Ask the Therapist: I hurt my boyfriend and now he’s backed away

Recently me and my boyfriend started college. On the first day he suddenly changed. He didn’t even wait for me but seemed to have more time for my friend. We’ve only been there for two days and yet I feel like he’s losing interest in me. He goes out more and doesn’t express his feelings towards me at all. I hurt him a lot two months ago and I’ve changed a lot to be a better person bug I deal with awful anxiety and depression. I used to be able to talk to him about it, but I’ve become a lot more emotional recently which he seems to have no time for. I know he loves and cares about me as we have good times, he buys me things, tells me he loves me and I also know he wouldn’t be with me if he didn’t care, etc, but I just want to feel at rest, like I’m not going to lose him. He used to be obsessed by me but now he doesn’t seem as bothered? He also told me he hides a lot of how he feels about me as he’s scared to get hurt again. How can I change this and make him want me more and actually show me how he feels? Or is there nothing I can do about this? I really love him to pieces and want to make it right again.

Lisa’s thoughts:

You and your boyfriend are in a transitional point in life, starting college!  This is a big step and possibly loaded with many feelings, fears, excitement, curiosity and dreams for the future you as an adult.  You speak of him being hurt by you recently and it’s possible he is still licking his wounds a little as he branches out, with no intention of leaving you.  Or perhaps he is unsure deep down whether you might behave in the same way again?  The first thing I’d suggest is be sure that you made a full and authentic repair with him for whatever happened.  We all make mistakes and can hurt our partners.  The important thing is how these mistakes are handled.  Ideally you were deeply apologetic and reassured him that you won’t repeat.  It’s also helpful to ask him if there is anything more he needs from you to build trust and be able to move on confidently.  If he claims he is past this incident then there are other places to look.

Starting college is a big step and it’s possible he wants to spread his wings a little.  This doesn’t necessarily mean without you but maybe he wants to rebalance the relationship in a way that he has space to do that as well as time with you.  You can ascertain this by asking him how he sees your relationship together in this new environment.  Perhaps the expectations around the relationship need to shift a little.

Often people who struggle with anxiety and depression get triggered by external events and other people’s behavior (particularly intimate partners).  If you feel that he is acting differently, it’s not surprising that this is making you feel insecure which might exacerbate these issues.  I hope that you are working with someone, a therapist perhaps, around your anxiety and depression, other than talking to him.  Sometimes we need a little bit of support unpacking that and possibly medication if there is little success in managing the symptoms in other ways.

Because he indicates he is now afraid to be hurt, it seems the most likely that out of all of the above is he needs some care taking and reassurance from you.  He essentially has backed away emotionally.  The new school, transition into college, etc may be just noise in the background of the deeper issue of his being wounded and needing time and help to heal.  Ask him what he needs. Be patient, kind and consistent.  And keep communicating!  

Remember that he is indicating that he doesn’t feel safe and it’s up to you to see if you can restore the trust and faith in you and the relationship.

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Lisa’s responses are not to be considered “therapy” but rather educational; her thoughts are based on the limited information available. Please seek a local individual, couples or family therapist if it is therapy that you seek.

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Lisa is offering Online Therapy and Counseling services to individuals seeking help with their marriage or relationships. California residents only to adhere to state licensing laws.