Friday, April 12, 2024

Meaning, Causes, Signs, And Ways To Fix

Do you sense a significant gap between you and your partner even when you’re physically close? Does your partner appear disinterested in spending quality time? Are they avoiding intimacy? Are most of your conversations centered around practical matters — careers, schedules, household chores? Does it feel like you’ve exhausted topics to discuss? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ then it’s likely that your bond is suffering from emotional distance.

Dr. Jacqueline Olds, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, says in The Harvard Gazette, “You have a tidal-like motion of closeness and drifting apart, closeness and drifting apart [in relationships]… And you have to have one person have a ‘distance alarm’ to notice the drifting apart so there can be a reconnection.” And we’re glad you sounded the alarm.

It’s impossible to be in tune with your partner all the time. However, working together to re-establish that connection after moments of disconnection is vital to make the relationship work. If this does not happen consistently, then there’s a problem. To understand the causes, signs, and how to fix emotional distance in a relationship, we spoke to Avantika Tripathi. She specializes in social anxiety, stress management, mindfulness, and relationship counseling through rational emotive and person-centered therapy.

What Is Emotional Distance?

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Before we get to the causes and signs of emotional distance in a marriage or relationship, let’s understand the meaning of the term. Avantika explains, “Emotional distance is a state in which partners start becoming disconnected from each other. Sometimes, they are not even aware of being emotionally distant. They only notice it when conflicts become serious and apparent.”

In short, emotional distance in a relationship refers to a state where the emotional intimacy between partners weakens or becomes strained. It’s characterized by:

  • A sense of detachment
  • Lack of intimacy and emotional closeness
  • Communication issues
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Personal stressors
  • Other significant changes in personal dynamics

This emotional drifting occurs or develops slowly, making it easy to overlook until the gap becomes substantial. There are various reasons for this psychological distance, some related to your partner and others to yourself. Allowing it to persist in a relationship is unhealthy. This is why understanding emotional distancing and its causes is crucial.

Related Reading: How Perfect Partners Drift Apart

What Causes Emotional Distance In A Relationship?

Avantika says, “There are many reasons that can make partners feel emotionally disconnected from each other. Not putting effort into the bond, escaping problems, and reluctance to solve relationship conflicts are common ones. It can also arise due to daily life problems like career and financial issues, causing relationship distress.”

Emotional distance in a long-term relationship or marriage often develops over time. Though it’s a common phenomenon, understanding the causes can help couples identify and address prevalent issues before they lead to irreversible challenges. Here are a few common causes of emotional distance in a long-term relationship:

1. You are always under stress

“External factors such as work stress, financial pressure, or family issues can contribute to emotional distress, leading to distance between partners. Many times, one partner might already be dealing with issues that are causing stress, or even depression, resulting in a lack of passion to put effort into anything including the relationship. This can also cause emotional distance between two people,” Avantika says.

What happens when you’re stressed all the time?

  • Chronic stress can seriously affect your physical health and emotional well-being
  • It eats away at the quality of your relationship and hardly leaves any room for emotional bonding
  • Your body is always alert or in fight-or-flight mode
  • Distancing yourself from someone you love becomes a habit and a way of life when you’re always under stress

Sharing a client story, Avantika says, “Recently, a client was feeling distant in a relationship. She talked about the stress that exists in her and her partner’s professional life and how they are trying their best to make the relationship work, despite the emotional distance between them. It took three whole months to bring them emotionally close again and make them more aware of how to bridge the gap between them if it re-enters their relationship.”

Related Reading: Relationship Advice For Couples – 25 Ways To Strengthen Your Bond

2. You are either too needy or too distant

In relationships, the perception of a partner being too needy or distant can initiate a vicious cycle. It looks like this:

  • Initially, a partner’s neediness prompts an emotional withdrawal or avoidance
  • This leads to extreme demands for explanations
  • This push and pull results in further emotional detachment
  • Eventually, the partner completely withdraws, fearing further criticism
  • This withdrawal aggravates emotional distress, contributing to a cycle of increased criticism and dissatisfaction
  • This pushes the partners even further away

Anxiety arising from change in relationship dynamics may bring back memories of deep-seated wounds or trauma, especially for those with a history of attachment issues or past unhealthy relationships. If your wife or husband seems distant or you’re worried about your partner pulling away or you’ve been trying to distance yourself from someone who hurt you, attempts to regain that connection may ironically lead to further withdrawal, thereby causing more emotional distance.

