Toxic Love > Harmful Patterns > 4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

Is your boyfriend or husband physically present, but emotionally distant? Here are four signs of emotionally distant love relationships, plus tips for bridging the gap between you and him.

Emotional distance is characterized by a lack of an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual level connection with your partner. You know you’re disconnected when your boyfriend or husband just isn’t “there” somehow, when you no longer connect. You feel like you’re talking to and sharing your honest feelings with a wall. And when he does offer a response, it’s remote, guarded, lacking in intimacy – perhaps because of a fear of intimacy. The first step towards bridging the gap is to recognize the signs of emotional distance in love – which isn’t necessarily the same as the signs of a bad relationship. The second step is to learn how to bridge the gap…

Emotional distance can be a sign of a future breakup, separation, or divorce. In fact, intimate partners may develop certain defense mechanisms to hide their feelings and protect themselves from pain. The signs of emotionally distant relationships can range from the silent treatment to no physical contact or interaction at all. Below are four signs of emotionally distant relationships, plus a suggestion for bridging the gap.

First, let’s briefly review Freud’s defence mechanisms and how they related to emotional distance in love. Then, we’ll talk about bridging the gap between you and your partner.

4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Relationship

Sigmund Freud developed the idea of defence mechanisms; his daughter Anna Freud conceptualized them. These following defence mechanisms are written to reflect a conversation between a woman who has grown emotionally distant and a man who wants to reconnect with his partner.

Note that these are just four of about 20 defense mechanisms. If you’re interested in learning more about emotional distance in love relationships, let me know in the comments section below.

1. Projection

“Me, distant? No way! You’re distant, you’re hardly ever home, and you never initiate conversation.”

She assigns her feelings to him so she doesn’t have to face that she no longer connects with her partner. Her feelings are pushed outside of herself, which alleviates anxiety and tension because her feelings are expressed and admitted – but not accepted as her own.

2. Denial

“You’re crazy! We’re just as close as we were when we got married. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She refuses to admit the reality of the emotional distance. You know you no longer connect with your partner, and you’re certainly not crazy! This defense mechanism is the opposite of repression, which releases control from internal pressures. Denial releases control from external pressures.

3. Reaction formation

“Emotionally distant? But I love you and want to be near you all the time. Can we spent the weekend together, just the two of us?”

Fix Your Marriage

She’s convinced herself that there are no problems in the relationship; she loves her partner more than ever and doesn’t admit not connecting with her partner. True feelings are hidden because they’re too hard to handle. She does a complete about face, becoming extremely solicitous, loving, and attentive.

4. Repression

“Distant? I have no idea what you’re talking about. We talk every day, don’t we?”

4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

She is repressing her feelings. It’s not a conscious, deliberate forgetting; it’s unconscious. She may not even be aware that she’s shutting her partner out and becoming more emotionally distant; she just has a desire to subdue her impulses. This leads her to no longer connect with her partner.

According to some psychoanalysts, repression is the most common way to combat desires. Instead of admitting an attraction or impulse it’s easier to hold it in the subconscious.

Here’s what matters more than Freud’s signs of emotionally distant love relationships: Knowing how to bridge the emotional gap. Whether you’re dealing with the silent treatment, repression, reaction formation, denial matters less than finding ways to connect with your partner.

How to Bridge Emotional Distance in Your Relationship

It’s important to be careful and sensitive if you approach your husband or boyfriend with your thoughts and feelings. Of course you should be free to share how you feel, but men don’t always respond the way we hope or think they should. Choose your words carefully, or he may feel accused or judged. Accusing your husband or boyfriend of being distant or defensive may not be the most effective method of bridging the emotional distance! You know your partner; try to approach him in a manner he’d be most open to.

Be honest, yet gentle

It’s difficult to say “this is how to bridge an emotional gap in your relationship” because every couple is different. One thing is certain: it’s important not to suffocate your husband or boyfriend in your attempts to connect emotionally. If he tends to be distant with other people in his life, read How to Love an Emotionally Unavailable Man.

