In my psychotherapy practice I see a lot of clients who are anxious, sad and frustrated in their relationships. Most often, the anxiety comes from a feelings of not being secure in their relationship. A heightened anxiety can often occur because they involve a power struggle, or imbalance of reciprocity in the relationship. These situations frequently involve one person waiting for another person to “decide” about them in the relationship.
One of the main ways the anxious power struggle manifests is in the on-again, off-again relationship. In the on again, off again type of power struggle, one person in the relationship feels very certain and the other person doesn’t. This usually results in a dynamic where the uncertain one is calling all the shots and dictating the course of the relationship. The person who is certain feels anxious because they are in a heightened state of anxiety due to the fact that they don’t know where they stand yet have an attachment to the person. They may fear losing this person and when their attachment object is uncertain, the fear of losing them is always in the back of the mind. Keep in mind that most uncertain situations cause anxiety because there is no sense of security, stability or safety in these dynamics.
In many cases, the person who feels so certain is blinded by a myriad of complex factors. A roller coaster dynamic such as the on again, off again relationship is a bit like a drug. The certain person is either subconsciously or consciously seeking validation from the uncertain person. When they receive that validation it feels exhilarating and blissful. When the uncertain person takes that attention away it’s a very disappointing and sometimes its a devastating crash. Sometimes the rollercoaster dynamic makes it easy to think you are in love with someone or that no on else can compare to them. This is because the rollercoaster dynamic can make you feel like you’re crazy and desperately wanting to be with that person. That’s usually not love, that’s the dynamic of uncertainty.
An on again off again dynamic does not create an environment where a healthy long term relationship can grow. All couples have their issues but one can only see them clearly and begin to work on them when the couple is in a position where they are seeing each other on a frequent basis with a clear commitment. When the relationship starts to feel safer and more comfortable, you can see the other person for who they really are and not through the blinders you see them with when they are unavailable to you.
There are many reasons why someone may be emotionally unavailable or uncertain but the reasons aren’t actually that important. Often people rationalize staying attached to a situation that is making them extremely unhappy and anxious because they understand the rationale behind the other person’s unwillingness to commit. However, what’s really important is that the person is unable to give the person what they truly want and desire in the here and now and they may be unable to do so in the future.
The best thing to do when you’re involved with someone who is not giving you what you need or deserve is end the dynamic and the relationship for the time being. This doesn’t mean that you must never see them again but if a non-committal pattern has been established, then it will be highly unlikely something will change unless you change something. The uncertain person is getting exactly what they want: they can see you whenever they want and on their terms but they don’t have to give anything to get what they want. If you want to feel respected and prioritized in your relationship, then you must respect and prioritize yourself. The most effective way to do this is to explain that unless they are sure about you or ready to work on a relationship that is headed toward the commitment you want, then it’s best you part ways for the time being and cut off contact and communication.
This will initiate a change in a dynamic that will eventually go one of two ways:
1. It will allow you time and space to see if this is a situation you really want to be in. It will help you move forward.
2. If both people decide they want to be in a committed relationship at a point in the future, they will be more inclined to make the changes necessary to be in a relationship where both people feel safe and have their needs met.
Respect and reciprocity in a relationship will only come when you believe you deserve it and are willing to take the necessary steps to achieve it.