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Coping Skills for When Emotional Distance Occurs in Marriage

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Feeling emotionally detached from your spouse can hurt and drive you to pursue your partner with great intensity, which drives your spouse further away, according to marriage and family therapist, Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., in a “Psychology Today” article entitled, “Are You’re a Pursuer or a Distance?” If your partner is emotionally withdrawn or has emotionally checked out of your marriage, you will need to act carefully to stop the relationship deterioration.

Causes of Emotional Distance

A spouse can use emotional distancing in response to various pressures, including conflict and unforgiveness, stress, fear of judgment, past relationship hurts and differences in how you and your spouse define emotional closeness, according to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Treating your spouse disrespectfully, not making the relationship a priority, lack of communication and denial of marital problems also cause emotional distancing according to marriage and family pastoral counselor, Dr. Dave Currie on the Power to Change website. You must identify the problem in order to cope and to bridge the distance with your spouse.

Encouraging Connections

Pushing your spouse to connect with you will drive him further away, cautions Lerner, so be gentle in approaching your partner, suggests the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Avoid doing things that encourage your partner to withdraw, such as judging your partner, tackling painful topics when your partner isn’t prepared to discuss them, using conversations styles that shut your partner down and behaving in an unkind or disrespectful manner. Instead, behave in a loving manner with affection gestures. Institute a date night, shared activities you both enjoy and conversation on safe topics.

Tackling Issues

You can’t resolve issues by ignoring them and hoping they will go away. Schedule some time to talk about things, getting professional help if you can’t work it through alone. Share your perspective and ask your partner for hers -- your perception of emotional distance might not match hers. Ask how best to meet your partner's needs and which actions that make each of you feel loved, suggests the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Take responsibility for anything you have done to create the distance or to make your partner feel uncomfortable, adds Dr. Currie.

More Coping Strategies

Don’t make your partner your sole emotional support. Spend time with friends, and find activities that you enjoy without shutting your partner out. He might just need some distance for a while. Acknowledge his feelings and needs. Remember that men connect through activity and women through conversation, according to marriage and family psychologist, Dr. Tony Territti in his blog post, “Living With an Emotionally Detached Husband.”

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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