What It Means When One Of You Wants More Time Together—And The Other Wants Space

“He’s not here for me,” complained Hailey. “We don’t spend enough time together.”

“She’s too needy. I need space,” complained her husband, Ryan.

“He just does whatever he wants to do, with no concern for me,” countered Hailey.

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“She’s so demanding that I just don’t feel like being with her a lot. I wish she’d just back off. I need time alone and with my friends.”

Can you relate to Hailey and Mark?

Do you, like Hailey, typically feel rejected in a relationship? You feel an underlying anxiety with a partner, but this anxiety actually creates the very thing you fear most—it pushes people away.

Or, like Mark, do you feel smothered? You might jump in with both feet at the beginning of a relationship, but sooner or later you feel cornered and gasping for air.

The Anxious-Avoidant Relationship: When Two Fears Meet

Hailey and Mark are a classic example of a specific kind of relationship style: Anxious-Avoidant. In an Anxious-Avoidant relationship, one person (in this case Hailey) fears loss of the other, and the other fears loss of self (Mark).

Each partner is triggering each other’s fears. Hailey’s anger and complaints trigger Ryan’s fear of engulfment, while his distancing triggers Hailey’s fear of abandonment.

Then they respond to each other with the very behavior that continues to trigger the fear. They are caught in a protective circle, each blaming the other for the problems.

Hailey really believes that if only Ryan would spend more time with her, everything would be okay. While Ryan really believes that if only Hailey would back off and stop pulling on him for time and attention, everything would be okay.

What Happens When The Fear Of Rejection Butts Heads With The Fear Of Engulfment

Our fears stem from childhood experiences of being rejected and controlled. They also come from the pain of having been rejected as adults, or of having lost ourselves in a relationship, or of having lost loved ones to death without knowing how to handle the pain.

When our fears of being rejected or controlled are triggered, most of us immediately retreat into our learned controlling behaviors.

If we fear rejection, we become pushy, clingy, or demanding in order to get the love we want. We may also become covertly controlling—being overly nice and accommodating, out of the belief that this will make our partner stay.

If we fear being controlled, we can shut down, criticize, withdraw, or resist—anything to put up a barrier between us and the other person.

Of course, the moment we act out in controlling ways, our behavior may trigger our partner’s fears of being rejected or controlled, and he or she may then react in controlling ways as well, creating a vicious circle and an unsafe relationship system.

If You And Your Partner Aren’t Aware Of Your Underlying Fears, You Will Blame—And You Will Stay Stuck

If, when these fears are activated, we focus on who is at fault or who started it, we perpetuate the fears.

Blaming another for our fears (and for our own reactive, unloving behavior) makes the relationship unsafe.

Then both people in the relationship end up feeling bad, each believing that our pain is the result of the other’s behavior. We feel victimized, helpless, stuck, and disconnected from our partner.

We desperately want our partner to see what he or she is doing that (we think) is causing our pain. We think that if our partner only understands this, he or she will change—and we exhaust ourselves trying to figure out how to make them understand.

With So Much Push And Pull, Someone Has To Give

It’s easy to see that the fear of rejection creates much anxiety, while the fear of engulfment creates much resistance/avoidance.

It’s also easy to see that the anxiety of one partner (coming from the fear of rejection) and the resistance/avoidance of the other partner (coming from the fear of engulfment) create a circular system where each partner’s fears are triggered by how the other deals with their fears.

The dual fears of losing the other and losing ourselves are the underlying causes of our unloving, reactive behavior.

These fears are deeply rooted. They cannot be healed or overcome by getting someone else’s love. On the contrary, we must heal these fears before we can share love with each other.

When We Each Stop Controlling And Instead Heal Our Underlying Fears, The Relationship Can Heal

Until Hailey develops her loving adult who can define her own worth and take emotional responsibility for her own feelings, Hailey will be a bottomless pit. No matter how much time and attention Ryan gives her, it will never be enough.

On the other hand, even if Hailey does back off from pulling on Ryan for time and attention, it is likely he will continue to be resistant and emotionally distant. His fear of engulfment is not being caused by Hailey—it is being caused by not having a loving adult to speak his truth and set limits against engulfment.

Until he learns to set loving limits about what he does and doesn’t want in a relationship, he will still feel that she is running the show and imposing on him. He needs to learn to give voice to his feelings—instead of acting out and shutting down—so both of them can feel safe in the relationship.

Our fears of rejection or of being controlled are gradually healed as we develop our loving adult self, who is capable of managing the pain of rejection and loss, and of setting loving limits regarding losing ourselves.

Practicing Inner Bonding is what develops your loving adult. Inner Bonding is a powerful six-step, self-healing process that will allow you to take loving care of yourself so you no longer need to fear abandonment or fear losing yourself in a relationship.

Since 1984, Inner Bonding has helped thousands of men and women finally heal from anxiety, shame, emptiness, and depression. In Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love, you’ll learn how to do this process AND create a truly safe, loving, connected relationship.

This is a 30-day at home course. You’ll get 30 videos where I’ll coach you through a different principle each day and give you a specific daily exercise to make sure you absorb the material. You’ll learn to develop your inner loving adult and access spiritual guidance so you are not relying on your partner to make you feel whole.

The more you practice the process, the stronger your loving adult becomes. A strong, spiritually-connected adult is capable of:

  • Defining your own sense of worth rather than needing others’ approval to feel worthy
  • Not taking rejection, resistance, and emotional distance personally
  • Speaking the truth about not wanting responsibility for another’s feelings, without resisting, attacking, or distancing
  • Taking loving action in your own behalf to ensure against engulfment
  • Sharing love instead of trying to get love or avoid pain
Find Safety In Your Relationship

There is no such thing as a relationship where you never feel rejected, lonely, heartbroken, and helplessness over the person or situation.

That’s why it’s so important to manage these feelings when they arise within you—without creating conflict and distance in your relationships.


Margaret Paul

P.S. There are 8 common dysfunctional relationship systems, and you’ll learn about all of them on Day 8 of the Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love course:

Discover Your Relationship System

Fall Deeply In Love All Over Again

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