That’s a question I get in various forms from so many of you who email. Life has gotten too busy, you feel like you pass like ships in the night, and you just want to feel like you know each other again.
This week on To Love, Honor and Vacuum we’re going to look at how to reconnect on a heart level with our spouse. All week we’ll be looking at new ways to spend time together, ways to make date nights easier (and more fun!), and ways to talk more. And then, at the end of the week, I’m going to invite you to take my free five lesson course on how to grow closer as a couple (just putting the finishing touches on that right now!)
But since on Mondays I always answer a reader question, here are two to get us started:
I am married to an emotionally distant man. We go through the motions of being married, but I have no idea what’s actually going on in his heart. In fact, I doubt there’s much there at all. And he certainly has no idea what’s going on in mine! We only have one child left at home and I’m afraid that when he leaves for college we’ll have nothing left between us.
Another woman writes:
I’m tired of feeling all alone! My husband doesn’t want to do anything except play on his computer or play video games. We never spent any time together. Shouldn’t marriage be about the two of you? I don’t know how much more loneliness I can take.
Okay, those are rather sad to start off our week. But I know many of you are lonely. So let’s set the stage here on what emotional connection looks like, what it doesn’t look like, and how we can move towards reconnecting.
Some truths about emotional connection
Connection is based on communication. And there are five different levels of communication–cliches, facts, opinions, feelings, needs.
We can share facts about our day–“It was so busy today, the last client didn’t leave until 5:15, and I didn’t think I was going to get out of there.”
But we can also share feelings–“I’m not even sure I like this job. People put so many demands on you and it all seems so pointless. We’re not producing anything worthwhile anyway.”
And then you can get to the point of sharing needs–“I just feel like there’s more to life than this. When I’m in my shop with a saw and some wood, I feel like I’m creating something. But all day long at work I feel like I’m just chasing paper, playing some big game, that doesn’t mean anything. I need more than that.”
Do you see the difference?
And many couples never get beyond facts or opinions.
Here’s the problem: when you’re stuck at the facts or opinions level, tension is going to start to build up, because you’re not really emotionally connected. You don’t know anything about what’s going on in each other’s hearts.
And so with each interaction that is only surface level, it’s going to feel like you’re actually growing more distant. That’s right: talking may actually make you feel worse, if the talking isn’t about something important.
And you can’t just jump over several levels of communication and expect to be able to get truly vulnerable and talk about your needs without starting to share consistently at some of the other levels.
That’s why the answer to grow emotional connection isn’t necessarily to do something big. If you start insisting on a date night, for instance, where it’s supposed to be all romantic, you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed and hurt. There’s too much tension there to have the date night go well! Instead, it’s better to start with little things to put into your day that can help you connect, and then, once that connection is starting to be there, add some bigger things to your life regularly that are low-stress and low-pressure.
That’s what we’re going to look at this week!
So add something little so you can connect emotionally.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Feeling emotionally distant from your husband? Small steps can make all the difference!'” quote=”‘Feeling emotionally distant from your husband? Small steps can make all the difference!'”]
But first, a few more truths about reconnecting with your husband:
Truth #1: Most men are not emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable
Some men may indeed be emotionally unavailable, but what I’ve found in so many marriages is that the couple has built up patterns of interaction that have made sharing feelings hard, so the guy shuts down.
So ask yourself this–when we were dating, did I know what my husband was feeling and thinking? Did he talk about his needs? Was he vulnerable to me? If so, it’s unlikely he’s suddenly become completely emotionally unavailable. It’s more likely that life has made him stressed, or that you’ve gotten into negative patterns of relating that have cut you both off from each other.
Truth #2: Most people actually want a good marriage
The vast majority of people rank having a good marriage as a major goal of theirs.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Most people want a good marriage. Feeling distant from your husband? Don’t assume the worst!'” quote=”‘Most people want a good marriage. Feeling distant from your husband? Don’t assume the worst!'”]
Often when we’re distant, though, we assume it’s because he must be angry at me and doesn’t really love me anymore. We project negative feelings on our husbands that they may not actually have. He just may feel awkward, stressed, or unsure of what to do. Most likely he wants to feel closer to you, too! But he probably feels a lot of failure when he’s around you, because you’re likely upset at the lack of communication, and he senses it. And when a guy senses that he’s disappointed you, he will tend to retreat.
Of course he shouldn’t do that! But that’s not really the point right now: the point I want you to grasp is that your husband most likely wants to reconnect with you, too! Few people honestly want to go through life feeling distant from their spouse.
So here’s your assignment: assume the best of him. Assume that he is not deliberately keeping you at arm’s length. It will make a huge difference!
