I’ve seen it countless times: A man can leave a relationship and return, over and over, where a woman can only leave once.
Not only have I seen it as a relationship coach for 8 years, I’ve been that man.
In my 30s, throughout the 5 years of an inflamed relationship that profoundly challenged me, I would leave whenever I felt too constricted, too incapable of “solving the problems” the relationship (and this wild, untamable woman – whom I wouldn’t ever want “tamed” anyway) seemed to be creating for me.
Whether for a few days, or a few weeks, and sometimes a few months, I probably left and came back 20 times … and maybe 1000.
Sometimes I only left for a few hours, by checking out, emotionally. Exhausted from all the fighting (mostly happening in my own brain), my body was present but I was numb to my feelings – and she felt it.
She, on the other hand, never left.
Sure, she was angry plenty.
But she never left.
Actually, instead of leaving she’d straight up confront me, in countless ways demanding, fighting, imploring, manipulating, and at times damn-near torturing me to stay.
It was a bizarre and hurtful dance we did:
The more she demanded I show up – for the relationship, for love, for her – the more I desired to leave, even though I didn’t really want to leave. Still, whenever things got even a little difficult, by which I mean uncomfortable emotions ran high, she would feel my lack of deep resolve to stay, which only further triggered her demanding that I show up.
It was a nasty cycle, and neither of us knew what was going on … or how to stop it.
Thus we spiraled ever downward into the painful depths of relationship hell.
Today I understand why she worked so hard to keep me around, why I ached so strongly to get away, why I always came back, and why she always let me:
I was dancing to the masculine tune of freedom, and she was dancing to the feminine song of connection.
(*there are surely more levels to this, including our attachment styles, childhood wounding, trauma bonding, survival beliefs, and more, but I speak here to the primal dance of masculine-feminine intimacy)
Every time I left, I was (unknowingly) leaving to give myself a (superficial) taste of the freedom I desperately craved to know in my being.
Yet after a brief time of superficially blissful separation, I’d feel the irresistible forces of attraction drawing me back to her; feel the longing in my heart to know love; decide I could do things better this time, given the benefit of some newfound clarity I’d discovered in our time apart; and so dive back in!
Only to see our sabotaging patterns quickly reassert themselves – often within just days.
For her, it was quite different.
While I can’t truly know her actual experience, what I personally do know about “the Feminine experience” of intimacy reveals this:
Every time I left, abruptly and dismissively, was yet another axe blow to the roots of connection that bound us together at heart, no matter how far apart we were. Those roots – which she kept vigil over despite our chaos – were so thick we’d sometimes find our way back together from opposite sides of the planet, even despite the presence of other lovers (with whom connecting-roots weren’t very strong).
However, after so many assaults on the roots of our connection, she was also – as many women do – grieving the loss of our relationship even as it endured.
For when it all finally (finally!) ended one January evening many years ago, when separated by an entire continent between us, I again left her by this time simply refusing to answer her phone call.
Unlike times before when she kept calling until I picked up (once clocked at 82 consecutive calls!! Yeah, we were ridiculous!), this time she didn’t call again.
She was done.
For not even a month later I learned she was with a new man – a man she would later marry.
My grieving was just beginning.
I would grieve that relationship for many years to come.
On the surface, it indeed looks like ”freedom“ and ”connection” are in irreconcilable opposition to each other – each existing merely to subvert the other.
In co-dependent relationships between people who know very little of real love – like me and my ex – that’s exactly what happens, as one partner fights more for freedom and the other fights more for connection.
As one cries, “Don’t abandon me!” (connection!), the other protests, “Don’t control me!” (freedom!)
This is how even otherwise great relationships are run to ruin.
Today, I’m once again 5 years into intimate relationship.
We’ve certainly had a few moments when superficial notions of freedom suddenly rose up in protest against the suffocating obligations of co-dependent connection, and indeed, the world burned once again.
However, with the benefit of awareness, insight, and simple practices that honor both freedom (masculine) and connection (feminine), the predominant nature of our intimate relationship is one of appreciation and an embrace of our differences.
Laughter is epidemic in our home as we watch our opposing values clash in ways both mundane and absurd, such as how we simply turn off the light before going to sleep (Silvy tends to want it on longer to keep connecting, while I tend to want it off so I can finally be free of the burdens of the day).
Gone (mostly) are the days when I would unconsciously hack at the roots of connection for fear of losing some freedom.
Good news: There’s a magic formula you can follow, too.
For we’ve discovered a way of dancing in partnership that can help resolve this primal conflict in our everyday lives together:
The more I help her feel connected, the more quickly she can relax and trust in my presence, which then helps us both feel more free.
The more she helps me feel free, the more I feel inspired to really show up for the relationship, and for her, which helps us both feel more connected.
Often we must dance the opposite, for I also sometimes need reassurance of her presence (connection), and she also sometimes needs to know I affirm her right to be whomever she chooses to be (freedom).
Regardless, it really is magic, that when we both stand for connection and for freedom, we both feel more connected and free.
