I practice emotionally-focused couples therapy, which is about trust and security being the bedrock of a relationship. The core question we’re all asking, on an emotional level, is: When I need you, will you be there for me? Can I count on you?
If we sense–again, on a subterranean emotional level, possibly beneath our conscious awareness–that our partner is unreliable, or unreachable, all sorts of issues can ensue. We might find ourselves more prone to stress, irritability, mood swings, sadness, anger, defensive detachment and emotional shut-down…If this sounds familiar, read on.
In every relationship, there are times when you’re closer and times when you’re further away. Often, the distance resolves itself. It was just a busy and/or stressful week (or month), and there’s no underlying relationship issue.
But if you’re finding that the distance has persisted longer, and/or you find you’re experiencing some of the symptoms I listed above, then it’s time to address the problem. Start by asking yourself what’s causing the distance. Is it logistical? About scheduling, or the overall architecture of your lives? Or is it that one or both of you are in avoidance mode?
Sometimes there might be unexpressed hurt, frustration or anger. Sometimes rather than speak up, people just pull away. This could be a lack of assertiveness skills, or it could be that in the past, efforts to resolve things have ended badly. Maybe one partner is feeling like there’s no point in trying.
If you’re that partner, examine this more deeply. Think about what it would mean to your relationship to never deal with what’s bothering you. How far would it go? To separate bedrooms, separate lives? If you’re assuming the feelings will just dissipate (if that’s what you’re hoping for), but it’s not happening, you might need to go to Plan B. That could be forcing yourself to have some hard conversations.
If you’re the other partner–as in, noticing the pull-away–it might be time to ask some questions. Consider how to do this in a supportive, rather than a demanding or attacking, way. Remember that what we all want, deep down, is to feel loved and supportive. If you miss your partner, tell him/her. If you want more intimacy, say it in a way that highlights just how important the relationship is and what you’re prepared to do to get it back on track.
Maybe you’ve been hurt; maybe you’ve done the hurting. The key thing is to start repairing instead of just assuming time heals all. When it comes to relationships that are drifting, often the reverse is true. More time equals greater distance that you’d have to travel in order to reconnect.
Couple image available from Shutterstock.