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When People Lean Away from You


It happens to all of us: a relationship is merrily rolling along and suddenly we’re ghosted, someone doesn’t return our calls or texts, or they’re unavailable for lunch, dinner, a walk, or a drink. When you first realize there’s a shift in the relationship, it’s natural to think you might have done something to offend someone, so you wrack your brain for having failed them in some way or a remark you may have made that came off wrong. 

If you think you’re responsible for a relational breach or can’t pinpoint a specific instance but wonder if you hurt someone without knowing it, speak up. Say, “I notice you’re not returning my texts. Is there something I did to hurt you?” or “Did I do something wrong that you don’t want to take our Saturday morning walks any more?”

Warning: do not sit and stew. Instead, initiate discussion if you feel you and someone are drifting apart or you’re not as close as you used to be. If you get no response and the drift continues, it’s okay to ask questions about why and even pose your questions again at a later time. Sometimes it’s hard for people to tell you you’ve hurt them. 

But what do you do when you reach out and get no response? You might want to take one last look at having caused offense. If you still come up clueless, it’s time to consider that the relationship drift had nothing to do with you and that something changed in the other person or their life that made them want out.

Maybe they’re going through a rough patch they’re ashamed to talk about for whatever reason. Or they’ve gotten emotionally healthier—or unhealthier—and you’re no longer a great fit with them. Or they don’t know what to say to you and it’s easier to say nothing. 

At that point, what’s crucial is the meaning you make of their behavior. People-pleasers will continue to believe (and likely perseverate on or berate themselves because) they are the cause of the rift. If you insist on believing that you’re the cause of people’s emotional dysregulation, you’ll blame yourself and feel guilty and helpless.

If, however, you recognize that you’re not the center of everyone’s universe and they have reactions that have nothing to do with and aren’t triggered by you, you can avoid feeling deeply hurt and getting angry at them. It’s okay to feel the loss of someone and grieve the empty space their absence leaves in your life. If you don’t think you’re at fault for the breach, you can take a deep breath and consider that they have their life trajectory and you have yours and that’s how it goes. More than that, know you’ll be okay without them and without knowing what ended the relationship.