Have you ever felt like your soul mate turned into your roommate?
You wish you held the spark you once had for your mate. But you’ve been avoiding each other for so long. And, now you are unsure how to get over the wall you’ve built and light the fire of emotional intimacy.
Emotional distance is one of the primary complaints of couples that come to my office for marriage counseling. While I think it’s normal for romantic love to wax and wane over time, it’s very uncomfortable to lose that loving feeling for your partner.
What is 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 very different interests, yet still have great intimacy and chemistry.
True emotional distance is a pattern of interactions. It is an emotional response to a perceived threat, and doesn’t occur without conflict. 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 emotional intimacy between a couple. To this extreme, you may feel little or no romantic feelings for your partner. It doesn’t have to end here, you can turn your feelings back on.
What is emotional intimacy?
First, you must understand what it is you’re wanting back. I’ve asked many couples how they define emotional intimacy, and each person has a somewhat different answer. To me, emotional intimacy includes both non-verbal and verbal interactions:
- physical attraction & touch
- eye contact
- openness about a variety of topics
- ease and comfort with each other
- more positive than negative feelings/thoughts about other
- sense of connection and knowing of self/other
- genuine care/regard for other’s best interest
- appreciation and shared leadership
What else defines emotional intimacy to you?
5 Steps to Rekindle Emotional Spark in Your Marriage:
While distancing is effective at avoiding conflict, it leaves you feeling more lonely and disconnected. So, how do you experience less loneliness stress and more joy in your relationship? Build a bridge to emotional intimacy by taking five small steps.
Step1: Identify what emotional distance is NOT
Couples often worry about spending time apart or not having enough common interests. If you share similar values on the big things, your relationship can withstand marriage differences.
Distinguish between times when your spouse has a different interest/goal, but it is not an emotional distancing response. For instance, your spouse may like to watch the hunting channel, but it is only distancing if he’s using it to avoid fighting with you. Otherwise, it’s just a different interest than you have.
Step 2: Recognize your own part in co-created distance
What do you do that is distancing? What do you do when you feel threatened? Again, you can distance in your internal reactions or your outward behaviors. Some examples of emotional distance are:
- Taking differences personally
- Being critical of spouse
- Over-helping spouse
- Being more negative than positive
- Over use of substances
- Using work/hobbies as avoidance of spouse
- Avoiding topics that upset your spouse
Step 3: Eliminate built up resentment
If your negative thoughts over-ride any positive feelings you may have, then you may be holding onto resentment. Are you tense and angry because of work/life stress or because of your marriage? You may be missing out on choices that you have right in front of you, and projecting your stress and frustration onto your spouse.
Step 4: Turn crisis into opportunity
If your marriage or relationship has reached a breaking point, take advantage of this crisis. Turn it into an opportunity for growth, and a time to work on yourself and how your relate to your mate. Fight off hopelessness and revive hope by believing in yourself.
Step 5: Do what makes you feel closer to your spouse
Are you waiting on your spouse to make the first move? Or, complaining about what your spouse doesn’t do anymore? Turn all that energy onto yourself. Focus less on what you fear, and more on what you want.
List all the ways you used to connect with your spouse. Look for things you can do instead of waiting on your spouse. Reach out without pressuring your mate to respond. Respect your spouse’s timing and movement.
You will be taking the final step over the gulf. You will be putting yourself back on to the bridge toward emotional intimacy. Here’s to falling in love with your partner again! It’s the best gift you can give yourself and your loved.
Photo Credit: “Love of My Life” by Cris Matos