In an Emotionally Distant Relationship? Here’s Help

4 rituals of connection to help you re-engage your partner.

If you feel alone when you’re single, at least there’s the idea, the hope, that when you do enter into a relationship then the feeling of loneliness will resolve. But when you’re in an emotionally distant relationship… it can feel like there’s no way out. 

You can’t tell yourself, “It’ll get better when I find someone.” You have found someone, but you’ve lost the connection.  

Practicing rituals of connection with your partner helps you bridge the emotional distance in your relationship. Having to put intentional effort into your relationship doesn’t mean it’s broken. Taking just a few minutes each day to tune into your spouse can make all the difference.  

 

The Supercharged Emotional Connection

 

 

As it turns out, the feeling of “being in love” has more to do with what’s going on in your head than in your heart. 

In any new romantic relationship, there are usually three stages

  1. Lust
  2. Attraction
  3. Attachment 

Each of these stages is defined by a unique cocktail of neurotransmitters in your brain, which deliver the distinct features of each stage. 

The Lust Stage

This stage is pretty straightforward. When you lust after someone, the main goal is sex. 

You may or may not want to spend quality time with that person, but you definitely want to sleep with them. 

The Attraction Stage

The attraction stage is the one we associate with the classic symptoms of being in love. 

All you want to do is spend time with the other person. You feel giddy, you can’t stop thinking about them, you’ve got the butterflies – even things like eating and sleeping take a back seat. In terms of brain chemicals, this phase is similar to an addiction – getting to see your new love activates the reward center of your brain. You’re flooded with neurotransmitters telling you this is the best thing ever. 

In this stage, any red flags that come up in your relationship barely even get noticed – you’re too happy to be concerned. This attraction stage is also called “limerence,” and can last anywhere from three months to three years. 

The Attachment Stage

Eventually, that flurry of giddy neurotransmitters subsides and gets traded for oxytocin, which is also called the “cuddle hormone.” This is when you move into the attachment stage of a relationship. 

For many couples, this shift spells the first major challenge in their relationship. You’ll likely start to feel more annoyed and irritated with your partner, and like the romance just isn’t coming easily anymore. But don’t let emotional distance in your relationship fill you with dread. It’s normal but you do need to take steps to address it.

 

Emotional Distance Isn’t the End 

 

As much as it may feel like it, moving out of the butterflies-in-your-stomach, can’t eat, can’t sleep phase of love… doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship. It’s literally a chemical shift in your brain that’s giving you a new perspective and new priorities – and new challenges to navigate.

One of the most noticeable things to go when you shift out of the attraction phase is the time and interest you devote to your partner. Your reward center no longer lights up like the 4th of July every time you connect with your partner. And as other things put constant demands on your time, you find yourself growing distant from your partner.  

You may think that if your relationship takes intentional work, then there’s something wrong with it. But, I want to challenge that belief. 

Needing to intentionally connect with your partner doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. It means you’re moving into a phase of maturity and trust, rather than blind enthusiasm. A lot of things that are worth having take hard work, and healing an emotionally distanced relationship is no different.  

 

Bridge Emotional Distance with 4 Rituals

 

happy couple on couch drinking coffee

 

One of the fundamental pillars of reconnecting in an emotionally distant relationship is to create what the world-renowned relationship experts John and Julie Gottman call “rituals of connection.” 

As formal as the word “rituals” sounds, these don’t have to be anything fancy. All it means is that you and your partner intentionally set times where you come together. You honor these times and trust each other to show up.

And yes, there’s the classic “date night” you can have with your spouse, but there are also other opportunities to connect with each other in a meaningful way. 

Examples of rituals of connection are: 

  1. Kissing each other goodbye and hello when you go to/from work (even if that’s just to your home office nowadays).
  2. Setting aside 10 minutes a day to have a meaningful, stress-reducing conversation.
  3. Having a weekly state of the union (and no, this doesn’t mean watching political speeches each week).
  4. Having a weekly date night (or day, or afternoon).

Let’s explore each of these more.

 

1. The Six-Second Kiss

 

man kisses woman

 

One of the most practical – and romantic – things you can do to rekindle the connection in your relationship is to practice what the Gottmans term the six-second kiss. Which, as you may have guessed, is a kiss that lasts for six whole seconds. 

There are a number of reasons a long daily kiss makes a positive difference in your relationship: 

  1. Kissing releases oxytocin, which makes you feel more attached to your partner.
  2. Kissing creates a ritual where you know that no matter what, you’ll connect with your partner for at least those 6 seconds.
  3. Kissing reintroduces potential and desire in your relationship.

And this isn’t any old peck on the lips: This kiss ought to be a kiss with potential. One that would make your granny blush if she saw you. A kiss that transports you to when you were smooching in the backseat of your car rather than in your kitchen, surrounded by dog hair and kids’ toys. 

