How to Talk to an Emotionally Distant Person

by Contributor

Emotional distance is a psychological term describing a state in which people separate themselves from others. These people will appear aloof, shut off and reserved, and it's difficult to talk to them. Emotional distance in a family member or friend can change the dynamics of a relationship. Here's how to cope with it.

Determine the nature of the emotional distance. It can be caused by physical or mental illness, an emotional trauma, difficulty in a relationship, separation or numerous other factors.

Ask for assistance from a doctor or counselor in cases of physical or mental illness. The type of illness is a factor in the approach. Some people with cancer, for instance, shut themselves off because they fear talking about a prognosis.

Think about issues in a relationship with a friend, spouse, significant other or family member. Ask yourself about possible causes and your own unfulfilled emotional needs from that person. Understand the issue itself to get yourself ready to talk about the matter.

Look for causes of emotional distance. You and your partner may be dealing with a family crisis, and withdrawal is your partner's way of handling the situation. Physical separation can create emotional distance as a partner deals with the pain of being apart. Past experiences can also cause people to shut themselves off so they don't get hurt again.

Agree to talk. This may take several attempts. Be gentle, non-accusatory and as non-emotional as possible. Aim for empathy.

Convey your thoughts in the conversation. Talk about the issues and causes you determined. Ask questions about those items in a way that gets a response of some kind, rather than making declarations.

Notice what works and what doesn't. Concentrate on topics that get a discussion going before moving on to those that might bring the wall back down. Emotional distance is not created overnight, and neither are the solutions for it. It often takes numerous attempts to get a discussion going.

Seek help. The kind of help depends on your situation. Dealing with a difficult teen can affect an entire household, and a social worker or adolescent psychologist is a good choice. Relationship counselors help couples.

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  • There are counseling centers on college campuses and in community organizations. The cost for these services is often less than private counselors, though some insurance plans will contribute toward counseling costs.


  • In some cases, emotional distance signals another problem. Watch for signs of substance abuse or depression.

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