how do you accept when your loving partner says they cannot love you back?

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    Hi All,
    I have found much solace and wisdom on this site over the years, now hoping for some help as I struggle through a very painful breakup.

    My boyfriend of eight months was the loveliest man I have ever dated. I am 30 with enough dating experience to know, and for the first time in my life I felt so loved and supported, so comfortable being myself and so grateful for a partner where we shared common values, goals, and kindness . Two months into dating, he confessed that we had met shortly after he hadmade the decision to move back to his home country of Sweden. I was disappointed, having felt like I’d won the lottery meeting this man, but I understood and supported him and making whatever decision felt right for him . After a long process and some soul-searching, he canceled his move and decided to stay. His words were that I was everything he been looking for in a partner and he felt he would regret not giving us a real chance.
    But here is the seed I should have heeded: he also said he was terrified of screwing it up, and very scared of hurting me. I was so relieved he was staying, I assured him it would be OK as long as we communicated and treated each other kindly and honestly . And over the past many months, we did just that. Shared our hobbies, our dreams, traveled, and grew into each other’s lives .

    5 months in I said I love you, and was greeted with silence. I had prefaced my words by saying I didn’t need to hear them back, I understand love should not be needy, but the silence tore at my heart. Instead, often in our moments of deepest attachment or romantic connection, he would suddenly say he felt numb, felt nothing, and even as I tried to understand and except that loving was a harder process for him then for me, I felt crushed by these moments .In the months following that, I tried to be patient, kind, communicative, and give him space.he never was able to say he loved me, but I focused on actions instead of words and his actions were so entirely supportive and thoughtful and loving . I am 30, I’ve had several adult relationships, and have never once been treated half this well even though thrywould tell me they loved me .

    Finally though, it came to a head a few days ago and in a moment where I felt connected and grateful for him, he turned to me and said “I don’t love you, I don’t feel deeply for you, I really wish I did and I want you to be the one but I simply don’t feel it. I am so sorry.” And then we sobbed for an hour in each others arm and it was over.

    He has told me he has struggled to feel love before, that he’s never really been in love at 33, and once he confessed he feels like something is broken inside of him. I know he goes to therapy every week and is such a gentle soul, I can’t imagine him being broken ( I am not a woman who was looking to fix someone ). I am finding it impossible to reconcile how he treated me (loving, considerate, passionate) with his words that he doesnt feel love, that he feel something is missing with me, that I do not feel like home. I know I should be mature enough to accept his words with gratitude, and consider the life of pain they may have spared me. But right now I simply feel I’ve lost one of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and that all of my love that’s not enough for them to stay makes me question my worth .I can’t understand how he can care for me so much but not love me back.

    Has anyone else dated a person they thought were the one, only to have that person not reciprocate? I am sure I am not alone, but I feel at a complete loss. I am in so much pain, and have lost the person who I thought I could’ve worked through this with.

    • This topic was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by JuliaM.

    Dear juliam:

    You loved him and you believe (last line) that he didn’t reciprocate, or as the title of your thread reads, that he “Cannot love you back.”

    Reads to me that he did love you. You felt loved by him and I trust, by how you come across to me in your thread, that what you felt was indeed love.

    His problem is the childhood injuries he is carrying with him, not healed yet, not enough. So he is scared and it is the fear that made him numb. You wrote: “he would suddenly say he felt numb, felt nothing’- these words crushed you, I believe, because you misunderstood:

    He couldn’t have felt numb unless he was significantly fearful. If he wasn’t fearful, he would have felt something. It is people who are very afraid who feel nothing. It wasn’t that he didn’t love you- it was that he did love you and that scared him.

    Did he tell you about his childhood?



    Thank you, Anita. Yes, maybe I use too many words above. My problem is I do believe he loves me – deeply so- and I can’t accept that he is telling himself and me that he does not. I want to tell him he is so wrong and to see what’s right in front of him, but I realize he has to see these things himself and it is not my place to tell him he is mistaken .

