Why does emotional distancing appear in couple relationships?

One of the relationship problems that arises in a couple is represented by the fact that the partners begin to distance themselves emotionally and over time they start to feel lonely together. Why is this happening?

First, it should be noted that emotional distancing may be related to certain changes that the two partners are going through, and if both make a voluntary and conscious effort to overcome these difficult or vulnerable times, the problem can be overcome without leaving deep marks in the relationship.

 These changes may be related to:

- the birth of a child - especially in the beginning, parents may feel overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities, tired or exhausted, and their time becomes baby time. If the two fail to manage their time efficiently, to share their responsibilities, to talk, even for fifteen minutes every day, about the challenges they feel and how they can find a balance, they can distance themselves from each other, feel like they aren’t part of the same team, grow frustration and resentment. The strength of a couple is given by the personal strength of each of its members and by their ability to stay together and get through even the most difficult moments;

- the appearance of professional or personal problems that cause stress, anxiety or can lead to other disorders such as depression - some people, when faced with stress repeatedly or when they go through difficulties that they feel they can’t manage, tend to close off and distance themselves emotionally from others. If this is your situation or that of your partner, ask him/her how he/she feels and be willing to listen. Ask him/her if he/she needs help and discuss potential solutions that could be effective. Sometimes, when our partner faces difficulties, all we can do is show them compassion and empathy, show them our support and that we trust their abilities to overcome these moments or to guide them to seek specialized help, but without falling into the trap of taking responsibility for their happiness or unhappiness;

 Secondly, emotional distancing can be a sign that there are other serious or deep unresolved relationship problems that over time lead to the couple’s dissolution or to that loneliness mentioned above:

- in dependent/codependent relationships or in symbiotic couples, boredom and rut can appear much faster because people who don’t keep their individuality when they enter a couple, who give up on themselves and enter into symbiosis with each other, who do all things together, they get bored the fastest. The solution is for each person to keep a part of his/her life only for himself, to have hobbies and interests outside the couple, and thus each will contribute to the couple’s enrichment and evolution and to a dynamic living;

- also, emotional dependence and the fact that you have plenty of needs that you expect to be met by your partner can cause him/her to withdraw emotionally or to take a step back because he/she may feel overwhelmed or suffocated. This can cause you to make another step towards him/her, with even more determination, because you may feel rejected or abandoned, which you can’t tolerate. This vicious circle of searching, clinging and then rejection can be interrupted and the relational dynamics can change if you start, step by step, to cultivate your autonomy and independence, if you start to take care of your own needs, without placing the responsibility for your well-being on your partner;

- a relationship dominated by conflicts, criticism, accusations, claims, manipulation, emotional blackmail, where there is no healthy communication, where we don’t feel understood, listened to, important to our partner, where we are not given interest, leads to a withdrawal and an emotional shutdown. If it’s difficult for us to say what we feel or what we want because we are afraid of our partner's reactions, if we don’t feel appreciated, respected, admired or loved we will become distant and cold.

If we are always criticized or we feel disrespected, we can’t respond in a warm and affectionate way, but we most likely become, in our turn, critical, we get defensive or we go on the offensive.

In a functional and long-lasting couple, communication should be predominantly positive or neutral. For example, 80% of what we communicate should be positive or neutral and only 20% should be negative. In the same way, if we have done something negative in the relationship, then we need five positive interactions to rectify the situation, one is not enough, because the negative has a much greater impact on us.

- there is no more love and interest - if your partner has changed considerably over time, if he/she no longer makes any effort for your relationship, if he/she avoids intimacy, communication, if he/she is distant and uninvolved, maybe it's time to discuss these things seriously - how he or she sees the relationship, if he or she still wants that relationship, if there are things you would like or need to change, if you are willing to change them and so on.

For a relationship to last and stay alive, it’s necessary for both partners to get involved and have a proactive attitude. If you don’t show interest, if you don’t always pay attention to how you feel in the relationship, if you don’t try to solve the problems that arise, the relationship won’t last.

There are couples who accumulate so much frustration and resentment that even if they make the decision to seek psychological counseling, it’s too late for them…

If there are problems in your relationship, don’t ignore them, but seek to solve them with your partner. Always pay attention to how you feel, to the way your partner relates to you, to the way you relate to him/her and don’t let habit, boredom, emotional coldness and resentment destroy your relationship.

 Dr. Ursula Sandner


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