Why Men Pull Away: A Psychological Blueprint for His Mind

You’ve been dating a guy you really like. Maybe you’re even starting to think he could be ‘the one.’

He checks the important boxes. He seems to get you—the chemistry rocks. Things seem to be moving along so well until, all of a sudden, they’re not.

Maybe he stops texting as much. Maybe he’s not calling every day anymore. Or maybe he seems distant. Standoffish. Not as tuned in.

You’re not alone.

In fact, if you Google “why do men pull away,” you’ll get roughly 490 million search results. Clearly, it’s a thing.

The 490-million-Google questions are 1) Why and 2) What can (or should) you do about it?

In the same Google search, among those 490 million results, many articles and blog posts list the 10 or 12 or 15 or 20 reasons why men pull away just when a relationship seems to be moving along swimmingly.

Reasons Why Men Pull Away That Might Ring a Bell…

1. He’s Afraid of His Feelings

Perhaps the most frequently cited reason why guys pull away is that they are afraid of their feelings. 

That is, falling in love is scary, and men often just aren’t very good at processing the uncertainties and risks involved—or at least, not as adept as women are.

They may be genuinely interested and like the idea of a relationship but have difficulty wrapping their heads around the emotional implications.

So, he seemingly hits the brakes. Or at least, he shifts things into a lower gear to give himself some space and time to think. Of course, he didn’t ‘say’ that.

2. He’s Scared of Commitment

Man Nervous About Committing to Relationship
Commitment issues are often used as the first excuse for men who pull away as the relationship progresses.
It’s a cliché for a reason.

Men are notoriously commitment-phobic, right?

Here, the problem is the proverbial grass being greener.

The idea of a romantic relationship can be exciting and intriguing, but the reality of what happens when it becomes a permanent, long-term commitment is pretty scary.

Loss of freedom and independence and the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) can conspire and converge and hit him like ice water on a previously smoldering fire.

3. He Is Emotionally Unavailable

Here, the argument goes, you’re fighting brain chemistry.

This is based on the premise that men’s and women’s brains are biologically different.

The limbic system, which is the processing center for emotions in the brain, is larger in women than in men.

Therefore, women are more emotionally aware, and men struggle to get a clue about their feelings. 

In other words, size matters.

4. It’s All Too Much Too Soon

Sometimes, when all the early signals in a relationship appear to be green lights, you—and he— find yourselves going from zero to 60 in a New York minute.

One day you’re meeting for lunch or coffee, then you’re texting and exchanging phone calls, then you’re clearing out a dresser drawer for each other.

First comes dating, then comes love, then comes… expectations.

This may be a natural progression, but it’s also a critical juncture—and the perfect time for anxieties to make an unwelcome appearance. 

Pulling away when this happens doesn’t necessarily mean game over. But it can mean a time out to take a breath and make sure you’re both on the same page.

5. He’s Just Not That Into You

Man Distracted by Other Woman
Whether it’s physical or emotional attraction, it’s totally okay and normal that not everyone is attracted to you – and vice versa!

A.K.A the worst-case scenario.

Or is it?

An entire episode of Sex and The City (a popular HBO series in the ’90s, for all you Millennials and younger) was devoted to the many many ways that some women may rationalize and overanalyze the reasons why a guy doesn’t call, text, or email after a promising beginning.

The truth is the guy just wasn’t as blown away by you as he may have appeared and as you may have hoped.

Understandably, this is no one’s favorite reason.

There are lots more where those reasons came from.

Maybe he needs to feel more challenged, or he’s under too much pressure (work, finances, etc.), or he’s afraid of failure, or of losing his identity, or there are stresses in his life you know nothing about…

4 Truths About Men You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you look closely, you may notice a couple of things that most, if not all, of those reasons have in common.

First, they’re all largely based on certain assumptions. 

Secondly, many or most of them imply, if not downright state, that the core issue here is that men are this and women are that.

In other words, the sexes are just SO different from each other in virtually every critical way when it comes to relationships that it’s a wonder anyone ever gets, much less stays, coupled.

So, how real or true are those assumptions, and what can you do when it’s your guy who’s pulling away?

Brooklyn-based sex educator and relationship coach—and Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen Kelly Gonsalves says that one way to respond to all the so-called reasons that men pull away is to look closely at some of the myths embedded in those reasons and the truths that can help debunk them:

1. There’s No One-Blueprint-Fits-All for Guys in Relationships

Communication During Date
If you really want to know what he’s thinking, how he’s feeling, and why he’s acting like he is – ask him!

Gonsalves suggests that it’s actually a little too easy to blame the tensions, anxieties, setbacks, or confusion that can arise in relationships on the supposition that ‘men are just different.’ 

The more likely truth is that whatever it is you’re reacting to or not understanding isn’t because “he’s a guy.”  Rather, it’s because he’s just not you.

He doesn’t think or feel or process exactly how you do because he’s a different personnot just a different gender.

And as interesting (hopefully) as this and other articles on the subject might be, ultimately, if you really want to know what he’s thinking and how he’s feeling, you’re going to just have to ask him.

In fact, there is considerable research suggesting that men and women are not so much inherently, innately different as they are socialized to perceive and respond and behave in different ways.

When it comes to the different genders, it is important to realize that they are often socialized differently. As such, it isn’t uncommon for them to in turn develop different societal expectations.

That said, it’s important NOT to make assumptions about what your man is and isn’t capable of based on his gender, Gonsalves says, nor to pigeonhole him into certain stereotypes.

Don’t assume how he feels about things just because he’s a man.

2. Yes, Some Men Are Afraid of Commitment and Intimacy. 

Men are indeed somewhat more likely to develop an “avoidant” attachment style, likely because boys are more commonly socialized as children to be tough or aggressive.

Meanwhile, girls are rewarded for being nurturing and sensitive.

It’s also true that some men—and some women–experience fear when they fall in love. 

Vulnerability—a critical component of falling in love and of committing—can be scary.  And NOT just for men.

3. Men Don’t Know What Women Want

Man Confused About What Woman Wants
It’s best to calmly communicate your wants and needs to your partner before you both become frustrated. Neither of you can read the other’s mind.

Men are often pegged as clueless about women, oblivious, or even indifferent to whatever it is that women want.

The fact is, Gonsalves says, “Nobody knows what anyone wants—until you ask them.”

In other words, few men or women are mind readers, and expecting him (or her) to just know is a surefire set up for failure, or at least, a risky wager.

Communication is oh so critical—and assumptions can be lethal to a relationship.

4. The Male Brain Is a Mystery You Need to Solve

Theories abound about the complicated and complicating differences between the sexes.

Some have even suggested women and men are from different planets (Venus and Mars, respectively).

Okay, not literally. 

Still, there are truckloads of ‘psychological’ explanations and recommendations for why men pull away and what women can do about it.

2 Psychological Explanations for Why Men Pull Away:

#1: He Wants to Feel Like a Hero

In his book, His Secret Obsession, author James Bauer explains that male DNA biologically predisposes men to be the providers and protectors of women.

They’re hardwired to want to take care of women, even though few women these days would likely admit to wanting that.

If you can make your guy feel like a hero, Bauer says, it unleashes his protective instincts and the most noble aspect of his masculinity.

Most importantly, it will also unleash his deepest feelings of attraction towards you.

It’s not as easy as it might sound, though.

Bauer says men need more than flattery to activate this instinct.  They need to earn their hero status. It takes deeds, not just words.

Maybe take some lessons from Lois Lane?

#2: He’s a Rubber Band Man

Guys' Night
Letting him have a peaceful guy’s night gives him time and space to contemplate the relationship and, possibly, miss your presence.

Does the idea of playing a damsel in distress leave you cold?

You might consider the ‘Rubber Band Theory’ proposed by author John Gray in the bestselling book (some might say bible) about relationships, Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

If you’re unfamiliar with this theory, imagine a giant rubber band around two partners in a relationship.

As the tension and distance within the relationship increases, the theory states that these feelings will generally pull the person back towards you – which is what you want.

However, there also exists the possibility of the tension becoming too much, and you run the risk of it breaking and him pulling away even further.

It’s based on the familiar notion that men need to pull away to create space so they can get clear about their feelings and what they really want. 

Only in this case, the recommended response is basically to let him.

In fact, give him ‘more’ space than he needs. Instead of instinctively moving closer to fill that space, back off further.

Following the rubber band metaphor creates the extra tension he needs to be pulled back to you. 

If that, too, feels like game playing, Rivers says it’s just playing smart to get.

If that, too, feels like game playing, it’s just playing smart to get.

It may be counterintuitive and may feel a tad manipulative, but it’s actually just recognizing that your Martian needs the opportunity to miss you to find out if you’re the right fit for him.

“It gives him time and space to realize how lucky he is to have you.”

The ‘Secrets’ to Dealing With Men Who Pull Away

Couple Communicating
Communication is the foundation of any relationship, not just romantic ones. The best way to figure out why he’s pulling away is to talk.

You’d think that in those aforementioned 490 million search results about guys pulling away, there must be SOME undiscovered pearls.

Isn’t there at least a reliable hack or two for women dealing with this (clearly common) dilemma?

It can be either disappointing or comforting to know that the simplest answers are the most effective.

Here’s the shortlist compendium:

1. Question your assumptions. Regardless of what may be true about the size of your guy’s limbic system, men are people, too.  And there is no one like another.

2. Ask as much or more than you tell. Trying to understand goes a long way, but you won’t get there—or anywhere—without asking.

3. Listen as much or more than you talk. This may sound like saying the same thing a different way, but listening means setting aside your preconceived notions (and theories) and really paying attention with an open mind and heart.  Which, in turn, means being quiet inside and out when he does speak.

4. Don’t sell yourself—or him—short. You’re both worthy.  You’re both unique individuals, and your worth does not depend on whether you—or he—decides to stick around.

5. Get on with your life. No matter how great the guy is or how upsetting it is when he pulls away, if your own life grinds to halt as a result, then the problem isn’t just him—it’s YOU.

At the risk of vastly oversimplifying a not so simple issue—and if some of the more complex and convoluted theories just don’t quite cut it—consider this greatly drilled down and distilled truth, observed by the late comedian George Carlin:

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”

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Dan Stone

Dan Stone has worn many hats (author, journalist, editor, counselor, coach, consultant, educator, trainer) but the connecting thread is using language to educate and support others, particularly those seeking help to become their best selves in or out of relationships.

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