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When your partner starts to act in ways that seem calculated to push you apart, you start to grow closer to each other.

“You are hurt and confused by the distance. You thought the relationship was progressing well, but it isn’t.”

“Maybe you are the one who pushes people away. When a relationship starts to become serious or when friends approach things you don’t want to share, you start shutting down.”

If you catch yourself repeatedly falling into this pattern, you might worry you’ll never build the intimacy you desire.

Attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance can affect the quality of your relationship and how you feel about it, but don’t despair. It’s possible to change.

You can learn to let people in with some effort.

Something may have changed in your relationship.

Maybe you notice:

  • Increased emotional and physical distance.
  • terse communication
  • “Less interest in the other person’s plans.”
  • Unusually rude or unkind words.
  • People are unwilling to share feelings and problems.
  • A sense that one of you is not focused on the other.
  • A lack of respect.
  • One person is angry with the other.

There are many reasons why this can happen.

“People don’t end up avoiding intimacy because they dislike others or want to be alone.”

Why does this happen? Do those reasons matter?

“Yes, often. It is more difficult to change behavior if you don’t know why. Identifying possible reasons can be the first step in regaining your relationship’s intimacy.”

People push others away for a variety of reasons.

Fear of intimacy

Pushing people away is one way of avoiding intimacy. In fact, this avoidance can act as a defense mechanism for people afraid of getting hurt in relationships.

This could be because a relationship ended badly.

Even if you think you’ve healed from a past relationship that ended badly, worries about further rejection or loss might linger in your subconscious. If you’ve lost someone through bereavement, you might find that numbing your feelings makes them easier to cope with.

“As you begin to develop a relationship with a new partner, the instinct to protect yourself becomes more and more important. You don’t want to experience rejection again.”

“Maybe you don’t think that if I push them away before they get too close, they can’t hurt me.”

The end result is usually the same when actions like starting arguments and avoiding emotional intimacy are done unconsciously.

You do what you can to avoid intimacy in order to be safe, because it makes you uncomfortable.

Attachment issues

Attachment style can also play a part in intimacy avoidance.

Experts have described three attachment styles:

  • secure
  • anxious
  • Avoidant.

Your early years will often determine your style.

If your parent or primary caregiver didn’t reliably meet your needs for intimacy and other emotional support in childhood, you may grow up with a disorganized or Avoidant. attachment style.

As an adult, you want to develop close relationships with friends and romantic partners but simultaneously fear they’ll let you down, just as your caregiver did. You might tend to develop low involvement or casual relationships that you can back out of when things get too intense.

You could either pull partners close or cling to them and need to push them back.

It is worth noting that excessive clinginess can drive partners away, especially when relationship behaviors shift abruptly between a strong need for closeness and a sharp rejection of it.

There are different attachment styles.

Low self-esteem or self-confidence

People who lack confidence or have a hard time with self-esteem may also end up pushing people away. They may have developed an Avoidant. attachment style because of low self-esteem.

In turn, a lack of self-confidence and avoidance can affect the outcome of future relationships, leading to more avoidance and low self-esteem.

Maybe you can’t be sure someone really cares for you, or that you can really care for them. Maybe you doubt you have the skills to sustain a long-term relationship or friendship.

You might think so.

  • You can either make a mistake or let them down.
  • “They don’t like you.”
  • They will eventually leave you for someone else.
  • “You will hold them back because you aren’t good enough.”
  • You don’t deserve a healthy relationship with a loving partner.

If you live with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition or physical illness, you might also have some concerns about your ability to support their needs and stay present in the relationship (even though that’s probably far from true).

Trouble trusting others

Trust is essential to a healthy relationship, but not everyone finds it easy to trust. When trust is not present, it can lead to avoidance, anxiety, jealousy, and even abuse in some cases.

Trust issues are pretty common among those who’ve experienced the pain of betrayal before. If a past partner cheated or lied to you, it’s understandable you might have a hard time recovering from that betrayal.

Broken trust is hard to repair, and its effects can linger, following you from one relationship to the next. What if you achieve the closeness you want, only to learn they’ve deceived you, too?

It is normal to need some time before you feel confident in someone. A lack of trust in someone who has never given you reason to doubt can cause some bumps in the road.

You can either question them or check up on them, which are both not helpful for building a healthy relationship.

You could also, of course, have some difficulty trusting yourself. This often ties back to self-confidence.

If you made mistakes in the past, you might worry about messing up again and hurting your current partner. Guilt and self-doubt might leave you pushing them away to protect you both.

