but even that was taking its toll when it stated to disconnect and turn into Three’s company! While i’m cool with Emma and she talks highly of me to my girl, she is also taking up a LOT of my girl’s time which is causing an internal conflict of my own. Emma is single and looking but is very picky. She is a naturally unhappy person, but my girl has turned her life around with her positive energy and active lifestyle. However, she also encourages a lot of clubbing, social events (which is fine and normal) and possibly is encouraging her to seek out other relationships. I’m not sure. Botom line is, I need to know if Emma is a problem or should I just allow her to have that social situation uninterrupted? Back to this morning, during the meltdown, my girl stormed off and then 10 mins later called and expressed that she doesn’t want any more serious talk for a while. She wants to just have fun an be “kids” from here on out and maybe revisit the serious talk down the road. To me that means, no more pressure to commit. Back off a bit..Make life fun….I agreed and we have reonciled and made plans for later in the day. Kinda what you were saying right? Have fun, b enjoyable and back down? But when I give space, like I did this past week because of work, we loose our connection and have to reboot when we see eachother again, Space to her is like a couple hours. If I stay away or go silent for a week, in her brain, I have abandoned her and then who knows what she would do that might wreck the relationship!!

          2. Alison Post author

            It sounds as though your girl is pretty emotionally volatile, which makes a long-term relationships difficult. The best thing you can do is to remain calm and not get too needy. I would enjoy her company but don’t pursue her too heavily.

            You said her friend Emma is almost like another boyfriend to her. That does happen in relationships, where one person almost becomes enamored with a new person or really involved in a new friendship almost as though it’s romantic, although it’s not. I would not try to control that. You are simply asking for trouble. That relationship will probably cool off a bit over time. By trying to control that, you are asking for her to become rebellious and you would be fostering a codependent, controlling and fused relationship, which doesn’t end well in the long term.

            What worries me is that you have to start walking on eggshells. She may not be mature enough or ready or desirous of a committed relationship. It shouldn’t be too difficult to have fun and not get too heavy, but there seems to be a lot of storming around going on.

            Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

          3. Mikeal Roderick

            Hi Allison,

            I’ve been taking your advice. Things just seem different. Some say it is in my head and that I’m just setting high expectations and added pressure on myself. Personally, I second guess and tend to deeply analyse everything. Every text, phone conversation…everything, trying to find a deeper meaning. My girl just took on mor responsibility at work and is now working days a week. I am doing my best to be supportive, but it is hard as it is tapping into our time together as well as leaving her more tired, stressed and just not as much in the overall happy state that she is normally in. I tend to take it personal, but should I really? Are these feeling directed toward me? Am I stressing her out? I have done my best to not be so heavy, give her space etc…It causes me anxiety but I’m dealing with it. I realize that we are in the midst of a schedule change and I am trying to figure out ways to deal with it. Not having as many off days to spend together and then feeling like I’m imposing to try to hang out when she gets off late and has to be up early AM for work in the morning is a little bit of a blow to my confidence. How much space is too much space? How much time away is too much time away? These are the questions that I deal with. Is working more a bad sign? Is she trying to distract herself or escape? Or maybe it’s not me at all and I just need to continue to be supportive. But when you haven’t seen someone in 4 days it makes you question things. We have some plans to hang today but I really have no idea what to do. I’m more of the fun outgoing type but should I be suggesting more relaxing things to do at home at this point.? So many things to ponder.

          4. Alison Post author

            Hi Rod,

            I’m sorry you are feeling so anxious and second guessing yourself. That is exhausting, and a relationship shouldn’t be so hard. Yet there are periods in life that are stressful, for instance, when one of you is working a lot or watching children, and is therefore tired, and that puts stress on a relationship. Yet relationships should be able to weather some stress. They’re not always romantic and fun. You have to be able to focus less on everything she says and does, and be able to give her more space for her to develop desire for you. There has to be some reciprocity. If you give her space and she doesn’t ever reach out to you, that may indicate that a relationship with her is too one-sided.

            Given the details you have given me, I don’t know whether your girlfriend is trying to back away from you or just tired from working hard. Either way, you will have a better chance of improving your relationship if you don’t push too hard, and if you are supportive.

            My feeling is that you are too focused on your girlfriend and that you need to find something you are passionate about–sports, some sort of skill, hobby, or new activity, or more work, so that you are not always focusing on her. It will also make you more interesting to her. She will either come to you more or not.

