Can you rebuild intimacy after a breakup?

-- Question for John --

I fell for her very quickly. We clicked and connected brilliantly. She wanted things to develop slowly. This never happened as we just accelerated our relationship by spending lots of time together. This was OK until she felt in too deep and pulled back. This started a cycle of me chasing, pressuring, and her stepping back and feeling defensive, “like a knife to her throat.”

It was hard to be myself as I was worried and was anxious about her feelings for me. I told her I loved her but she wasn’t sure. She loved being with me and cared a lot for me couldn’t say more. We fell into bitterness and fighting and finally after a couple one day breakups, did it for good.

We still see each other every day at school, we study together and have recently started doing more activities together, something we didnt do initially. When we are together, with the pressure of “having a relationship” removed, we are great. We laugh and have great conversation and fun. However as soon as I ask her what is going on, should I be dating other people, are you, were are WE at? Will this friendship ever lead to intimacy again? She breaks down, cries, and we fight, say mean hurtfull things to each other and then we are back to square one — awkwardness and uncomfortable friendship with me feeling terrible for not having the patience needed to give this wonderful person the time and room she needs. I really care a lot for this girl, I would say I do love her.

What is the best way to rebuild intimacy? She said that right now she cannot have any romantic stuff or sexual stuff at all — with anyone. She doesn’t feel good about herself and is quite down often. What is the right action for me to take? I am hoping that we can rebuild intimacy through friendship and sharing easy, light times together. Is there hope? I want her to feel good about herself and about me too! She seems interested in me enough to lend me money, help me out, call, spend time with me, tell me not to worry, squeeze my hand on occasion, stuff like that. Any advice is so greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

-- Answer from John --

After the honeymoon, love relationships go through many phases and tests. Not all are pleasant or comfortable. And the conflict that the two of you were trying to work out is one of the more common issues that end up dividing couples. While most couples will break up — as opposed to passing the tests — this does not necessarily mean the end of the road. Especially given the obvious continued interest and pleasure she has in being around you — I would think it worth your while to hold in mind the potential to build intimacy again. But the fundamental test that managed to divide you still has not been passed.

Part of the test involves what I call the “Polarity Dance” that the two of you were engaged in. You moving toward. Her moving away from. You feeling insecure and her feeling pressured. The extreme of this ends up being abandonment vs. imprisonment. It is possible to do what I call “popping” the polarity. And that takes the relationship to the next level of intimacy and heightens its potential.

Keeping a relationship growing in a positive direction is the main thing. Letting things fall into defensive patterns or letting a polarity dance take over really can push a couple to the edge. Keeping things growing takes work and you need to understand the nature of that work — and you need to develop some good tools for doing that work.

Right now — more important than getting back in the saddle of this relationship — you need to devote some energy to pursuing some new strategies. If you do not learn some new tools around communicating better and handling your emotions (like insecurity or impatience) better, then just the same old pattern is going to happen again. She knows this (perhaps subconsciously). In fact, you are continuing to give her signals that you are still the pursuer. So you need to step back and demonstrate that you are ready to deal with your part of the test. Which is to get real comfortable and secure in yourself. Her part of the test, I’m not sure of, because I am not talking with her right now. But there is something there for her to work with, too. And perhaps that involves confusion over exactly why she felt the way she did, and a sense of failure over her inability to get it together with a great guy like you — whom she obviously still loves — at least that’s my impression from the fact she is still hanging around.

You are doing an important thing, right now. Which is asking the question “What can I do differently?” — and looking for educational materials. This is how you learn and grow from this challenge — and, ultimately, prepare yourself to pass those tests.