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Ask Dr. V, He’s In His Cave Again

Ask Dr. V, He’s In His Cave Again

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships
Dear Dr V,

I’ve been involved with this guy for about six months. I care about him very much, I do think I’m in love with him.

Most of the time he’s very sweet, adoring and thoughtful. He often buys me gifts, he’s a professional cook and he cooks us these wonderful dinners … most of the time it’s just great.

However, this has happened twice in the relationship: he’ll start acting more and more distant from me, like over a period of a few days. He’ll even start getting hyper-critical, like of how I have my kitchen arranged and other silly stuff, but emotionally it’s still upsetting. Then he’ll just drop off the face of the Earth for like three weeks. He won’t return my phone calls or emails, and I don’t see him at all. Then he’ll show up again like nothing’s happened, and again be back in to what I’m starting to perceive as his “sweet mode.” When I ask where he’s been he just says he needed space and time to himself, and won’t say more than that.

I know everybody needs time to themselves now and then, but this just doesn’t sit right with me. What do I do???

In Love but Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I can see why you would feel aggravated with your boyfriend. His behavior is completely unacceptable and very immature. Whatever the reasoning for his disappearances, it would appear to me that at the root he is running away from something. The fact that he comes back afterwards to try and pick up as if nothing happened says to me he does care for you, but there are some issues that must be addressed post haste. His actions are passive aggressive and abusive. If these problems are left unresolved then I’m sorry to say I can only see this behavior reoccurring or getting worse.

I imagine it must be not just frustrating, but upsetting and even frightening for you when he has these episodes. I for one would be concerned not just about the obvious possibility of the “other woman,” but also his well-being and safety.

What happened to him? Was he in an accident? Is he on drugs? Is he OK? It is a very unfair spot to put you in.

Especially, considering his refusal to discuss the reasons behind it with you any deeper, than his broad-stroke statement of, “I needed some time to myself.”

You’re right, we all do need time to ourselves now and again, and in a healthy relationship both people should be happy to accommodate the needs of their partner. But this is not what I see in play here. To me this seems like a display of very aggressive behavior. By “hiding out” the way he does, it seems as if he could be trying to assert his control over his life, perhaps because he fears the commitment and responsibility that go along with a serious relationship. Also, by deliberately keeping you in the dark as to his whereabouts, he may feel like he’s in charge. In truth, there could be very deep-rooted motivators behind this behavior. It may have nothing to do with you at all; it could even be a pattern he’s exhibited before in his past relationships. However, when he returns and turns on the charm again I can’t help thinking of a little boy bringing his mommy a drawing he made for her after throwing a tantrum. As if to say, “I know I was bad but now I did this for you so everything’s OK.”

Of course, everything is not OK. He is not a little boy and you are certainly not his mommy. This dynamic has to be changed. I suggest trying to approach it in conversation again. However, as I’ve often said in the past, try to do this from a place of emotional neutrality, so as to hopefully minimize the odds of your own strong feelings on the matter putting you in a reactive state. You may want to start out by asking him how he feels during these episodes. You could then relate to him how it makes you feel when he disappears. In this way, a foundation of mutual empathy could be laid for the conversation to build on, rather than one person feeling like “the accused” in the situation. Also, don’t put the pressure on both of you to resolve this in one sitting. These things take time. After the first few chats you might feel that working with a couples’ counselor could help you through this. If you both have deep, genuine feelings for each other then it just might be worth the effort. While his behavior cannot continue like this, at this moment I don’t see it necessarily as a deal breaker. If, in your heart you know that this relationship is worth it, than by all means do not give up.

However, if your boyfriend continues to stonewall you when you try and approach the subject, then you may want to consider what kind of a future you will have with this man. The refusal to engage in even discussing the behavior shows that he’s either unwilling or not ready to do the kind of work that any real, committed relationship will require. He may even be holding on to what he sees as his “right” to throw his tantrums and disappear. You do not deserve to be treated this way. Regardless of what the true motivations are for your boyfriends acting out, you are not a punching bag and should not be treated like one.

I think you would be well served to listen to your own intuition throughout the process. So long as you recognize what your own boundaries and limits are and maintain them in a strong, healthy way, the resolution to this problem will manifest in its own, organic manner.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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