            Regarding what to do when you have plans together–something fun or more relaxed–simply ask her. Give her a choice. “What do you feel like doing today–this or that?”

            I know it’s hard, but try finding something interesting to focus more time on and really get into it, and let me know how it goes.

            Alison

  86. Lynn Serson

    Hi Alison,

    Excellent web site. Very informative. It reeks of my family of origin. My mother gives too much advice and my father is too inquisitive and the joking type (plus the food on the plate thing!) I realize now why I have attachment problems. Would you please give me some scenarios on how to respond to these situations. Thanks so much.
    Lynn Serson

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for writing. I just wondered how old you are roughly. I’m not sure which posts you were reading. So when you say “food on the plate,” do you mean the boundaries post where I talk about taking food off of someone’s plate? If so, I would sit as far away as possible for him. If he still reaches over, you could say, “Please ask me first.”

      I think I’ll write an article about responding to a parent who gives too much advice. I have experienced that as well from a well-meaning parent, and I have to resist the tendency to do that with my own kids. The important thing is to not get too reactive. Try to maintain compassion and a sense of humor, and simply change the subject, deflect, or gently say, “Mom, I know. And listen, when you give me so much advice, I tune out, I get defensive, and I don’t enjoy my time with you. Know that I am sensible and try to resist giving me advice. I’d rather make a few mistakes than keep getting advice that makes me defensive.” The problem is that you will have to repeat this speech over and over again. Over time, you could just shorten it to, “Mom, I know,” giving her a compassionate stern look, like “Come on now.” It’s all about tone of voice. When my mother offers me too much food, I start offering her food. “Do you want some more salad, vegetables…?” “No thank you, here let me get you some more salad, vegetables…” Turning the focus on her usually works. Maybe you could start giving your mom some advice.

      If you give me more precise scenarios, I could try to be more helpful. Thank you.

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Regarding your inquisitive dad, it’s normal for parents to want to connect with their kids. Sometimes asking questions is the way the make the attempt to connect with their kids. When someone is well-intentioned, you might feel better about yourself by finding a way to make that connection without having to answer questions that you don’t feel like answering. You could find a way to approach your dad first. Have a few questions ready for him. For example, ask him about his youth, early jobs, school, friends, difficulties, challenges, movies, books, where he got his political leanings etc. before he gets a chance to ask you too much. Or if he asks you something, give an answer without getting defensive but without getting personal, and then say, “What about you, Dad, when did you go on your first date?” Ask him how he learned to joke so much and you might even tell him that you also like it when he’s not joking. You could also disclose some information about yourself that you don’t mind disclosing before he starts asking you questions. Talk about an interesting but not so private event at school or work or in the news. If you make the effort to connect and converse on your terms, he may not be as interested in inquiring about private details in your life.

      On the other hand, if you are obviously keeping things completely private, that will provoke his interest. For instance, if you never mention anything about whom you’re dating, he will be more interested than if you give him just the basic information in a nonchalant tone of voice.

      Reply
  87. Mary

    What is a healthy and responsible way to “move on”?

    We just finished an extended-family vacation week that ended with the family being torn apart. I was the target of an abusive verbal attack that has my whole extended family reeling. The in-law who did it has no remorse. After many attempts, family members were unable to stop him. He has a serious problem that we all see much clearer now. We all travel together, extend holidays to be together, and love the closeness with the kids and adults. We have always “bitten our lips” when the abusive in-law goes off on his wife or young daughter, thinking of it as a personality trait we need to live with. But now I recognize that he is an abuser. And it isn’t acceptable when he attacks me or anyone else.

    He is unlikely to accept this about himself and get help so he has the skills to control himself. Which puts me in the onerous situation of continuing with the family events with the abuser or disconnecting with the family that we enjoy being with. I don’t want my kids to be around him and I don’t want to be either. We all know that things will never be the same and are mourning that. Now I need to figure out what our new normal is. How do we decide what is right and safe for our own family?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I believe it’s important–not only for yourself, but as a role-model to your children and to the abuser’s wife– to be able to have appropriate boundaries from someone who will attack you or others verbally. Pretending everything is okay only perpetuates the abuse. I think it’s important to leave and to take your children with you if he ever makes a verbal attack again against you or anyone else. I would not invite him or go on a family vacation with him; that is enabling behavior. Yes, there is a terrible loss of the family vacationing together, but such a vacation is at the expense of silently condoning corrosive and harmful behavior. I would continue to reach out to his wife, and let her know you are concerned for her wellbeing and that you are there for her if she ever needs you.

