Distant Spouse?Are you dealing with an unavailable partner? While distance can be a relationship red flag, it doesn't have to mean that the state of your union is shaky. Here, Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., relationship expert and bestselling author of Marriage Rules: A Manual For the Married and Coupled Up, offers 10 simple steps to reconnection, guaranteed to bring you closer.
Don't Take It Personally
You may be married to a private guy who doesn't want to debrief after every dinner party or talk in detail about the symptoms of his stomach flu. If you can see your partner's need for privacy and space less personally, you'll be able to calmly invite more connection, rather than anxiously or angrily demanding it.
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Call of the Pursuit
When we're upset by a partner's unavailability, we may go into "pursuit mode," which only makes the problem worse. If you chase a distancer, he will distance more. Consider it a law of physics. Under stress, don't press.
Lower Your Intensity Getting out of pursuit mode may mean turning down your level of intensity, which includes loud, fast-paced speech, interrupting, over-talking and offering help or giving advice that isn't asked for. It's not that anything is wrong with you or your personality. It's simply that many distancers are viscerally opposed to intensity. Sometimes, the sheer number of sentences or even the edge in our voice can drive them away.
Relationship DistanceGive Him Space
If you're in the habit of hovering or giving advice when he's preparing dinner, folding laundry or putting the kids to sleep, go to a different room where you can't observe what he's doing. Don't text or call him unless you need to. Remember that distancers open up most freely when they aren't being pursued or criticized by their partners.
Make a Date, Not a Diagnosis
When you want more connection, suggest an activity ("I hear there's a new Italian restaurant: Do you want to check it out this week?"). Refrain from diagnosing your partner ("I feel like you've shut down"), or the marriage ("We don't really communicate anymore""). Instead of talking about how you don't talk, just try talking.
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Try Out a New You
If you know you're going to be pressing your partner for conversation if you stay home, go out with a friend. If you're at the movies and you feel angry that he's not taking your hand, talk only about the film when you leave the theater, not about your hurt feelings. Get creative about lowering the intensity between you and your partner, even if it's the last thing you feel like doing.
Calling off the pursuit doesn't mean distancing yourself or going into a cold withdrawal. Do the special things that you know will make him feel valued. Praise the specifics ("You were so funny at the party last night"), and dial down the criticism.
Pursue Your GoalsPursue Your Goals, Not Your Partner
Shift the focus from your partner to the direction of your own life. What talents or hobbies do you want to develop? What are your work goals? Do you want to make new friends or spend more time with old ones? Are you exercising, eating well and taking good care of yourself? What sort of home do you want to create? Focusing on you is the best antidote to getting overly focused on a distant partner.
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Know When Distance Signals Trouble
If you've been following the previous rules for three months and your partner's distance still feels problematic, don't stick your head in the sand: Speak up about your concerns and keep the conversation going over time. If nothing changes, get help. If your partner doesn't want to join you in therapy or counseling, go by yourself. Rather than staying on automatic pilot (that is, doing what you do naturally), be the one to change first.
-By Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
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