3. There is unresolved conflict and criticism in the relationship

In a relationship, it’s natural to not appreciate every aspect of your partner. However, criticizing them for qualities that challenge you signifies deeper relationship problems and can lead to low self-esteem issues and harm your emotional attachment, whether you’re giving or receiving criticism. A healthy relationship thrives on acknowledging your partner’s positive aspects but also providing them with a safe space to navigate challenges together.

Another aspect of this is unresolved conflict that builds tension, contributing to emotional distance. So if you’re feeling disconnected in a relationship, or struggling with feelings like “my husband is emotionally unavailable” or “my wife and I are drifting apart”, it could be because of your reluctance to engage in open discussions about sensitive topics. Here’s a recap of what breaks trust apart and creates barriers to emotional bonding:

  • Unresolved or ongoing fights and arguments
  • Past hurt
  • Constant criticism that’s not constructive
  • Valid criticism that challenges core beliefs

You can see how being emotionally disengaged triggers a toxic relationship dynamic, leading to further emotional withdrawal. It indicates a vicious cycle of deeper relationship problems.

Related Reading: 11 Expert Tips To Stop Being Toxic In A Relationship

4. Emotional disconnection might indicate that you have major compatibility issues

Another reason that you might be distancing yourself from someone you love is incompatibility. Here’s how it creates more emotional distance:

  • Lost familiarity: When too many differences persist, partners may find it challenging to sustain the emotional closeness that they felt earlier
  • Loneliness: The realization that essential needs or expectations aren’t met or the couple isn’t a perfect match can trigger feelings of frustration and loneliness
  • Confusion and lack of empathy: Partners may struggle to understand each other, in terms of choices and perspectives

Initial chemistry often drives many couples into serious relationships, but as the novelty fades, disparities in certain aspects may surface, like:

  • Goals
  • Values
  • Expectations
  • Lifestyles
  • Love languages
  • Communication style

Over time, such incompatibility issues affect the emotional bond between partners, making it difficult to sustain intimacy.

5. There are serious communication problems in the relationship

Avantika says, “Lack of communication can result in lack of intimacy and is one of the most common causes of emotional distance. It can slowly form a vivid gap, where people drift away and don’t even feel the need to bridge that gap.” It could be the reason that your wife or husband seems distant or you’ve been distancing yourself from someone you love.

Watch out for these communication patterns:

  • Inadequate active listening
  • Lack of emotional expression
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Not spending time together
  • Lack of communication or a difference in communication style can also lead to misunderstandings between partners

Such issues contribute to unfulfilled emotional needs. If a partner feels unheard or misunderstood, they might emotionally withdraw to avoid additional frustration or disappointment. This pattern of ineffective communication fosters emotional distance over time, leading to more significant issues that may signal the need for a relationship counselor.

Related Reading: Dating An Introvert – 11 Communication Hacks To Use

7 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Distance In Your Relationship

emotional distance in a marriage
If you or your partner avoid talking about your feelings and worries, it’s a sign of emotional distance

Now that we’ve talked about the causes of emotional distance in a relationship, let’s talk about how you can spot the early signs. Recognizing the signs of emotional distance is crucial for addressing the underlying issues and working toward a healthier relationship. Here are 7 alarming indicators that you might be experiencing emotional drifting in your romantic bond:

1. There is a lack of physical intimacy and affection

Avantika explains, “One of the signs you’ve been feeling distant in a relationship could be dying intimacy and romance. When two people don’t feel attraction or lack romantic expressions for one another, at least one partner will feel unhappy about it. And this will result in distance and intimacy issues in their relationship.”

Challenges in emotional intimacy are intricately linked to difficulties in physical closeness and affection. The symbiotic relationship between emotional and physical intimacy is disrupted when emotional distance enters the equation. The once vibrant connection may dwindle. Expressions of love, once freely spoken, may fade away — a clear indication of emotional detachment.

Here are the behavioral patterns that can signify discomfort or irritation, emphasizing the intrinsic link between physical and emotional connection:

  • A fizzling sex life
  • Lack of affectionate gestures
  • Avoidance of physical touch
  • Recoiling from kisses
  • Withdrawing during embraces
  • Absence of “I love you”

2. If you’re in an emotionally distant relationship, your needs are not being met

Emotional distance presents challenges in acknowledging, expressing, and fulfilling each other’s needs. How does that affect a couple? Let’s see:

  • Resentment: You face misalignment in attempts to meet each other’s needs which often leads to feelings of resentment in a relationship
  • Temptations: You start seeking fulfillment of physical and emotional needs outside the partnership. Emotional distance after infidelity is hard to repair
  • Mismatched expectations: This stems from uncommunicated differences, contributing further to the problem
  • Neglect: Your partner constantly prioritizes their own needs over yours, showing little concern for your well-being

Avantika says, “When emotionally distant partners begin to overlook each other’s needs, it can result in silent disappointment. It can make you believe that it makes no sense to talk about your disappointment with your partner, so you start withdrawing emotionally. This creates a larger distance on mental and emotional grounds.”

