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?”

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.


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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!!

  6. My prayer for you is that you find healthy ways to resolve the conflict and emotional distance you feel. May you connect with yourself, connect with a source of strength and power, and find peace and joy in your life.

    It’ll take time to process the grief of ending your relationship. It’ll also take time to heal from the emotional damage you experienced in your marriage. I pray that you find healing and recovery, whether it’s from a book or a counselor or a support group. May you connect with the right resources to help you move past the breakup, and may you learn how to recognize your husband’s destructive behavior before it impacts your self-image even further. I pray for strength and healing, joy and peace. Amen.


  7. I have been in a relationship for 16 years so far and I have decided to leave my husband but I still have a lot of conflict inside me. I believe I am the one that is emotionally disconnected or maybe fear revealing myself anymore. In the beginning I bought him what he liked and even dressed sexy for him but there were to many nights when he did not come home or even to bed. I just stopped doing these things. He did not work for many years and basically slept his day away and left for the night. Eventually, I divorced him but I stayed with him anyways. We have two kids together and I had two kids from my first marriage. I helped him go through trucking school and helped him get several of his jobs. I then found the drugs in his pickup truck in a candy container. I had him arrested at that point but took him back after several months believing him that he would quit. During all these years I have dealt with him yelling, cussing and calling me names if I did not do as he expected me to do. He wants more communication, but when I am honest he does not like it, he wants more intimacy in our relationship and I feel he just wants sex. He hates the way I keep the house and pick on little things. I work full time home school my two Autistic boys. It is hard to keep up with everything. Then my middle child went with his dad (he was 10 at that time) and when he came back he told me what he saw. His dad putting something in a glass pipe and heating it up with a lighter and then smoking it. We all got together and confronted his dad. Again we all decided to believe him that he would quit. I was such a fool and then became a bigger fool later on. Several years go by and still he is moody, I never know what will set him off and so just stayed in one spot in front of either the tv, reading, or computer, I was already banned from talking on the phone. I really was suspecting him of being bipolar. Slowly, reading was taken away, watching tv came next and when I started up college again he tried to take that away also. I held my ground and he did back down but always yelled about how much time I spend at it. Two years ago the yelling and screaming finally turned to an incident of him shoving things at me and shoving the chair I was on around. Though, that did not happen again which I am grateful for. I was then told that I am not allowed to buy anything without talking to him. I have complied. Now this last Sunday I set up a motion detection camera in my bedroom expecting to catch my teenager in my room taking things. Instead, I caught my husband with a glass pipe, a small baggie and a lighter. He smoked whatever was in that glass pipe by holding a lighter under the end of the pipe thing. That is when I decided enough was enough. He has no problem telling me what is wrong and how everything is going wrong. He is always negative. I have a problem talking to him. I do not know which extreme he will take it. I mentioned to him that our account had overdrawn and he started yelling and screaming and demanding how much money have I been giving the bank. He told me that I will be prepared to show him all the bank statements. I am tired and actually feel that I am in the wrong at times because I am not emotionally connected and rationally I know it is not all my fault but emotionally I believe it is. If only I could have been a better housewife and more loving maybe it would have been different. I do remember him telling me once that I was the reason he turned to the drugs.

  8. Hello Dawn,

    I’m a Christian, too. I believe God wants wives to honor their husbands, and husbands to honor their wives. If my husband doesn’t love or honor me, then I feel released from the marriage. I may be a more liberal Christian than some….but I really believe that God doesn’t want us to stay in joyless, dry, abusive marriages.

    But it doesn’t matter what I think, or even what your husband thinks! What matters is your relationship with God. What is He telling you about your marriage? I encourage you to spend time with Him, and try to discern what He wants you to do. Talk to your pastor, or a Christian you trust.

    You need to follow your heart. If you’re walking closely with God, you’ll know what the right thing to do is. Lean on Him, seek Him, and trust Him to guide you in the right direction.

    I’ll keep you in my prayers. I’ll pray that you find peace in whatever decision you make — in fact, I’ll say a little pray for you right now!

