“My Boyfriend Keeps Emotionally Abandoning Me”

I’ve been seeing a wonderful man for about three years. I love him very much and he asked me to marry him along the way, but I said no. After much soul searching, I’ve realized the reason I said no was fear of continued emotional abandonment. We’ve worked on a lot of things in our relationship and we get along great, but, when something doesn’t go his way, he literally walks away from the relationship — no calls, no texting, and no real explanation to what he’s upset about. It’s always me reaching back out to see if he’s okay, and, ultimately, things get back on track again.

It’s taken me a while to understand that what I’m dealing with from him is “emotional abandonment.” I’ve been quite honest to tell him that I want to be with him forever, but I never know when he’s going to disconnect. I suffer greatly, but I want to make it work. We’ve had many talks, and he always comes back to, “You didn’t say yes to the ring.” I’ve explained over and over again that I love him but that, before I can accept the ring, I have to feel that he’s not going to shut me out.

That brings us to now, and he’s shut me out again without an explanation, without a word, without my knowing how to fix things and move forward to a solid foundation for the relationship.

Is it possible to be able to work through emotional abandonment and be able to fully trust him again? — Emotionally Abandoned

Well, sure it’s possible to work through what you call emotional abandonment — people work through much worse all the time — but the question should be: Is it worth it? Many times, when people spend years working through issues in a relationship, as it sounds like you have, there’s an investment or an arrangement that’s particularly hard to walk away from: marriage; kids together; financial dependency; a shared home (including shared property). It doesn’t sound like you have any of those things and, yet, you’ve been with this guy for three years, “suffering greatly,” and doing much soul-searching and “a lot of work on things in your relationship.” (After all of that, and three years in, you say you don’t even have a solid relationship foundation.)

Here’s the thing: Relationships shouldn’t be that much work. I know people say the opposite all the time: Relationships take work; relationships are hard. But they’re really not. At least not when there aren’t extenuating circumstances that bring atypical stress to the people in the relationship, like illness, job loss, a death in the family, financial burdens, and even, ahem, a new baby. You don’t mention any of those things, and yet it sounds like your relationship is a ton of work. I don’t care how much you love the guy, if you aren’t married yet (do you even live together?) and your relationship is this hard and your boyfriend is such a jerk that you “suffer greatly,” you should probably MOA and make yourself available for someone who isn’t so much work to be with.

They’re out there, I promise: guys who won’t treat you like shit. Guys who won’t abandon you the second things don’t go their way. There are men with whom things can be easy and rewarding and joyful. You don’t have that with your boyfriend. You didn’t say yes to his proposal because the way he is now isn’t what you want to spend your life with (and I don’t blame you), and, frankly, if someone has to change in order for you to be happy with him, he’s not the person for you. People aren’t like houses; they aren’t fixer-uppers whose potential can motivate you through renovations. You take ’em as is or you move on and find a better match. I say MOA. He doesn’t sound like the guy for you.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Wendy that people often say that relationships are a lot of work and are hard. Sometimes, very hard situations come up, illness, etc, and a decent person would sticky by you and be supportive, but if the hard aspect of the relationship is just that he is acting like a jerk and makes no indication that he intends to change, than that’s different. Aren’t relationships in general supposed to be a mutual source of strength and happiness? If not, why be on one? Also, I wonder about these times when he simply disappears. Maybe he is cheating. You said that it happens when things don;t go his way, but you seem confused as well and don’t understand even why he has left. Maybe every once in a while, he just wants to be a single guy for a bit.

  2. While relationships are work in the sense of taking some effort, it shouldn’t be the type of work that makes you suffer. It’s like the difference between regularly watering the plants in the garden and lugging huge stones to build a pyramid in the sweltering heat.
    Honestly, this behavior he’s showing sounds like a HUGE problem. How can you be in a relationship with someone who simply disappears anytime there’s an issue? Wouldn’t that make you extremely reluctant to bring up anything with him? Don’t you have to fear he’ll be gone for good one day? I don’t see how this is salvageable.

    1. I love your analogy about plants in the garden and the pyramid stones.
      LW, relationships are work, yes, but it should not feel like hard work. They are not supposed to be. What is the result of all this? A mediocre relationship? MOA and find a better fit.

    2. Or another analogy : a relationship is like going to the gym. It’s hard and it requires effort, but in the end it is rewarding and it makes you healthier. If going to the gym was hard and resulted in regular injuries and made you anxious, I would say it is a bad gym and you should go elsewhere ! No matter if “the locker room is so pretty and the music is good, I don’t know if I would find the same at a different gym !”

      1. Good one!

  3. I think it is time to call his bluff and stop reaching out to him when this happens. Just take it as he ended the relationship and jut walk away move on with your life.

  4. Avatar photo Crochet.Ninja says:

    this guy isn’t going to change. this is how he deals with stress, and that means you’d be shouldering all of it yourself. can you do that for the rest of your life? as hard as it is, you may want to MOA. before you get to a breaking point and you have to do it within a marriage and deal with the aftermath of that.

