Signs of Emotional Distance in a Relationship

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.

Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

Wired for Love

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.

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’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

emotional disconnection

“Signs of Emotional Distance in a Relationship” image by nadeeshxJayawaradena via Pixabay, CC License

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.

Fix Your Marriage

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

Article Name
Signs of Emotional Distance in a Relationship
Four signs of emotional distance in relationships, plus tips for bridging the gap between you and your partner.

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a full-time freelance writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. I welcome your comments below, but I don't give advice. I can offer you a prayer and a blessing, though! You'd be surprised how helpful a prayer can be....

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8 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    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.


  2. Confused says:

    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.

  3. Laurie says:

    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.


  4. Laurie says:

    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.


    • Dawn says:

      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?

  5. Dawn says:

    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?

  6. Laurie says:

    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.

  7. Ravena says:

    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.

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