Article by Christopher Kokoski
Research-based advice on baffling male behavior.
Note: Previously published on Medium, now only available on Bedbible.com
This is your complete guide to why men pull away.
You’re having a great time with a guy, and then one day he just pulls away. What gives? Some men pull away in the beginning stages of a relationship. Others withdraw when things get serious.
Why do men pull away…? Well, there are many reasons why. I’m here to talk about some of them and answer your frequently asked questions, too.
What makes me qualified?
Good question. I suppose that’s debatable.
I did spend 13 years traveling the United States teaching evidence-based relationship skills. The positive results of the programs I taught are published in peer-reviewed journals.
I’m also a recovered “pull-away” guy.
Although I’m not proud of it, I’ve pulled away in many relationships at different times and for different reasons. So, I bring both personal experience and research to the table.
In this article, I’m aiming to answer the question “Why Do Men Pull Away?” in-depth, address different aspects of the reasons, and offer tips on what to do about it.
Even though this article is called “a complete guide for women,” men pull away from other men for very similar reasons.
In the end, I hope you’ll be better informed, better equipped, and better prepared for when men pull away.
Why do guys suddenly pull away?
It can be really confusing when guys pull away suddenly.
As you might expect, there can be a number of reasons. Each man is different so each man’s reason for pulling back will also be different. However, there are patterns.
Here are some of the common reasons men pull away:
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Relationship issues or concerns
- Temporary need for space
- He doesn’t know what he wants
- He met someone else
Difficulty regulating their emotions
Guys often pull away suddenly because they don’t know how to regulate their emotions.
Many men (and women) do not manage their feelings well.
This leads to sudden mood changes and erratic behavior. They might not understand their own feelings, or how to express them, so they pull back to avoid getting too close because it’s uncomfortable for them.
Relationship issues or concerns
He might not feel needed or wanted in the relationship.
Let’s be honest, no one is perfect. Both men and women mess up in relationships, often without realizing it. And most of us bring our own set of expectations into relationships — whether those expectations are reasonable or not.
Men appreciate compliments, feeling needed, and feeling desired, too.
Temporary need for space
Then again, he may just need some space. Men seem to require time alone to mull over life, to think about nothing at all, and to recharge so that they can be fully present in a relationship.
Psychologist Amy Morin offers seven science-backed reasons for time alone in her Forbes article, “7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone”.
- Boosts empathy
- Supports creativity
- Increases productivity
- Strengthens mental health
- Increases self-awareness
- Gives you time to plan your life
Personal stress or work stress can wreak havoc on a man’s sense of identity and purpose.
When men are not fully pursuing and expressing their personal life mission, they tend to get all screwed up emotionally. Space can help redirect their focus and energy to their purpose.
He doesn’t know what he wants
Some men pull away because they don’t know what they want.
This is a personal, maturity issue that has more to do with him than you. He may need to spend time growing in his own sense of self-awareness.
Men who don’t know what they want can drive you crazy with their indecisive, hot-and-cold behavior.
He met someone else
It’s also possible that he met someone new. That’s not a pleasant idea, but it could be true. Typically, this isn’t the case (at least, in a committed relationship), but it is a possibility.
There are definitely signs that he likes someone else or that he is cheating. I’ve written extensively on the subject, so I won’t repeat those ideas here.
If you are interested, you might want to check out these three resources:
- 5 Surprising Physical Traits That Predict Cheating
- 53 Red Flags That Your Man is Cheating
- The 5 Best Times To Catch a Cheater
Why do guys pull away when they like you?
Guys pull away when they like you because they are afraid to get hurt.
It’s a defense mechanism that keeps them safe and makes sure they don’t end up getting in too deep, possibly rejected, or heartbroken.
They may have suffered bad experiences in the past where their feelings were not reciprocated, so they learned to withdrawal to protect themselves from future pain.
Men might also be afraid of scaring you off by coming on too strong.
Many dating coaches advise men to “give women the gift of your absence.” It sounds funny, but published research shows that women are more attracted to men when they act mysterious and don’t reveal all of their true feelings.
The research is solid, but it doesn’t always feel good on the receiving end.
Why do guys come on strong then pull away?
Has a guy ever seemed really into you, then totally changed overnight?
Guys notoriously flip-flop in relationships, coming on strong and then going cold. Why do they behave this way?
Here are some reasons why men come on strong and then pull away:
- He’s emotionally out of control: This is the most common reason. The guy’s feelings are too strong and he doesn’t know how to handle them, so he pushes you away.
- He feels guilty: If the guy has a lot of unresolved guilt about past relationships or making mistakes in other areas of his life, those feelings could trigger him to pull back because being close makes him feel bad.
- He’s not feeling it anymore: His interest in the relationship might have changed for any number of reasons. Some men (and women) enjoy the intense rush of the honeymoon stage, but bail when relationships soften into long-term love and commitment.
- He’s manipulative: One sign of a manipulative or narcissistic personality is the desire to control someone else. These men “love bomb” at the beginning of a relationship, then shift gears after you fall in love. Some men feel more “like a man” when they push women around — it’s an ugly truth, but it’s the truth.
Why do guys pull away in the early stages of a relationship?
The reason men pull away in the early stages of a relationship is usually different than why they pull away later in the relationship.
Early in a relationship, men might pull away because they’re intimidated by a woman’s attractiveness and don’t want to come across as desperate. More than one dating coach advises men to “play it cool” or act distant at first to avoid scaring women away.