      This situation is different from one where someone is rude or grumpy and then apologizes. People aren’t perfect and they make mistakes. True verbal attacks, particularly if there is no immediate and sincere apology, are very destructive to everyone involved.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  88. Camille

    Hi Alison,

    I just read your article on pursuers and distancers. My girlfriend and I have been together for almost 4 months. It isn’t your average relationship either. She actually was dating a guy online who lived 3,000 miles away for 4 years. They never met. They both talked and agreed that it was ok for her to get a girlfriend for the physical and intimate needs. I came into the picture and within a month we both fell in love with each other. Long story short I saw red flags about him and started pointing them out. In the end he wasn’t the guy she thought he was, he used her for money which she would send to him (almost $6,000) and she ended it with him. She wants her money back and he actually is paying her back every 2 weeks. The problem is that she is going through the emotions of a break up – I get that they were in a relationship with each other for 4 years and so yes it will be emotional. Im a pursuer where she is a distancer. After they broke up she seemed more distant and the amount of intimacy between us has faded. She says it is because of their break up and that she is over the hurt part, but now its the attachment part that she is working through. They still text message each other, she says it is to be civil so she can get her money back, however i’ve seen some of the messages and she told him she thinks she is in denial and that its hard for her to not talk to him everyday like before. There was 4 days where he didn’t message her once and then i saw that he did on the 5th day. I wanted to see if she would be truthful to me so i asked her how long its been since she had heard from him and she said ” like 4 or 5 days”. I just don’t understand why she would lie. I confronted her by saying ” You don’t have to lie to me” and before giving her a chance to respond, i walked off. A few minutes later we had to walk into the movie theater and i just acted normal, instead of pressing her or nagging her about it. I’m trying to stay positive. I know I can be insecure at times, I just don’t know how to work through this. I wish I knew how long it’ll take her to move on so we can start reconnecting again intimately. Also we did move in together a week after they broke up. the first 2 weeks she was very angry and would talk about making his life a living hell and she seemed very angry and hurt. Now they obviously talk, sometimes like they’re friends. Any advice would be very helpful. 🙂

    Thank you,

    Camille

    Reply
  89. Jezra Kaye

    Alison, I’d like your permission to reprint a paragraph from one of your posts (with a link to the post) in my upcoming book on job interview skills. Here’s how it would appear:

    FEAR CAN MAKE YOUR INTERVIEW GO BETTER!

    Here’s how psychologist Alison Poulsen, PhD. explains it in her excellent blog post on performance anxiety:

    “Think of how little anxiety you experience when you are sitting comfortably on your couch at home watching TV. Now imagine that you are going to perform a concert, give a speech, compete in a tournament, or go on a date. Would you want to be as stress-free as you are in front of the TV? Or would a totally relaxed, lackadaisical attitude hurt you?”

    In other words, fear can sharpen your preparation, your practice, and your focus during an interview, which is a good thing.

    Reply
  90. Jay

    My partner broke up with me about two months ago. Recently I learned about the pursuer/distancer dynamic, and in retrospect, this is exactly our relationship. I pursued too hard because of my own insecurities and anxiety, and he distanced himself to a point in which he felt he had to end our relationship. We had a somewhat long-distance relationship, but were spending every weekend traveling back and forth to spend time with one another – despite our exhaustion. This was important to me, as the pursuer, because it made me feel validated and his efforts made me think I saw how much he cared. What I never realized until now is that there has never been a doubt in my mind about his love for me, even now after we have broken up, and I look back and I see how silly I was to think that traveling to see one another so often was the answer to keeping our relationship safe. We still talk, a couple times a week, and text each other throughout the day. We’ve seen each other since our break-up and each time we have had a great visit spending time with one another. He says he does not want to be in a relationship with me right now, but will not say it’s over forever and states he is unsure whether or not we will get back together in the future because he doesn’t know what the future holds. He’s the kind of person that prepares for the worst case scenario.

