How to Reconnect By Being Emotionally Intimate

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Have you ever felt like your soul mate turned into your roommate?

You used to be able to tell your spouse everything. But over time, you learned what upsets your partner and you started avoiding those topics. Now  you aren’t as open as when you first started dating. And some of you are shutting down positive feelings that used to come naturally. Your left feeling uncertain about how to connect with the person you once couldn’t stop thinking about.

Every couple develops some emotional distance the longer they are together. And conflict erupts over feeling like your partner is too close or not close enough. Then most people try to work on their spouse’s distancing behaviors instead of their own. The more you try to get your spouse to understand your point, the more you end up pushing them away. At this point, emotional distance in a marriage is co-created.

While you will never return to the butterflies and spark you had at the beginning of your relationship, you can develop a new level of emotional intimacy with your spouse. You do this by working on your own reactions and behaviors that are distancing, so you are more present and available emotionally.

Define Emotional Intimacy

First, let’s identify what you are striving to develop when you relate to your spouse.  Dr. Dan Papero, family therapist and international speaker, said it best when he defined intimacy as:

“…the ability to have a relationship with another human being in which I can be myself. And you can listen without correcting me or backing away. You can stay connected to me, and I can do the same for you.” ~ Dr. Papero, Divorce Video

Openness isn’t just expressing every thought and emotion you feel, it’s getting calm enough to keep learning about each other. Often we listen to our assumptions, expectations, hurt feelings more than keeping open to learning about each other.

Next, identify what gets in the way of you being able to stay connected especially when you disagree. What thoughts or feelings contribute to you distancing when talking or relating to your spouse?

Understand Emotional Distance

Many couples get emotional distance confused with marriage differences. Having a different goal or interest than your spouse doesn’t mean you have emotional distance. People can have different interests and ideas, yet still have a great connection and intimacy.

Emotional distance is a pattern of interactions. It is an emotional response to a perceived emotional threat, and doesn’t occur without conflict either internally or externally. In other words, emotional distance is co-crated in an attempt to avoid conflict or feelings of hurt and rejection.

Almost everyone enjoys a little distance from time to time. It only becomes a problem when it erodes the marriage friendship between a couple. To this extreme, you may feel little or no positive feelings for your partner. But once you realize you play a part in creating your own misery, you can do something about your own distancing.

Address Your Own Emotional Distance

Recognize when you are distancing, whether it’s pulling away internally or behaviorally. Some examples of emotional distance are:

  • Taking differences personally or feeling hurt easily
  • Being critical of spouse
  • Giving advice or telling your spouse what to do
  • Trying to prove your point
  • Agreeing to keep the peace even when you don’t
  • Using work/hobbies/substances to avoid conflict with spouse
  • Turning to kids more than spouse
  • Pretending to agree and doing what you want behind spouse back
  • Avoiding topics that upset your spouse
  • Being present physically but tuning your spouse out

If you recognize any of these ways of distancing, then you are probably having a hard time staying calm in your spouse’s presence. Kathleen Cauley, licensed marriage and family therapist, emphasizes that communication is less about getting your point heard, and more about calming down to hear. In this way, openness is “staying interested in your spouse without assuming: 1) it has something to do with you, 2) it hurts your feelings, or 3) it will get in your way.” (Video: Myths about Communication.)

Our assumptions fuel our distance, and emotional separateness creates intimacy and openness. Meaning his emotions are separate from how he feels about you. If you don’t take your spouse’s busyness, tension, or unavailability as a threat to your own emotional well being, then you are free to be available. You don’t have to distance too. So when your spouse is available, you will be too.

Challenge Your Own Negative Assumptions

So how do you get yourself calm enough to not shut down? Find a new way to think when you interact with your spouse that makes you or your happiness feel less threatened. Challenge your assumptions, because your spouse’s behavior and/or response does not define your happiness nor your value!

For example, if your spouse is emotionally unavailable to you on occasion, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy without his/her response. Nor does it mean that your spouse don’t care about you or you aren’t important to him/her. But when you make these assumptions, you probably start pulling away to protect yourself.

Developing a new level of emotional intimacy is developing a new way of thinking, so you can create a new way of being with your spouse. 

How do you define emotional intimacy?

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 Hire Marci one-on-one for counseling/coaching and discover more choices than you thought possible.