    I agree there must be some story in his life that makes this all makes sense. I did ask, and he shared that his parents divorced when he was 10, that his mother was over accommodating and overbearing while his father is a self focused man . I know his family is important to him, but I did see a red flag and the fact that he says he doesn’t have many memories at all of his childhood… Something I have encountered before and friends who’ve been through trauma . He never shared anything about a traumatic experience, and none of the stories of former relationships helped me understand where this emptiness comes from. But I thank you for your words, I wish he could overcome his numbness because the range of real emotions is so profoundly beautiful and I want those for him even if he ultimately isn’t sure he wants them with me .

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by JuliaM.

    Dear Juliam:

    You are welcome. You wrote that he never shared anything about a “traumatic experience.”

    I learned that it is not necessary for a child to have a horror-movie-kind of trauma to constitute trauma. A child needs more than food, water, shelter and medical care; more than toys and clothes. And not being physically abused or neglected does not make it up for a child who repeatedly (as is the child’s nature) reaches out to the parent with love, only to be rejected, again and again.



    Hey Juliam. I am not the right person to help you completely. However, i have been through a type of childhood trauma. Now I am in my 20’s it comes back to haunt me, in harsh ways. Although I am trying to heal, and be self-aware of my thoughts, its hard. I think that he might need alone time to reconcile with his feelings, and feel and go through them. He’s got to face those emotions, and let himself feel and express them in a healthy manner. Its very hard for me personally, but I know with enough tries, he will get there. I have not been in a relationship, so I don’t know why he would not feel complete given that he accepts your love and loves you as well.

    Good luck


    Dear Julia,
    Your post moved me as I’ve been through something similar but that netted me something I hope you can avoid: hours into months that have stretched across years of misdirected energy (because he kept coming back, but wasn’t healthy or able to give what I deserve, and I stayed in touch, for my part, hoping in the end for his wellness, which you mentioned wanting). Perhaps sharing my experience can help you ease you toward more peace. You wrote “I wish he could overcome his numbness because the range of real emotions is so profoundly beautiful and I want those for him even if he ultimately isn’t sure he wants them with me.”

    These are loving and wonderful sentiments. Can you tuck them away, feeling warmed by knowing that they are in your heart?

    And then invigorate Even More loving and wonderful sentiments for Yourself in gratitude that you and he were able to experience this feeling of love together and in the secure knowledge that you deserve healthy love and wholeness. Now. A man who is not there is not there. You can expend a whole mess of energy toward hopes and wishes for him and “us” that deserve to go into your joy and growth and community with others in the here and now. The more you can let him go, holding gratitude in your heart and also the knowledge that you deserve more and all we know we have is the Now, the more you can manifest the fuller version of this love (e.g., with a ready partner) that you sound ready to generate and receive. Beware the wondering-wishing-hoping burden == it surreptitiously and easily would steal your energy and focus away from actually creating what you want and deserve. A man I thought I wanted to spend my life with and who felt like the “home” I’d never felt before is the person who caused me to learn this. He too told me he hoped we might be together and that he was scared of hurting me. I wish that I had chosen to invest in what I want and deserve elsewhere from the first moment when he revealed that he’s damaged from childhood (many of us are, I have been, lord knows, but what we choose to do about it is what matters) and trapped in false beliefs about love. We cannot EVER overcome someone else’s trap for themselves.

    If you find it hard to tuck the love into your heart and focus on yourself, and move on, then look into your own childhood wounds. They are where we almost always will find our answers as to why we do not move on from a particular person to instead celebrate that we deserve full love and that we can manifest it in the world with those who are ready.

    You ARE worth full love. The fact that you mention his reactions making you question your worth suggests, to me, that you can use this painful event to invest in unearthing and caring for your own childhood wounds (majority of us have them), which may be connected to questions of being worthy of love, being good enough, working hard enough to save someone so you could get back what you need, someone being a yoyo of connection and distance, etc..

