When your relations with your spouse reach the point of emotional withdrawal, your marriage has entered crisis mode.
At this time, your spouse has not physically left your marriage, but it will feel as if they are not there. They have stopped making any kind of emotional investment into the marriage, leaving you feeling rejected and a million miles apart.
Where you may have previously have argued about the issues in your marriage, now your spouse does not want to engage at all. They no longer try to discuss problems or even fight to get what they want.
When your spouse withdraws like this, it’s easy for you to want to follow suit. After all, what’s the point? If your spouse is meeting none of your needs and denying your every effort to meet theirs, you might feel like giving up too.
Chances are, you’re not feeling loved or wanted by your spouse right now. And although your relationship may seem like it’s fine to people on the outside, in reality it is slowly suffocating.
You’re sleeping in separate beds, taking separate trips away and eating meals at different times. You only communicate when necessary, such as about who’s picking the children up or whether the bills have been paid.
How has your marriage reached this point?
If this emotional distance between you and your spouse has been brought on suddenly, chances are there was some significant event or incident between the two of you that has not been resolved (you probably know what this is).
However, if the deterioration in your relationship has been more gradual, there are probably a lot of smaller issues that have gone unresolved in your marriage that are finally taking their toll.
For instance, some of these common causes of emotional withdrawal may have been experienced in your marriage:
Unmet needs: When a spouse’s attempts to have their needs met by their spouse are consistently denied, they can give up hope and emotionally withdraw from their spouse. These attempts may have ranged from soft, gentle requests to angry, demanding outbursts.
Eventually the denied spouse reaches the conclusion that it is no longer worth the effort and the pain trying to get their spouse to meet their needs and they withdraw, creating emotional distance.
Lack of effort: It is easy, especially for men, to just assume that the relationship is going fine and stop putting in as much effort as they used to. They start to take their spouse for granted and stop picking up on their spouse’s signals that they are in need of care and attention.
When a spouse no longer feels that they are their spouse’s top priority, they feel rejected, unwanted and abandoned. And as a result, they emotionally withdraw from the relationship.
Lack of time: Quality time is extremely important in maintaining a healthy relationship. But what often happens is that spouses over-commit themselves to things outside their marriage and end up having no time for each other anymore.
Their days are packed full with often unnecessary things they ‘need’ to be doing and time with each other is not even on their priority lists.
Things that used to be valued about the relationship, such as having deep conversations, playing with each other and romancing no longer have a place in the couple’s busy lives.
The truth is, a marriage cannot remain healthy and rewarding when contact between spouses is limited to a hurried goodbye in the morning and a quick catch up before bed over a bowl of heated leftovers.
In a strong marriage, spouses make each other a priority and regularly make the time to discuss everything that is going on in their lives and have fun together.
Harsh treatment: Every time you or your spouse treats each other with unkindness or disrespect, you are causing each other pain. Over time, this hurt can turn into a deep wound which becomes too much to bear.
And eventually, one or both spouses withdraw.
Things like criticism, making judgments and unkindly teasing your spouse are all examples of harsh treatment.
It is important for you and your spouse to regularly look at your own behavior and consider how well you are treating each other. Each spouse needs to be treated with kindness and respect in order to maintain a healthy relationship.
Being unforgiving of one another’s wrongs: Sometimes a spouse may feel so hurt by something their spouse has said or done that they refuse to forgive them. And to avoid being hurt like this again in future, the unforgiving spouse emotionally shuts down and puts up defensive walls against their spouse.
But unfortunately, unforgiveness only leads to isolation and prevents a couple from reconnecting. Until a person is forgiven, nothing they do to try and make things right will have any effect.
To reduce the damaging effects of unforgiveness, spouses need to be willing to seek forgiveness when they have hurt each other, and offer forgiveness when their spouse has hurt them. Apologizing and forgiving are the first steps in reuniting.
Fear of talking through problems: As mentioned above, emotional withdrawal arises from having unresolved issues in your relationship. And if one or both spouses have an inability or fear of talking through their marital problems, then there is no chance of these issues being solved.
Unwillingness to bring up problems may come from a fear of your spouse’s reaction or an idea that talking about it won’t help. And it’s true, your spouse may react with anger or pain, which is hard to face.
But in order to resolve an issue in your marriage, it needs to be talked about. It IS possible to communicate and even fight about certain issues without damaging your relationship – especially when you learn to fight fairly and respectfully (without belittling or shaming one another).
But without the courage and skills needed to voice problems, the emotional distance in your marriage will continue to grow.
Living in denial: Often, when things have started to go downhill in a marriage, neither spouse wants to admit that it's happening. And usually the person truly needing to make some changes in their behavior is the most likely to deny the existence of these problems.
It’s easy to think that problems will ‘fix themselves’ or ‘go away’ over time. But living in denial doesn't fix things - it only causes the marital relationship to disintegrate to the point where the couple no longer feels love or trust.
Working through emotional withdrawal: If any of the above causes have hit home for you, you probably have some idea of the factors which have created the emotional distance between you and your spouse.
At the moment, trying to save your relationship may seem hopeless, due to your spouse’s lack of responsiveness. But identifying the root causes of your problems is a great first step.
If you are truly serious about trying to save your marriage, it is possible to get your spouse back. But in order to do this, you need to be prepared to be the one to break the ice and try to reconnect, no matter what the costs.
Don't settle for living in a distant, loveless marriage. Be the one to break the deadlock and slowly lead your spouse back into love and intimacy.
Read the steps below to find out how you can re-establish a loving connection with your spouse after emotional withdrawal:
1. Lower your own defenses.
When YOU are in the state of withdrawal, your own emotional needs cannot be met because your defenses block any love deposits your spouse tries to make.
