By Shannon Colleary
Your toxic man doesn’t want you until you’re finally over him, and then he finds you irresistible. Leaving an abusive relationship for good means you need to know how to protect yourself.
He wants you. You give in. Then he doesn’t want you. It hurts.
You find the strength to walk away. He wants you. You give in.
Then he doesn’t want you. Rinse and repeat.
If you’re anything like I was and attracted commitment-phobic, toxic men, you may have had the confounding experience of finally getting the strength to stay away from your guy for good, only to have him come back on hands and knees, swearing that he really, really loves you and that he’s really changed this time.
If you believe him, the “pursue/panic” cycle can start all over again. Why does he do this?
In their seminal book, Men Who Can’t Love, Julia Sokol and Steven Carter say, “Often, all the commitment-phobic needs to alleviate his anxiety is distance. The relationship is over, so he is no longer frightened. Thus, the feelings he has for you are free to surface in this non-threatening environment. No longer panicked by the trap, he misses you. So he calls.”
“When that happens, usually the scenario is played out all over again. The only difference, this time it’s faster.”
I’ve been in two toxic relationships.
You can’t believe the intensity of the love letters I received from my two commitment-phobes when I finally got strong enough to walk away.
Here’s a little taste of what one of my men who wouldn’t let me go wrote in my very own journal:
“Shannon, I have so much to say. I’m thankful for knowing such a dynamically talented, spiritual, intelligent and beautiful woman.”
(My ego ate that up like a delicious Chow Mein!)
“I have grown as a human with you and had thoughts and hopes of us building a dynasty together and being each other’s champion.”
(Right about now I was feeling pretty awesome for changing him so much. Man, he needed my excellent love.)
“I don’t understand how a person’s feelings can change 180 degrees after feeling what I thought we were feeling.”
(My feelings changed because he wouldn’t answer my phone calls and disappeared for days at a time when I asked for a monogamous relationship.)
“I must let you know that I have never felt what I feel for you with anyone.”
(Ego so, so happy. Man, I’m awesome)
“Therefore, the mess I’ve been for the last two weeks is consistent with my feelings.”
(Glad he’s suffering after all the suffering I’ve been doing. I’ll let him suffer a few seconds longer, then take him back and have the perfect life. Because he now finally understands how awesome I am!)
“It saddens me to hear you say you don’t want to be with me. The headaches, sleeplessness nights and low moments seem to be all wrong. I’m lost. I’m sorry that I haven’t told you I want you in my life. Because I have been slow to discover how I work and why I do the things I do is no reason why we should allow this special thing between us to disappear.”
(This one really hooked me. He was “slow to discover” how he worked. Hadn’t my time in therapy taught me that we don’t always know why we do the things we do? Couldn’t I just cut him some slack?)
“This makes no sense!”
(You didn’t call for a week. Then you just showed up wanting oral sex and moped when I wouldn’t administer it.)
“It’s very simple, I love you, you love me. We are good for each other.”
(Actually, not so good for me.)
“We should be together. Please, give me a chance. I’m begging you not to throw something beautiful away. Think about it, babe!”
I thought about it for five minutes. Then I gave him another chance. How did it go? Four more years of inconsistency, unreliability, lying, cheating and several more beautiful apology letters were my reward.
So what can you do to protect yourself from falling prey to your toxic partner’s “Pursue/Panic” syndrome?
If you’ve found yourself wondering, “Why won’t he let me go if he doesn’t want me?”, here are 6 things you need to know about removing yourself from this type of relationship.
1. Understand that the two of you run on different operating systems.
You desire connectedness, intimacy, commitment, longevity. He desires those things when you’re running away. But when you come close and offer them, he feels suffocated, panics, and either bolts or sabotages the relationship by criticizing, moping, being unreliable and/or cheating. What works for you does not work for him.
2. Slow things down.
Remember, “Trust is earned, not given.” If you decide to give your guy a second chance because he swears he’s changed and wants what you want, go slow. Yes, make-up sex can be as incendiary as the fireworks at the Beijing Olympics, but it’s not an indicator anything has changed.
3. Don’t think you’re in a movie.
Richard Gere came to his senses after he dumped Debra Winger. He rushed to her factory to whisk her away to a future with him as loving, sexy and pouncy as a cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof. It’s a fantasy as intoxicating as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. But the reality is, the only thing Debra Winger probably got to keep was his hat.
4. Believe what he does, not what he says.
When your guy comes crawling back, tears in his eyes, broken hearted, he’s liable to say anything to get you back. The really tricky part is he probably really means it. But once he has you back, he feels suffocated and smothered all over again.
5. Don’t find excuses for his bad behavior, and don’t blame yourself.
In general, those of us attracted to commitment-phobic asshats have an overabundance of empathy and the tendency to misplace responsibility.
This is left over from childhood. Little kids think they’re the cause of everything that happens to them, both good and bad. The brain stem at that time is underdeveloped and doesn’t understand the concept that the child isn’t the center of the universe.
So if we’ve had volatile upbringings — parents with addictions of any kind — we often take that feeling of being the cause of the problem into adulthood with us, leaving us vulnerable to chaotics, addicts, narcissists, commitment-phobes and the like.
Take a look at your guy’s past. Did he leave a trail of broken hearts? Then you are most likely not responsible for his commitment-phobic behavior.
6. Take care of yourself.
When a toxic ex comes back broken and bleeding from missing the relationship he detonated, it’s in our nature to rush in and fix it. Notice when you have that impulse and doubt its validity.
Ask yourself, “What do I need right now? What would make me feel grounded, sensible, peaceful?” Then ask a Higher Power of your own understanding for the strength to do that.
Shannon Bradley-Colleary is a compassionate Recovery Road-Warrior for Women. She uses her extensive background in Twelve-Step Recovery to help women go from #ToxicLove to #RealLove stat. Get Shannon’s free tools, webinars and update by subscribing here.
More from YourTango: