When married to an emotionally distant spouse

Shahnaaz Khan
man and woman not talking to each other

Tehmina married the man of her dreams two years after they began dating. “I was so happy and couldn’t wait to be with him every day for the rest of my life,” she recalls. However, soon after the honeymoon, once they began to settle into everyday life, she noticed that he would just go quiet ever so often.

“Mayank would come home from work, and while I would be all excited to share stories from the day, talk about my work, hear from him, he would just nod through, have dinner then sit all by himself. I was so confused!” she adds.

Mayank’s version is quite different. “Of course I loved coming home to her, being married, she’s everything I ever wanted. But I also love my space and quiet time. I loved hearing her stories but I am not much of a sharer. Not for lack of caring, that’s just who I am I guess.”

Mayank and Tehmina had spent a majority of their dating time long distance. But after marriage Tehmina discovered that while the geographic distance was gone, she was left with the void of an emotionally distant partner.

There are many of us, men and women, in Tehmina’s shoes. A spouse who is unwilling to commit the same level of emotional intimacy can seem cold and uncaring.

However, before one goes feeling dejected in love, give a moment to understand your emotionally distant partner. After all, you promised to love them unconditionally, without trying to change them. An emotionally distant partner is just a character trait that need not make or break your relationship.

What makes one emotionally distant?

Keeping one’s feelings at bay may be a coping mechanism for some. Any recent or past emotionally turbulent event can cause one to bottle up. This does not mean that it is necessarily emotionally unhealthy. After all, they did marry you and commit emotionally. It is just a way to deal with life’s vagaries and we all have our own mechanisms to do that.

Don’t push your partner to open up about why they are so either. If it is due to anything in their past or upbringing you may realise the causes over time. But do not hold them accountable for it, as it will only drive them away.

Playing the blame game

It’s human nature to try and find solutions to problems. Why is she/he so cold? Why don’t they share as much about their lives? Is it lack of love? Is something wrong with me? Or is he/she just incapable of true emotional connection? Getting lost in these questions may be the first response to the problem, but it is definitely not the right one.

Understand you are two different kinds of people and respect that. There’s nothing wrong here that needs fixing, only the coming together of two unique souls, each with their own personalities. Once you respect the difference and stop seeing it as a problem, things will get easier.

Make your own couple rules

The real challenge now is to find a middle ground. You understand your partner’s needs and hope they get yours. He needs time apart? Sure, you have your own pursuits to follow. Go out with friends, pick up a new hobby, spend time with family. Don’t take him wanting to be alone as not wanting to be with you. She does not share what’s on her mind? It’s okay, because it does not mean she finds you incapable of solving her problems. Let her try and figure it out herself and tell her that you are there whenever she wants to share, if at all.

Pushing an emotionally distant person to step out of their comfort zone will actually push them away from you.

Don’t diagnose, discover

Being able to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve is difficult for your spouse. But it’s not all there is to them, surely. Discover what brings them joy and do that. Such a person is acutely aware of someone genuinely trying to understand and accept them for who they are. Your efforts at letting them be even as you want them to share all that’s in their hearts, will be deeply appreciated. And there are ways to work around it. She does not want to talk, but you still want to spend time together? Watch a movie or a play, and it’ll be a win-win. You’ve realised that he’s having a stressful week and is bottled up. Go do something on your own, discover yourself as well. He’ll be happy knowing you are happy.

Ditch the auto-pilot mode

Be the first one to change, be the first one to take the step further. Instead of feeling dejected, lost and deprived, be the one to change first and warm your spouse’s heart. Instead of letting things be and being on auto-pilot mode, take charge of your marriage and try out a new version of yourself. Focus on yourself, pursue your aspirations, don’t overly obsess on your distant spouse.

couple talking

Representative image:
Image source

Chasing what’s already yours

In the end, appreciate that your spouse is with you in marriage, a demanding emotional relationship as is. If you go after trying to make them someone else or your marriage something else, you may lose what you have to begin with. Work your differences together, without trying to define love as conventionally understood.

So how did Tehmina fare? “Well, I realised that bridging this distance may mean I take more steps than him because I understood how difficult it is for him to even take one step, let alone the five I may be taking. And I really don’t mind going the extra mile, because I know he does that for me in so many other ways, all the time.”

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