Help! I Can’t Get or Keep a Relationship!

Do you have trouble forming close relationships? If so, this is almost always because you either have a wall around you or you’re trying to have a relationship with someone who has wall (or both). What’s a person with a wall look like?

  • says he wants intimacy, but avoids intimacy and close relationships
  • has few close, warm relationships
  • rarely asks for help
  • closely guards information about thoughts, feelings, family life, personal details, saying that he’s private
  • may seem detached, even with romantic partners and family
  • doesn’t put himself out there to avoid rejection
  • can hold on to inappropriate, undesirable, or unhealthy relationships to avoid feeling abandoned
  • not sure of what she wants, thinks, or feels
  • words and behavior don’t match
  • if there is a partner, their lives are very separate (examples: long distance relationship, married partner, workaholic partner, or emotionally unavailable partner)
  • has more virtual interaction than face to face interaction
  • doesn’t get personally involved in other people’s lives
  • takes a long time to warm up to new people
  • engages in relationships with lower power people rather than equals
  • has a high degree of control over when, if, where, and how interaction happens

What causes a person to have a wall? Fear. Fear of being hurt, loved, abused, betrayed, embarrassed, abandoned, or any number of other things. This generally comes from an unstable childhood, a traumatic experience, or a hurtful relationship. People with walls either didn’t learn how to have healthy relationships or were hurt so badly that they don’t trust people.

Since they don’t trust easily, they want guarantees of safety before they engage in a relationship. Often it takes so much time and effort that the potential partner gives up before a bond can form. Or a relationship does form, but the walls never go down so neither party ever really feels emotionally satisfied. So what do you do?

If You Are With Someone With Walls

  • Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to decipher the mixed messages. If she wants you, she will be available to you. She will be consistent about her feelings. She will let you and others know that she wants you. A mixed message means either “no” or “I am not able to have a healthy relationship right now.” Leaving now will shorten your heartache and hasten the other person’s learning curve for taking down those walls.
  • Don’t let someone else control the terms of your relationship. If you start out like this, you will end up like this. There is no way to have healthy self-esteem in this situation. You’ll always be the “servant” and her the “master.” Nobody is worth that.
  • Focus on who she is not who she has the potential to be. It’s not your job to save her, mold her, or teach her. If she wanted to grow, she’d do it on her own. If she uses you for this purpose, she will probably leave you for someone else once you’re done with her because she will have outgrown you. Don’t be a stepping stone.
  • No matter how attractive, wealthy, fit, sweet, safe, or smart the guy is, don’t make excuses for your lack of intimacy. You can’t have a healthy relationship if one of you has walls.
  • Accept that the walls are there to keep you out. Do you want to bash yourself against a wall day after day?
  • Accept that you cannot change her. If you stay, accept her as she is. She will love you for it, (we all want to be accepted) and your life will be a lot easier.
  • If you go, don’t beat yourself or your partner up about it. Just know that a healthy relationship is not possible with someone with walls.

If You Are the One With the Walls

If you can’t get or keep a relationship, it’s because your outer world is a reflection of your inner world. When you take down those emotional walls, you will be able to establish the connection that you want. How?

  • Address the fear that makes these walls necessary. We all want to feel safe. Whatever created the wall is probably not present in your life today. This means that you don’t need this level of self-defense today. If your walls are interfering with your ability to have a healthy relationship, I’d suggest getting professional help. If you could take them down on your own, I am sure you would have already done so. Fear is what created and sustains the wall. If you do everything else on this list and still have the fear, your problem will remain.
  • Practice letting others see you. Start small with things like sharing your opinions, talking about your work, or feelings. Work up to sharing things that are harder to open up about. For example, if you create something, show people your work. Share your thoughts about something you love.
  • Initiate contact. I know it’s hard. The people who love you will notice and appreciate your effort. It doesn’t have to be deep or sustained. Start small, but show some interest in other people.
  • Learn mindfulness. This can help you to know what you think, feel, and want. It can keep you in the present moment instead of going to your fear place. It can stop you from rejecting love to stay safe or clinging to people you don’t want to avoid abandonment. You can’t feel connected if you aren’t here. Mindfulness keeps you here.
  • Go slow. You don’t have to tear the wall down. We all want to feel safe, so make a big enough hole to put up a gate. You can still control when and how much you open the gate. In fact, you can think of it as the love gate. Open it only to those you love. Close it when you have had enough.
  • Practice saying yes to what you want and no to what you don’t want. Just say “yes” for yes and “no” for no – nothing else. You don’t have to explain. Both are complete sentences. Once you get the hang of doing this, you will realize that no worlds collapsed. Everyone survived. Even if there is some discomfort for you and disappointment for them, everything was still okay. It’s okay to say yes and no. It creates clarity. Clarity leads to safety and understanding.
  • Communicate what’s going on to those in your inner circle so that they don’t feel abandoned, neglected, or confused. If you need space, ask for it. If you want company, let them know. You are responsible for caring for your own needs. Others can’t give you what you need if they don’t know what that is.
  • Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. If you need to eat, eat. Your body will tell you what it needs. Listen. Your body will also clue you in to how you’re feeling. All emotions have a physical component. Your body is always speaking. Learn its language.
  • Practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. When you don’t let anyone in, it can be hard to imagine the world from someone else’s perspective. Observe your actions. Ask yourself how they might be impacting others. Is this the effect you want to have? If not, do something different.
  • Make space for those you care about. It may be hard for you to let people in, but if you don’t, they have no reason to stay. Reach out and ask about their day. Share your thought and feelings. Tell them that you want them in your life and are doing what you can to make that easier and more fulfilling for both of you.
  • Focus on balance. You are important, so are other people. You are responsible for your relationship, as are the people you are in relationship with. This means you have to share power and responsibility if you want a healthy relationship. It means that you don’t take on more or less than is yours to take.
  • Practice give and take. People with walls tend to be rather poor giver and takers. Think of this as a flow of feeling rather than stuff or time. If you want connection, you have to send out something so that it can come back to you. If you don’t send it out, it won’t have enough energy to sustain the flow. You’ve got to let it in to receive it. So, you have to be a good giver and receiver.
  • Work on one thing at a time. Focus on progress not perfection. It took a while to create the wall. It will take some time to open up a gate, but this is the gate that will make a healthy, lasting relationship possible. Aren’t you worth it?

People with walls are not bad people; however, their actions can feel hurtful to themselves and those around them. We all need safety. Building walls will give us that at the cost of living in emotional and often physical isolation. If that’s not the life you want, the good news is you can change it.

Note: Switching gender is done deliberately to show that that this problem applies to both genders. The suggestions above can also apply to friendships. 

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