You need to be honest about how alone or lonely you feel in your relationship. You also need to tread carefully, because an emotionally distant man will shut down even more if he feels criticized. Share how you feel without using the word “you” in a judgmental way. For example, you could say “I love you deeply, but I feel sad and alone when I don’t know how you feel about X.” Be specific about your feelings, and about his behavior.

Get a counselor’s guidance

Couples therapy may not be as effective as individual counseling for you. Your husband or boyfriend may be perfectly happy with your relationship just the way it is – he may not even notice the emotional distance. This means it’s on you to do the work to either bridge the gap or let it go.

If your boyfriend or husband is open to sharing his emotions but doesn’t know how to talk about them, you could try inviting him to write or draw her feelings. Writing may be less intimidating than talking. If he’s interested in psychology you could tell him about defense mechanisms and initiate an open, honest discussion about emotional disconnection in love relationships. You might practice showing your love to your partner in tangible ways. This may eventually break down the barriers.

If he refuses to admit a problem exists, you may want to consider getting additional counseling or even leaving your relationship. If you’re unhappy and your partner can’t meet you halfway, then it could be time to let go and re-evaluate not only your relationship, but your life as well.

Ask yourself how much emotional connection matters to you

This, according to psychological research from Columbia University, is a potentially controversial way to approach an emotionally distant love relationship: ask yourself if emotional distance is actually causing problems in your relationship.

You want to feel more connected to your partner, otherwise you wouldn’t be searching for tips on how to overcome emotional distance in love relationships. But, can you live with your relationship the way it is? Is your husband or boyfriend happy with how connected you and he are?

Research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that it’s not how close you feel that matters most in a relationship. Rather, it’s whether you are as close as you want to be — even if that’s really not emotionally close at all.

Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

“Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship,” says the study’s lead author, David M. Frost, PhD. “If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it’s important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner.”

Many people believe that when it comes to having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, we should feel emotionally close and connected to our partners. But, this research states that if both or even just one partner is happy with the existing connection…then it doesn’t matter how emotionally distant or connected you are.

In other words, if you can find ways to be happy or at least accepting of the emotional connection you have with your partner, then the degree of closeness you actually experience doesn’t matter. Your ability to accept the reality of your relationship – and your partner – matters more.

This study was called We’re emotionally distant and that’s just fine by me: Closer relationships aren’t necessarily better relationships, and can be found in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Learn about attachment styles

Emotionally Distant RelationshipsWired for Love: Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Build a Secure Relationship by marriage and family therapist Stan Tatkin can help you understand your partner’s attachment style, which will help you build a more secure, emotionally connected relationship.

By learning to use simple gestures and words, you can learn how to put out emotional fires and help your partner feel more safe and secure. The no-fault view of conflict in this book encourages us to move past a “warring brain” mentality and toward a more cooperative “loving brain” understanding of the relationship. This book is essential reading for couples and others interested in understanding the complex dynamics at work behind love, emotional distance, and trust in intimate relationships.

“When we grow up, we lose the talent for loving without restrictions.” – Nora Roberts.

If you’re worried about how your husband feels about you, read Does He Love You? How to Know if Your Marriage is Over.

And if you have any thoughts on emotionally distant relationships, please comment below…I can’t offer advice or counseling, but it might help you to share your experience.


Need encouragement? Get my free weekly "Echoes of Joy"!

* indicates required

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 thoughts on “4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship”

  1. Yes, Dayne, you will get better! You’ve just started seeing the therapist, and you’re just starting to deal with the things that stop you from connecting emotionally.

    When I saw my counselor — for 10 months — it took us about 3 months to start really digging into the stuff I needed to deal with. It takes time to get underneath the surface, and a good therapist knows this. Even bad therapists know this!

    Trust the process. Trust your own inner nature — God created us to heal and grow, connect and love. You were build to be in relationship with people, to love and be loved in return. You will work through your past, your obstacles, your issues. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy (o, it will be so hard!! I hated counseling, and it was the best thing I ever did)….but it will be worth it.