    Despite our break-up, we have had a wonderful relationship. I have never met a more supportive person. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

    Since discovering the pursuer/distancer dynamic I want to share this with him because it has been so enlightening to me and I know now everything that I had been doing that lead to our break-up. I’m scared that if I share this with him I could create pressure and push him farther away. He tells me that he wants me to be happy and independent – and to some extent, that is something I should have been doing all along. I realize fixing our relationship is not going to be a quick process and may not even be a process at all. And I also know that to have a relationship I am going to have to work on changing my pursuer tendencies, and he is distancer tendencies. Should I share your article with him?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I think you could share it with him, but it’s not necessary. Often knowledge helps a situation. It would be important that you don’t show him the article with the corresponding feeling that “now that I know what’s been going on, I will change, and I want you to get back together with me.” That would feel like pressure. I think it’s much more important for you to enjoy other activities and become more emotionally separate. That way you can enjoy your time with him deeply but without being clingy or needy. I really recommend the books “Why Men Love Bitches” and “Why Men Marry Bitches.” Although the content may sound like game playing, it is not at all about playing games. It’s about owning responsibility for your own well-being, which is coincidentally a very attractive trait, because it frees the other person from that responsibility. Please let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  91. David

    Blogpost Opportunity for https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/
    Hi!

    Your website https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/ is quite fascinating I must say. I was wondering if you could advertise my links on your website. I want to place some of my “Blogpost Links” on your page. A suitable price will be delivered to you if you approve to have a long lasting business relationship with me. You can have the guarantee that the links are 100% genuine and do not have any sort of adult material.

    Waiting for your reply,

    Thank You

    Reply
  92. Carnell

    I was never close to my dad. It wasn’t for any particular reason, but the relationship never developed into your stereotypical play-catch-in-the-backyard father-son dynamic. Now that my parents are divorced, I live with my mom, and I have been finding it extremely difficult to maintain any sort of relationship with him. He lives in another state now so I never see him, and the tension between by parents is too heavy from them to negotiate a visit with him to his side of the family during the holidays. He also does not have a home phone or a cell phone so I can only communicate with him through email. I am horrible at keeping in touch with people anyway because I have a problem with time management, but it seems like its worse with my dad just because we have nothing in common. He is also devoutly religious man of faith and I am a skeptic philosopher who denies faith. He’s not much of a conversationalist unless its about something I am likely to disagree with. I feel guilty not for not contacting him however, but I feel like this is a hopeless situation. Should I feel guilty? And should I be content with the casual emails I infrequently send him (birthday, fathers day, Christmas, and maybe two or three more through the year)? Or should I push for something more even if its going to be awkwardly ingenuous?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I think you’ve answered all the questions yourself. No, don’t feel guilty. I think it’s nice to send him casual emails on his birthday, etc. that simply wish the best for him and perhaps state something minor about your life. It certainly isn’t your fault that your parents have so much tension between them and that your dad does not make much effort to reach out in a loving way. It does take two to have a relationship, and I think the parent, being older and having chosen to have children, can make much of the effort. If you make an effort to be kind and respectful through occasional emails, he may or may not eventually take a further step. Try not to be too disappointed if he doesn’t. It sounds as though he doesn’t make connection with people easily, and perhaps he is depressed after the divorce. However, it is not up to you to help him, though leaving the door open for communication through occasional emails may be nice for him. In this situation, it seems as that it may be helpful for you to put your time into developing time management skills and connecting with people, whether or not they are relatives, who engage and respond more positively to you.

      Reply
  93. Lisa Stroh

    Hello,

    i have noticed i have been spending way too much time w my best friend.
    She was the only one that gave me emotional support
    through my break up w my girl friend.

    yes,we are both lesbians.
    we have known each other a little over a year and have shared many private things;present and past.

    my feelings became too intense;beyond friendship.
    We are taking a break from one another;seeing or communication.

    These feelings haven’t gone away;maybe in time they will.

    Reply
  94. Troubled

    Hi Dr. Poulsen,

    I am wondering if you see clients for indiv or couples’ therapy?

    You might be able to answer my questions via email, so here’s the gist:
    10 yrs ago I married a man I was never passionately attracted to, opting for what I thought were more responsible, practical reasons. We are now parenting a 4 and 8 yr old. After reading through your articles, it is clear now that we are emotionally fused. I thought we were wonderfully, but not passionately close.
    My husband has never had much of a sex drive – while mine has come and gone, it is now back very strongly. I do not desire him, though, at all!
    Sex has been our “issue” for all 10 yrs of our marriage – I bring it up in frustration 2-4 times a year…and nothing has ever changed. I see now that it is probably because of two things: 1) physical sex isn’t the real issue and 2) I always left the ball in his court, believing that blaming his low desire could hide my lack of attraction to him.
    My main question, the bottom line for me, is that I am afraid no amount of therapy, differentiation and work can change my physical attraction/passionate desire.
    Have you ever helped someone with a similar issue?
    Please advise, and thank you in advance for your time in reading my tome!
    Troubled

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear Troubled,

      Thanks for writing. I think you can improve your sex life with your husband, even if you will never have a strong sexual attraction toward him.

      I do see clients on a very short-term basis, but I want to recommend to you seminars (and perhaps private counseling) by John Gottman (he is based out of Seattle,) and David Schnarch and his wife Ruth Morehouse. All three are probably the best experts on sex and marriage. Their CDs are also very helpful in the meantime, but the weekend workshops are highly effective and valuable, no matter what lies ahead of you in the future. Here are the websites: http://passionatemarriage.com/workshop_list http://crucibletherapy.com/ and
      http://www.gottman.com/58247/Workshops-Webinars–Events-Calendar.html

      I hope you can look at your frustrations and new desires as an opportunity to grow, quite possibly with your husband in the marriage, rather than signal to over-react by possibly throwing aside the good things you do have. I recommend attempting to improve the marriage with your husband first, even though that can feel awkward if you feel little attraction toward him. (That’s where it takes growth on your part.) With a basis of love and respect, it is surprising what can develop. On the other hand, if you continue to feel unbearable frustrated, you can make better decisions about how to deal with such frustrations if you’ve given your marriage your best try.

      Good luck. Please let me know how it goes.

      Reply
    2. American in Paris

      Hi Dr. Poulsen:
      Firstly, thanks for your very informative and helpful videos. Even as a psych-therapy patient, I still discover thru your videos things about myself that I cannot alway articulate clearly.
      About the woman and her lack of attraction to her husband, I fell out of a 12 year marriage for the same reasons, my wife said having sex 2 -3 times a year was normal. The decline started after we had our two kids, when prior to that we’d make love 2-3 times a week. After first kid, it fell to about 1-2 a month.
      We tried therapy but she saw no problem and I was suffering tremendously until I started having flings, which she later discovered.
      Now, I feel sometimes defeated and overwhelmed living in this foreign land not speaking french very well and being on my own again. And that ‘inner critic” beats up on me quite often. I do project strength and fatherly love to my kids when they stay with me, but I sometimes lose it when I’m alone.
      Excuse my meandering, but my question is that why would you recommend this woman to try to mend a situation when she has no passion for her husband. It was similar for me when my wife gained lots of weight and I tried to encourage and support her. But the slightest and infrequent hint of motivating her to reduce it would make her feel defensive. Thus, I lost an attraction to her. On the other side, I was a virgin until 25, now I’m 45, and I have a hi libido and need sex more than I get. I prefer sex and friendship now than a relationship because I was for the 4 years in a marriage prison.
      Maybe this woman is feeling the same desires?
      Sorry for the long message, but I needed to describe myself more to fill in more details.

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m not sure which article you are referring to about the woman who fell out of love. I don’t think all marriages should be saved. Yet it is often worth it to see how you yourself may be participating in a relationship problem and to try to change the relationship dynamic. The marriage, history together, and family, have real value, and it can be worth trying to avoid the pain of the divorce. Seeing how you participate in a negative pattern can also make separation and divorce as well as future relationships all go more smoothly.

        I agree with you that having sex 2-3 times a year is not normal. Often women lose some interest and libido after childbirth at least for a while. But if this continues it is not good for a long-term passionate relationship. In situations like that it’s important to have serious conversations about how important it is for you to make love more often–not as a biological need (which is a turn-off) but as a way to express love for each other. When people don’t take the time to spend intimate time together, the couple becomes a couple of roommates or co-parents. Not everybody wants that. Your ex-wife and people who have lost interest to have sex have to understand that desire doesn’t always just magically appear after you’ve been married for awhile. You have to nurture your own sensuality and you have to intentionally be appreciative, giving, and loving.

