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TimeOuts: The Skill — 19 Comments

  1. Al,
    What do I do if the Time Out requesting partner doesn’t announce a return time? My boyfriend and I are madly in love, but he doesn’t not live with me. We have an extremely odd set of circumstances in that we both live with significant others, but the details are far too complicated to get into. Suffice it to say that this is the second time we have tried this; the last was more than 5 years ago; we both are invested in the other, and are both leaving the current relationships we are in but time together is difficult to get.

    This contact to you is not about my doubt in him leaving his relationship or suspicion although of course that feeds my panic. I am the clinger. I have been constantly pushing him for more and if he has to cancel on me, I get frantic and show it. Twice it has happened that he completely shut down contact with me and I am currently enduring the second time. It started the day before yesterday and prior to that we had been using instant messenger and email and phone to contact multiple times a day every day.

    After I read your article on clingers and avoiders, it became blindingly obvious that I would push him too hard and he would completely freeze up. In fact, his emails to me would SAY things like, “my brain has shut down” or “I’m drained and powerless” or “you are pushing me too hard and my best isn’t good enough for you” and I would just view this as a cop-out because he wasn’t *fighting* for us and I wanted too. Then I would send him emails crying out to him and begging and pushing. After reading your article, and having the accompanying epiphany, I realized what I was doing and that it was my job to fix it, as the clinger. Last time, I got him to come back by giving him an ultimatum and pointing out that it was unfair to me to not ASK for space, instead to just shut down on me and take it. I asked him to trust me that I would give it to him if he asked. He even apologized for not giving me notice.

    Now I realize that he doesn’t feel safe and I understand why. I hope it’s not too late. The only contact I have had from him is an IM the morning after the long email about not feeling well and an email yesterday that simply said “Thank you for respecting my space.” (I had not contacted him except for one text and one IM yesterday and I normally almost plague him.) I took that as a good sign. At first I did not respond, but today I caved and sent something telling him he can have all the space he needs and rescinding the pointed question I had fired off in the impassioned email I had of course sent immediately following his “I’m shutting down” email. I also sent your “If you ever feel like contacting me, feel free.”

    I am counting this as the 1st message. I probably shouldn’t have sent it, because he didn’t ask any questions or reach out to me, but I couldn’t resist. I didn’t say anything about self-improvement because I thought my changed attitude would speak for itself. There has of course been no response but we play an online scrabble game and he has gone against me in it.

    My first question is: Should I be eschewing that as a form of contact? We don’t speak, just take turns playing.

    My second is: He obviously wants a time out but hasn’t requested one. He didn’t talk about breaking up or leaving me, but last time he didn’t come back into contact with me without an ultimatum / request for him to fight for us and I don’t want to do that, so should I be following the Rules for “What to do when he/she leaves”?

    I’m not the sort of person who puts up with being inconvenienced, I don’t lack for prospective partners, but he is special and I’m starting to understand that I’ve been less than patient and also ungracious. I assumed that my way was the right way and if he loved me, he would be acting like me. And he often does! But then he gets tired out and shows lassitude. Help.

  2. Dear Friend, I think many could offer good feedback. You might try the online chat groups for regular contact in your situation (Marriage Builders, MidLife Crisis Forum, Love Shack, Getting Past Your Past, E NotAlone, Motheringdotcom)
    My first thought is that you've let a non-democratic relationship come into existence between you two. He wins, you loose. At least it sounds as if that is how you see it. Now, I think of that a typical Master/Slave thinking i.e. someone has to loose. But I wrote that paper on Master/Slave and the follow-on papers on Power of Passivity and Passivity in the Foundations to point the directions out of that non-democratic (normal, yet un-american) kind of set up.
    I want your partner to “get it” that if you lose, he will be losing too. I want you to get it that if you let him “win,” you are turning him into a loser as well as losing yourself.
    Check out those papers.
    By the way, I doubt your lizard is a little scared. I imagine it is scared to death most of the time when he is around. Not a desirable situation. Good luck.

  3. Hi Al,
    Thank you so much!!! You have no idea, and words can't explain the support you have unknowingly provided me over the last week and a half. I have been in a relationship for the past 4 years, and to no surprise he has walked out. I say to no surprise as the last 3 years have been a constant battle. I have learnt so much and am trying hard to put all of this into perspective and am focusing on one thing at a time. Every article I have been through, I have lots to learn. (Master/slave, setting boundaries, timeouts etc…) We have been doing everything but what is suggested. I feel hope that there is a way… I love him and have no doubt in my mind that he loves me. I know we can make it, if we only BOTH focus on the right things. My problem is that my lizzard is a little scared ­čÖé He has asked me to write him a wish list of what I want in this relationship. I know if I tell him, he will run even further. All is well in our relationship so long as he can do what he pleases/when he pleases, and I have no reaction or do not disagree. If I even try to understand the reasons why what he is doing makes sense, then all breaks loose. How/What first steps can I take? I've read alot of these, but am afraid if I try any of this now I will say the wrong thing and he will be gone for good, if he isn't already. There is so much more to tell than what I have just written, if you need more to provide feedback, then please advise.

