Can I get him to commit by pulling away?

Consult with Krystal Dear Krystal, I want a second opinion on my strategy to get the guy I’ve been seeing to commit. I’m thinking that…


Consult with Krystal

Dear Krystal,

I want a second opinion on my strategy to get the guy I’ve been seeing to commit. I’m thinking that I can get him to commit by pulling away. Here’s the back story: He and I have been hanging out for the last 6 months. We love doing the same things: going to festivals, concerts, and new restaurants. Our sex life is amazing. We even have the same sarcastic sense of humor and are always laughing together! It truly feels like he’s the person for me because how could we be better aligned?!

The only problem is he tells me he doesn’t want a serious relationship. I don’t think he knows what he really wants. Sometimes, when he’s drunk, he tells me that he loves me. I feel the same way and I’ve told him too. But at the same time, I know he’s on a couple dating apps and hangs out with other women sometimes. Of course, I hate this but I try to pretend to be chill.

Sometimes, I break though and tell him this situation isn’t working for me. I let him know I’d like to have a deeper, exclusive relationship. He tells me he’s sorry but he’s not in a stage of his life where he wants to be committed. He wants to go back to school and may need to move away for this. When I tell him I can be flexible, he still says no.

Over the holidays, I was hoping he’d invite me over to meet his family. When this didn’t happen, I decided I need a new approach. I’ve talked to some friends and they think I should pull away so he has a chance to miss me. I agree with them that he just needs a chance to realize he doesn’t want to lose me.

I’ve already started backing off but it’s torture. That’s why I want another opinion. Do you think I can get him to commit by pulling away?

-Not so patient anymore

Love and emotional unavailability

Thanks for reaching out. First, I want to validate how confusing it is that he doesn’t want to commit even after he’s said “I love you.” On the surface, it doesn’t make sense that someone can love you but not want to commit to you. However, one of the most liberating things to realize is that one or more things that seem like opposites can be true at the same time. This concept is called “dialectical thinking.”

This type of thinking reveals it can be true that he both loves you and that he doesn’t want commitment. While confusing, he has this right. We all have the right to decide our own personal needs and wants. Of course, these sometimes evolve over time yet, it’s essential for healthy relationships that our needs are respected for what they are in the moment.

Healthy boundaries and safety

On the surface, it looks like this is an issue of emotional unavailability but deeper than this, what you’re going through is actually a boundaries issue.

Healthy boundaries exist for safety and they have two parts. The first part is that we set boundaries to protect ourselves from others. This is the part of boundary setting that is most often discussed. The external aspect of boundaries involves the limits you need to set with others to feel respected. Examples of external boundaries include not allowing name calling, needing your time respected, or the need to be paid for your work.

Setting external boundaries is a necessary component of healthy and safe relationships. Having these limits respected shows us who is a safe person in our lives and prevents unnecessary resentment or stress.

The other part of healthy boundaries are internal limits. These internal boundaries are the limits we set on our own self to be safe for ourselves and others. For example, if I have the urge to get drunk the night before a big interview, I may set an internal boundary on myself by telling myself “no” and going to bed early instead. Or if I have the impulse to call up that ex that it took me months to get over, I’ll tell myself “no” to protect my heart.

When it comes to being a safe person for other people, we must honor other people’s needs, wants, and limits even when we don’t like it. When have to honor where other people are coming from when they tell us if we want to be a safe person. To be a safe person for ourselves, we must honor our true needs and wants.

Pulling away as a strategy to get him to commit

When we try tactics like pretending to be ok with a lack of commitment, or pulling away for commitment, we are actually trying to manipulate another person. Of course, I understand this urge to manipulate. It sucks to not get what we want.

However, manipulation is never a healthy place to start a relationship. Getting commitment – even getting married – is not a final destination. A lot of marriages end in divorce – at least 45% of first marriages and this only goes up for second and third marriages.

Starting the relationship out with the right skills: healthy boundaries, genuine accountability, and communication skills is crucial to maintain commitment. If you want to develop stronger boundaries, I encourage you to check out my course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing & Start Being True to Yourself as it features my 4-step healthy boundaries system.

Related: Is Casual Sex Healthy?

You can’t force someone to commit to you

It sucks to have so much in common with this guy except your desire for commitment. But, when you deny the truth of this situation you create more pain for yourself. To be a safe person, you must accept that he doesn’t want commitment. Period.

