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Why do people who love you push you away?

It’s a painful experience when someone you love and care for deeply starts to push you away or create distance in the relationship. This can leave you feeling confused, hurt and questioning if they truly care about you. But why does this happen? There are several potential reasons why people who love you end up pushing you away:

They Have Fear of Intimacy

Some people have an underlying fear of emotional intimacy and vulnerability in relationships. Even though they may genuinely care about you, the closeness and intensity of the connection terrifies them. Pushing you away helps create a sense of space and control. They may fear losing their independence or worry about getting hurt if they let their guard down completely. Distance feels safer to them, even though it hurts the relationship.

They Have Past Relationship Trauma

We all bring our past experiences into new relationships. If someone experienced emotional abuse, cheating, abandonment or betrayal in previous relationships, they may instinctively want to protect themselves by holding back and keeping some distance. They care about you, but their past wounds make it hard to trust and fully open themselves up again. Pushing away feels like the right thing to do to prevent more pain.

They Have an Avoidant Attachment Style

Attachment theory suggests that how we bonded with our caregivers as infants influences how we relate in romantic relationships as adults. Those with an avoidant attachment style likely had caregivers who were emotionally unavailable or rejecting. They learned to suppress their needs and became self-reliant. As adults, they may subconsciously sabotage relationships by distancing themselves when things get too intimate. It’s their way of protecting themselves if they expect rejection.

They Feel Unworthy of Love

Some people deep down don’t believe they deserve to be loved fully. Due to low self-esteem, self-criticism or feelings of unworthiness, they question why someone would genuinely care about them. They may anxiously look for “proof” the relationship isn’t real or start to find faults in you. Pushing you away can be a form of self-protection, so they don’t have to experience the pain of losing someone they feel is “too good” for them.

They Feel Emotionally Overwhelmed

Strong emotions, even joyful ones like being in love, can feel frightening and overwhelming for some people. The surges of oxytocin and dopamine when bonding can almost feel like sensory overload to them. Pushing away creates physical and emotional space to process their feelings and return to a sense of control. For sensitive souls, intimacy may need to unfold gradually so they don’t feel emotionally flooded.

They Don’t Feel Ready for Commitment

Perhaps they genuinely appreciate you and enjoy spending time together, but the direction the relationship is heading in feels too intense or committed too soon for them. Getting closer to someone brings up natural fears about loss of independence or sacrificing for a partner’s needs. Their instinct may be to delay or pause the deepening connection to sort out their own readiness, even if it risks hurting you in the process.

They Are Dealing with Mental Health Issues

Mental health struggles like depression or anxiety can cause people to withdraw from loved ones and create distance, even from relationships they value deeply. Feelings of inner turmoil, low self-esteem or emotional numbness when depressed can drive people to isolate. Mood swings with bipolar disorder can also strain relationships. It’s often not about you, but their internal battle.

Why is this behavior so confusing for the partner?

When a partner who clearly cares about you suddenly pulls away or creates distance between you, it’s normal to find it extremely confusing and disorienting. Here’s why it can be so hard to make sense of:

It Feels Contradictory

Typically, when we feel love and affection for someone, our natural instinct is to want to be closer to them, not push them away. The two behaviors seem completely contradictory, leaving you puzzled.

It Leads to Mixed Messages

One day they are open, engaged and loving with you, the next distant and difficult to connect with. These mixed messages make it hard to understand the “real” state of the relationship and what they truly think or feel.

It Violates Expectations

When someone cares about you, the standard expectation is that they would move toward you, not create space between you. It violates basic assumptions about how a loving relationship should unfold.

It Triggers Insecurity

When someone pulls away, you automatically start to question if you said or did something wrong. Even if you know you didn’t, it can still stir up feelings of self-doubt and insecurity about why this is happening.

It Feels Like Rejection

Because human beings have an innate need to bond and attach, when someone distances themselves from you, it can feel like rejection even when circumstances are more nuanced. The instinct to pursue connection is strong.

It Causes Emotional Whiplash

The back-and-forth dynamic creates a form of emotional whiplash, leaving you confused about the state of the relationship. It becomes hard to trust in the lastingness of the bond when they seem to have one foot in, one foot out.

What are the negative impacts if this pushing away continues?

If this distancing pattern continues where your partner regularly pulls away just when intimacy develops, it can start to undermine the relationship and neither person’s needs get met. Here are some of the potential consequences:

Trust and Safety Weaken

Over time, the inconsistency and mixed messages erode a sense of trust and security in the relationship. It becomes difficult to know what to expect from your partner and how much to open up.

