Vail relationship column: Running away from a loving relationship
Dear Neil: I’ve been going out with my boyfriend for six months. He is everything I want in a man, but I keep pushing him away. I’m wondering if it’s because of my past. I was physically and sexually abused as a child, and my ex was a bully who was controlling and violent, and I lost my two children to him, so I have a lot of trouble trusting people.
But my boyfriend is everything I want and need in a man. So why am I pushing him away? This man means the world to me, and I don’t want to lose him, but I don’t know how to fix this. I’m afraid of letting him back in.
Dear Neil: My boyfriend frequently backs away from me sexually. Often (not always) we will start making love, and during the act he gets really tired and has to stop. He plays it off to work stress, aging and fatigue. Does this mean he does not want to be close to me? We’ve been together for a year and a half, and I am the most serious relationship he has had. He is 53 and never married. His longest relationship was three years, and he admits that they weren’t very close. I am not sure what to do.
Dear Crippled and Puzzled: Although your stories are different, it appears that the issues you’re presenting may be similar. The two of you sound like you’re describing a fear of getting close, and one of you may be associating closeness with feeling hurt, controlled and abused.
This also may be related to feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, which means that I don’t feel worthy of being loved, or I feel that I’m not good enough for you. I fear when you find that out, you’re going to eventually leave me, so I wall myself off from you.
The gentleman who is withdrawing sexually may also have performance issues, or he may be simply losing focus or interest — or perhaps his appetite is lower than yours — but it’s a good bet he is regulating how close he wants the relationship to become. The woman who is avoiding contact sounds like she is attempting to protect herself from further pain and disappointment, which she assumes is inevitable, and she has become emotionally paralyzed out of fear.
If you’re going to fix this, these issues need to be thoroughly laid out on the table and talked about as a couple so the rejected person knows how to effectively respond, and the relationship is not routinely threatened.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 24th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is the author of the new book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive.”