Photo Credit: “Come Together” by Hartwig HKD

Find Your Way Back from Extra-Marital Affairs

Extra-marital affairs are one way people deal with discomfort. Turning to another person who sympathizes with you can be very comforting. And many people act on what feels good in the moment without thinking about the long term consequences of turning to another person.

Some people use an affair to end a marriage. While others decide to stay together and try to repair what’s been broken long before the affair started.

In an interview on The Bowen Center’s Family Matters, Douglas Murphy, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, talks about ways to prevent and mend infidelity, including the following:

1. Look for own warning signs (such as fantasizing about another person) that you are dealing with discomfort by turning outside your marriage

2. End the affair (not because your spouse told you too, but because this is the only way to address the problems it covers up)

3. Both people begin working on their part in the co-created emotional distance

An affair is a symptom, and it offers an opportunity for growth if you take it. But you have to get beyond the affair, the hurt, and the anger to improve how you relate and think about your spouse.

To hear the full 30-minute interview and learn how to find your way back after an extra-marital affair, watch this:

Will you take this opportunity to grow you emotional intimacy or grow more distant with your spouse?

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Subscribe to Family Matters on You Tube to hear more thoughtful interviews. The mission of the Bowen Center is “to assist families in solving major life problems through understanding and improving human relationships

Find Your Happiness Switch

Happiness in Rain

Do you feel like your happiness depends on others actions? Or you can’t be happy unless the situation changes.

We are all more dependent on our environment and relationships than we want to be. So how do we really choose happiness when we are surrounded by many reasons to be unhappy?

You find the power in your ability to choose how and what you think about. To find a way to not let irritation make you miserable. In doing so, you decide your happiness doesn’t have to be so dependent on changing others. When you find this ability inside yourself, it is empowering.

Find Your Happiness Switch

I know many of your are thinking that you can’t possibly just choose to be happy. You can – you just have to find your happiness switch.

Identify what makes you go negative. And what makes you see the positives too. Most importantly identify what helps you switch from blame to taking responsibility for your happiness.

We all have emotional and thinking parts of our brain. The emotional side is often louder than the thinking side. Your emotions show up first to the scene and try to direct you through their megaphone approach.

When you get your thinking brain to show up on the scene as well, you get to decide who you want to be in charge. This choice is not a debate where you try to persuade the emotions to quiet down. The power is in the choice to feel or act different even when your emotions are loud. The first time you flip your happiness switch you will know exactly what I am talking about.

The most common things we blame  our unhappiness on is a misbehaving child or an unloving spouse. In these situations, your emotions tell you that you can’t possibly be happy unless your child or spouse changes. But how powerful it is when you find the switch that tells you that you can be happy, even when your spouse isn’t being affectionate or your child isn’t being compliant.

Let Go of Need to Blame

If we are honest with ourselves, it is the blame that keeps us from feeling more happiness. We must be ready to let go of blame, and put our thoughts in charge of our emotions.

Another classic frustration example is choosing to be happy even if driving in traffic. I can focus on how much I have to do, and how much time I am wasting sitting in traffic. And I will get more and more tense and frustrated.

But when I realize I have a choice, I can find my switch. How do I, in that moment, not let the traffic dictate my happiness?

For me, it helps to focus on what I have instead of what I don’t have. So I begin to settle into listening to good music more than grumbling about the traffic. And before I know it, I am enjoying the extra time and arrive at my destination less tense.

5 Steps to Choosing Happiness

To find your happiness switch, follow these 5 steps to choose happiness too:

1. Recognize your miserable feelings. (The easiest step to do!)

2. Identify what you are feeling dependent on. (“I can’t feel happy unless…”)

3. Decide you want to be less dependent on environment/others to make you happy.

4. Find and focus on what makes you happy in that moment (instead of dwelling on what you can’t change).

5. Reap the benefits of flipping your happiness switch on.

One of the hardest times is when a person feels helpless to change. When you feel like your happiness is dependent on others, you will feel trapped and helpless. So how do you take your happiness back?

Others can stay the same if they want, but you are going to think differently. And focus on the power of what you choose to think about.

Please share your success and struggles with using your thoughts to boost your happiness. We can learn from each other.

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Subscribe via Email, and you will receive my “Journal for Self-Discovery: 15 Questions to Increase Emotional Intimacy.” Learn how to take your happiness back without distancing emotionally.

Photo Credit: “Happiness” by Ira Gelb