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The Distant Partner Syndrome

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Posted by Joseph on February 2, 2015
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Question: I’m in a 3-year relationship with a man whom I love very much. We’ve lived together most of that time but he’s recently moved out for financial reasons. Now that we aren’t living together, I’m having a hard time getting him to respond to my phone calls or getting him to schedule some time for us to be together. His changed behavior is making me a little nervous and my trust for him is slipping. How can I make him see that spending time together and communication are key to sustaining a lasting relationship? Or should I decide that moving on may be my best option to avoid feeling invisible any longer. Please help!


I’m sorry to hear about your dilemma and can appreciate how torn you must feel. You’ve obviously invested a lot into this relationship, and your partner’s moving out for financial reasons seems to have taken on a new symbolism with his seeming detachment and inaccessibility. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the work right now and are not feeling like a priority in his life. Relationships do best when they’re balanced and reciprocal, and your feelings of being invisible are “red flags” that you’re right not to ignore.
Without knowing much about your relationship history or dynamics, take a realistic appraisal of the commitment level and attachment that existed in your relationship prior to your boyfriend’s moving out. Is his withdrawal from you now a new behavior, or has he been emotionally distant for some time? The answer to this question will help you determine if his current behavior is a symptom of something or if this is a chronic problem for him preceding your relationship with him. And if it’s a symptom, is it a symptom related to some kind unfulfillment he may have in the relationship, or is it a symptom of something he’s going through personally?

After having lived together for quite some time and then continuing your relationship in separate residences, it must feel like a “downshift” and can create some bumps along the way trying to adjust to new roles in this transition period. Or it’s possible you’re both grieving in different ways the losses experienced from being a live-in couple to now being apart. But the truth is, like you stated in your letter, communication and quality time are key if your relationship is going to thrive.
It looks like you guys really need to talk. You deserve a partner who can be physically and emotionally available to you, who is dependable and loyal, and who desires to spend time with you recreationally and for communication. There’s nothing you can do to change him or make him do the things you’d like to see from him, so your only option is to share your feelings and needs with him in the hopes that he’ll really hear you and be responsive.

Your approach will be important to avoid his becoming defensive and more distant. If you’ve been pursuing him aggressively out of your frustration, take a step back and give him a little space while you get yourself centered and relaxed. Really examine what your needs are in a partner and in a relationship and then let him know you’d like to get together with him to discuss something important to you. When you meet, avoid throwing the word “you” around, as this will likely lead him to tune you out as he’ll feel attacked and like you’re blaming him. Use this type of formula when beginning your discussion:
I feel___________ when you___________ because____________, so instead, I’d prefer_____________
“I feel concerned/scared when you don’t return my phone calls or come around as much because it’s been giving me the impression that our relationship and spending time with me has been put on the back burner. I love you and our relationship is important to me and I just wanted to talk to you about this and make sure we’re on the same page…”

Something to that effect, and then see what he says. Find out what his perception of your relationship status is and how he views and feels about your living apart now. This will give you a lot of insight before launching into what your needs are. Also ask him what his needs are. What’s good in the relationship? Is anything missing? Are there things he’d like you to do differently? These answers will be important. Then the two of you can co-create a new vision for how the two of you would like to live as a couple while living separately that would be pleasing to both of you.
If your partner refuses to have this talk with you, minimizes your feelings or needs, or does not follow through with your agreements made in your talk, these will be indications that his priorities for your relationship do not match yours and could also be construed as a sign of disrespect. You will then have to decide if you can accept him as he is and adapt to your being attended to by him only when it’s convenient for him (I wouldn’t advise this though–it will likely take a toll on you in the long-haul and is a major sacrifice!) or if you need to extricate yourself from the relationship and move on to live the kind of life that will make you truly happy.

So talk to him and don’t throw in the towel right now when you’re feeling so frustrated; don’t let those emotions get the best of you. All relationships have adjustments and challenges, and it’s my hope that all that’s needed here is a little time getting used to the adjustment of roles that changed when he moved out because things are a little different now, and for the two of you to have a solid dialogue about redefining your relationship for the better to keep up with those changes you’ve gone through. But most importantly, remember that you deserve to be treated well and avoid molding yourself into something that’s not going to allow you to keep growing. Good luck to you! I hope this helps and my fingers are crossed for you!




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