    I hope this might help you or others sidestep the unnecessary suffering and phenomenal waste from wondering-wishing-hoping with energy that is best applied toward celebrating your own life in community with people who can reciprocate and meet you where you truly are.

    Your partner has to want to and actually have taken steps to show he has been healing so that he reciprocates what you offer. You probably know this. Anything less than that (belongs in the therapist’s office and) cannot yield a healthy romantic relationship.

    Best wishes for peace and joy. Live.


    Hi Bexx,
    Thank you so much for your post– I have reread it so many times over the past several days as I struggle thru my pain and try to understand why this has happened and how to not be broken down by it. It is a (sad) relief to know someone else has gone thru a similar situation, and I know you are right to point out that the wishing-wondering-hoping is a bottomless pit you can throw your energy into. I am sorry for what you went thru and I deeply appreciate you sharing your hard earned wisdom.

    I want to take my love and my grief and respect them and put my energy into myself… but how does one begin to do that? I have spent years thinking thru how my childhood affects who I am and the types of relationships I am drawn to. I have learned many things but I don’t see any more wounds in myself that I feel I’ve ignored. I really thought I’d come to a place of strong self-knowledge (my self-love and acceptance yes took a lot of years of therapy and effort and honesty and is a garden always needing weeding). I feel I was the strong happy person I’ve slowly grown into when I met this man. So now, having channeled that trust and affection and happiness into sharing and building a life with someone who seemed stable and on the same page I feel so shattered and confused at the rejection that I am having trouble picking up the pieces— of finding a “me” that I can put energy and love back into.

    Trying to avoid melodrama, but I guess it simply feels like I am uprooted from my own heart and only finding dark sadness, rejection, jealousy, grief there inside of me when usually I feel so much light inside myself and all around me.

    I want to keep my faith in positive community and the possibility of real communion with others who are ready and willing to connect, but I feel deeply shaken and scared that perhaps the odds are too slim of deep care ever being returned in balance in a romantic partnership.


    Hi Julia,
    Thanks for your sympathy for what I went through. It’s much appreciated especially at a hard time for you. It’s funny, I read TinyBuddha for the first time when I read your post and joined so I could reply. Now I suspect we are both feeling richer (I unexpectedly do) because we are getting confirmation that we have much to give — and that the world (somehow, magically, karmically) finds ways to reciprocate and prompt us with what we need.

    You wrote “put my energy into myself… but how does one begin to do that?” and “so shattered and confused at the rejection that I am having trouble picking up the pieces— of finding a “me” that I can put energy and love back into”…Confusion from emotional inexplicability is a lifelong familiar for me, so perhaps sharing more will be helpful. (As context, I learned bountiful, resilient self-love “later” since I was a child of a narcissistic family. The people who were supposed to love me forever and best turned on me because that’s what narcissistic family “systems” do: when the healthiest member commits increasingly and then unequivocally to health, the others turn on her and diminish, threaten or reject her if they cannot contain her.)

    What I learned once I was ready:

    *I have learned that we do not NEED to “emotionally understand” why someone ended with us.
    We might want it, but we do not need it. A man, different than in my prior reply, who I loved and who loved me in his way proposed to me three times and broke it off twice (I spare you other details). I could not understand his behavior and tried too hard and too long to do so. Some people are just not wired (due to genetics, which is about 30% of our predisposition for empathy, plus environment) to GIVE love and ACCEPT love the same way that we do. (Both giving and accepting matter.) Or to connect with deep emotional authenticity. After much trying to understand, I finally realized, I don’t need to understand. His own family (he polled them) said he lacked a notable dose of the empathy others have: this is not someone who will weigh and decide things in a way that makes sense to most of us. An interfaith minister who was to marry us said, “I always understood what he got from you, but I never understood what you got from him.” Rock to head…You’d think that would have knocked me to the ground about the fact that I gave and gave to people who took and took and couldn’t reciprocate fully, but I was such an expert from all my practice… ☺

