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The Danger of Emotional Detachment

"I Don't Know You Anymore."

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Committed intimate partners know how important it is that they stay emotionally connected to each other. Their strength as a team is the most critical tool they have to keep that bond when challenges arise.

Many partners, unfortunately, have different response strategies for coping with duress. If they don’t interpret each other correctly, they can pull apart when they need most to connect.

Couples who know one another deeply understand why and when their partners use the coping mechanisms they do, and don’t let those differences keep them from staying emotionally attached when their relationship is threatened.

Most committed relationship partners find it easier to stay emotionally connected when challenges come from the outside, but harder when they arise from within the relationship.

There are clear signs that a couple is heading toward a dangerous emotional detachment, and the sooner they are identified, the better chance a couple has to resolve that breach.

Following are the ten most important signs of impending, or already existing, emotional detachment. You or your partner may have only a few of them, or unspecified others that may be unique to your relationship. In any case, going through them may help you recognize if your emotional bond is in danger.

One – Lessening Availability

Remember when you approached your partner and received a warm and welcoming response, delivered with a smile and a clear invitation to connect? “What do you need, honey?” “What’s going on?”

Bids for connection are the ways in which people reach out to each other. They can be just a “hi,” a request for something needed, or an urgent emergency. Whichever it is, the partner who is asking trusts that his or her request will me met with open arms.

Even though there are times when any partner is less available, those times are hopefully short-lived and have a clear reason for their existence. But if requests for connection are consistently rejected or ignored, there may be trouble brewing.

Two – Disappearing Without Informing

The partners in a committed relationship rarely leave each other without sharing where and why they are going away, and when they expect to return. They leave notes for each other when plans change, or text any differences in expectations.

The goal is to be able to be in touch at all times, and to want to be. In case of emergency or just to feel secure. Bonded partners live in each other’s hearts and can always find one another when needed.

Disconnecting with no emotional forwarding address, or being unable to be found, can be clear indicators that something is amiss.

Three – Terse Responses

Though anyone can have irritable moments or times when he or she just doesn’t want to be bothered, couples don’t normally “bite” without an obvious reason.

Facial expression of disgust or impatience, voice tones that are harsh and rejecting, body language that is pulled in, or physical distance that seems chosen, are all signs that a partner is not interested in connecting.

In connected relationships, the partner who expresses a negative reaction usually apologizes when he or she feels better. But, as emotional disconnecting increases, that is less likely to happen. That emotionally distancing partner is more likely to blame and run than to care about the result.

Four – Preoccupation

Has your partner taken to brooding, long periods of silence, or seemingly somewhere else rather than available? Does he or she seem to be in a world you can’t reach more than ever before?

Preoccupation that lasts and deepens can be caused by many things, some of which may not even be related to the other partner. The problem is that the brooding, preoccupied partner is not sharing or including the other.

When that happens, it is only natural for the excluded partner to feel more and more shut out, wondering not only what is going on, but fearing the worst.

Five – Terse Communication

There are many people who are not wordy, and communicate only what they need to when they need to. But they do communicate in many other ways to make sure their partners know they matter. Accurately interpreting the love language of the other is a crucial part of every successful relationship.

On the other hand, what if a partner who once communicated openly and transparently, regularly begins to answer in brief, closed-off short sentences that communicate a desire to be left alone? And, when asked why there is a growing difference, says that nothing is the matter, continuing to shut the other out?

Six – Others Matter More

Well-connected partners whose relationship is on target, primarily hold their “us” above their commitment to others. They most often share things between them before they share them with others outside the relationship, and include each other in what they bring in from the outside.

If a partner stops talking to his or her significant other while also shutting out others, it is likely to be a general withdrawal. But if your partner shuts you out and clearly allows others in, there is a potential problem lurking.

Triangles are bad things when only two sides are strong. They are especially bad for a relationship when the leg that is missing is the connection between the relationship partners.

Seven – Depression

People who are clinically depressed are low in energy, don’t sleep well, have low frustration tolerances, don’t feel good about themselves, can’t think clearly, and can’t find any joy in life.

Some people live with low-level depression every day and their partners know not to take those states of mind personally. People who are depressed cannot give very much to a relationship and often feel like they don’t deserve to be loved or accepted. Their partners feel compassion and sympathy but understand that the accompanying withdrawal is not a sign of a relationship problem.

But if the symptoms of depression last a long time, or are increasing, it is time to get help. The emotional disconnects that result from depression still can damage the relationship and can often be healed.

Eight – Infidelity

Sadly, but typically, a partner who is contemplating, or has begun, a relationship outside of the committed partnership, often pulls away and seems unreachable in ways he or she has not before. The emotional detachment from one partner clearly is resulting from a stronger emotional attachment to another person.

When affection, sexual contact, tenderness, concern, and availability all begin to wane in a new and disturbing way, it is too often the result of energy and focus offered away from the primary relationship.

If the partner being excluded asks about the new behavior, he or she has reasoned to suspect a problem when the other responds with denial, avoidance, or attacks.

Nine – Lessened Affection

Every relationship partner couple expresses affection in his or her own unique way. Some people are outwardly touchy and express sweet statements to one another. Others may express their affection by spontaneously doing things that bring joy or a sense of importance.

Some couples have long talks in the middle of the night, or intimate showers together, or a special and private sexual chemistry. Whatever the means that people use to show the ones they love that they matter, emotional disconnecting powerfully affects those actions.

Ten – Stilted Transformation

Relationships are investments of time and energy melded with the partnership’s resources of time, energy, love, and availability. Like any business or career, they require continuous reevaluation, new growth, and a commitment to the future.

If I had to choose the most prominent reason that relationships die, it is that they begin with partners giving the best of themselves into that investment, and then diminishing their interest and commitment over time. Like running a great race together at first, and then turning each other into pit stops, merely coming home to get their tires changed in order to continue the joy of the race outside the relationship.

As relationship partners pull their most valuable resources from the relationship, they become less invested in each other’s dreams, and focus more on themselves. Instead of being a combined team working to preserve the relationship’s best possible productivity, they become parallel, using the relationship as a base from which to commit to more important things.

Stilted transformation and emotional transformation are intricately intertwined. As one happens, so does the other, in a continuous process that often portends a relationship’s eventual demise.

* * * * * * * * *

Temporary emotional detachment, especially when the reasons are beyond a couple’s capacity to control them, is not necessarily a worry. If the partners stay in touch with each other and do not let fears stop their mutual compassion, they will most often reconnect as their resources grow again.

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