So although you are wanting your SPOUSE to lower their defenses and let you in, you need to let your own down first. This means to stop trying to block your spouse out and start trying to reconnect with them.
Doing this does mean you are opening yourself up to potential pain. But this is an essential part of the healing process.
2. Ask your spouse if you can talk… until they agree.
It is essential that you and your spouse address the real issues that are going on in your relationship. And as your spouse is currently withdrawn, it’s up to you to make the first move in initiating this conversation.
Try to pick your timing wisely – approach your spouse when you are both in a relatively calm state of mind and are not busy doing something.
Rather than launching into the relationship conversation right then and there, ask your spouse if there is a time that the two of you can set aside to talk through your issues.
Be gentle but persistent about your desire to talk until your spouse agrees. Allow them to pick a time which will suit them, but make sure it is in the near future – you don’t want to leave it for more than a week.
3. Prepare yourself with what you want to say.
Before you have the talk, it’s important to take the time separately to think through the unresolved issues that you'll be discussing. This will ensure that every issue between you and your spouse will be brought up and addressed.
Think about your own concerns in the relationship and the needs you have which currently aren’t being met, but also think about the aspects of your behavior that YOU feel that you could improve.
Right now, you are feeling abandoned by your spouse, and it’s easy to identify all of the needs that they are not meeting of yours. But you also need to ask yourself a tough question: What have I done to drive my spouse away?
In asking yourself these questions, you are identifying what you need from your spouse but you are also taking ownership of any of your own wrongdoings in the relationship.
Writing down these thoughts down may help you to prepare, but even if you choose to just think them through, make sure you are prepared to be completely open and honest with your spouse in what you have to say.
4. Communicate with honesty and respect.
When it comes time to have your discussion with your spouse, the approach to take is to be direct but gentle.
This means expressing your true feelings and thoughts to your spouse, but doing this in the most gentle and respectful way possible.
It is okay to communicate that you have been hurt by some aspects of your spouse’s behavior, but make sure you do this without criticizing them as a PERSON or laying down a lot of blame.
Instead, try to use “I” statements, such as; “I feel really unwanted when you come to bed and roll over to face the wall without talking to me or touching me. I miss how we used to cuddle and kiss before bed”.
This kind of statement will come across a lot better than a “blaming” statement, such as; “You always just turn away from me when you come to bed. You never touch or kiss me anymore”.
That doesn’t mean to say that your spouse might not still react with some defensiveness, but at least they will understand your feelings about this issue and why it is upsetting you.
Neither of you has anything to gain by holding back your true feelings. Remember, it is unresolved issues which lead to emotional withdrawal. So be sure to get all of your true feelings out on the table, and be prepared to listen to your spouse’s.
If your spouse starts to get upset, don't allow yourself to rise to their words of pain or anger. Instead, try to remain calm and show that you are prepared to listen to everything they have to say. You may disagree with some of your spouse’s viewpoints, but their feelings are real and should not be dismissed.
And if your spouse brings up an aspect of YOUR behavior which has been hurting them, which you know yourself is not good enough, accept responsibility for this and apologize. Lead the way in showing your spouse that it is okay to admit you’ve done wrong.
Be sure to talk through all of the major issues in your relationship and ask each other any tough questions you have been pondering – no matter how hard it is to hear your spouse’s answers.
And if everything gets a bit heavy at some point, you can take a break to cool down as long as you both agree to continue.
Regardless of who may be more at fault for what has gone wrong, you are both equally responsible for repairing of your marriage.
5. Take steps towards meeting your spouse’s unmet needs.
Now that you and your spouse have talked, you have the ability to lead the way in taking action and making changes to your own behavior, in order to start meeting your spouse’s needs.
Make sure you fully understand the needs that your spouse was expressing through their side of your relationship discussion. From here, you can think of ways in which you can start to meet those needs and show your love and care.
For instance, by reducing any behaviors which were hurting your spouse, and starting to do the things your spouse wants or needs more from you in the relationship.
Make your spouse your number one priority right now.
There are changes your spouse will need to make too, but even if they are not prepared to make these straight away, they can’t stop you from taking the steps that YOU need to take.
In order for you and your spouse to regain your connection, you each do need to be prepared to make apologies and offer forgiveness for the things that have gone wrong in your relationship. By leading the way in doing this, you are guiding your spouse to do the same.
6. Nurture your relationship.
Closing the emotional gap and re-establishing your connection with your spouse will be a gradual process that takes time and effort.
You need to agree to make your relationship a priority and spend some quality time together. Now is a good time to make room for your spouse in your schedule by clearing out all of the unnecessary commitments which take up your day-to-day life.
You may have been living virtually separate lives lately, but it’s time to start taking steps to merge them together again. For instance, by making a point of having breakfast and dinner together.
Step out of the eye-for-an-eye mindset and instead focus on giving. The more you give to your spouse, the more you will start receiving. Small gestures of warmth, kindness, and efforts to rekindle the romance between you will go a long way in reconnecting with your spouse.
For example, making the chocolate brownie you used to make for your spouse when you were first dating. Or taking initiative and giving your house, garden or bedroom a spruce up to show that you care about the environment that you and your spouse share.
7. Choose to love unconditionally.
You cannot control your spouse's behavior, but you can control your own. Regardless of how your spouse is acting towards you, you can choose to always treat them with love.
Remember, love is a CHOICE, and true love involves loving someone completely - for all of their assets and their flaws.
Loving your spouse unconditionally is not easy to do when they are not reciprocating, but this is what will truly show your spouse that you are serious about saving your marriage.
Eventually, your unconditional love will melt down your spouse’s emotional defenses.