Truth #3: Most people are lazy
We fall into these ruts, like playing video games all night or watching Netflix and never talking. And then those turn into habits. And it’s hard to break a habit unless there’s something else vying for our attention. If you guys are used to separating at night, it’s going to be hard to start doing something together unless there’s an actual option ahead of you. So when he goes off and gets back on his computer after dinner, it isn’t necessarily that he’s deliberately abandoning you. He’s developed a habit. And he isn’t likely to break that habit unless there’s something else on the agenda for that night.
Truth #4: Men appreciate low-key communication
Or, to put it another way, women like to communicate face to face, when we’re sitting across the table sharing our hearts. Men are more likely to communicate side by side, when they’re doing something together. If you try to force him to sit down and talk to you, he’ll likely feel very uncomfortable, like he’s on the spot. So try reconnecting by actually doing something!
Putting it All Together: Baby Steps for Reconnecting with Your Husband
Suggest something small
Walls of tension have built up between you which make it hard to talk about something important. And here’s a simple fact:
When we lose the ability to talk about the little things, then we lose the ability to talk about the big things.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘If we lose the ability to talk about small things, we lose the ability to talk about big things'” quote=”‘When we lose the ability to talk about little things, we lose the ability to talk about big things.'”]
Talking about the state of your relationship and talking about that tension is definitely a big thing. So that isn’t your aim. Instead, your aim should be to bring down some of those walls so that it becomes easier to talk about big things!
That comes by suggesting something small. Why not take a walk after dinner? Or share a cup of coffee together right after the kids go to bed? You don’t need to spend the whole evening together. Just develop a new habit that helps you start to talk without tension.
Ask with no guilt trips
Don’t say, “I feel like we haven’t talked in ages. Can we talk tonight?” That puts him on the defensive immediately. Or steer clear of, “All you ever do is get on the computer. How about you just give me ten minutes for once tonight?” Again, negative connotation.
Try something like this:
Hey, hon, how about after dinner we take a quick walk around the neighbourhood and get some exercise and look at the leaves?
Or even, why don’t we share a cup of coffee together before we get on our computers tonight?
Then, when you are together, let’s do something deliberate that helps take us to deeper levels of communication. I’ve talked about this concept before, but this one habit can change everything about how you feel about each other. Ask him, “What’s the best time you had today? When did you feel more productive and most successful?” Then share your own. Then ask him, “When were you most stressed and disappointed today?” Then share your own experience.
Don’t make judgments or try to fix anything. Just listen. Laugh. Repeat back some of the things he was saying. And that’s it. It doesn’t have to take very long. Maybe just ten minutes.
And then go back to your computer or Netflix. The rest of your evening may still be lonely. But let’s work on simply starting to communicate again and opening the doors to feeling like you know each other. That brings the tension level down, and after a few weeks of that you’re ready to start tackling some bigger issues! But try to fix everything in one go, and you’ll be adding to tension, not taking away from it. You can’t talk about big problems in your relationship until you’ve built up some goodwill to handle it. And this is the easiest way to do it!
Don’t forget the power of making love to help you reconnect with your husband!
One more thought. Here’s what happens when there’s tension in a relationship: we tend to retreat in the areas of our lives where we’re the most vulnerable. So women retreat sexually, and men retreat emotionally. But what happens when we do that? We make that distance worse, because women tend to feel closer when we share emotionally, and men tend to feel closer when we share sexually. Make love to a man, and it’s going to much easier to have those conversations about feelings. Talk to a woman on a heart level, and it’s going to be much easier to make love to her.
So if you’re feeling emotionally detached from your husband, ask yourself this: Have I been open sexually with him?
Hold on a second. Stop everything you’re thinking right now! I can just hear the wheels start to turn. “How do you expect me to make love to a guy who never ever talks to me? How do you expect me to want to be that open with someone who doesn’t even care about me?”
I get it. I do. But please hear me out: if the emotional distance is bothering you, just realize that it may not have started out as emotional distance. It may have started as sexual distance. And it’s amazing how making love can often, in and of itself, start to bring down the tension level in your relationship!
Now, if there are other issues, like trust issues, or infidelity, or emotional abuse, then I’m not saying you should jump into bed with him at all. You really need to get help! But I do believe that if we can start reconnecting in small ways in every area of our relationship, it’s going to be much easier to feel emotionally connected!
For the rest of the week we’re going to look at other ways we can reconnect and spend more time together. But for today, if there’s a lot of tension, I’d just like you to start by doing something small.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced a dynamic like this in your marriage? What did you do about it? Let’s talk in the comments!
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