  5. LW, A big question I have is how long do you go when you are “abandoned”. I think the time frame is everything here. Is he going weeks without speaking to you or is it a weekend? I am a person that will occasionally shut off my phone and not speak to anyone for a weekend. I just need to be by myself. I have friends that hate that because I don’t text back but I just say that it was a no phone weekend. I have friends who get made when I don’t text back within 8 hours but I am not someone who has my phone by me all the time.

    As far as what Wendy says, relationships should be easy because life is really hard. My relationship is the easy part of things. Things fall apart over and over again. You need a partner who will be there for you when things go bad.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with needing time to yourself, but you should respect your partner enough to be able to communicate that with them, rather than just disappearing. There’s also a big difference between taking a break from your friends, and just vanishing and not talking to your PARTNER whom you supposedly want to spend your life with.

      1. You are right that there needs to be communication. But I wonder if the expectations haven’t been laid out. Again, if she is abandoned for a week, that is messed up. If he doesn’t text her over a few hours could be a miscommunication. This is a little thing but my husband and I have a rule that if you are not going to be home by 7 PM from work, you have to call the other person. We might not speak all day at work if we both know we will be home by 7. We had to make that rule because I would get mad if I made dinner and found out he hadn’t left work. On the flip side, if you are not living together, how often are you expected to communicate? I think each couple has to talk about that and decide for themselves.

      2. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

        I agree with you and CSP. At first I thought that maybe this guy has some introvert tendencies or something, but to just disappear when there is some issue he wont articulate until she coaxes him back… blah. How awful to deal with this, I cant even imagine dealing with this problem numerous times.

  6. When a (straight) woman is considering marriage, she should probably choose a man for her partner. What you’ve got there is a boy. The fact that he throws “the ring” back in your face when you question his immature behaviour shows that he is not ready for marriage and doesn’t properly understand what it will be. He is basically Eric Cartman: “Screw you guys, I’m goin’ home.” Wendy is dead on. Yes, all relationships take some maintenance, care and attention. And there will be hard times: lost jobs, miscarriages, deaths in the family, mid-life crises. But it shouldn’t be THAT hard, unless something serious is happening. All this drama with nothing really at stake is basically kid stuff. Grown ups save the drama for when something bad is really happening. I think you should probably move on, but you could try calling his bluff first if you think he might respond well.

    1. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

      Spot on, Diablo! Eric Cartman!!! Ahaha

  7. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

    WWS and WEES.
    LW, your bf/potential fiancee sounds like a jerk- mainly because his response to difficulty is to act like a 5 year old. Does he actually stomp his foot and storm off? Because it sounds like it. How exactly would that problem be worked on? Say he fixes his childish responses to only doing it 25% of the time, or even 10%- do you then trust him? Or must he every time act his age and then you will trust him? What Im getting at is- you can call it emotional abandonment and I can call it acting like a preschooler- but it still comes down to you suffering greatly and him stomping off in a huff when the sh*t goes down.

    1. No grown adult would stomp his widdle foot. i’m sure he just holds his breath until he turns blue.

      1. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

        Or like Extreme Silent Treatment? Instead of being an immature *ss and giving her the silent treatment to her face, he just POOF disappears.

      2. Avatar photo plum blossoms says:

        Oh, dude. A few years ago my next door neighbors (apartment building) were a couple in their 30s. The woman, several times over the 3 years they were there, would literally stomp her feet, growl in frustration and yell at him when they argued. I couldn’t believe it. The best argument was the one where she yelled at him, “I KNOW I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU!” in a tone that made even that seem like it was HIS fault. She never did apologize to him (that I heard anyway).

  8. Bittergaymark says:

    How long are these periods of abandonment? A few days? Or a few hours? It ‘s odd, LW, how vague you are about this…

    1. Monkeysmommy says:

      I also wondered this… Maybe the boyfriend IS emotionally abandoning LW, but honestly she sounds emotionally exhausting. Is it possible they disagree and she goes on and on about the issue, and he needs a break? It may not just be him. Either way, they are poorly matched.

      1. Either way bagge’s suggestion above of just not reaching out to him would be a great idea. If he’s just taking a quick break, he’ll get in touch with her. If it’s truly abandonment, she’ll know for sure.

    2. My biggest concern of the letter is less the disappearing act and more this part: “no real explanation to what he’s upset about.” Even if it’s for just a few hours I’d be pissed if every time my boyfriend got mad at me he dropped off the face of the earth. That’s not adult behaviour. If you don’t want to have the argument right then you can at least say “I need a break/I’m upset/I need some air, let’s talk about this tonight/tomorrow/in a few days.”

  9. My relationship is great, but……….. he disappears on me when he’s upset.

    MOA. Seriously. MOA.

