Confused over what our separation means

-- Question for John --

Two weeks have passed since my boyfriend left and I have been trying to focus more on myself and the things I left aside while I was with him, although in the top of my head are the big questions. What should I expect from all this? Should I try to forget him? Is this a testing period or a signal that we are not meant to be together?

We were in a relationship for 1 year. Everything was working out fine until 3 weeks ago, when I realized that he was backing off because he was focused on his studies or he was too tired to come over to visit me. I know that he has many pressures right now, since he will become a dentist in 3 months and he doesn’t know what he will do next and it is very important for him to make enough money to live well (and the situation of our country is not well). We were both under a lot of stress (I was in the middle of midterms), and I got anxious seeing how things with him were not the way they were before; so I started to put pressure on him by asking what was going on and telling him that he was hurting me and that we needed to talk soon. On the last day I told him, he came to visit me in a rush and told me that he really did not know what was happening, that he was sure that he loved me, that he could never see me as just a friend, that he felt I was the right person for him… that he did not want to hurt me, and that he knew I did not deserve the way he was having so many priorities at this time of his life that he was pushing me aside, and that he did not know how to handle this… He then said that he didn’t want to mess things up as he had done in his past relationship, and that up to now things were better left this way so that we could probably retake the relationship in a nice way later without hard feelings… He just feels that he has too many pressures in his life now…

I asked him if we could do things some other way, or he was sure of this decision, and he said that he was sure, although he could’t tell if he would regret this decision later… He also said he knew he was taking the risk of losing me, but that he believes that when two people are meant to be together, they will be… At the end, I had no choice. Can you help me with this?

-- Answer from John --

This is probably best thought of as a testing period. However, you need to know exactly what is being tested.

Right now, more than the relationship itself, you are being tested. What is the test? You have to look at what has happened in the relationship to see what each partner is being tested by.

To summarize your story of what led to this:

(a) He was getting more involved in outside pressures (studies, decisions about work).

(b) This created some distance in the relationship.

(c) You reacted to this with insecurity and put emotional pressure on him to narrow the distance and become close again.

(d) He reacted by backing off further, and finally decided to create even more distance.

This is actually a classic “dance” that happens in a relationship — especially when things are about at the one year time point — especially when it is an important and meaningful relationship where there is some chance for longterm success. We call it a “Polarity Dance” and it is ultimately about the way couples polarize over a fight between closeness and distance. This is a normal first serious problem in a relationship, and it does need to be worked with and sorted out. Otherwise it will degenerate into a power struggle and eventually ruin the love a couple has for each other.

The underlying emotions that come up in this polarity dance of “closeness” versus “distance” are:

(1) one partner feels insecure, anxious, perhaps fears of abandonment — and to reduce these emotions he/she wants to move back closer again.

(2) the other partner feels emotional overwhelm, pressure, perhaps fears of being trapped — and to reduce these emotions he/she wants more distance.

There are other things going on, certainly the outside pressures on each of you also has an influence to amplify the emotional charge in this polarity dance.

It is important to realize that this dance is not real — it is more emotional than based on anything really being “wrong” in the relationship. It helps to understand that many of these underlying difficult emotions and fears are not even coming from the relationship — they are being amplified by underlying fears and wounds that each of you already had before you met. We call this “Personal Baggage” — and it is those sensitivities we all carry around from childhood. These past sensitivities will deeply affect your current relationship. And most of us do not realize it at the time.

Success can come to those couples who face the work of healing their own past — who look at the real tests — which are inside each of them. They stop blaming the other person for “making” them feel upset, anxious or insecure — and they start looking inside themself to heal the real source of this pain and fear.

Put simply, it involves a process of personal and emotional growth in each partner. Lasting partners do their soulwork in the relationship.

So, looking at your test — if you had not gotten so insecure and started putting pressure on your guy, it is obvious that the relationship would have continued to grow — even if there was some distance for awhile as a part of that growth. That is clear, right? We are only talking about YOUR test here — not his. In fact, looking at it that way — “What is my test here — where can I grow emotionally here?” — this is the ONLY way you will ever get to the soulwork.

You have to completely own your part of the polarity dance in order to stop doing it.

So now you are being tested even more. Because he has moved away to create an even larger distance. And you are probably emotionally upset even more. Right? The test is the same. It has just intensified.

If you truly face this test and learn to self-soothe your own emotional insecurities, you will pass the test. This does not mean having to “break” the relationship or “forget” about him. Those are only strategies that keep your same underlying emotional issues in place. They are attempts to get away from the thing that upsets you, rather than to deal with your real underlying issue — which is the need to learn to self-soothe your own emotional upsets in love.

You can never pass those upsets along to a partner — without upsetting them in return — and this is what sets up a polarity dance in the first place — and keeps it building until it is emotionally unbearable. The only person who can change that is YOU. When you pressure a partner to change it, it only makes the dance stronger.

Anyway, I am probably going on too much about this. I get the impression that he has attempted the best way he can under the pressures to save the good part of the relationship and keep this emotional intensity from ruining your love. So he has called a big “Time Out” here to let both of you settle down and get more resourceful.

Simply put, he doesn’t have any way to deal with your insecurities. He is not equipped to do this. And so he is hoping that you will get ahold of an inner way to do this. Sure, he has something to learn here too — very obviously. This upset is not just all your doing. It is a dance — remember? — and it takes two to dance.

You can expect a polarity dance over the upsetting issues in closeness versus distance in EVERY meaningful relationship. So I advise you to start working on your part of this dance right now — the part within you. Not only will this help you better deal with the upset you are now experiencing in this “Time Out” period — it will help you in love — no matter what path your future takes.