    Dear God, I pray that you fill Dawn with Your peace, love, wisdom, hope, and faith. I pray You make Your presence known to her, so she feels You in a very real way. Give her a clear word and clear guidance on what to do about her relationship. Help her, dear God, fill her with a sense of purpose and direction. Give her eyes to see and ears to hear Your word, Your whispers, Your nudges. Love her, hold her, and comfort her as she makes decisions about her future. Give her peace, above all. Love, Laurie

    Dawn, I will keep you in my prayers.


  9. Hello Dawn,

    I’ve always loved the name Dawn — it gives me hope and joy, and reminds me that a fresh new day is just around the corner! Dawn is my favorite time of day.

    You ask what you should do, and you know I can’t tell you what to do! Only you can make this decision. I don’t know whether it’s better to take the chance and reconcile, or go with your gut feeling and continue towards a divorce.

    You know what you WANT to do….but you are torn between doing what will make you happy, and doing what will make others happy. What would you advise your kids — especially if you have daughters? Women tend towards making others happy, while men tend towards making themselves happy. It’s a huge generalization, of course, but generalizations are often true.

    Whether or not you reconcile, I encourage you to go for counseling on your own. The stronger and healthier you are emotionally, the better able you’ll be to make choices that represent what you really want out of your life. Your husband doesn’t have to go to counseling – he has chosen not to get that kind of support, and that’s his perogative. But his choices shouldn’t have to dictate your life, right?

    My prayer for you is that you connect with what you really want to do in your life. I pray that you find the courage and strength to make the decision that you know is best for you — the decision that you want to make, and that you are scared to make! May you find the support and resources you need to move forward despite your fears, despite the backlash, and despite the negativity and disgruntledness that comes your way. May you find and keep connecting with your Source of strength, joy, love, freedom, peace, and strength. May your happiness and “rightness” spill out of you, giving your kids and all the people in your life the freedom to follow their own paths of happiness – and make choices that reflect who they really are…just like you’re making a choice that reflects who you really are.


    1. I ended up going to my husbands house and spending two nights there, but sleeping on the pull out couch. We got along fine with the daily tasks and kids. He has changed and is more talkative and not so distant and hasn’t lashed out at me. But what if I don’t feel that emotional connection with him? Isn’t that what keeps the marriage together? Anybody can maintain a house and kids and just function as two people maintaing the daily tasks. It never was there at the start of the marriage and don’t think it will be there. He looks at me in the eyes more, but not a loving way that makes me feel connected to him. It’s more just a cold stare.
      I have found peace, happiness, joy and love but not with him. Because he has such a serious and quiet demeanor I can’t express myself with him. I find it more with my friends, who are mainly women and even some men.
      I have been to counseling for 5 years to get me to the point where I knew what I wanted from life and got the courage to leave. He tells me if I am a Christian woman O would stay, which I know is the right thing to do. But what if your heart doesn’t feel the love or compassion your wanting?

  10. I left my husband this past September, because he was disconnected with me emotionally, controlling me financially and emotionally, not talking, lashing out at me. He wants to get back together, so we can work it out on our own. He doesn’t want to go to counseling. We went to two marriage counselors and they were trying to fix the marriage and not seeing his issues. I am wanting to move to another house and can’t decide if I should go back with him and make everyone else happy, we have two children, or move to another rental and he will probably file for divorce. He says he us tired of living this way away from his family and supporting me, which also supports his kids and move on with his life. He says he is a Christian now and has changed. If I move back with him, I am putting all our furniture in storage in case I need to leave again.
    What should I do?

  11. Hi Ravena,

    It sounds like your husband is having an emotional affair with his ex-wife.

    What do you want to happen with your marriage? You didn’t say what you would like your husband to do.

  12. My husband is emotionally distant because his ex-wife interfers in our relationship all the time. She calls him at work 3 or 4 times in the day seeking support for her properties and personal life. He admits that he has disconnected from me and he is in a quandry whether he should return to his ex-wife after being married to me for 29 years. He admits that he needs her as much as she needs him.