To be a safe person for yourself, you must honor that you have the right to need commitment. You respect this by having a clear, assertive conversation about your need. If he tells you again, he doesn’t want commitment, as a safe person to yourself, you will walk away.

I know how painful this is to hear but I want to go a little deeper for a moment.

Why do you believe you have to pull away

I’m really curious about the part of you, perhaps unconscious, that is pushing to get commitment from a person who doesn’t want to give it. Unconsciously, you may believe you don’t deserve commitment. Self-verification theory, developed by psychologist Bill Swann states people want the way they see themselves to be validated by others. When others see us the way we see ourselves, it creates a sense of normalcy and thereby stability.

Using this self-verification theory, we can see that if a person doesn’t feel they are worthy of commitment, deep down, then they will pursue partners who are unwilling to commit to them. While this cycle is painful, it also feels familiar which is comfortable to some degree to the psyche. Psychologist, Kristin Neff, adds “[t]he certainty of rejection feels safer than not knowing what to expect next.”

To answer if this process is happening for you, I want you to consider how you feel if/when potential partners want to commit to you. When a guy is emotionally available how do you feel about him? Does a part of you think it’s sexier or more fun to chase a guy rather than have him ready to commit?

Accepting the love you think you deserve

Personally, I relate to the self-verification theory. For years, I had low self-esteem and pursued men who were emotionally unavailable. I used to joke that I was like Groucho Marx who infamously said “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

Because I didn’t like myself, I was highly skeptical of men who were really interested in me. My immediate thought when a man was excited about me in the past was What is wrong with him??! Therefore, while it devastated me to be continuously rejected, it also made sense to me. I didn’t want to be with me either.

When I learned to love myself, this pattern completely changed luckily. After all, we can only accept the love we think we deserve.

If you resonate with this pattern, I highly encourage you to join the waitlist for my course “Self Love Made Possible.” In this course, I completely simplify how to truly love yourself unconditionally.

If the self-verification theory doesn’t feel quite right for you, another question you may want to ask yourself is how comfortable you are with intimacy? When another person fully commits to us, we are more vulnerable. After all, intimacy is into me you see.

The trap of scarcity thinking

Finally, there’s a toxic myth that’s still floating around our culture which is you have to “trick” a guy into commitment. This myth sets us up for unhealthy relationships because if we believe this is true then, of course we will try to use reverse psychology or pull away to manipulate a man into commitment.

The honest reality is there are some men who want commitment, and there are some who don’t. This is their inherent right. Just as you have the right to desire more commitment in a relationship.

When we believe we have to “trick” a guy into commitment or an emotionally unavailable man is the best we can get, this sort of thinking also reveals an anxious attachment style. This type of attachment creates a scarcity mindset in which we think that each person we are with is our “last chance” for love. Of course, this scarcity belief makes us cling to a person and feel desperate to make it work.

The book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love, is an invaluable resource if you want to learn more about attachment styles. In this book, the authors clarify a sign that you may have anxious attachment:

“If you have an anxious attachment style, you tend to get attached very quickly, even just on the basis of physical attraction. One night of sex or even just a passionate kiss and, boom, you already can’t get that person out of your mind. As you know, once your attachment system is activated, you begin to crave the other person’s closeness and will do anything in your power to make it work even before you really get to know him/her and decide whether you like that person or not!

Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

The fact you say it’s “torture” to pull away from him highlights that you may have anxious attachment. Of course, all people miss the people they care about when they’re away but when you have a secure relationship, it’s not tortuous because you can focus on other things readily trusting you’ll be back together in time.

This is an abundant universe

I completely understand how connected you feel with this guy. I also want to honor that you have many things in common (except a desire for commitment). However, I also want to honor that this is an abundant universe. In this world, there are many men that you can have good sex with, who will appreciate your humor and who enjoy festivals, concerts, and eating out. There are many men who possess these qualities and who want commitment.

So in summary, I encourage you to honor your desire for commitment. There is nothing wrong with this. We all have non-negotiable needs in a relationship (if you want to identify yours, there’s a free worksheet here). I encourage you to not try to manipulate the situation by pulling away. It will only cause you more pain ultimately.

You may want to have an open and conversation with him one more time. But then, it’s time to respect where he’s coming from and give yourself the chance to find that guy who wants commitment that you also have fun with and have great sex. He’s out there. I promise.


Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.

This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.

She is currently working on her book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to or DM her on Instagram.

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