The reason is that many “nice guys” come on too strong early in relationships. They start texting all the time, giving up their hobbies, and naming their future children.
Many guys have been burned by this type of behavior more than once so they learned to withdrawal so they don’t get hurt. That’s not women’s fault, it’s more society not teaching men proper relationship etiquette and emotional management.
Men might also pull away because they don’t want to get too emotionally attached.
- Not be ready for commitment
- Feel scared of getting hurt
- Have other pressing commitments or goals
Regardless of why he pulls away, it can be hard not to take it personally. Often, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him.
Why do men pull away when things start to get serious?
Later in a relationship, men might pull away because they crave independence or need time for themselves. Often this is due to the demanding nature of a relationship in which both people have high expectations of one another.
Men may also feel like they are settling and don’t have many other options for a partner.
A lot of guys get into relationships with any person that is attracted to them (as opposed to having high standards and ideal preferences). When guys don’t know exactly what they want, they might accept any relationship at first.
Later, they might realize that there are things about you that they don’t prefer or like. They may also be waiting for you to change something about yourself before becoming more involved with you.
Important note: This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
Remember, this is about him, not you. Everyone has preferences, but not everyone has spent time fully exploring and detailing the characteristics of their ideal partner.
Why do guys pull away and then come back?
Guys pull away and then come back for many reasons.
Men pull away and then come back because they are not sure how to feel about you yet. Men may pull away because they want the freedom of being single, or because they still have feelings for someone else and don’t know what to do with two women in their lives.
They might also be using dating techniques common in the pick-up community.
In dating programs, coaches teach guys to “push-pull.” This means to alternate between showing interest and showing disinterest.
However, the most common reason for men to act “hot-and-cold” is because they don’t know what they want and they don’t know how to effectively manage their feelings.
Is he ghosting me or does he just need space?
Some men need space when things start getting serious. He needs time to think and explore his options. He may need a break so that he can figure out if he wants to continue the relationship.
Other men disappear like ghosts.
How can you tell if he needs space or if he is ghosting you?
A man who is ghosting you will usually stop responding to your text messages. He will also ignore your calls and try to avoid you in person. A man who needs space may still respond at times, but he won’t initiate contact or meet up with you as often as before.
Ultimately, if a man ghosts you, you will never hear from him. A man who needs space will reconnect with you.
How long do guys pull away for?
There is no definite time limit, but if a guy likes you, he will usually pull away for no longer than a few days or a week at most.
If a guy needs more than a week of time alone, there’s usually more to the story. He may be pursuing a relationship with someone else or just not sure how he feels about you.
The rule of thumb here is that the longer he pulls away, the worse it is for your relationship or potential relationship.
Mature men don’t pull away from women they like for very long.
Will a man come back after pulling away?
Many men come back after pulling away. It really depends on the reason he pulled away in the first place.
Here are a few general ideas to consider:
- If he likes you and wants a relationship, he will come back.
- If he doesn’t like you or doesn’t want a committed relationship with you, he may never come back.
- If he doesn’t know how to manage his feelings, he’ll probably come back, pull away again, and repeat that pattern until he matures or he unintentionally drives you out of his life.
What to do when he is pulling away?
The worst thing you can do when he is pulling away is to come on too strong.
The best advice I have for you is to tell him that you care about him, give him his space, and let him know that you would love to reconnect with him whenever he is ready to talk.
You could say something along the lines of, “It seems like something is going on with you, but I don’t want to pry. I hope everything is ok. Reach out to me when you want to talk.”
It can be as simple as that.
Repeated calls or demands to talk usually backfire. I definitely wouldn’t recommend chasing after him. He might feel overwhelmed and withdrawal even further.
When he pulls away should I do the same?
No, you should not pull away when a man pulls away. Give him space? Yes, absolutely. But don’t go radio silent forever. Not if you want a relationship, anyway.
Give him space but not silence.
Just let him know you are ready to reconnect when he is ready and leave it at that. You might check in with him if you haven’t heard from him in a week, but don’t ghost him.
If you pull away, he might pull away further, and then there is no hope of a relationship. You might want to pull away — it would only be human nature — but it doesn’t typically work out in your favor.
When he comes back, try to avoid punishing him emotionally for pulling away. Share your honest feelings respectfully, but if he feels “punished” it might drive him away again.
If you want the best chance of a relationship with him, allow him to associate positive feelings with coming back to you. People usually don’t stay in relationships where they feel bad.
Here are the main takeaways from this guide:
- Men pull away for different reasons.
- Many reasons men pull away have nothing to do with you.
- It is natural for men to pull away to recharge and to focus on their mission.
- Many men don’t know exactly what they want.
- Many men don’t know how to manage their feelings.
- Many men pull away because they are afraid of getting hurt, afraid of coming on too strong, and afraid of commitment.
- When men pull away, many of them come back.
- A mature man doesn’t pull away from a woman he likes for very long.
- When men pull away, give him space but not silence.
- Express your honest feelings about his absence, but don’t punish him emotionally.
When men pull away, it can be incredibly frustrating.
I hope this guide helps clarify some of the main reasons for this perplexing male behavior and what you can do about it. In the end, it’s up to the guy to figure out what he wants, how to process his feelings, and his level of commitment.
“As a body in a world, here is our choice: we can be more loving or less loving. That’s it. We can relax as the entire moment’s show of love’s swirl, feeling open as all — a vicious rainstorm, tweeting birds, our lover’s lips, a sense of worthlessness — or we can close to some aspect of experience, pulling away as if we were separate.”
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