A reader wonders how to fix her relationship with an emotionally damaged man who says he can’t love.
I love my partner. When he broke my heart 2 weeks ago he said he couldn’t feel love (rough childhood, background etc). He now says that he was close to telling me he loved me so many times (as was I) but he thought I’d laugh at him.
I am head over heels for this emotionally damaged man. What do I do to try and fix my relationship?
The short answer is this: nothing.
You do absolutely nothing.
You don’t call, text, write or send him smoke signals or missives by carrier pigeon.
You do absolutely nothing specifically to fix your relationship at all.
Let him go do his thing in misery-land while you make yourself as genuinely and ridiculously happy as humanly possible.
1) Emotionally damaged people arrive PRIMED for pain.
They don’t want it and go to great lengths to avoid it— but they EXPECT to be hurt and through this expectation, cause enough pain to keep themselves busy for a lifetime.
When you fall in love with them and act all sweet and reassuring, at first things are awesome.
Unfortunately, after a while that stubborn self-loathing creeps back in and they cannot absorb your love and care. They start to feel like they haven’t earned it and then become disrespectful and distrusting toward you. They start to pull away.
No matter what they do, they feel like a crappy person on the inside, therefore unworthy of love. And if you try to love someone who feels unworthy of it, they’ll just wonder what the hell is wrong with you.
2) Tenderly loving someone who hates themself comes off to them like you’re the world’s biggest dung-heap fan.
They might feel temporarily flattered that you admire their dung-heap, but unless they do something to clean up their own self-image, they will eventually decide that the problem is YOU (you must be mistaken AND have awful taste) and go to great lengths to make sure you eventually believe that they really are awful too.
That’s why when you’re in a relationship, you can almost feel them thinking (and they might even say):
“There must be a catch here somewhere.”
“This is so wonderful that I’m worried the other shoe is going to drop.”
Then, maddeningly (in spite of what would actually lead to a happy life for all involved)—the emotionally damaged person either pulls away, cheats or does something shitty like break up with you by explaining how they:
“Can’t feel love”
And/or my favorite:
“I’m just going to hurt you”
Both are shorthand for:
“If you see who I really am— you’re going to leave me for certain (because… again… underneath my outer shell, I’m totally unloveable and unworthy), so we might as well cut ties now.”
3) Either way, they are essentially telling you that they are going to emotionally devastate you (the person they SAY they want to love but can’t).
Then, in this emotional whiplash dance that only humans in love are capable of doing, it encourages you to patiently accept whatever shitty treatment they dish out (they must need more love to heal) AND reassure them of your feelings for them (because “all you need is love,” right? RIGHT??).
In the face of this kind of self-hatred, the average partner tries to save the relationship by sticking around to provide consistent care and reassurance.
In actions and words, you essentially say, “oh no, no, I really DO love you. I mean it. This time is different because I know I’m safe for you and look how good we are together— why would you want to give up on us when we’re so good together?”
Makes logical sense, right?
Sadly this sincere and kind approach to keeping any relationship alive by showing MORE love and reassurance to a broken shell of a loved one is utterly ineffective.
From your perspective, you know how much you love him, trust yourself to be consistent and want to hang out on a porch swing together when you’re both 97 years old.
The problem is that damaged people don’t hear what you’re saying in a logical way when emotions around words that start with “L” start to run high.
When you reassure them of your love and maybe express your totally reasonable pain over their hurtful and rejecting withdrawal (no shame here— even the most iron-willed among us have tried having a rational discussion about what’s happening)— they think this:
“See? I AM toxic and unworthy. Look how much I’m hurting her. Plus, how could anyone love me when I’m acting like this? She’s obviously not as good as I originally thought. This isn’t safe for anyone. I better cut this off now.”
See how the disrespect twists over from themself to you? It’s the old Groucho Marx quote played out in real time: “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”
BECAUSE you love him— and he feels completely unlovable— your loving care eventually makes you look like a total idiot to him.
This is why people pull away when they fall in love, why they do insane things like kill great relationships for “no reason” and cheat, abuse and hurt loyal people who truly do love them.
4) Self-hatred CANNOT be overcome with tender loving care from the outside.
When a bump in the road like this happens, emotionally healthier people usually think, “oh, this is like me when I’m afraid and need reassurance. I’ll provide reassurance of how much I love them and that will do the trick.”
On the surface, “I can’t love” sounds like it’s totally curable and with enough time and loving care from someone (maybe a truly good woman like you)— he’ll eventually be able to get comfortable and trust you.
However, that process of change and healing those old wounds is not a superpower anyone on the outside possesses.
There is exactly ONE person who has that ability— and that is him.
The treatment that he THINKS he deserves right now is for you to agree he’s awful and leave him in the dust since he hasn’t earned anything else. If you don’t mirror his reality while he’s walking out the door, he will only continue to systematically devalue you.
That’s why all love and care coming from you— and any effort to “fix the relationship” has to stop. You can’t reassure him that he’s lovable or be the good woman who finally helps him change like in the movies.
Someone so determined to sabotage your relationship WILL accomplish it without serious introspection, emotional work and therapy.
Instead of taking responsibility for his “inability to feel love,” (for heaven’s sake… why not cut out the drama and give love a try instead?) he’s chosen the nuclear option— a breakup, which is a great way for him to experience more self-pity and self-hatred.
See how that self-hatred breeds more self-hatred?
It’s caused him to separate himself emotionally from someone who has the genuine capacity to love and care about him— thus perpetuating the “world-class dung-heap self-hatred” cycle.
That’s why I said at the beginning you can’t and shouldn’t do ANYTHING else in his direction except make yourself incredibly happy. And, that’s a big part of my program, Ex Attraction Formula— where I provide more insight and specific instructions about how to get your ex back.
Unfortunately, right now, every second that you plead, beg and negotiate with him in an effort to save your relationship is simply another opportunity for him to devalue your feelings and see you as a wimp who doesn’t think she deserves anything better.
But, this is NOT true. I KNOW you’re not a wimp. Quite the opposite– you’re a woman in love. There is not a THING in the world wrong with that— being head over heels for someone is one of the sweetest and best parts of life. Like all of my clients you’re a problem solver who really cares about someone.
Because he probably won’t and can’t say it clearly right now— thank you for loving him deeply.
It’s people who really love each other who take the time to ask me these questions. I honor your feelings 100% and in no way intend for this to sound harsh. It’s just that what actually works to get someone back when someone is acting strange and self-hating like this is often counter-intuitive.
You don’t have to stop loving and caring for him. Just make yourself happy from a distance until he’s ready to dig in and work on things between you. Try to go out and have fun.
Don’t let that self-hatred multiply.