  4. Dear D,
    Thanks for the compliments and for sharing yourself. My first thought was to about how nice your letter expresses the difficulties that are normal in establishing a relationship, difficulties that so many experience. For the sake of your getting clear about what is going on, I strongly suggest you take some good time to digest my Map of Relationships.
    I have found that long distance relationships, while they can be glorious, tend to delay the hard work of getting to a great relationship. The Romantic Phase can feel glorious, but is at the same time a bit delusional. The hard work starts when that romantic glory stops, and it always does. I think that long term relationships, by phone by email between countries, etc. tend to extend the romance at the sacrifice of time. We only have so many years in our lives. Looking back I can see lots of years that I wasted while not going for the gusto. Gusto takes work!
    Also I think of a timeout as something to use in an intense relationship when at least one is feeling emotionally overwhelmed and both people need a cooling off period. I am not sure you two are in this situation.
    I salute your desire to find out what is going on in your partner, and I encourage you to think of yourself in the meantime. Take care of yourself. If you want clarity, I believe it is best to look inside yourself. Trying to get clarity from someone else can take a long time. I suggest you don't be too dependent on that.
    I suggest you ask yourself, “How long am I willing to wait to get close with this person and start working on the deep stuff between us?” Set yourself a number of months. Put it on the calendar. Tell him. When you get there, if there is not significant, very significant movement, move on to someone else. Do this for your sake and his. Check out my article on Getting an Answer.
    Good luck and learning, and God Bless!

  5. Hi Al,
    I (luckily) stumbled across your website by googling “time out in relationships” & have just started reading through some of your work. Wanted to say thank you, for helping me (so far) to understand & see things in a different light. Right now I am in a relationship Time out, and wondered if you had any further advice you could offer.
    Sorry if this is long winded. My boyfriend and I have been together for just over 3 years, of which the last 2 & abit have been long distance. We met while he was on a student visa & unfortunately after studies were completed, he had to leave, as he was short on points to apply for a PR visa. Added to that, during his stay in my country, he found he did not really like it / felt uncomfortable with society (he came from a lesser developed country with many struggles. He parents seperated early, and as the older child, his mother came to rely on him for alot. I know his mother does love him, but does not reflect this in her actions & thoughts alot of the time. He once mentioned that growing up, his mother raised him like a little soldier, rather than in a loving environment. And even now 20 odd years later, if she doesnt get her way, she lays the guilt trip on him for all that she sacrificed when raising him.). He had said though, despite the way he feels about my country, the only reason he considers to return to my country is because of me. He is still considering I suppose ..
    We both knew long distance relationship would not be easy, missing that physical contact of just being able to see & talk to each other or just 'be there', but felt so strongly for each other (the Romantic stage ?) that we decided to try it. We have met up 2 or 3 times during the year, and were always in contact via sms everyday or emails and occasional phone calls.
    The last few months, I noticed a shift in his behaviour, he became slightly distant in his communications and very focused on his work (which i knew & he admitted was his top priority at present). Almost like he is possessed by it and until he reaches his satisfaction level – he has no time for much else in his life.
    I did also ask him if there was 'someone else' that he might be interested in ? in which he told me “no”. Later I came to find out that there was a girl in the same country as he, who had expressed interest in him, he didn't volunteer this information but i did confront him. This girl wrote to him in a very familiar & comfortable tone, he admitted that she was interested in him, that they had met for coffee, but said that nothing happened and that the was not interested in her. We had a fight about it, after which we talked and thought sorted and he said 'he didnt want to lose me'.
    Now only 3 months down the track from then, he says that he is not sure what he wants (in terms of our relationship). He says that he really cares for me, but also feels like he has lost the passion & excitement and feels 'out of it'. He says he has been feeling that for maybe last 6 months, and he feels bad, depressed, tired especially knowing that i am putting in more to our relationship, than he is. He also feels bad & i think pressured, of pretending that everything was ok while he was trying to get himself back on our relationship track, and so far, has not been able to. He remembers how happy he used to be with me, how he used to feel for me, he knows that he has changed, and nothing really 'bad' has made this happen, and this makes him feel even worse. Since he has opened up, he feels happy that he doesnt pretend anymore and that its out, happy that we could 'chat' about it, but unhappy that our relationship is where it is – being his lost feelings.
    He cant pinpoint for what reason he feels this and says that its 'everything' (work, us, family ..) – he says it is not another woman. I believe there are other stresses and pressures from other sources ie. Focusing 100% on work and trying to build $$, the pressure of knowing that I am waiting for him & in my mind asking when does he plan to move to where i am, financial pressures of his family. Also when he started to distance himself, I think i became more of a 'Clinger' – adding more pressure.
    I think there are so many things jumbled in his mind, that he feels lost, confused, pressured, tired .. & he suggested a time out. (After all this, i understand that he needs some relief .. from somewhere !)
    He said maybe we can try for a month, and see how we feel after then. He says that he needs to find the answer by and for himself, which i understand. He wants our relationship to go on, and he says he hopes / believes that time out will be good for us, and that we will be ok. I asked him how he wanted this to work – do we keep in touch or not, to which he said we could try not to keep in touch for a few days and see. To which i replied, it may be best to keep as little contact as possible during the month, for reality sake (to really see what life without each other might be like). And as he asked for the time out, i am trying, and so far succeeding, not to initiate contact with him. We started just over a week ago – 2 days after we started he contacted me a short sms asking how i was, still calling me affectionately hun. 4 days after that he contacted me again online, we chatted for abit and i think it was nice / went well. He started to ask me again how i am, how is work, how is my health & so on, still calling me affectionately.
    Im feeling bit confused, and im wondering and trying to understand what is going through his mind, what he is feeling .. ? He asked for the time out, says he cares for me, but is not sure if he loves me, and yet still calls me affectionately when he writes. I wondered if All those time he said he loved me before & I did believe him – was i really that blind and got it all wrong? I think back, and I believe he did mean it. My feelings for him are unchanged – I love him and miss him dearly, & am trying to give him the space he needs to find answers. And I hope that he will come back to me / us.
    Do you think this time out he asked for is still within the relationship or is it preparation for an exit ?
    Sorry again for the long post and hope to hear from you,

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