4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Love Relationship

Sometimes he is physically present, but emotionally distant. Here are four signs of emotionally distant love relationships, plus tips for bridging the gap.

Emotionally Distant
“Emotionally Distant” image via h.koppdelaney flickr

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. And 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. The signs of emotionally distant relationships can range from the silent treatment to no contact at all. Below are four signs of emotionally distant relationships, plus a suggestion for bridging the gap.

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.

4 Signs of Emotional Distance in a Relationship

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 20 defence mechanisms.

1. Projection

“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.

2. Denial

“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.

3. 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?”

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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.

4. Repression

“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.

What matters more than Freud’s signs of emotionally distant love relationships? Knowing how to bridge the emotional gap. Whether you’re dealing with the silent treatment, repression, reaction formation, denial matters less than finding ways to connect with your partner.

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.

Emotionally Distant Relationships

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 might 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.

Here’s a potentially controversial way to approach an emotionally distant love relationship…

Ask if emotional distance is actually causing problems in your relationship. You want to feel more connected to your partner, else you wouldn’t be searching for emotionally distant in love relationships. But, can you live with your relationship the way it is? Is your partner happy with how connected you and he are?

Research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that it’s not how close you feel that matters most in a relationship. Rather, it’s whether you are as close as you want to be — even if that’s really not emotionally close at all.

“Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship,” says the study’s lead author, David M. Frost, PhD. “If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it’s important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner.”

Many couples believe that when it comes to having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, we should feel emotionally close and connected to our partners. But, this research states that if both or even just one partner is happy with the existing connection…then it doesn’t matter how emotionally distant or connected you are.

In other words, if you can find ways to be happy or at least accepting of the emotional connection you have with your partner, then the degree of closeness you actually experience doesn’t matter. Your ability to accept the reality of your relationship – and your partner – matters more.

This study was called We’re emotionally distant and that’s just fine by me: Closer relationships aren’t necessarily better relationships, and can be found in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Learn about attachment styles

Emotionally Distant RelationshipsWired 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.

By learning to use simple gestures and words, you can learn how to put out emotional fires and help your partner feel more safe and secure. The no-fault view of conflict in this book encourages us to move past a “warring brain” mentality and toward a more cooperative “loving brain” understanding of the relationship. This book is essential reading for couples and others interested in understanding the complex dynamics at work behind love, emotional distance, and trust in intimate relationships.

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


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