Last week we explored what contributes to emotional distance and how to address your own distance to be less lonely in your marriage. Most of you will naturally be more open, positive, and playful with your spouse when you address your own distancing mindsets and behaviors. But others of you will need some help taking down the walls you’ve built up and moving toward your spouse.
Understanding Emotional Distance in Your Marriage:
Let’s start with an example: You are feeling lonely, so you nudge your spouse: “I wish you listened to me like my friends do. It’s so hard for me to talk to you.”
Spouse responds with, “What are you talking about? I’m listening now.”
“When you stare at me with that blank face, I think you don’t care at all about what I have to say.”
Spouse reacts with, “That’s insulting. Of course, I care about you.” Then your spouse storms out of the room.
Has this ever happened in your relationship? You give subtle nudges for more attention and approval. Yet when you try to get closer to your spouse, you end up co-creating more emotional distance!
That’s because our mates can sense when we are emotionally pulling and pushing on them, even if it’s subtle. And when we feel pressured or pursued, a natural reaction is to withdraw, shut down, or defend. Thus trying to pull your mate closer can actually bring more distance.
The key to increasing emotional intimacy is to be more intimate yourself, instead of trying to get your spouse to be more intimate first. We are naturally competitive beings and tend to look for ways to shape up others to meet our needs. Learning to first look at how we are contributing to the things we are upset about will take practice and repetition.
Define Emotional Intimacy:
First, let’s define what emotional intimacy means and looks like. Dr. Dan Papero, family therapist, and international speaker said it best when he defined intimacy as:
“…the ability to have a relationship with another human being in which I can be myself. And you can listen without correcting me or backing away. You can stay connected to me, and I can do the same for you.” ~ Dr. Papero
In this definition, emotional intimacy comes from seeing your spouse as separate from you emotionally while maintaining good personal contact. Emotional intimacy isn’t merely expressing every thought and emotion you have, it’s getting calm enough to keep learning about each other. Often we listen to our assumptions, expectations, and hurt feelings more than keeping ourselves open to learning about each other.
It’s very hard to be open and listen if you are protecting yourself from hurt or assuming harm. On the other hand, when you feel less emotionally responsible or threatened by your spouse’s reactions and emotions than you can be more open and emotionally available to your spouse.
Openness can be playful, light and easy going or it can be serious, curious, and interested in your spouse. We are open when we are calm and not reacting as if there is a threat. This openness comes and goes, and it can be hard to see our part in the times we feel less open.
3 Steps to Being Emotionally Intimate:
Let’s break down how to feel closer without trying to pull your spouse closer, so you can find the choices you never knew you had.
1. Observe & Identify Your Own Distance:
Instead of blaming your spouse, observe your own emotional distance. Observe what makes you switch from playful and open to closed off and distant. And identify how you switch back to being open again.
I know many of you are tempted to blame your spouse in this step. While your spouse plays a part, it’s important to not get sidetracked and convinced your reaction is completely your spouse’s fault. Read “Married and Lonely: Addressing Emotional Distance” for descriptions of behaviors, mindsets, and triggers to help increase your self-awareness of the part you play.
2. View Your Spouse as Separate Than You:
If you think you spouse’s behavior is a reflection of how he or she feels about you, then you will start getting critical and increase your emotional distance. Instead of assuming your spouse is avoiding you, find a more objective way to think about his or her actions.
For instance, if your spouse is being quiet when you talk, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. He may be concentrating hard, preoccupied with his own stress, or nervous about how to respond. When you think of your spouse as emotionally separate than you, then his or her behavior doesn’t define your self-worth. In this way, you don’t need to protect yourself and are more open to learning about your spouse.
3. Move Toward Your Spouse:
Most people will ebb and flow between how much time you want to spend with yourself and how much time you want in solitude. If you are wanting to be closer to your spouse, then move toward your spouse. Reach out without pressuring your mate to respond.
Join them in their activity or join them in the same room with your own activity/task. Instead of waiting for your spouse to move toward you, move toward him or her. And definitely, move toward your spouse instead of complaining about what your spouse doesn’t do anymore.
How can you be more emotionally intimate with your spouse?
If you are tired of feeling like roommates with your spouse, schedule a free 15-minute phone session to learn how to renew your confidence in relating to your spouse. Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers individual relationship counseling at her practice in Lee’s Summit MO. She helps men and women who are struggling in their relationships find better ways to connect even if there is only one spouse in the therapy room.
Photo Credit: “Love is being stupid together” by Nattu