    *I feel in my gut that I let go of trying to understand (partly from exhaustion) when I truly got that HE HAD SOMETHING LACKING.
    It’s not like we were two people who just needed to talk sufficiently to bridge an understanding or agree to practice different tokens of affection or languages of love. Likewise (self-celebratingly), I could acknowledge finally that I had to essentially divorce my family of origin (no contact) — something my gut had known for some time — after I truly got (after decades of trying for naught) that THEY HAD SOMETHING LACKING that kept damaging and depleting me. It’s not like I didn’t give or do enough or the right things to have a loving and healthy romantic relationship with Someone or to have a loving and healthy relationship with Tribe. It’s that neither I nor anyone (perhaps) could do that WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS A MISSING PIECE that kept them from relating to and feeling for others sufficiently deeply. This man remains a man who never married. I do not mean he was intentionally unkind, or immoral, or largely unadmirable; he was a man unable to love well on a deep and flowing level. He preferred surface and fun and keeping emotions neat or at bay. He needed things to be largely about him but could seem thoughtful or generous where it was little sacrifice. He was afraid and unequipped to learn what emotions are there to teach us. Similarly for my family of origin. (Now wait for it!…)

    *I HAD SOMETHING LACKING. !! (You know yourself; here I can only offer what I’ve lived.) When in the corners of my life I allowed broken boundaries, the rest of my life steeped in the karmic mess that snuck in. It’s like Life and the Universe united to compel me toward yet deeper fundamental change. I realized that standing up for my health, and respect for my desires and needs, included a repertoire of choices — all chosen based on person and situation — from discussing, to deflecting, to subtly making myself clear and staying engaged in interaction, to self-protectively outwardly making nice while noting to keep away, to confronting, to choosing a better time to deal with, to leaving… and more, I’m sure. When I stood up for my healthy boundaries, it let other healthy people stand up comfortably for theirs, which brought ease. I realized that if someone could not care for me the way I needed, then I would exercise my own care for myself and direct my energy toward such. (It drives the narcissistic or manipulative people a bit crazy, though, as I think it throws them.) And then things shift and the world is just bringing you more of “your people.” But only after you learn and practice hard – so, so hard time and again — the lessons.

    We cannot teach someone to treat us with what we need and want by giving them what WE need and want. The more you believe in your bones what is and is not okay and that you deserve to live joy, the more readily and instinctually you will put limits where they belong. It’s like you must engage in a process of paying attention to and knowing yourself better than you ever have before– because (remind yourself of this) you’re a really neat person to know! The more you soak in that miasma, the readier you’ll be to let go what needs letting go of. Maybe you want and deserve a partner who you do not have to “teach” to trust love. The more you know and believe this, the closer you’ll be to INSTINCTUALLY FILTERING IN TOWARD YOU the partner who does trust love and is able to sustain love.

    Therapy dogs and cats or just regular dogs and cats of the right temperament can single-handedly teach us what maybe people failed to – and they can un-teach us things if we learned false lessons, e.g., that we are not going to have our love be returned in balance. In the bond between a dog and his person, you matter like the world to him. You are worth not just love but the love of the world to him. Well-matched pets show their people that they intrinsically matter. My dog shows concern and attends to me when he can smell that I am injured, fearful, on watch, sad or angry. And definitely happy. (Pet Partners is a non-profit that provides animal-assisted therapy in different settings; maybe you can get involved. Or maybe fostering a dog or volunteering at an animal shelter is for you.) It also lets you release some of that wonderful love you have to give. It will come back to you many times over. Some friends who are married agree that pets are sometimes better than humans for comfort and healing; our pets lack guise, emotional agendas and never think in terms of quid pro quo. And because they depend on us, they bring out our best.

