I’m changing for the better, so why isn’t she coming back to me!?
One of the most common calls I get from a prospective male client is a panicky ‘how do I get her back!?’ When a client is asking me this question, he is usually in a desperate state, has usually been told by his partner that she wants nothing to do with him, and is emotionally cut off.
The three most common reasons for this are as follows:
- She no longer feels considered or cared for by her partner.
- She found out about his pornography habits and feels unattractive.
- She feels unsafe around him because he became angry, critical or judgemental throughout the relationship.
Relationships seldom just end. Usually, positive emotions, trust and intimacy fade over time. Physical and emotional distancing is a slow burn, and this is one of the main reasons why men are so shocked when their partner pulls away.
In my last article, ‘Why do I keep being rejected in relationships?’ I present the background to why people in romantic relationships either feel, or are actually, rejected by their partners. To put it simply, almost all relationship issues stem from the childhood pain of feeling rejected in some way by your Mother or Father. This is true even if you perceived your upbringing to be a healthy one.
When a man is pushed away by his partner, powerful feelings of rejection are triggered, causing him to switch on the ‘Mr fix it/I can change’ button to gain back intimacy and validation once more. I’ve found this to be the primary default behaviour of a man recently rejected by his partner. He will go into a standard problem/solution mode. After all, It seems like the rational, common-sense decision to make. He believes that if he suddenly stops the bad behaviour, or radically changes his attitude she’ll magically jump back into his arms or the bed. However, this almost never happens.
Why doesn’t this work?
Because her decision to distance herself is emotional, not logical. Men are typically problem solvers and solution finders, so when she tells him the reasons why she has pulled away he immediately attempts to fix things to re-establish intimacy and avoid the feeling of rejection.
Here are three classic problem/solution examples from Jane and George. (Ironically George’s ‘solutions’ lead to further problems):
Jane says to George, ‘you’re not considerate enough’ (problem) so George starts trying to prove to her that he can, or has changed, by becoming more considerate. He tries to sit her down to listen to her and busies himself around the house with jobs he’d never usually do in order to please her. He buys her flowers and books holidays to gain favour with her (solution).
Jane tells George how much he’s hurt her by constantly watching pornography, and thus taking attention away from her (problem). To fix this, George allows Jane to put a child safety lock on the internet and gives her a daily update on his pornography abstinence to make her feel ‘safe’ (solution).
Jane tells George that she can no longer be intimate with him as she feels emotionally shut down because of his anger issues (problem). So George books a therapist to face his issues, apologises profusely, and goes on a ‘compliments mission’ (solution).
Now, on the face of it, George’s solutions to the issues Jane has raised seem appropriate. He’s now dynamically attempting to change his behaviour and listening to her concerns. However, somewhat confusingly, these changes have the opposite effect on Jane. Instead of feeling closer to George, she becomes angry, resentful, and mistrusting of him. She calls him selfish and unapologetic, even though he feels he has apologised a thousand times and is being ultra-considerate! Even more confusing for him is her sudden wish for space. He has now been relegated to the spare room and is facing a mixture of silent treatment and a barrage of daily questioning on what he’s changing, and why he continues to make her feel unloved.
George feels baffled and out of control with the situation. He asks himself, ‘why isn’t this working?’, ’why have things gotten worse?’, 'I’m repairing things aren’t I?', 'I’m doing all of these things to make her feel better!’
George has taken what he perceives to be the correct steps to bring the relationship back to a good place, but he has adopted the typical ‘fix it’ behaviour to do this, which is flawed.
So what’s going on here?
Below are the typical reasons I have found in therapy as to why things appear to be deteriorating between Jane and George despite his attempts to ‘fix’ his relationship:
- Jane no longer trusts George. She translates his sudden wish to change as inauthentic or a bribe for intimacy and sex. She knows him and his patterns well, and is expecting to be hurt by him emotionally in the same way he’s hurt her in the past. She is, therefore, protecting herself from future pain.
- Jane no longer feels safe or secure in the relationship as she once did. This has happened over a long period of time and not within a couple of weeks. On top of this she no longer feels that she can lean on George because he is too busy begging her for forgiveness or attempting to please her. Because of this she now feels like a crutch for him, and that he is dependent on her to feel secure. This is extremely unattractive to her.
- Jane feels that George’s attempts to change are too little too late. It’s taken her to push him away for him to finally admit his issues. ‘Why didn’t you change these things months ago!?' she says, alongside, ‘You only care now I’ve had enough!?’ In other words, she is furious that he’s attempting to change because she has pushed him away.
- Jane has grown emotionally distant over a long period of time. She has felt more and more rejected by George’s behaviour which has triggered pain from past relationship failures and unresolved issues from childhood.
- Jane now associates George with pain and displeasure, whereas in the beginning of the relationship, she felt great around him. Therefore, his mere presence is a trigger for bad feelings.
What is the real solution to getting the relationship back on track?
The answer is very much dependent on the specific relationship issue, but one thing is abundantly clear. The relationship that Jane and George had for so long is no longer working. This major realisation must be accepted for a new relationship to blossom.
The situation above requires space and patience, particularly when a partner has shut down emotionally. The mind can turn around quickly but emotions take a much longer time to process and settle down. George must recognise that and stop trying to ‘fix’ the situation. Paradoxically, his focus should be on his own growth. Instead of chasing validation from Jane, he must now prioritise changing himself for the better, both emotionally, psychologically and physically.
For George, developing as a person is the best predictor of repairing his relationship because the happier and more self-aware he is the more confident and attractive he can be around her. He cannot control how his partner currently feels, but he has absolute control over his growth and development of essential relationship/communication skills. He can pursue this growth through his own self-development journey or through hiring a therapist.
If you relate to the issues within this article, feel free to contact me for a chat about how to move forward through a mixture of therapy and coaching sessions. This decisive action will take you from feeling confused, rejected and desperate, to feeling more confident, in control, self-aware and mature when communicating with your partner in the future.