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My Partner Keeps Pulling Back Though We Love Each Other a Lot

I know my partner for 10 years. He is 28. He loves me a lot and I too love him a lot. I am the only person on earth with whom he shares all his thoughts, problems, and happiness. We are very close to each other and we decided to get married. Soon after gave a marriage commitment he pulled back and asked me for time to think and after 2 days he said no. And I too didn’t compel him. After 6 months he came back to me after a relationship break up with another girl. Then he said that I’m the right person for him and asked whether we can marry ( he really meant it). I said yes since I love him. That decision again didn’t last for even 1 month. He is again confused and taking back is commitment and asked for time to decide. He is telling me that he couldn’t figure out why he is confused. If I ask for more details he says “I Don’know”. I know he really loves me. But tending to pull back whenever we get closer in the relationship. I have a guess that he is suffering from intimacy phobia. But I don’t know if I am right. No other girl than me can handle him. I can understand his situation completely. All these things he is not doing intentionally. These actions come out of his phobia I think. I don’t know what to do. Please guide. (From India)

Your partner’s issues with intimacy sound classic. There are many things about intimate relationships that are important to know, such as the different ways to be intimate: physical, emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual, as described in this article. As well as the elements of feeling safe, truly knowing, accepting, appreciating each other’s differences, and compassionate problem solving, as identified in this article.

But ultimately, if you are left with an intimacy-phobic person there are five things recommended by Dr. Sheri Jacobson:

  1. Be patient with their disappearing act but don’t try the same tactic in return.
  2. Don’t let them hide behind questions.
  3. Encourage them to be imperfect.
  4. Look beyond their strong opinions.
  5. Teach them that nothing is certain, but things are worth it anyway.

All of this lays out what intimacy is, how it works, and what can be done when your partner is phobic. My thinking about this is that you are at the point of having tried all of this and you’ve been systematically hurt. The on-again-off-again commitment, the relationship with someone else, and the chronic indecision have had you constantly trying to adjust.

The thing missing here is your partner’s effort in trying to deal with his ambivalent behavior. I do not hear you talking about what he is doing through therapy or spiritual guidance to help with this issue. He has merely told you one thing, changed his mind, and then told you something else. You are in orbit around his chronic indecision. YOU are the one making all the changes — and this gets old. If he isn’t ready to make the commitment after 10 years and keeps you in a constant state of frustration the more important question is if you are willing to live your life with him like this. If he hasn’t been able to make up his mind in 10 years, what will cause the change? Is he suddenly going to realize you are the best thing in his life? That has already happened twice and it wasn’t enough.

I’d stop putting so much effort into him and start giving yourself a chance to unhook from his confused state. You may want to have some therapy as you do this unhooking as he is likely to get anxious and tell you all kinds of promises as he sees you slipping away. But his words seem hollow. Unless he sees this issue as important enough for him to explore and correct on his own — you will forever be anxious about him changing his commitment to you.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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