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)