At the first sign of relationship trouble, do you have the urge to run for the hills? Have you hit the “eject” button on a romance — but later regretted it? Perhaps you are, then, what experts refer to as a “bolter.” While the instinct to bail on a relationship during in its early stages can often be a healthy one, it also could signal that you haven’t yet developed all the necessary skills for getting your romantic needs met. So how does one sort out the difference between having a healthy impulse to end things versus knowing when it’s time to turn towards your new love and work on improving your relationship together? We took that question to leading relationship experts Dr. John Gottman and Katherine Woodward Thomas, who gave us some very compelling answers.
Why do some of us have such a strong tendency to run away from conflict?
Katherine Woodward Thomas, licensed psychotherapist and author of the best-selling book Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life, points out that feeling the desire to bolt is often born out of old survival strategies from one’s earliest experiences. “The people who tend to bolt are the ones who fundamentally lack a deep sense of safety, and it’s probably a justified feeling that came from something they experienced long ago,” explains Woodward Thomas. “They learned how to create walls in order to survive instead of learning how to negotiate boundaries, because maybe people in their homes weren’t reasonable enough to negotiate those boundaries early on.”
Woodward Thomas suggests that the absence of conflict resolution skills (as well as not having the skills for getting one’s relationship needs met by a partner) can bring up the feeling of “I’ve got to get out of here” in some people. “Those of us who are most likely to bolt prematurely from relationships are also the ones who still surround ourselves with some pretty primitive defenses, such as minimizing our own needs and placing our full attention on another person,” says Woodward Thomas. “In that case, there’s almost no other way to solve the problems that occur in relationships. Without the ability to express your own needs and feelings and create some sense of mutuality and support in the relationship, the only way you can take care of yourself is to leave at some point.”