Communicating About Closeness Can Help Emotionally Disconnected Couples
They were single and coincidentally vacationing in the same city, at the same time. It was a sunny day with a cool breeze with conversations flowing seamlessly. As they were recalling how they met, the couple sitting in my office described how pleasant it used to be spending time in each other’s presence. Five years ago, they thought the bond they formed would only grow stronger over the years.
It’s been a while since that beautiful vacation in Spain, and nowadays they seem confused as to how they found themselves here. Why is it so hard for them to understand and reach each other emotionally?
As our conversation switched from past to present, an emotional divide appeared between them; a space that was cold and quiet. He seemed withdrawn and she appeared concerned. They described how hard it is to get along lately. He insisted that he feels like the “last item” on her long to-do list, while she accused him of not even trying to understand what it’s like to be in her shoes. He tried to defend himself by saying that he keeps trying to “guess” what would make her happy, and that the guessing has been frustrating and fatiguing.
One could sense that although they both wanted to be better partners, there was something about the way they were engaging with each other that caused a disconnect.
Different Ways Couples Can Approach Closeness
Some people believe that tranquility, compassion, and time spent together are key to relational happiness. Calm conversations are viewed as a necessary element of togetherness yet heightened expressions of emotions are interpreted as conflict. Gentle discussions communicate care, and time spent talking about feelings is important to them.
Others believe that emotional excitement is a sign of relational aliveness and signals intimacy. Regardless of whether the emotions expressed are positive or negative, conflict and closeness can coexist. They expect communication to be direct and for issues to be addressed head-on. For them, constructive criticism is something that happens in all close relationships. They prefer time together to be spent on tasks, not talking. Emotionality, open feedback, and participation in joint tasks is what brings a sense of togetherness.
When partners approach closeness from two distinct perspectives, the differences that arise can cause disconnect. Lack of desire to spend time “just talking” gets interpreted as lack of love by the person for whom these things matter. Oftentimes isolation follows as a way to restore calmness. Direct, assertive requests to re-engage emotionally are perceived as being too aggressive by the partner who believes that intimacy should be inferred, not “demanded”.
Differences in the way partners prefer to engage emotionally can lead to frustration and can cause negative feelings about self and the relationship. As questions about the other person’s love make their way into the minds and hearts of partners, it is not uncommon for spouses to begin to wonder if they are important enough to the other person. This concern then becomes both the cause and the result of more conflict. If left unaddressed, over the years, emotional disconnect grows deeper and wider.
Answers That Can Bring You Closer
In a relationship, both partners have valid reasons for seeking the type of closeness that feels meaningful to them. One of you might interpret calmness as a sign of closeness. Making open and direct requests for love and attention might seem unfamiliar and foreign. Maybe calmness is essential to emotional comfort, and you believe that compassion and support is what is expected in loving relationships.
However, if one person believes that closeness is not something to be asked for (it either happens or it doesn’t), but the other one insists that in intimate relationships partners should be able to make open and direct requests for closeness when they need it, these differences in the way you expect to give and receive love can cause difficulties. After a while, both parties feel misunderstood, and you might notice that there’s an emotional gap between the two of you.
The disconnect continues to increase as each person starts to insist on their preferred way to re-engage emotionally. Ultimately, reconnecting might feel almost impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. Although it’s understandable why you feel this way, each of you is also right: you deserve to feel loved, cared for, and part of a relationship where the other person’s presence feels pleasant and meaningful.
How to Communicate Your Way Back to Connection
Differences in the way you approach emotional closeness do not have to be an obstacle to your happiness. One of you might be bringing more emotionality and the other one more calmness to the relationship, but if you communicate effectively, you can increase emotional compatibility and strengthen your bond.
What to Do:
I use the acronym CARE with my couples clients to make it easier to remember:
I suggest you start by having a conversation where you're open to the other person’s perspective on closeness.
Acknowledge each other, the love, and the challenges you’re having as you’re trying to reconnect.
Recognize the similarities – you probably just want to connect in a meaningful way. Remember that you have different ways of achieving togetherness. Reminisce on the activities you used to do together, the things that made being in each other’s company pleasant and meaningful.
Express your intention about bringing back conversations, emotions, and activities that will help you reconnect, and with it achieve closeness again.
Ready to Reconnect With Your Partner? Couples Therapy Can Help!
If you don’t feel comfortable addressing these issues on your own, talk to someone who can help. A trained couple’s therapist can facilitate a space where differences can be acknowledged with understanding, compassion, and appreciation so you can resolve challenges and help you to reconnect and strengthen your bond. Couples therapy can give you the tools needed to strengthen your communication and connection with your partner.
Sabrina Simmons is a licensed mental health counselor located at our beautiful counseling office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
She also provides online therapy for adults and couples who reside in the state of Florida via our secure telehealth platform.
For more information about Sabrina’s approach to therapy for adults or couples, click here.
Call 954-391-5305 today for your complimentary consultation.