    *I MOVED ON PARTLY FROM BEING EXHAUSTED AT BEING SAD, DISAPPOINTED, CONFUSED AND EXHAUSTED (yep, tired of being tired of…). I got sick of it and knew in an ancient kind of way that I deserve to live my joy. Pretty much nothing else is assured, not money or health or the form of the people who pass into our lives or how long they’ll stay. But you can guarantee that you will live your joy. It comes from your decision to do so; it is not contingent on outer things or other people. If I want to live my joy with other people to love me in community, and I am starting out with the sadness of no family and no partner and a string of heartbreak, I live my joy by opening myself to the world and to its possibilities. Connection with nature, with movement, with beauty wherever found in daily outings, with …all sorts of things, smiles shared with complete strangers even.

    Be sure to be good to yourself. Find joy in the knowledge that you take actions that are intended to show care for yourself. It sounds like you have a supportive community which is wonderful. Frankly, too many shocks in too short a time is not helpful. If you notice that certain contexts (places, modes of communication, e.g, texting in the dating world) more often provide distressing or disappointing interactions, opt away from them for now. You can always make changes.

    Re-engage with one thing or setting or experience that brings you joy; then truly dwell in the moment, relishing even a simple, sensual pleasure like the smell of a morning coffee, or petting a cat or dog (even someone else’s). Feel gratitude for it. Take in how your body feels. Breathe deeply. Once you feel wonder or relaxation and happiness in your eyes from something small, it’s not a huge step for it to carry over to more of your day. Good people find us and gravitate toward us when we are living our joy in ways small and big.

    *BALANCE DOSES OF QUIET SELF-NURTURING TIME PLUS SUN, EXERCISE, SLEEP AND TIME WITH KINDLY OTHERS (whether or not they know what you’re going through – and sometimes it’s better to be with people who don’t as it pulls us out of ourselves.)

    *LOSE YOURSELF IN A NOVEL OR MUSIC OR TV SERIES THAT HAS HOPEFUL, LOVING, EMPATHETIC STRANDS and MAKES YOU SMILE! (AND AVOID THE OPPOSITE.) We pattern internal emotional cues from what we feast our minds on. Choose a mind-diet that offers goodness, examples of empathy, health and love and that makes you relax in your body and feel good. Now is not the time to program yourself with terror, love triangles of jealousy, mini-series about depressives, and songs about unrequited love or abandonment. One reason I liked the show The Good Wife was probably because it showcased complicated relationships (ugh, familiar…) through the lens of someone feeling her way into an ability to generate what she needs and wants in her life, instead of living like others expect or wish for their own purposes. The protagonist shows compassion to herself, not just to others (empathy). She finds her own way to take a stand for what matters to her, to make room for what she wants and deserves. Curiously, I accidentally came upon an episode of the original TV show Little House on the Prairie (I am in my “many decades” prime!) and was enthralled at how the episode teaches honoring our emotions, including anger. Here, decades after having known and watched the series, I finally understand why I liked it so. It teaches compassion for yourself equally with compassion for others; it teaches you to honor loving authentically and the willingness to be honest and vulnerable – things in short supply in today’s media culture and our “busy” lives.