It is just a step towards change when you recognize your tendency to push people away.

Learning to let people in will take time and practice, but these strategies can help.

Take it slow

You might want to get there quickly if you want a close, intimate relationship. When your relationship history involves betrayal or heartbreak, it takes time to be intimate.

When you are forced to dive in before you are ready, you can lose your footing and be left flailing to regain your footing. Pushing your partner away will probably not inspire trust.

Try the cautious approach.

  • Slowly but surely, work on developing your bond with your partner.
  • Enjoy the time you have together, instead of worrying about the future.
  • You can remind yourself why you value the relationship by noting the things you like about them.
  • Specific behaviors that reinforce trustworthiness are what you should look for.

Talk about it

Healthy relationships require good communication. Along with talking about day-to-day life and your general feelings about the relationship, you’ll also want to share your thoughts on any issues that come up.

Talking with your partner about avoiding intimate contact can make a big difference for your progress.

Explaining why you find intimacy challenging can help your partner understand why you hesitate to open up.

You could say: “I thought my ex was the one I would spend my life with, but they cheated.” I sometimes feel the urge to wreck relationships before I get hurt again. I am trying to talk about my fears and not push people away when I am scared.

If something makes you feel uncomfortable, let them know that you are happy and not ready to talk about future plans.

Aim for balance

If you’re trying to reign in the impulse to push people away, you could end up overcompensating by opening up too much or clinging instead of respecting your partner’s boundaries.

Striving for balance can increase your chances of success. Balance could mean something.

  • Sharing past experiences is more natural than telling your full life story.
  • expressing interest in their life without prying or demanding to know every detail
  • sharing your emotions with your partner while also making sure to ask about their feelings

Your goal is interdependence. That means you establish a bond and work to support each other without depending on each other entirely. You share a life, but you still remain your own person.

Working to become comfortable with conflict can also be a part of balance.

If you fear rejection, you might be on high alert for any signs that your partner is not feeling the relationship. Even in close relationships, disagreements happen.

“It doesn’t mean you want your loved one out of your life, as you probably know from your own experience.”

Avoiding conflict by pushing your partner away won’t strengthen your relationship — but learning to navigate conflict in more productive ways might.

Practice self-compassion

It can be difficult to overcome long-standing patterns of behavior. It may not seem like much, but the fact that you noticed the problem suggests you have the self-awareness needed to establish lasting change.

Your reasons for pushing people away could have an impact on how quickly change happens. Chances are good that your efforts will pay off if you are willing to work at it.

Talk with a therapist

“Do you have trouble identifying your reasons for avoiding intimate contact? It’s not clear how to break the habit of pushing loved ones back when you really want deeper intimacy.”

A mental health professional can help.

You might notice some progress navigating these issues yourself, certainly. When you’re trying to navigate underlying factors like relationship anxiety, attachment issues, or mental health symptoms, however, you may find it hard to address these alone.

There are plenty of therapists who have experience helping people with intimacy issues. There is no shame in needing more support with developing intimacy skills.

When you see a friend or partner trying to create distance, try to have a conversation to get some insight. They may not realize how their actions affect you.

They could be dealing with something unrelated to your relationship. People deal with challenges differently. You might feel natural to them if you respond that way.

Conversation starters to consider include:

  • “I am wondering if there is anything on your mind, as I have noticed we aren’t connecting on an emotional level lately.”
  • We seem to have disagreements lately. How can we improve our communication?

Once you express your feelings, give them a chance to explain and hear them out.

Ask how you can support them

Maybe they need a little more communication, or a little more physical reassurance (like a kiss, embrace, or casual touch) to feel more secure with you.

They might find it helpful if you point out when they start shutting down. It is always wise to ask what they need, since the wrong assumption might make things more complicated.

Avoid over-reassurance

If your loved one pushes you away because they fear rejection, the solution might be simple: Simply assure them of your love on a regular basis.

It is normal to talk about your feelings, but it is also possible to provide reassurance of your affection. It can leave them needing reassurance more and more.

A couples counselor can offer more guidance.

Cultivate patience

Fear of losing the relationship can lead you to try to make up the distance on your own. They will probably want to shut down further if they are kept alive or pressured to open up.

Let them know that you are there for them and ready to go at a pace they feel comfortable with. Show them you mean it by giving them the space they need to feel more comfortable.

“Pushing people away when you fear getting hurt is a long-term strategy that doesn’t work for good relationships.”

A therapist can help you understand why you avoid intimacy.

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.