If you’re feeling emotionally distant in your relationship, this might feel like an awkward thing to initiate with your partner. I encourage you to brave the vulnerability you’re feeling, and try it anyway. 

 

2. The Stress-Reducing Conversation

 

Another ritual of connection is what the Gottmans call the stress-reducing conversation.Essentially, it’s a more intentional and meaningful take on the, “How was your day, dear?” conversation. 

Here’s how to have a successful stress-relieving conversation:

  • Take Turns – Let your partner speak uninterrupted while it’s their turn.
  • Listen Actively – Put away your phone and listen with intention, rather than just thinking of what you’re going to say next.
  • Express Understanding Rather Than Advice – Resist the urge to try and “fix” the situation. Instead, focus on understanding and empathizing with what your partner is experiencing.

One of the best ways to make these conversations meaningful is to ask open-ended questions. This may make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable at first. As you remain curious about your partner, though, these questions will lead you into an even deeper connection. 

Examples of open-ended questions are:

  • What’s stressing you out the most at work this week?
  • What are you most excited about at work right now? 
  • Who do you most enjoy working with and why?
  • What are your feelings about that? 
  • What’s the hardest part about that? 
  • How does that relate to your past experiences? 

While many of these examples are work-focused, these types of questions can be used for anything – for talking about parenting, politics, you name it. Having a daily conversation like this doesn’t have to take more than five minutes, but it gives you both the confidence that your partner cares about you, knows you, and loves you. 

 

3. Weekly State of the Union

 

couple drinking coffee and holding hands

 

Set aside a time each week – morning, afternoon, evening, whenever – and check in with your partner about the logistics of your relationship. 

As unsexy as it may be to acknowledge it, there are a lot of logistics involved in a relationship. Finances, grocery shopping, cooking, driving the kids to soccer practice – all of these affect your relationship. 

You may not draw a direct line from talking about who’s going to pack the kids’ lunches to rekindling the romance in your marriage. But the resentment that comes from not addressing the logistics can derail just about any relationship. Communication, connection, intimacy – resentment ruins it all. 

So set aside a time to check in with your partner and truly ask each other how things are going.

As with all of these rituals of connection, this doesn’t have to be overly formal. One of my favorite suggestions for a weekly state of the union was from a couple I worked with: they set it up as a weekly happy hour event out on their deck – complete with wine and snacks! 

 

4. Weekly Date Night

 

 

For many couples, a weekly date night is one of the first things to go when they move out of the attraction stage and into the attachment stage. But on the flip side, couples who have a strong connection often credit weekly date nights as one of the most relationship-saving strategies they’ve implemented. 

Now, there are two main objections I hear when I talk with clients about scheduling intentional dates together, so let’s dig into them.

Objection 1: It’s Not Romantic

Many couples say that it’s not romantic if they have to schedule their dates. They want their dates to happen naturally.

I get it. Scheduling your hot dates might not sound as wildly romantic as having them occur spontaneously. But what’s more romantic: scheduled dates, or no dates? 

Plus, when you intentionally set aside time to connect with your partner, you get to look forward to it all week. And you’ll end up spending more time together than you would if you didn’t plan ahead.

Objection 2: No Time

The second common objection I hear is that couples just don’t have time for weekly date nights. They’re too busy with kids, work, family…

This is completely understandable. Planning date nights (or date days, date mornings) is tough when life gets busy – especially when you add children to the mix. (If you have a new baby, you’ll definitely want to read this post about how to NOT resent your partner!)

For many of my clients with kids, their dates aren’t the classic set-up of going out for dinner and a nice evening. Instead, they’ve gotten creative. Maybe your date is meeting up on your lunch break. Or maybe you play a round of your favorite board game together while the kids are asleep. 

Whatever your objections are, I promise you that making time for each other is worth it. Whenever, wherever, however that happens, spending quality time together brings your relationship closer. 

 

Practical Changes to Reconnect

 

man and woman relax on couch as seen from behind

Now, a lot of these rituals of connection involve emotional work – setting aside the time and energy to intentionally deepen your relationship. 

One thing to consider, though, is that sometimes there’s a simple, practical aspect that just requires a little tweak…  

  • Do you not sit together on the sofa because it’s uncomfortable? Maybe get a new sofa. 
  • Do you sleep in separate rooms because one of you snores? Consider a nose-strip, ear plugs, even a sleep study. 
  • Do you not connect at home because everyone’s in their own part of the house? Try setting up a central area (like barstools at the kitchen counter) where you can visit with your partner while making dinner, and the kids can even do their homework. 

Goodbye to Emotional Distance in Your Relationship

 

As you move forward in your week, challenge yourself to implement two new rituals of connection in your relationship. Try them with your spouse for two weeks, and then talk about how each of you felt about that experience. 

Despite the challenges, learning to reconnect in an emotionally distant relationship is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do in your life. You’ve got this!