- It's normal for couples to feel some level of disconnect from time to time.
- It is important to acknowledge the disconnect and talk about it.
- Connecting more deeply with one's spouse can be as simple as dedicating more time to doing fun things with each other.
Feeling connected with your spouse or partner isn't just important—it's kind of the whole point.
To wit, decades of research confirm that being in a committed, long-term relationship or marriage is good for your physical and mental health and that strong social connections benefit your quality of life and length of life.
It follows, then, that feeling disconnected from your partner, for whatever reason, can be incredibly uncomfortable and stressful. In this post, let's talk about why feeling disconnected from your spouse might happen, how to recognize it, and what to do (and maybe not do) about it.
Why Am I Feeling So Disconnected From My Partner?
If you and your spouse are feeling disconnected, you might notice the following:
- A vague sense of being "off," "out of touch," or "not on the same page"
- More time spent apart and/or less interest in doing things together
- Decreased sexual intimacy
- The sense that you are often "pushing each other's buttons"
- A lack of follow-up or apologizing after a fight (and perhaps more fighting than usual)
- Fewer successful bids of connection, which relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman defines as any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or other positive connections (such as a smile, a request for help, or an invitation to a conversation or activity)
- Feeling misunderstood, ignored, or resentful
- A lack of effort from one or both of you to nurture the relationship
That covers the what—now the why. I'll start by saying that your feelings of disconnection might have a clear cause...or they might seem to come out of nowhere (which can add an entirely new layer of confusion and despair on top of what you're already feeling—how's that for frustrating?). But while becoming hyperfocused on "diagnosing" the problem might cause more harm than good in some cases, it can be helpful to understand where the roots of your disconnection are growing from.
In my practice, these are some of the most common threads I see among couples who are disconnected from each other emotionally, either consciously or subconsciously:
- Work, family, and/or money stress
- Major life changes, such as a new career, the birth of a new child, or the loss of a loved one
- New or changing hobbies or interests
- Stressful global events (I'm looking at you, pandemic)
- New time constraints
- Mental and/or physical health issues
- Unaddressed issues within the marriage itself, including emotional, physical, and/or financial infidelity
Now, I'm sure many of you astute readers will notice that the same things that can drive a wedge of disconnection among some partners will actually help build a stronger connection among other partners. This apparent paradox is true, and it simply goes to show that it's not necessarily what happens but how you and your spouse respond to what happens that can influence the overall strength of your bond.
I'd be remiss not to mention that prior life experiences and personal beliefs also play important roles in how people connect with each other—which is one reason why working with a licensed mental health counselor can be so helpful in these situations. Professional therapists provide the tools and knowledge that people can use to recognize their emotional blind spots, understand their attachment styles, and clarify their goals, values, and perspectives in order to help heal and strengthen their relationships.
Try This (and Maybe Not That) When You're Feeling Disconnected From Your Spouse.
If you and your partner are feeling disconnected and you'd like to address it, here are some do's and don'ts I recommend:
Do be honest. Even (especially) if you're feeling disconnected from your spouse, it's important to talk to each other about what you're feeling—you can't fix what you're not willing to acknowledge.
Bust out your active listening skills and do your best to express yourself honestly while avoiding blame, judgment, or criticism. If you want to solve this, you need to approach it with a team mindset—it's not you versus your spouse; it's you and your spouse versus this challenge.
Do take action. Sometimes, connecting more deeply with your spouse can be as simple as dedicating more time to doing fun things with each other. A well-planned date night can do wonders! It might also help to lighten up your respective loads so you both have more energy to put into the relationship—this can be anything from hiring a weekly housekeeper to paring down your social commitments.
If there are deeper issues at play—or even if you're just curious about how it could benefit your marriage—consider couples counseling.
Don't panic. All couples go through growing pains from time to time, and periods of disconnection happen even in healthy relationships. And while you shouldn't ignore or suppress your concerns, you don't need to catastrophize them nor tell yourself anxiety-fueling stories about what they might mean. Just take a deep breath (or two), double down on some favorite self-care routines, and do your best to take action from a more centered, calm state of mind.
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