Related Reading: How To Deal With Resentment In Marriage? Expert Tells You

3. You don’t share your feelings or worries with each other

You were the person your partner shared everything with, but now they keep their feelings to themselves. When you ask, they don’t open up. And it seems like they are deliberately hiding their feelings from you, making you feel uncomfortable. If you or your partner avoid talking about your feelings and worries, it’s a sign of emotional distance and can lead to misunderstandings and assumptions about each other’s thoughts and actions.

4. You seem to have lost interest in the relationship

A study shows that in developing relationships, people use self-disclosure to increase intimacy through breadth (number of topics), depth (degree of intimacy in the interactions), and the norm of reciprocity (when the responder is obligated to disclose something at the same level of intimacy to maintain the norm or equity).

So, when your partner seems disinterested in your life, it hints at emotional distance. If this curiosity wanes, it’s a concern as a healthy relationship involves both romance and friendship. Relationship trouble manifests in the following ways:

  • Neglecting to take an interest in your partner’s life, thus harming the foundation of your friendship
  • One-sided conversations
  • Attempts to spend quality time together are met with avoidance
  • A growing sense of isolation
  • Avoidance of discussions
  • Withdrawal from previously shared activities
  • Reluctance to plan a future together

5. You don’t have your partner’s emotional support and empathy

When you desperately seek your partner’s attention and express your feelings through tantrums or tears, their apparent numbness can make you feel unimportant. But what leads to this extreme stage where you demand their attention in this manner?

Empathy, understanding, and sharing in each other’s feelings are crucial in any relationship. Absence of empathy signals a breakdown in emotional connection, revealing a partner’s inability or unwillingness to comprehend your emotions. This lack of emotional investment can lead to a dearth of support, leaving both individuals feeling isolated and emotionally neglected in tough times.

In essence, the foundation of a healthy relationship relies on care for each other’s well-being. Avantika says, “Be it relationship or marriage, if partners are not cooperating with each other in important life situations, it can result in serious emotional distance and damage, often followed by a feeling of hopelessness and emotional turmoil.”

Related Reading: 20 Questions To Build Emotional Intimacy And Bond With Your Partner On A Deeper Level

6. Common signs of emotional distance: You are avoiding conflict and difficult conversations

Emotional distance often arises from unresolved conflicts. You may want to fix the conflicts and disagreements in your relationship, but see if your partner reacts in one of the following ways:

  • They don’t seem interested in resolution
  • They’re not angry or frustrated, just indifferent
  • When you try to discuss issues, they respond with sighs or eye rolls

Conflict is common in relationships, but a healthy one involves compromise and resolution. Open communication creates trust and understanding, and when it’s lacking, even small issues can pile up. So if one partner avoids tough conversations, it’s a sign of emotional distance.

7. You are spending a lot of alone time or time apart

Relationships can be complicated, needing the right mix of time together and apart. If you notice you and your partner spending a lot of time apart or alone, it might point to emotional distance. In a caring relationship, people naturally want to:

  • Be together
  • Share more moments together
  • Initiate phone calls
  • Use video chats to feel closer
  • Text each other

This is especially true for long-distance relationships. When emotional distance exists, partners might prefer alone time over shared experiences, leading to less quality time together. Choosing individual activities or making excuses to avoid each other strengthens the emotional gap, causing feelings of detachment and loneliness in a relationship.

How To Overcome Emotional Distance?

More on relationship advice

Some couples find it beneficial to view their relationship as a series of ‘seasons’ rather than a continuous journey. This perspective offers a fresh outlook and prevents hasty conclusions about the relationship’s fate. Recognizing that a new season is on the horizon diminishes the rush to solve problems urgently and allows partners to take mindful steps in a positive direction.

Emotional distance develops gradually, so it requires some time and effort to reconnect. Addressing this problem will demand effort and commitment from both of you. Your partner being distant could just be a normal phase, but there are ways to bring them closer. Check out these strategies on how to fix emotional distance in a relationship:

Related Reading: How To Not Feel Lonely When You Are Single And Looking For Love

1. Introspect and try to figure out the root cause of the emotional distance

Reflect on your own feelings and needs in the relationship. Are there underlying issues contributing to your suspicions or insecurities or frustrations? Once you identify the root cause of the emotional distance, you can initiate steps to rebuild the emotional bond, given both partners are committed. This might include:

  • Dedicating time to meaningful conversations
  • Participating in shared activities
  • Expressing appreciation for each other
  • Going out on dates
  • Doing household chores together

Allen Barton, the lead of a 2023 study, says that gratitude is “an important piece to the puzzle of romantic relationships that hasn’t gotten much attention in research studies until recently. And in couple relationships, it’s not just about being appreciative ‘for’ your partner but also about feeling appreciated ‘by’ your partner.”