Resentment Builds

Continually having your needs for closeness rejected is painful and breeds resentment. You may start to protect yourself by pulling away as well.

Communication Suffers

Talking and opening up requires vulnerability. When trust is lost, communication suffers and it becomes hard to speak openly and resolve conflicts.

Emotional Needs Go Unmet

We all have an innate need for affection, closeness and intimacy in relationships. If those core needs go unmet, it stunts the growth of the relationship and leads to emptiness and loneliness.

Increased Conflict

The emotional distance and lack of understanding each other’s needs frequently leads to arguments and conflict about small issues. Underneath is the distance both feel.

The Relationship Stagnates

If one person is always modulating the intimacy level, the relationship struggles to build momentum and deepen. A lack of vulnerability keeps it stuck at a surface level.

The Breakup Risk Rises

One partner becomes fed up with the lack of intimacy and the confusing hot/cold dynamic and ends the relationship, concluding their needs won’t ever get met.

How should you have a constructive conversation about this?

If you want to preserve the relationship, it’s important to have an open, compassionate dialogue to better understand what’s driving this distancing pattern and how you can resolve it together:

Set a relaxed tone

Don’t accuse or criticize. Create a calm environment where you both can be vulnerable. Make it clear you come from a place of caring.

Speak your truth

Use “I feel___” statements to explain your experience of their distancing and the impact it has on you and the relationship. Don’t make assumptions.

Listen deeply

Give them space to open up and sincerely try to grasp their perspective and underlying wounds or fears driving this behavior. Don’t interrupt.

Express empathy

Let them know you appreciate them confiding in you and that you want to understand where they are coming from. Share that your goal is to support them.

Discuss needs

Talk about your needs in the relationship. Ask them to reflect on their needs. See where they overlap or differ so you can bridge understanding.

Brainstorm compromises

Collaboratively discuss small changes you can make or boundaries you can set that help both feel safe and valued in the relationship.

Define next steps

Agree on tangible actions, communication strategies or relationship agreements to implement going forward to nurture more closeness and consistency.

Check in regularly

Continue the dialogue. Follow up to see if any adjustments need to be made and celebrate progress made together.

What are 5 key recommendations if you want the relationship to work out?

If you want to salvage the relationship when someone you care about pulls away, here are 5 essential tips:

1. Give them space, but offer to talk

Don’t chase or smother them. Let them know you’re there when they are ready to talk but will give them space if that’s what they need.

2. Make requests, not demands

Don’t demand explanations for their behavior. Gently request to understand their feelings and experience.

3. Look for the root fear or need

Rather than taking their distancing personally, compassionately look for the source fear, wounds or needs driving it.

4. Set kind but firm boundaries

Articulate your needs clearly. Set boundaries if those needs aren’t met but avoid ultimatums or anger.

5. Focus on emotional connection

Arguments often happen when there’s disconnection. Keep reaching out calmly to reestablish emotional closeness.

What are the signs it may be time to walk away from the relationship?

While it can be worth working through if your partner periodically pulls back out of anxiety or past wounds, there comes a point where you may need to walk away, especially if:

The pattern is relentless

Despite open communication and your best efforts, they keep retreating any time intimacy develops. The cycle never breaks.

They are unwilling to address it

They shut down, get defensive or refuse to explore the distancing pattern or work together to improve the situation over time.

It’s taking a major toll on your self-esteem

You feel anxious, depressed, unimportant or rejected as a result of their hot/cold dynamic over an extended time.

Your needs are dismissed

They invalidate your feelings and make minimal effort to meet your core needs for intimacy, consistency and emotional connection in the relationship.

You don’t feel safe or accepted

The relationship feels unstable or insecure because they won’t make a firm commitment and continue to keep you at arm’s length.

You’ve lost trust

The distancing has been going on so long you no longer believe or trust them when they give you words of love or assurance because their actions say otherwise.

You’re exhausted from overgiving

You’ve bent over backwards to accommodate their issues but just feel depleted and emotionally starved. You realize you can’t sustain this.

If you’ve tried everything to understand their withdrawal and work together but you still feel unhappy and unfulfilled, letting go may be the healthiest choice.


Experiencing the one you love begin to distance themselves from you can certainly be mystifying and painful. Often their withdrawal comes from a place of fear or past emotional wounds rather than a diminishing love for you. Give them space but seek to understand the root causes driving their actions. If they remain unwilling to address the issue and meet your fundamental needs over an extended time, letting the relationship go, as difficult as that may be, is often the necessary move to preserve your well-being. With open communication, vulnerability and compassion from both people, many relationships can be salvaged and even strengthened when this distancing pattern emerges.