Men Are Like Rubber Bands: Why Men Pull Away

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do men pull away in romantic relationships? What does it mean for their partners?

When men are in love, they go through a natural cycle of intimacy that is a lot like a rubber band. First, they are very close and intimate. But when the bond deepens, they begin to distance themselves. Psychology explains why men pull away

Read about why men pull away and how to respond when it happens.

Why Men Pull Away

The main reason why men pull away in romantic relationships is that they need to fulfill two contradicting needs: the need for autonomy and the need for intimacy. The rubber band cycle gives the man a chance to fulfill both needs. 

Reasons a man needs to stretch away: 

  • He craves independence.
  • He has spent energy fulfilling his partner’s needs, and he needs time to regain his energy.
  • He doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone else for a while. 
  • He needs to take care of himself.

Throughout the cycle of stretching away and springing back, a man continues to love and care about his partner. In most cases, partners are not the main reason why men pull away; it is their instinct.

Many men don’t even realize that their natural intimacy cycles have a profound impact on their female partners. As a man, do your best to reassure your partner before you stretch away. You can say something like “I need to be alone, but let’s talk about this again once I’ve thought it over.” If nothing else, say the magic words: “I will come back.”

Unfortunately, men often pull away (without reassuring their partner) at the precise time a woman wants to create intimacy. There are two primary reasons for that: 

  1. A woman can tell when a man is stretching back. In order to try to bring him back, she wants to talk and create intimacy.
  2. When a woman opens up about her feelings with a man, intimacy is created. This triggers the man’s need to pull away and gain some autonomy.

The rubber band cycle comes naturally to a man in love—he might not even realize that he tends to pull away every time the relationship becomes more intimate. As a woman, it is important to understand why men pull away and know how to react to your partner’s fluctuations of intimacy. 

When a man is pulling away, it is important to allow him to do so. Wait to talk and create intimacy until he has snapped back into the relationship

Obstructing the Rubber Band

Some of the biggest problems that couples experience in relationships come from obstructing the natural cycle of male intimacy. This happens in three ways: 

  1. The couple is always together and the man never has a chance to stretch.
  2. The woman may unknowingly block the man from stretching by making him feel chased or punished. 
  3. The man might be unconsciously afraid to pull away because of his memories of his parents. If his mother was always disapproving of his father’s need to stretch away, the man might feel afraid of losing love by distancing himself. 

In all of these cases, the man never has the opportunity to stretch back and gain his autonomy. He will become moody, irritable, uninterested, and defensive. So it’s no wonder that this often results in conflict. 

Chasing and Punishing

When your male partner begins to pull away, or stretch, do your best not to chase or punish him. Remember that the main reason why men pull away is that it is embedded in their natural emotional cycle.

Chasing your partner when he needs to stretch back and be alone only delays the process of him feeling independent and being ready to come back into the relationship. Some ways you might be unknowingly chasing your partner: 

  • Physical: When your partner walks out of the room, you follow him. When your partner wants to do something alone, you go with him. 
  • Emotional: When your partner pulls away, you worry about him and feel sorry for him. When your partner needs quiet, you continue to ask him what’s wrong. 
  • Mental: When your partner stretches back, you attempt to make him feel guilty by asking questions like, “Why are you treating me so badly?” 

Punishing your partner after he stretches away will make him fearful the next time he feels a need for distance. This results in an obstructed intimacy cycle. Some ways you might be unknowingly punishing your partner: 

  • Physical: When your partner snaps back to you, you reject his physical affection or deny him any attention. 
  • Emotional: When your partner returns to intimacy, you are angry with him. You don’t express your understanding. 
  • Mental: When your partner snaps back, you are cold and resentful. You stop trusting that your partner cares for you. 

Giving up on chasing or punishing your partner will benefit both of you:

  • He has the opportunity to regain his strength and independence.
  • You will feel more loved when your partner has the opportunity to miss you and crave closeness again.

When the Rubber Band Snaps Back 

When your male partner snaps back into intimacy like a rubber band, he will be loving, caring, and unphased by the period of distance that he just went through. This is the time to talk and regain intimacy with your male partner. Try to initiate a conversation, but don’t expect him to start talking right away. 

As a woman, you will need to be the first to share your feelings. As you do so, be sure to show appreciation when your partner listens to you. This will make him feel loved, and he will be much more likely to open up and share his thoughts on what you’ve said. 

Don’t pressure your partner into sharing before he’s ready. Instead, be appreciative that he has snapped back into intimacy and accepting that he’s not yet ready to share. Encourage your partner by expressing that his listening is valuable to you.

Another thing you can do to inspire your man to snap back into intimacy is to become more independent yourself. When your partner pulls away, spend time doing the things that you love to do, like hanging out with friends or going to a play. Remember, the farther away you allow your partner to stretch, the more powerfully he will come springing back to you.

Men Are Like Rubber Bands: Why Men Pull Away

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

2 thoughts on “Men Are Like Rubber Bands: Why Men Pull Away

  • September 24, 2021 at 5:20 am

    So what if the shoe seems to be on the other foot . I have a real hard time trying to get to open up and feel like I have pressured her . Now I have to figure out how to untwist what I have tied up in a knot . I have know idea where to start to make her feel comfortable ?

  • June 5, 2023 at 10:38 pm

    I feel your pain…I’m in the same situation…this rubber band cycle is getting a tad rude. Lol but I love him and I love when he comes back. But what’s helped me is not playing games or pretending I don’t care when I actually care so much. I’m very open with how I feel. But not pressuring him. And not talking about it too much. Letting him have his space and when he comes back be there and be happy they are back…excited and never angry. Getting angry will just push them away for good…be patient and live your life to the fullest even while u wait for them to come back to u. Which he always does… still it makes me sad and him too. Cause I miss him when he’s gone. I does hurt to love someone this way… I wish u well.


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