What Not To Do When Your Ex Wants Space

When you are dealing with someone who is self-destructing, it’s hard not to be sucked into the toxic interaction that is typical of this attraction.

And what do I mean by typical of this attraction?

The self-destructing person is attracted to you because you have that “strength” that the self-destructing person feels he or she does not have. Sub-consciously the self-destructing person feels that he or she needs you in his or her life to “stay alive” or make “sense” of their own pain.

You on the other hand, are attracted to something about the self-destructing person that you feel you lack in yourself. It may be his or her aloof and emotionally detached persona or his or her living on the edge attitude or something that you find so compelling about him or her. It does not mean you are “blind” to his or her other faults, it’s just that you see this wonderful person self-destructing and in some way you feel responsible for “saving” him or her and may even think that’s the reason you were brought into his or her life. But the more you try to be the “saviour” or help him or her “see sense” the more your own “issues” show up.

And here is the real irony. When the person starts to get better, the dynamics of the attraction begins to change because you are no longer the “saviour” figure or the “sense” in their lives. Some recovering self-destructing people transfer that “saviour” figure or the “sense” in their lives to their therapist, counselor or coach (especially if the therapist, counselor or coach doesn’t recognize what’s happening and stops it). Others who are doing a better job at recovery start to redefine who they are and what they want. This is the point at which they begin to question their attraction to you, and if you are what they really want.

For some people they realize they really are not that attracted to you any more. Others feel the relationship does not excite or fulfill them any more and others just think they can do better. So what do they do? Dump you.

Others see things about you they still find very attractive (and may even feel some sort of gratitude debt) but they struggle with redefining how the recovering, recovered or “new” them now relates to you. Most people go back and forth between being strongly pulled towards you and pulling away because they are trying to figure what those feelings mean, how strong they are, if they want to act on them, and if they do, how they will go about it.

Some pull away with “no contact”, others keep the contact but act aloof and detached, and some others date other people, others just do what they want and don’t seem to care that your feelings are being hurt by their actions.

This is where it gets even more toxic. Their pulling away and not seeming to care about you or how their actions affect you can get you all worked up emotionally and start acting in a self-destructing manner yourself.

The better he or she gets, the more insecure you feel (and with good reason as I shall explain in the next paragraphs). His or her getting better was all you wanted in the first place, but now that same thing you wanted is your greatest fear. So instead of feeling pleased now that he or she is finally “coming to his/her senses”, you feel threatened and start to sabotage his or her efforts at getting better and being capable of a healthy relationship. Talk about irony.

You find yourself really pissed of because you now feel rejected (and worthless to them). You should have dumped his/her ass when he/she was doing all those self-destructing things but no, you stuck by them and this is how you are rewarded!

One moment you feel strongly attracted to him/her and the next you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Some people even toy with the idea of revenge because they are just so pissed off.

But what more can you do if you still have feelings for him or her?

Keep contact but stop trying to actively get him or her back.

That may not be the answer you hoped to hear from me especially for many of us brought up to think that you must always “do something” to get something. Trying to actively get your ex back interferes with his/her recovery. Any attempts to inject yourself into your ex’s life at this point will be seen by him/her as you trying to draw him/her back into a toxic relationship. He/she will most likely move even further away from you.

When you find yourself in this place, there is not much you can do except trust that if the attraction between the two of you was strong enough, he or she’ll find his or her way back to you.

Problem is, if you have not dealt with your own “issues” and the anger that may be accumulating (because “this is all so unfair”) you will start to seriously self-destruct all on your own. For example, you sabotage his or her efforts to initiate and re-establish contact by not responding to his or her emails or texts because you want to play hard to get or are following some silly “no contact” rule. Or you lose some weight, get really toned up, get all dressed up, go out with him or her on a date just to act aloof and detached because you think it’ll make you more attractive. Or some really stupid “cut off your nose to spite your face” behaviour.

Now who is self-destructing and toxic?

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  • My boyfriend of four years dumped me last week, says he still loves me so much but needs some space and time apart. I smothered him and we fought a lot because of my insecurities, which I’m working on. He says he still wants to work things out but doesn’t know how much time he needs. I asked him if he wants no contact and he said he doesn’t want to cut me off, he just needs space and time. I don’t know what to do and how long to wait. I love him very much and I know he loves me and I don’t want to give up on us. Please help?

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    • Sounds like a great guy who just needs some space. I don’t think you should give him up either.

      Give him the time he needs. Since he is open to contact, ask him how much contact he is comfortable with because you don’t want to assume and end up smothering him again.

      What will eventually get him back is for you to work on your insecurities, so what when he is ready, you will be ready too. If when he comes back, you are still acting the same, he may decide it’s best to go your separate ways.

      Hang on to this guy. There may be many fish in the sea, but all you need is ONE good one, and these days that aren’t that many good ones.

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  • My ex and I have been spending more time together. But since a couple of days I noticed she has been distant. I asked her about it and she says she feels like she’s being rushed. What the right thing to do now, give her space?

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  • Yangki, thank you for giving a different perspective which has allowed me to see that needing space is not the end of a relationship. All the other articles say a man needing space means he is either cheating or wants to breakup. You answered my questions. It’s a shame that this is not mainstream advice because I think it makes much more sense. So, again, thank you.

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  • Me and my partner split up after 4 years of being together. He wasn’t happy and wanted time away from me. I did everything wrong, begged, cried and blew his phone. Now he doesn’t talk to me for a month. Its been difficult and extremely painful but I have to give him the space he needs. My question is, after the one month he asked for, do I contact him or wait for him to contact me?

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  • I needed to read this specific post. It’s been 3 months since things ended between me and boyfriend of 18 months. Now we are communicating and we finally saw each other twice this past week. Of course he told me that even though he still loves and wants to be with me, he still needs his time. He did say he still wants is to hang out from time to time and keep in touch, so between this and me just focusing on what I need to do, I’m positive things may work out eventually. Thank you for this blog!

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