Why Does My Boyfriend Shut Me Out When Times Get Tough?

Reader’s Question

I’ve been involved in an on and off again relationship with a man for almost two years now. While I’m normally very happy with him, he has a tendency to close up and withdraw socially when his personal life is in turmoil. And when a situation becomes extreme enough, he will lash out at anyone who tries to communicate with him and isolate himself.

When we began dating, my boyfriend had a high-paying job and seemed very comfortable and happy. We enjoyed each other’s company and shared many good times. However, he got fired from his job after we had been together for about four months and then two months later, we were involved in an automobile accident that totaled his car, and put him in a bad financial situation. His ex-girlfriend also started causing trouble for us. Eventually, we both reached a point where we were incredibly unhappy. I tried to be there for him through his tough times, but he was so consumed by his issues, he was unable to talk to me about the pain he was feeling. We ended our relationship because he felt that he needed to focus on getting his life back together, and because he didn’t think he could make me happy.

We began talking to each other again after a few months. By then, he had a new job that paid well, one he was proud of, and he was feeling good about his life’s new direction. He realized he’d made a mistake in shunning me when he was feeling down and we tried to revive the relationship. But things fell apart again when he suffered a family tragedy.

It pains me so much to see him alienate himself from those who care about him when all we want to do is give him the support he so desperately needs. Why would he do this?

Psychologist’s Reply

There are many reasons why a person might close up or even lash out at a time when reason tells us they would be better off reaching out to those who care for them.

Sometimes a person can have issues with trust. If they anticipate possible rejection, abandonment, or disapproval when they are vulnerable, they’re not likely to put their emotional well-being in someone else’s hands.

Sometimes a person who has become upset with life’s stresses can displace a fair amount of the anger and hurt they feel onto those they actually feel the most safe with. Displacing anger often feels more safe to the person who might experience even greater emotional turmoil if their anger and frustration were directed at more appropriate targets.

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A person can also have a poor sense of self-worth that impairs their ability to feel like they’re love-worthy when things in their lives are going poorly.

In any case, a healthy, intimate relationship depends upon frequent, open communication and the ability to share and process feelings. Unless a person’s difficulties arise solely from their own misbehavior, life’s more stressful times ought to be a time for coming together as opposed to growing apart.

Before taking this relationship to a deeper level of intimacy or commitment, it might be a good idea to seek some sort of counseling. Pre-engagement and premarital counseling are becoming much more popular these days for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s best to address problems early as opposed to finding yourself in a marriage or with a family and have such issues re-surface with more significant consequences.

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