Bridging Emotional Distance
The emotional connection between a couple acts as a bridge connecting two, distinct lives. When this connection is severed, passage to the other side can seem unreachable.
Over time, you find yourself farther and farther away from your partner. You may be unsure how you reached this point. You may question if you have the ability, or even the desire, to make the long trek back. If you knew your partner was waiting eagerly for you on the other side, you might feel more motivated. But the nature of emotional distance can make you afraid of the reception you might (or might not) receive.
What Causes Emotional Distance?
Emotional distance in a relationship can feel like a descent into quicksand: slow and seemingly unstoppable. It can be caused by a number of factors including:
Ongoing tension in the relationship can cause one or both partners to retreat emotionally.
Unemployment, grief, infertility, etc. can drain energy and lead to an emotional shutout.
Fear of self-disclosure based on previous interactions with others
Family members, former partners and friends all can diminish our trust and skew our perception of love.
Fear of self-disclosure based on previous interactions with you
If you have been insensitive or unresponsive in the past, your partner may be hesitant to open up again.
Men and women often communicate and interpret emotional intimacy differently.
Family or cultural differences
How love is expressed in different families or cultures can vary, leading to differing expectations for what connectedness looks like.
Like struggling in quicksand, trying to force an emotional reconnection can sometimes make the situation worse. Here are some ways to address a lack of emotional intimacy with your partner while avoiding common communication pitfalls.
Addressing Emotional Distance in Your Relationship
Watch where you step
Often, you can avoid sinkholes in your relationship merely by watching where you step. Know the communication styles that cause your partner to automatically tense up or withdraw.
In distressing situations, our instinct is usually either “fight or flight.” Instead, take a deep breath and try to relax. Let your partner know that you feel emotionally disconnected from him/her and then ask if he or she feels the same way. Sometimes, what feels like distance to one partner may feel like the normal “settling in” of a relationship to the other.
In other situations, one partner is simply more verbal than the other or more prone to analyzing the relationship. For this person, even minor losses of intimacy can feel threatening. Remember that some people are more demonstrative in their expressions of love than others. Don’t automatically assume that because your partner doesn’t provide as many “obvious” expressions of love that love isn’t there.
If your partner doesn’t perceive the same degree of emotional distance, explore what may be causing this difference in perception. Tell your partner how much you value your emotional connection with him/her and that you would like to work on strengthening this bond. Let your partner know what makes you feel loved and secure … and be sure you understand and provide the same for your partner.
Drop your baggage
With real quicksand, only two things can cause you to fully sink: panic and excess baggage. The same goes for emotional distance. Let go of old hang-ups and resentments—particularly those that directly relate to your partner. It will be much easier to repair your connection without this excess weight.
Make slow, steady efforts to reconnect
Relationships often follow a demand-withdrawl pattern: the harder one person pushes for something, the more the other person resists. Be careful not to push so hard for “closeness” that you end up driving your partner farther away. Emotional distance in a relationship rarely develops overnight; expect that it will likewise require some time to rebuild your connection. Take small steps to reconnect with your partner—have regular date nights, maintain your physical connection, share activities together, and be sensitive in how you communicate.
Few things are as isolating as feeling “alone” in an intimate relationship. Your partner can never meet all your needs. However, it is important to build and preserve your bond. If you and your partner are unable to bridge the emotional distance in your relationship, consider working with a relationship professional to help you grow closer as a couple.