    Take a deep breath, and connect with God. His love, power, energy and strength will carry you through. Don’t lose hope or faith. You are deeply loved, and if you listen to that still small voice, you will get through this.

    You are more loved than you know.

  2. I’m the emotionally distant one in our relationship. I can’t seem to track down those feelings I once was enamoured with. He hurt me very badly, and I have forgiven him, but coming from a mentally abused background has caused me to build a wall around myself and when I don’t feel safe I hide inside. I’m going through the same patterns I hit with my first engagement just before he left me. He got tired of my mental absence and said he couldn’t take it anymore. My Major Depression and Anxiety take things to such a level that I don’t have the education on how to handle. We have recently begun to see a couple’s therapist, but I dont think the therapist realizes what he’s dealing with as far as my abuse repression goes. My mind has eaten away at itself to forget what it’s gone through, and now it’s eating away at my real shot at feeling joy or simply peace after so many years of deteriorating emptiness. I looked up this article to try to understand my significant other’s POV and see how I can help him to help me. If I want help, like really want to get better, it should happen eventually, right?

  3. Why is this all about Heterosexual relationships? Women in same sex relationships also experience emotional detachment and distance. My girlfriend and I struggle with this all the time.

    1. I think I am going through the same thing with my girlfriend… I’m not sure if she’s emotionally detached or if it’s just me overthinking because I tend to do that. I haven’t had the best past relationships, so when there is a slight change I get a little nervous. I don’t know I am just so confused.

  4. I have a disconnected, emotionally distant husband. He is secretive and rarely tells me anything unless I ask him. He does very little around the house and gets real snippy when I ask him to help me do something. When he gets angry he goes on and on in a rant. WE have nothing in common. He does not like to hear about my job. He never tells he loves me, no compliments, no hugs. I kept hoping things would get better but it seems he had gotten worse. I finally confronted him just thi weekend about all I have been feeling. He denied everything I said. Where do I go from here? I am very hurt about all this. PLease help

  5. I was an adopted child to two wonderful yet emotionally distant parents. I just read that silence is a sign of emotional distance and many years ago I met a woman who was very silent yet gave indications she liked me and I went down a whirlpool very quickly into major depression that lasted for 10 years. The insight learning about how silence is a sign of emotional distance was eye-opening. My parents liked her right off the bat which makes sense due to their silence. I sought counseling from the beginning which did not help because the pastor who counseled me did not bring her into the picture even though she was in the same congregation. It was like living in the twilight zone. During my depression I went into an anger phase due to recognizing I was in the midst of a great number of emotionally distant people. I am no long in that situation or with emotionally distant people. If I sense someone is not emotionally present or I am giving more than getting I get the heck out of there. Hard to deal with a whole lifetime of decisions and heartache never being taught about the truth about functional relationships or recognizing what is needed for healthy living. I am no longer depressed and have many better coping skills. Just sad as I write this to realize what emotional distance has cost me. It also makes sense why I have had a lifetime of searching for the truth. Trying to solve a quandary that started in childhood of belonging and feeling whole…

    1. Wow, your comment really spoke to me as I had a father who growing up was emotionally distant and his side of the family was like a cult if you Will of silence. I felt my entire life almost alone and sometimes left out. My relationships as an adult have not always been what I’ve hoped for. I feel at times damaged, and now having a new love interest with possible talk of marriage it seems I’m noticing its either my mind or he seems emotionally distant. I just want to run as well.

    2. Ben, your post is quite old and maybe you won’t see my replyt I have to try. Thank you for your wise words. You learned something that I am right in the middle of my wake up. I am upset that I am too, in the middel of total dysfunction but I allowed myself to be here, it isn’t anyody else fault. Emotionally distant people is who I have had around me and now I understand why I have felt unsatisfied in alot of my personal relationships.

      thanks and hope your doing well in your journey of evolving and higher consciousness!!