NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Are You Holding Back Emotionally in Your Relationship?

After experiencing heartbreak, disappointment or betrayal, many people are afraid or ambivalent about making a commitment in a new relationship.  Instead. they hold back emotionally so they don't allow themselves to be fully in the relationship.  Emotional vulnerability is scary for them.  This can cause problems if the partner is ready to make a commitment (see my articles: Are You Dating Someone Who Has Problems Making a Commitment? and An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

Are You Holding Back Emotionally in Your Relationship

People Who Are in Denial About Holding Back Often Make Excuses to Themselves and Others
People who hold back emotionally often don't realize what they're doing.  They're often in denial because they don't want to see themselves as being emotionally withholding with their partner, so they make up "reasons" for their behavior, including:
  • They "Don't Like Labels:" The idea of "no labels" between two people allows each person a lot of latitude, especially if both people agree that they won't put a label on who they are to each other.  But it can also cause confusion and misunderstandings: Are you dating? In a relationship? Friends with benefits? Polyamorous?  Even if both people agree to "no labels," one or both people often have unspoken expectations that don't match up.  Unless it's a short term affair, it's unusual for two people to sustain "no labels" indefinitely.
  • They Want to Keep Their Options Open: Some people don't want to commit because they're afraid of missing out on being with someone new, someone better looking or "better" in some other way.  They're not done playing the field--they want to hold onto the main person they're seeing and continue to keep their options open for other people.  Or, they have one primary person and then several other people "on the side."
  • They're Too Busy People Pleasing in a Superficial Way: They're not sure how they feel because they tend to put the other person's feelings first. Rather than focus on what they want, they focus on what the other person wants or, at least, give lip service to it.  Often, they will tell the other person what s/he wants to hear, but there's no substance to it.  
  • They Prefer Shallow Relationships: People who prefer shallow relationships hold back their emotions because they don't want anything that's emotionally intimate.  Making an emotional commitment or even having a deep conversation is frightening to them.  Instead of "making love," they're "having sex" so it's mostly physical for them.
  • They Have One Foot Out the Door At All Times and They Know All the Escape Routes: Instead of making a commitment, they already have one foot out the door, which is why they never get emotionally invested.  They never introduce the person they're seeing to their family or close friends.  They might be reluctant to move in together, and there's no talk of deepening the relationship.  They might initiate an argument or try to provoke the other person into leaving them so they don't feel guilty about the relationship ending.
  • People Who Are Aware They're Holding Back Were Often Hurt in Prior Relationships: After several experiences of getting hurt in prior relationships. these people are often too afraid to take an emotional risk again. They're often ambivalent about making a commitment.  On the one hand, they want to love and feel loved, but they dread getting hurt.  They might vacillate back and forth trying to deal with their ambivalence. At times, it might appear that they'll make a commitment and then it's like a switch gets turned off and then they're unwilling to make the commitment.  This is usually painful for both people involved.

The Person Who Holds Back is Often With the Person Who is a "Fixer"
Whether you're the person who is having a problem making a commitment or you're in a relationship with someone who can't make a commitment, you're in a painful place.

Over time, to a greater or lesser degree, most people want a stable relationship.  For people who are holding back, their fears keep them stuck.  

People, who want a committed "forever" relationship and who remain with someone who is unable to make a commitment, focus on trying to "fix" or manipulate the other person to get what they want.  They don't want to see that the other person can't or won't give them what they want, so they continue to try to manipulate the situation to try to get what they want.  If and when they realize that they were wasting their time, they feel a lot of anger and resentment.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're the person holding back or the person who is trying to "fix" the person who is holding back, you're in a painful place.

In either case, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist to help you understand and overcome the underlying issues that keep you stuck.

Rather than continuing to engage in patterns that keep you stuck, get help so you can overcome the obstacles that keep you stuck and you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am providing online therapy while I'm out of my office.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 724-2624 during business hours or email me.