Relationships Require Reciprocity
Recognize When Someone Is Walled Off to You
Dear Neil: I have been involved with my boyfriend for three months now and our relationship has gone from bad to worse. The only great day we’ve had together was our first date. From the day we started going out I’ve tried to get close to him, but he has created this barrier.
The less affection and intimacy he has shown, the more frustrated and demanding I have become. We are constantly fighting as I keep asking “Do you care about me?” I expect him to say “Yes,” but instead he just gets mad, or says “You know the answer” or “What do you think?” I even told him I love him. I didn’t expect him to tell me he loved me, as I know he doesn’t. I just wanted him to say something—anything to make me feel good about myself. He said “You’re forcing me to say things I don’t want to say.”
Sometimes I feel like I’m being used. He is the first I’ve slept with. I am confused and frustrated as I don’t know where I stand. I don’t know if he has any feelings for me. Am I just someone to fill in the time till something better comes along?
Upset In Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Upset: Your boyfriend is in a casual relationship with you. He is being careful with his emotions, guarded with his heart and emotionally standoffish and non-committal. He can take you or leave you.
You, on the other hand, are acting like your self-esteem is completely dependent on his approval and commitment. That gives him way too much power over you, because all he has to do is withhold affection or act like he doesn’t care—and you’ll do anything to get him to give you more. He is always in control, therefore, and you are always feeling inadequate, undervalued and rejected.
Here’s what I’d recommend: stop groveling at his feet and begging him for crumbs. Tell him you only want someone who wants you—and no matter how desperate or needy you feel—enforce that rule. That means that if he is unable to value you the way you need for him to, refuse to see him. Don’t force him to lie or to say things that aren’t genuine or that he doesn’t feel. If he doesn’t value you, drop him and find someone else who does want you.
Don’t give your heart to someone who doesn’t give their heart back to you. It leaves you feeling too inadequate, vulnerable and needy, and you’re setting yourself up to get hurt and rejected.
One more suggestion: do something to improve your self-esteem, so you don’t wind up in a relationship like this again. If you don’t value yourself as worthy of a reciprocal, affectionate, caring and warm relationship, others won’t either.
Dear Neil: My last two relationships have been with women who have been burned by men in the past and therefore walled off to me. It’s okay to be aware and cautious of what has happened in the past, but be careful in doing so that you don’t stop good people from getting close to you.
Dear Ontario: You are right. So, quit giving your heart to women who can’t reciprocate, and quit falling for women who can’t or won’t fall back. Find someone who wants what you do, and has the ability to emotionally give back to you.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
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