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.
“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.
“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?”
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.
“Distant? I have no idea what you’re talking about. We talk every day, don’t we?”
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.
“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
Wired 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.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.