June 24, 2016

Let’s Get Intimate: Are you Empathizing or Enabling? {Adult Q & A}

couple, sad, black and white

Do you have questions about creating intimacy or developing mindful relationships?
Confusing questions? Awkward ones? Deep, dark scary ones?

I want them. Email your questions to: [email protected].

All authors remain anonymous. No judgments, just soulful answers. 


Q. I have been dating a man for over a year now. Everything was great from the beginning, as every “honeymoon stage” is.

He lives in another state in my parents’ hometown and I live a couple of hours away (going to school, graduating in three months). 

We have had our arguments here and there. He does not open up ever about his feelings; he gives the cold shoulder sometimes because he has been through a lot in the past. I’ve dealt with this for a while. I have been there for him and even his young daughter.

I’ve sacrificed a lot of my time to be with them. 

This last argument was me being upset over him not showing me his love. He will tell me, but rarely does he show it anymore and it affects me. Of course, I’m emotionally sensitive at times and I need his love and support—what girl doesn’t in a relationship?

Now he tells me he doesn’t know if he can do this anymore. I am assuming because I have ranted a little too much. I love him and I know he loves me but I am confused about what I need to do. I figured maybe some space or time apart will do…but he’s emotionally damaged.

Any advice?

A. Do I have advice? You bet. Stop enabling your man’s bad behavior.

Sorry to come out of the gate huffing and puffing like a bull, but I’ve seen too many caring, loving women have their hearts trampled by men who abuse their loving kindness. I’m not saying you should kick him to the curb or not be sensitive to his difficult past. I am, however, saying that you need to shift your tenderness from him to yourself—at least until he is willing to offer you emotional equality in the relationship.

Let’s be honest: We all have difficult pasts to varying degrees. Some of us more than others, to be sure. At some point, using one’s past to justify dysfunctional behavior is a cop out. If your man wants to keep you he needs to do two things:

Get help.

You don’t go into detail about the kind of past he’s had, but I’m going to assume it involves some kind of abuse, trauma, and/or grief. I’d guess part of it involves the mother of his daughter. Whatever it is, he clearly has not yet done the self-work to begin healing from that painful past. As a result, he’s lashing out at you by shutting you out. This shut-down pattern is one he has learned in order to cope with the pain—either by recreating the pain, keeping it close by (and therefore manageable) or by avoiding the pain entirely.

Your man needs to learn newer, healthier ways of working toward healing. He needs to speak with a therapist, counselor, coach, or join a support group. No matter how strong we are, we cannot heal alone. We all need help to move past painful patterns into wellness.

Stop shutting you out.

Many men do not communicate verbally, that’s true. But they do communicate. Silence is also communication. When your boyfriend shuts you out, it relays one of two messages: I don’t want your help or I want your help but I don’t know how to ask for it. 

Confusing, right?

That’s why at the very least, he needs to make it clear to you which one his silence means. You’ve clearly proven that you are empathetic to his situation. You’ve been “there for him” as well as his daughter, so you’ve done your part to relay your intention. It’s his turn now. You cannot get past whatever pain the two of you have if he will not speak. And don’t be fooled: If he leaves you without working on this problem, he will most certainly repeat it with all of his future partners.

Now let’s talk about you.

First, you are not at fault for wanting a connective relationship. Wanting love does not make you “emotionally sensitive,” it makes you human.

A man who doesn’t speak his feelings but still loves you will most certainly show you those feelings. He may help clean up or take you out or fix things around the house. These are all acts of love—as are physical acts of love. He may treat you with loving attention during sexual intimacy. (Take a moment to reflect on this now: How does he touch you? Is he present during lovemaking? Is he generous with his pleasure-giving or his he energetically “checked-out” and more focused on climaxing?)

Important note: Men who are not comfortable speaking about their love are willing to at least try to if it means something to their beloved.

Second, the fact that your man wants to pull away has nothing to do with ranting. In fact, I’d be careful of calling the expression of your needs a “rant.” You may have gotten passionate or even repetitive, but what else can you do when your partner is not responding?

No, his pulling away is not about you; it’s his pattern.

So, to sum up: If your man is going to have a loving partner such as yourself in his life—one who has demonstrably supported him and his child with love, time, and empathy—he needs to get help to move past his pain. He will be unable to maintain a healthy relationship with any woman until he does. Yes, he’s in pain. You’ve picked up on that. And you can see that he’s suffering. More than likely he doesn’t like this suffering any more than you do. Probably even less.

This means he needs to see a professional (e.g., a therapist, counselor, or coach) who can help him begin to heal himself and become the man he truly wants to be—as a partner and as a father.

Happy loving!





Author: Rachel Astarte

Photo: Ashley Webb at Flickr   

Editor: Renée Picard; Travis May

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