Why did my boyfriend disconnect?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My boyfriend and I were together for six months. We fell in love quickly and were already talking about being together forever. We both felt like we were a perfect match for each other. He was even the one bringing up the topics of marriage and kids. The last two months of our relationship things suddenly changed. He said he felt disconnected from life and believed it was a defense mechanism for dealing with the hardships in his life. His mother is bipolar. She moved in with him and soon after is when our problems began. Her illness is too bad for her to live alone right now. He also has 2 kids to provide for and he’s only 26. We broke up a few weeks ago and he just confessed to me that we went to bed one night (about 2 months ago) completely in love and he literally woke up the next morning feeling completely disconnected from me. He said its like a switch turned off in his head. It”s happened in his past relationships but it occurred over a period of time and happened in relationships that already weren’t healthy so it seemed normal to want out. He said he believed I was “the one” and he never thought it could happen with me. He still loves me and is attracted to me and wants to be together but feels like there is something wrong in his brain that took away his ability to be intimate and feel emotionally connected to me. He said he went to bed completely happy and excited to be with me and literally woke up the next morning feeling dead inside. Nothing I did or he did triggered it to happen. How can his mind have changed so drastically over night? We are thinking it might be a symptom of a disorder possibly passed down from is bipolar mother. Has this happened to other people? He doesn’t want to ever have another relationship because if it happened to us when we were so perfectly happy then it’ll happen again with someone else. This is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He was my best friend and love of my life. Neither of us understand how this could happen. What could have caused this psychologically and is there any way to fix it?

A: My immediate guess is that your boyfriend got scared. It seems that he has a pattern of disconnecting when a relationship reaches a certain level of intimacy. It happened more rapidly with you because you two became so committed so fast. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that your troubles started when his mother moved in. That had to stir up unresolved issues. My guess is that his history with his mom, the woman who has been his primary model for relationships with females, has been a conflicted and difficult one. However much his mother loves him, her illness has made her inconsistent in her ability to stay connected to him. As an adult, the closer he gets to a woman, the more vulnerable he feels. Since he is unconsciously convinced that he will be emotionally “left,” he protects himself by disconnecting before she does.

The way to “fix” this is for your boyfriend to get himself some therapy.It may be that his relationship with you was and is positive enough that he will be willing to face his fears and deal with the aftershocks of his childhood. Therapy will be hard at times because it will mean bringing to the surface some painful memories. But I hope he will agree that it is worth it. He deserves to have the happiness and closeness that life with an intimate partner can bring.

I wish you both well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 May 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Why did my boyfriend disconnect?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/05/24/why-did-my-boyfriend-disconnect/