Q. A number of readers have asked us 'How do I connect with an emotionally unavailable man'? Can you share your advice?
A. I recently saw a meme by actress Julia Roberts that said:
“Women, you are not rehabilitation centers for badly raised men. It’s not your job to fix him, change him, parent or raise him. You want a partner not a project”.
I couldn’t agree more.
As evidenced by soaring divorce rates, we keep getting ourselves into these project type relationships that truthfully start out as infatuation, not love. Then when the rose-colored glasses come off, we spend so much time, effort and energy, trying to get back what once was. As many have learned, t doesn’t work that way.
When everything was wonderful in the beginning it was a biological chemical high and when that goes away, within three years, then the reality of who that person is brightly shown.
Whenever a relationship fills a void, makes us feel loved, pretty, worthy, etc.. it is infatuation.
It means we haven’t done our pre-relationship work of making ourselves healthy and whole. In fact, unconditional love is deep like and respect, it is not “you make me so happy”. My job as a partner is to come to the table already happy, fulfilled, and whole. From that place, there are no rose-colored glasses and we are in a much better place to see if the person is really a good fit for us.
This is the respectful stance: no one should ever change to be in any relationship! It is our job to accept people exactly as they are or leave.
When I say this, I get a lot of pushback from others!
There are so many people who are invested in having control because of (usually) fear of being alone, who say, “So he should be able to yell? Yes. So he should be about to cheat? Yes. So, he should be able to just not talk and play games on the computer all night? Yes. Etc.….”
The constitution of the United States of America gives people the right to act, say, behave in any way they choose as long as it does not infringe on others rights. So, yes, they can do whatever they want in a relationship. The work is not in telling people how they are wrong and what they need to change, which is bossy, controlling and conditional love at best. The work is in getting yourself healthy enough to say, “this isn’t working for me” and have the real strength, not the threat, to leave. Or do enough of your own work that you can accept them as they are.
This is why it is important to see who the person is from the beginning.
To really assess from almost a contract perspective, not an emotional perspective, if a person is really a good fit for an intimate, long term relationship. This is the point when I am usually told, “it sounds so unromantic”. I suppose it does since our societal ideal of romance is based on needy-codependence, “you make me feel so good” infatuation, not real love.
Having said that does not mean a partnership is not thrilling, it is but in a different way.
The emotion is deep like and respect that develops over a period of time in getting to know someone and observing how they handle life. Without the infatuation, a person can really see if this potential partner is a good fit in whatever ways they decide. Is it ok that they are quiet and withdrawn? For some it is perfect. Do you like how they handle themselves, over and over, after a bad day at work? The truth is, the good stuff is easy, that should not be a basis for a relationship, the real question is, does the bad stuff fit with your own challenges.
As a couple do you talk or retreat and sweep? For some this works! For others, it doesn’t. As I said above, everyone has the right to be however they want without being told they are wrong; that never feels good to anyone. If it is not a good fit for you, move on, no excuses. There is one way to see if the relationship is salvageable.
If you find yourself, telling your partner that they are wrong and need to change, I suggest seeking professional help to fix your own buttons so that you are whole and have the strength to objectively look at the relationship and decide if you want to stay or leave.
In doing so you will break the internal patterns that led to this sort of dysfunction. It only takes one person changing their behavior to change the dynamics of any relationship and if that doesn’t work then you will be healthier for your next adventure.
Accepting others as they are does not apply in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.
No one should ever accept maltreatment. If the relationship is abusive in anyway, the work then becomes to raise your self-esteem so that leaving is a viable option. Please work with professionals to ensure safety and well-being.
Cynthia Pickett, LCSW