2. Seek couple’s therapy to cope with the emotionally distant relationship

Avantika explains, “Therapy can help you start recognizing the issues that are causing emotional distance and what you can do to overcome the problem. It will help you understand things better and fill you with positivity and motivation to work around the problem. Interpersonal Therapy, Behaviour Activation, CBT, and therapies that revolve around couple’s counseling can help a lot in reducing and treating the intimacy and communication breakdown.”

Exploring couples therapy or clinical psychology can be incredibly helpful. A couple’s therapist can assist in uncovering the reasons behind the emotional distance in your relationship and recommend personal connection exercises, creating the potential for:

  • Lasting positive impact
  • Enhancing communication skills
  • Strengthening the bond
  • Fostering feelings of attunement and passion
  • A smoother healing process for both of you, individually and together

If you’re stuck in a similar situation, you can always reach out to Bonobology’s panel of licensed and experienced therapists for help.

3. Have an open and honest conversation

Avantika explains, “Communication is the best technique to address and heal emotional distance between partners. Talk more, and in a way where you show concern and your partner feels heard and seen. Often, when a person does not feel seen or heard, they take a step back mentally, where they don’t share what they feel about the whole equation.

Mel, a 29-year-old Bonobology reader from Utah, shares what they did to heal and promote emotional bonding in their marriage, “My cold distant husband used to feel more comfortable walking away from issues. This way, he distanced himself even more. Slowly, we learned to talk in a way where we were willing to give our complete attention to each other. We learned about our perspectives in a whole new way.”

If you’re faced with a “my husband is emotionally unavailable” crisis like Mel, instead of making assumptions, try:

  • Open communication with your partner
  • Share your feelings and concerns in a calm and non-confrontational manner
  • Work on rebuilding trust together
  • Be transparent and committed to each other

Related Reading: Happy Marriage Tips When You Are An Emotionally Distant Person

4. Put in effort and show active interest to repair the bond

According to Avantika, “Often, when partners don’t show interest in learning about each other’s lives, it can create a lot of distance. So, try to know about various factors of their life like growth, failure, happiness, and sadness. This will help both partners get the missing closeness and positivity back in the relationship.”

She explains, “Many times, people simply stop putting effort into a relationship, thinking it can sustain and grow on its own, which is why distance is bound to enter your dynamic. Remember, making an effort is a sign that you still care for your emotionally distant partner.”

5. Focus on your goals and take care of yourself

Maintain a balance in your actions and avoid appearing too eager to attain the emotional connection you desire. Creating space in a relationship is important. Sometimes, displaying desperation can push your partner away. Focus on personal growth and your interests while allowing time to play its role.

Independence can actually bring you and your partner closer. When your partner senses that you’re excessively focused on them or their aspirations, it may seem like you’re neglecting your own needs. Even when your significant other is distant emotionally, allocate time for the activities you love and strive toward your personal goals. Your partner will appreciate seeing your self-directed energy and the fact that you’re not too dependent on them.

Key Pointers

  • Emotional distance is a common phenomenon in relationships but if you work together to re-establish the emotional connection, you can overcome it
  • Communication problems, chronic stress, unresolved conflicts, and compatibility issues are some of the causes of emotional distance
  • If you or your partner prefer to spend a lot of alone time and lack physical intimacy and affection in your relationship, there are high chances emotional distance is the issue
  • Not sharing your feelings with each other, not showing empathy or giving emotional support, loss of interest in the relationship, and unmet needs are a few other signs of distance in a relationship
  • Understanding the root cause of the issue, communicating honestly with your partner, seeking couple’s therapy, giving space, and showing compassion when it’s hard can help fix emotional distance between partners

“External factors will always affect the quality of a relationship. Every couple goes through emotional distance in their lives at least once. It is inevitable due to various reasons. But when partners carry a mindset to resolve issues, they can overcome any distance that comes between them,” Avantika concludes her views on how to fix emotional distance in a relationship.

Just remember this: Emotional distance in a marriage or relationship, if overlooked, can cause significant harm. While addressing it may be challenging and time-consuming, it doesn’t necessarily signify the end of the relationship. If you’re currently grappling with emotional distance, waiting for it to resolve itself may not be the most effective approach. Striking a balance between emotional attachment and maintaining independence is the key to loving bond.

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