        Sometimes passion can be rekindled in a relationship. David Schnarch’s books “Passionate Marriage” and “The Sexual Crucible” have examples as well as good discussion on how to rekindle that passion–although it will not always work. It does take two, but sometimes one person can take a firm stand in a compassionate way, and that can make a difference.

        However, when your spouse gains a lot of weight or doesn’t take care of him-or herself in other ways, it’s also important to talk to them about how important their own self-care and self-respect is in continuing a long-term passionate relationship. It’s completely normal to lose attraction to someone who either gets overly-defensive or who doesn’t take care of their health or physical appearance. But even more unappealing is the lack of respect for you and your desires. Thus, given that you talked to her about the situation and she did not respect your desires and feelings, but got overly defensive, shows that there was not much only one person could do to change the relationship.

        It’s hard to live in a new country. But give it time and try to find some sport or other activities to engage in on a regular basis. The French are so slow to gain your trust. There are also groups of ex-pats. Let me know how it goes.

        Reply
  95. Hillary

    Hi Allison –

    Haven’t written in a while – I’m Hillary, we exchanged a bunch of emails a while ago about my relationship with my boyfriend.

    Your recent post of Guest Author SAM VAKNIN’s article “I Want Him to Pay a Price for What He Did – Yes: I want REVENGE!” really struck a chord with me.

    Right now I am really suffering from condition #1 – punitive moralistic revenge. And actually, it’s related to my career more so than my relationships (although to a degree, I think it plays out there at times too). I work for a big corporation with pretty clear visibility to the powers that be at the top of the chain of command (cfo, ceo, board of directors, etc). Many times the decisions they make really upset me, and I find myself seeking that “justice will be served” type of vengeance your guest author speaks of. The consequences are truly ghastly, as Dr. Vaknin describes… “obsessive, compulsive, unhealthy, counterproductive…” and so on.

    My trusted co-workers and friends advise me that I shouldn’t worry myself with the tone at the top of the organization, or stick my neck out (way out) on the chopping block in hopes of “enlightening” them. These advisors of mine state that “every organization has its politics” and the “deal” is that I just clock-in, do my job, cash my paycheck, and go live my life. In principle I wholly agree with them, but my spirit has a difficult time attempting to not concern myself with the broader issues of the organization. I can’t help but care, I can’t help but want to see the “right” thing done, and this consumes me. And when I do stick my head in the sand and just ignore the issues that concern me (since they’re out of my control), I feel like such a “sell-out” for having the clock-in/clock-out attitude, all for the love of a paycheck and the false sense of security that is a salaried 9-5 with a 401k and medical insurance. I feel like I ought to seek employment in an organization and/or line of work that provides both financial security and a sense of purpose and meaning. But as the others say, perhaps that is a little too idealistic and dreamy.

    Anyway, the reason I wrote is because Dr. Vaknin indicates this moralistic revenge is a fairly lethal condition… but he offers no suggested solution. I need to somehow find a healthy state of mind, keep to my own business, and not feel this overwhelming sense of being the “policeman” of corporate america. There are lots of things that aren’t “fair” or “right” about this world we live in. I need to just accept that and move on, right? So much easier said than done…

    Anyway, always enjoy your emails and just thought I’d reach out for some further insight.

    Thanks,
    – Hillary

    Reply
  96. Shari Mutchler

    Dr. Poulsen,
    I wish to ask for permission to use some of your quotes (and Youtube videos) for an office presentation on “Boundaries” I am putting together via Power Point. It would be used for a presentation at a Diversity Workshop my office is planning in May 2013.

    Thank you for your time and wisdom!

    Reply
  97. Nupur Sarvaiya

    Dear Dr. Alison,
    Greetings from India!
    I represent Complete Wellbeing magazine. I came across your website and was very impressed by the articles you have written. We would love for you to write an article for us on the topic of ‘Open Relationships’ or any other topic that would interest you.
    Complete Wellbeing is an Indian monthly magazine that aims to provide content which can enrich and transform the life of the reader. We cover topics on the area of relationships, workplace wellbeing, spirituality, health, healing, travel, self-growth and more. You may get a glimpse of the kind of content we publish by browsing our website, http://www.completewellbeing.com. Your bio and picture will be published along with the article and also posted on the website later. Plus, we would publish your website URL with it.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Regards and thanks,
    Nupur Sarvaiya

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 × two =