Thus we dance the spiral upwards into the relational heavens of genuine partnership, real love. It ain’t always an easy dance, but it is always an exquisite one.
Because true freedom can only be found in the land of deep connection.
“We are so connected the word ‘connected’ doesn’t even make sense.”
~ Rumi ~
What does this inspire in you? Please tell me in the comments below – I read ‘em all!
P.S. If your relationship is experiencing a “Crisis of Connection” … do my “Conflict to Connection” 90-Day Program for struggling couples. (no-risk 14-day money-back guarantee)
My fiancé and I have both for the first time found true love. We rarely have the desire to be apart. We both feel the same way about each other. The closer we get to each other emotionally, the closer we desire to be to each other emotionally. It is the greatest feeling in the world! We are so much in love and have so many common interests and common love languages, it is the best relationship we both have ever had.
Sounds like a beautiful dance 🙂
Damn! This sounds exactly like my ex husband and I. Soooooo many similarities, only we were not aware of things at the time. How sad, because I do feel that we could have used this awareness and made a better attempt at saving our relationship.
I know. Someone should really teach us this stuff!! 🙂
This truly sounds similar to my bf and I. We use to live together and now I live alone and he lives with his kids and baby mother ( we broke up before he left as I would not approve to stay with him if he moved back in with her but I love him and understand he wants to be with his kids more than anything so I’m trying an open relationship as he is also working things with her…. ). A few weeks in he’s been showing lots of attention towards me, telling me I love you more than usual, seeing me more and now this week I haven’t seen him yet. He’s not texting me as much or talking on the phone. I don’t know what it is. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing. I never did anything like this and I’m a very open minded women, I just hope I’m not pushing myself too far just to do what he wants. Or just for the hell of it. I am still grieving from our mini break up and him moving out. I’ve been missing him so much lately, I’m only 20 and he’s 32. I lover out from my grandparents for the first time with him and loving alone isn’t so easy, it’s just all so new.
Anyways, I’m hoping to dance my feminine and masculine with him and see how we are.
Thanks for the read!
I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling. Often when a man says, “I love you” … what he REALLY means is, “I love the way I feel around you.” Clearly that’s not a very “stable” experience of love.
Great article. Thank you.
The beauty of that gave me goosebumps.
Thank you ????
Thanks for the tips bryan. Women do leave only once
I sit in awe of a man who has the courage to speak up
My strain is a marriage of over 20 years, a serious surgery where I took a short space of 23hrs 16mins to leave hospital from surgery to be grateful
WOW! I have a second chance at life, so I spent time finding myself and the courage and strength to share with my loving husband WE had a problem NOT him WE as my needs weren’t being met
Well now starts WW3 and like your videos say the more I reached out the more he pulled away
And family have seen they are about to loose out so they kick in, a broken family out for revenge
So I’m still suffering and now its got legal and here comes the emotional blackmail
Either I step up and be his WIFE or he leaves and ALL I want is to BELOVED
Bryan how do I negotiate in s situation I legally can’t move from atm?
I want some CARING, FULFILLING LOVE, and RESPECT
I don’t do affairs as im living in a betrayed, abusive manipulating situation
I thank you kind sir ????
Janet, I don’t really understand your situation. I STRONGLY encourage you to see a therapist or counselor, someone you can trust that does not have an agenda or stake in the outcome of your situation, and with whom you can talk candidly about what’s happening for you.
If you are the woman that left, is it possible to comeback or is it over? I see my husband try for awhile and then revert to prior ways of selfishness. I would like him to be less about himself and more about our family. I love him but I’m not in love with him anymore. How do you rekindle love or have I “walked away” emotionally with no hope to return?
Only you can know for sure. Patterns are hard to break, particularly if you (with your husband) don’t get any outside professional support to help break your unhelpful patterns. So I’d definitely recommend that. You might also check out my “Conflict to Connection” 90-Day Couples Program @ https://bryanreeves.com/90day/
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Sounds like me and my exbf except I’m the masculine part and he is the feminine part.
I felt suffocated and controlled where as he longed for a stronger connection. Ad 3 children (he has 2 and I have 1) and it was pure chaos in my head when ever we got together all of us whereas my ex loved the whole coming together as a family.
We have broken up 3 times before, but this time we are not getting back together, cause the attraction is not there for me and at the end I just had sex for his sake and had a hard time even having any form of physical touch
It’s weird to me to read this put in such simple terms (masculine energy seeks freedom, feminine energy seeks connection) but it really rings true. My most recent ex (just over a week since we split) had me living in fear of abandonment every day, because I could feel him not choosing me all the time. Which of course led to me trying to hold on tighter and tighter, which strangled his need for freedom.
I think my heart is too broken to try again with him after the way it finally ended, but I’m saving up to try out your audio course about choosing her every day. I need the insight that can help me in future relationships, because the fear of abandonment has been prevalent in every relationship I’ve been in since the first time I was abandoned. I don’t want to feel this way anymore, like I’m never enough and I’m too much all at the same time.