Emotional Distance in a Relationship

The worst enemy in a relationship is emotional distance. In fact, emotional coldness and disinterest often prove to be insurmountable obstacles that cause a great deal of suffering in relationships.
Emotional Distance in a Relationship
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Emotional distance in a relationship can cause more cracks than any misunderstanding or argument ever can. Indeed, when intimacy and closeness are lost in your relationship, you find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of misery. In fact, few situations can be more distressing.

In addition, it can cause your partner a lot of psychological turmoil, especially if they still love you. However, they probably won’t be too surprised. They probably noticed your gradual lack of interest and emotional distance. How the little things that used to be so special and meaningful have gradually lost their sparkle.

John Gottman is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He’s an expert in relationships. He claims that couples who maintain emotional attachments can face any difference of opinion, problem, or disagreement that might come their way. However, once this attachment fails, everything starts to collapse.

Emotional distance always has consequences. Furthermore, these consequences always need to be faced. Therefore, it helps to understand what emotional distance is all about.

“I’m so isolated I can feel the distance between me and my suit.”

-Fernando Pessoa-

A man looking unhappy.

Signs and possible causes of emotional distance in a relationship

When you want to build a meaningful relationship, whether it’s with a family member, friend, or partner, you know you have to work on the emotional connection between you. It’s almost like building a refuge just for the two of you. A refuge for two people who know, respect, and are interested in each other and want to care for each other.

It isn’t always easy to achieve this type of relationship. If you succeed, you’ll be strong enough to deal with anything that comes your way. Nevertheless, it’s only natural to feel concerned when you have any kind of conflict with your partner. Because having conflicting ideas, arguing, and getting angry always cause a certain degree of anxiety in any relationship. In fact, you may think they’re a reason to break up.

However, if you have an emotional connection, you’ll always be able to work things out between you. As a matter of fact, conflicts can be quite valuable. They give you the opportunity to air out your differences, explain yourselves to each other, reinforce your relationship, and make useful changes. This is all positive, as it helps you build bridges and focus on each other.

The characteristics of emotional distance in a relationship

On the other hand, sometimes, the opposite happens. In these cases, the conflict reveals an emotional distance in the relationship. Furthermore, communication fails and there’s no emotional connection. There’s just a complete lack of interest. Here are some characteristics of these situations:

  • You no longer talk about feelings and emotions. In fact, you steer clear of these topics at all costs and make excuses to avoid them because you find them so uncomfortable.
  • There’s an emotional investment imbalance. You find yourself becoming more and more distant. However, your partner might be trying to keep the relationship afloat.
  • Your shared rituals and habits no longer have any meaning. Those little things that were so important in your relationship, like taking a bath together, talking for hours in bed, sending each other affectionate messages at work, etc. They’re now meaningless to you.
  • You feel no interest in your partner anymore. You don’t particularly care what they think or feel. You aren’t interested in their opinions or what they might be worried about. In fact, this is one of the most hurtful signs of emotional distance in a relationship.
An unhappy couple demonstrating emotional distance.

What can be done?

There might be different reasons behind emotional distance. By far the most common cause is that you no longer feel in love with your partner. However, you’re reluctant to tell them that you no longer feel the way you used to. Nevertheless, if there’s another reason behind your emotional distance, you might be able to take some steps to recover your relationship.

  1. Emotion-based couples therapy can be quite useful. Drs. James L. Furrow and Susan M. Johnson wrote about this kind of therapy.
  2. It involves working on your communication problems. In addition, you clarify any difficulties that are creating emotional distance between you and do some training in emotional management and expression. This helps you transform your relationship into a richer bond where you’re able to understand and address your problems.

However, all couples are unique. Sometimes, the emotional distance can’t be breached. Especially when the feelings of love have gone. If this is the case, you really shouldn’t prolong the agony any longer, as you’ll only cause more damage.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Furrow, J. L., & Bradley, B. A. (2011). Emotionally focused couple therapy: Making the case for effective couple therapy. In The Emotionally Focused Casebook: New Directions in Treating Couples (pp. 3–29). Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203818046

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.