    *SURROUND YOURSELF WITH CONVERSATION – EVEN PODCASTS, SELF-TALK OR WRITING – THAT EXPRESSES WHAT NEEDS AIR AND IS HELPFUL FOR WHAT YOU WANT MORE OF. If you want more of release from grief, practice the release, not the grief only. Releasing to the point of over-rehearsing anger, disappointment, resentment, jealousy and other important emotions programs our body to stay in that mode. Rehearse what you want to materialize in your current and future life rather than practice, over and over, things from the past. When your mind wanders to “trying to understand how this could have happened,” acknowledge, “yep, my thoughts are on it again;” then extend compassion to the part of yourself that grieves and wants connection and understanding (see, you are practicing giving Yourself what you need, you are giving yourself compassion and understanding). Only you can tell yourself what you need, but some of the most helpful podcasts and resources I’ve found for healing from broken love and learning to love myself fully follow:
    -Podcasts from Sounds True and Tara Brach
    -One specific podcast from Sounds True that I particularly liked was Psychotherapy 2.0 with Diane Poole Heller. But I liked many, and you will sample ones that resonate.
    -Workshop with Diane Poole Heller (I travelled cross-country for it)
    -Youtube and blog with Melanie Tonia Evans (absolutely great for learning to love yourself more fully, and especially if healing from narcissistic relationships is needed, she is better than her weight in gold)
    -A book I liked best (very unassuming looking little book for a few dollars on Amazon): From Seeker to Finder – Discovering Everyday Happiness. Another: The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfeld. Both are gems for starting or ending your day.
    -Guided meditation at the Jewish Community Center (free) and silent walking meditation at a Buddhist Church near me (free)
    -Buddhist services (might be available via youtube if Buddhists got that far with tech?) in the Jodoshinshu (not Zen) school. I think there are only three Buddhist churches like this on the East coast and all the others are in CA. It’s such healthy psychology! And I feel it complements other religious affiliations if that’s important to you.
    -Also Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina Brown (due to my life of practice trying and failing to change people within a narcisistic family system to get what I needed and wondering why I so often was offered love/”love” (sometimes seemed real, sometimes empty and fake) by talented, attractive, oft charming achievers low on empathy who accepted my sparkle and love, then broke my heart and tried to come back, and I oft found it hard to leave the relationship behind). I guess many of these were helpful in finding that I don’t need any one thing from any particular person including myself in order to be happy. I can desire and hope for certain continuations or manifestations of relationship; but I can be fully who I am just by being and accepting who I am and living fully. Although I want a healthy loving romantic partnership, I am partnering myself now. I think it will let me find the people in an equally healthy place. It already has been helping me find them.

    You write “…it simply feels like I am uprooted from my own heart and only finding dark sadness, rejection, jealousy, grief there…” I understand what that must feel like, having had to acknowledge that the people I was taught to love or chose to love (from parents to sister to ex-husband and many boyfriends) were not equipped to love me (or potentially anyone) fully in the way that is healthy for me.

    I can offer you this:
    *Try not to dwell on rejection for it is like crying for having opened the Cupboard That Is Bare when the world is full of Full Cupboards (or at least partially stocked ones) that can give you what you want and need – and deserve. A bare cupboard cannot give what it does not have – and likewise for a person. A treasured therapist told me that.
    *You write of jealousy which is so natural when we feel that what we need or want has gone elsewhere, been taken away (…especially if then given to someone else). Jealousy seems to come from a sense that we cannot have something at all if a particular form of it leaves. I hope that you will see that you cannot have ANYONE sustain healthy love with you if he is a person who has not learned to sustain healthy love. EVERY single person like this that you try this with will make you feel jealous, hungry, starved even, for the love and belonging that you seek. However, the minute you let go the focus of giving your heart to the unavailable or unready, you will start seeing Ready People. Plus you will extend your heart only to the points where it is reciprocated in the ways that matter to You, and you’ll stop giving it beyond. You will stop wanting the unready, and you will stop pining for them. You will be full of joy at living your life, seeing wonder, feeling gratitude, feeling curious and playful about what you can manifest today or next month or even next year, should we get all those days.
    *A smart, joyful Korean friend of mine (happily married) told me: men are great as long as you don’t need them TOO much! I think she means what others have wisely said and I will try to share: you must always keep a core part of your heart just for yourself. If you ever give away your whole heart, then you have nothing left with which to love yourself. And then, instead of being interdependent with a healthy partner, you will likely find yourself desperately trying to merge with him, because you are now counting on him to give you all the love which you stopped giving to yourself because… you gave it away to him. Keep part of your heart set aside to love yourself.

    I am thankful to all the people who knowingly and unknowingly have helped my healing.
    So, this reply is something of a Thanksgiving gift in honor of all of us who have loved, and who have been open enough to have had our hearts broken, and yet who keep persevering … keep trusting that we will find full, healthy love, which starts by giving it to ourselves if we never received it from someone else.

    Peace and joy to you. Live. Live your joy.

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