Sometimes a partner is physically present, but emotionally distant. Here are several signs of emotional distance in relationships, plus tips for bridging the gap between you and your partner.
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.
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 partner 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!
When your partner does offer a response, it’s remote, guarded, lacking in intimacy – perhaps because of a fear of intimacy.
Emotional distance can indicate an impending physical separation; in fact, intimate partners may develop certain defense mechanisms to protect feelings and protect themselves from pain in their intimate relationships. This can happen to either partner in the relationship, whether you’re gearing up to leave…or be left.
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.
Signs of Emotional Distance
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 twenty defence mechanisms.
“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.
“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’s 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.
How to Bridge Emotional Distance in Your Relationship
Accusing your partner of being defensive may not be the most effective method of facing emotional distance. Sometimes problems in communication are resolved, making the relationship healthy and strong.
It’s important not to suffocate your partner in your attempts to connect emotionally. Read 5 Signs Your Suffocating Your Partner.
You could try inviting your partner to write or draw her feelings, which may be less intimidating than talking. You could gently suggest the existence of defense mechanisms and initiate an open, honest discussion. You could practice showing your love to your partner, which may eventually break down the barriers.
If you partner absolutely refuses to admit a problem exists, you may want to consider getting counseling or leaving the 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.
For more tips on overcoming emotional distance in a love relationship, learn about fear of intimacy and rejection.
And if you have any thoughts on emotional distance, please comment below…
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.