    1. Yeah, Wendy recently noted this phenomenon too. Maybe Shortcuts should be called “My Relationship is Perfect But…”

      1. Hahaha. YES!

  10. As some people have asked, how long are you “abandoned?” A few hours? A week? What provokes these “abandonments”? Fights? Some people like to pull away to cool down rather than have a conflict.

    How old are both of you? Have you been in relationships before?

  11. One of my exes used to do this. It happened maybe 3 times over the course of our 1.5 year relationship – sounds like it happens more often to the LW. In one of the instances, when he wouldn’t answer my calls or texts for 3 days, finally I just went to his house. I wanted to make sure he was okay. LW, this isn’t worth dealing with. Move on.

  12. My ex did this too. Same thing, that was just how he dealt with things. He would disappear for days at a time with no warning, and it didn’t matter how much I told him it upset me or how much I cried, he would continue to disappear. I needed him? Didn’t matter, his needs always came first. One of the many reasons I dumped his ass. Think about it, LW, is this how you want to live the rest of your life? It’s disrespectful, and he’s not going to change. MOA.

  13. LisforLeslie says:

    A friend of mine married a man that does this. She thought that once married, he wouldn’t pull this nonsense. At one point he withdrew for a year, lived together but barely spoke, nearly drove her to a nervous breakdown. She loves him and she’s going to stay but she is miserable when he’s like this.

    LW – unless he acknowledges this isn’t healthy and takes steps to modify these reactions and maintains some sort of management system going foward – this is always going to be a threat hanging over you. If you have kids with this guy – he will likely still pull this crap.

    1. I’ve never understood why people think that marriage is a magic fix-all for behavior that irritates them pre-marriage. Because signing a paper committing yourself to someone magically suddenly them a better person and remedies all of their asshole traits.

      1. LisforLeslie says:

        The first time he did this after the wedding she called me and I just said “You knew this going in. Why would a ring change anything?”

        Marriage changes your tax status, insurance benefits and social security claims. It won’t fix a broken brain.

      2. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

        Marriage, the band-aid for what ails your relationship. Too bad people don’t realize that band-aids fall off all the time.

    2. A YEAR.

      Some people boggle the mind.

  14. It’s def worth it to work out the abandonment issues…but this is your test! This is life saying “here’s yet another person who will abandon you, how will you deal with it?”
    Not by reasoning with him. You can’t reason with an abuser if time and time again they hit you. You don’t stop the pattern of abuse by reasoning with it, you REFUSE TO BE ABUSED. You take control and you can leave.
    I know you’re trying to be strong and trying to work through it with him, but he has shown you over and over that he will not stop abandoning you no matter how much it hurts you. Time to realize that he’s not going to help you get over your abandonment issues, YOU have to help yourself.

    1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I don’t think you can say that she has abandonment issues. If he leaves for two hours, yes, maybe. If he disappears, without a word, for two weeks, then that is abandonment and the only issue is why she puts up with it.

  15. jeanine30 says:

    This is called “silent treatment” and it is considered a form of abuse. My ex used to do that a lot – he would withdraw from me when things didn’t go his way. I know how painful it is, and I am sorry that you have to go through this. It’s not normal, it’s not ok and it’s not acceptable. How do you usually react to it? I don’t know your particular case, but my ex was also suffocating me very much with permanent contact, so I quickly learned to enjoy the silent treatment and take some me time until he would come back – it still stang, but I would get busy with things I loved doing and that I wasn’t usually able to do because of him.

    This is not normal behavior, and it is NOT your fault. If he can’t change this pattern, I regretfully say I don’t think you will ever be happy and feel safe in this relationship.

  16. Well if he is doing this now over something and its becsuse something didnt go his way ,imagine if you got sick, got pregnant , needed to make a big life decision for the two of you. Got disgnosed with a disease that made you need to rely on your partner. Would he run away, yes he woukd. If he does it now unmarried he will do it married and worse. He is insecure scared this is how he protects his self and stays comfortable by removing himself from a situstion.. not communicsting wont cut it. You will get frustrated , it will ststt affecting your self esteem and relationship problems will worsen. He will definstely bail then. He might just be doing this to punish you too. Get out run for your life. He has some issues. He probably wont fix them with therapy but at that it still may never happen. He is a runner. When things get tough he hits the road. Give somone else a chance in your life . Here you are worrying about him and he should be concerned for you after he did this agsin to you. Oh he will be back if you dont call him so dont worry he probably gets pleasure thinking he is hurting you in some way. Stop the cycle it will probably get worse and he will start doing other things to upset you during tough times to feel in control and superior. Actions speak louder than words ..please give yoursef a chance this could be a Huge red flag and you shouldnt even consider marriage with him. Good luck. Stay strong

  17. Anonymous says:

    I dealt with a man/child like this for eight years of my life until one day I decided enough is enough. His behaviour will only get worse the longer you stay with him, it’s a form of control the silent treatment, there is plenty to read about this type of abuse online. Wish you all the courage to walk away now while you still have the strength.

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