When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse

disconnected difficult conversation mad - not speaking - angry (Adobe Stock) Screen Shot 2016-06-13Do you feel disconnected from your spouse? The need for closeness and the reactions to being disconnected are a natural part of being human in close relationships. This is especially true in a marital relationship. Couples also long for closeness while protecting their hearts from being hurt and devalued. Spouses cling and cry, get angry and protest, or become withdrawn and detached when actually all they long for is closeness and to be valued.

There are ways couples interact that hurt the bond of their relationship. Pursuing and withdrawing is a common way couples relate that often leaves them far apart from each other. Many couples are stuck in a rigid pursue-withdraw cycle of interacting in an attempt to be seen and understood where one partner pursues and, in response, the other withdraws. The more the pursuer pursues, the further the withdrawer pulls away and shuts down.

Sharing Frustration

In the pursue-withdraw cycle, both partners are unable to share what is going on in their heart. They are only able to share their anger, frustration and hurt.

The pursuer feels the loss of his or her partner’s attention, care, or concern and so searches out him or her with anger, frustration, and hurt. The pursuer feels that if he or she does not pursue, he or she will not be seen or understood. Wives, who are usually the pursuers, often say, “I nag because I feel he will not hear me. He’s just not there emotionally. He can’t shut me out like that.”

The with-drawer, overwhelmed by the pursuer’s emotion, feels alienated and helpless in pleasing his or her partner. And so, in protection, the withdrawer pulls away. Husbands, who are often withdrawers, say they are left feeling devalued, disrespected, and unworthy. Unable to calm and soothe their wife, they withdraw to find peace.

Withdrawers frequently walk on eggshells and skirt around issues that may trigger displeasure in their spouse. Oftentimes withdrawers say that attempting to get their point across is not worth the hassle, because they feel that their spouse would not understand them anyway.

The Impact of the Cycle on Your Marriage Bond

When a spouse is busy pursuing or putting a lot of energy into withdrawing, he or she does not have the emotional space to hold his or her partner’s perspective and needs. Couples begin to see each other as unavailable and inconsiderate. They say of each other, “My husband (or wife) just doesn’t understand me. He (or she) isn’t there for me and no longer cares about how I feel.”

Sharing one’s heart freely begins to feel dangerous. Couples say, “There’s no way my spouse would understand me. I learned not to put my heart out there. Risking that would just mean I’d be hurt again.” When husbands and wives emotionally disconnect, their relationship no longer feels safe or secure. They no longer turn toward each other for support or comfort.

What Triggers Your Pursue-Withdraw Cycle?

Something happens, and suddenly you see your spouse in a different light. You perceive your spouse to no longer be the kind, thoughtful, loving person you married but rather the person who does not care about you or value your heart. And although you might not doubt your commitment or your love, you, in the moment, dislike your spouse.

We all have had a time when what our spouse did meant to us that they didn’t care. And when you feel your spouse doesn’t care, or is not there for you, your cycle is usually triggered. Too often differences are interpreted as “You don’t value me.”

Mary and Joe are very different from each other. Mary is a night owl and Joe is an early bird. Joe interpreted Mary’s inability to fall asleep at 9:00 P.M. as uncaring and disrespectful. Mary viewed Joe’s request for her to come to bed at 9:00 P.M. as unreasonable and insensitive to her need to relax after a long day at work. Their difference in internal body clocks is not seen as that but rather as the inability of the other to be sensitive and caring. Their differences become a threat to their close attachment bond.

Damaging Differences

When differences are seen as damaging to the relationship, you and your spouse judge one another as being the enemy rather than friends. Most of the time it was the differences that drew you and your spouse together in the first place. You were outgoing and bold, and your spouse was quiet and gentle. After hurts, disappointments, and inability to talk about the complications and difficulties that arise as a result of being different, the differences in your spouse change from positive to negative.

A connection comes when you and your spouse are able to sit together and risk talking openly. Don’t let the difficulties that differences bring trigger your rigid cycle of criticism, blame, defensiveness, and withdrawal. It is in this cycle that you and your spouse lose sight of each other’s value.

Sharing Heart needs and Longings

As a couple, it is important to talk about the needs, hurts, longings, and feelings of your heart in an open and honest way. In this way you and your spouse can find a path to each other instead of pursuing and withdrawing. Instead of this openness, all too many couples chose the disconnecting path. Or they chose to communicate in ineffective ways.

Expressing your needs and longings to your spouse can be difficult. Some people don’t know what they feel or need. Others feel that if their spouse really loved them, he or she would know what they needed without having to tell them. This expectation is very damaging to the relationship because it keeps your heart’s needs and longings hidden and your pain of being alone heightened. It tempts you to up the ante and angrily pursue your spouse to keep guessing what you need. It also sets up your spouse to withdraw in frustration, because no matter what he or she does, it is just not good enough.

Share Openly

If you are a withdrawer, it will be important for you to share openly and honestly your feelings and needs. Risk being emotionally available to your spouse. It might be important to admit, “I can’t come close to you and be there for you when you are angry and criticizing me.” In this way, you can allow yourself to be there for your spouse in a more open way.

If you are a pursuer, learn to express your heart rather than just getting angry or criticizing. Reach beyond your anger and harsh words to a softer place. From that place, express your longings and fears and ask for your spouse to be there for you. Interactions then won’t revolve around your anger and disappointment. You will both come together around the tender longings of your heart.

Don’t be afraid to admit that sometimes you don’t know what to do. Say something like, “I care for you, but I don’t always know what to say or do.” This invites your spouse to share what they need from you. In this way you are connecting in honesty and warmth instead of anger and defensiveness.

Disconnected Emotions and Hearts

Couples don’t always know what to do with each other’s emotions. Husbands are taught to buck up and not feel. And wives don’t always know how to express their feelings in a manner that their husbands can hear, understand, and respect. Often spouses fear that their emotions will be found unacceptable or that they will be thought of as weak. How you and your spouse deal with your emotions will be very important to your bond. So what are you supposed to do with your spouse’s emotions? Try listening.

Listen to your spouse’s emotions with an empathetic attitude. Listen not only with your logic but with your heart as well. Aim to understand your spouse’s heart. To do that you often have to listen beyond the words. You don’t always have to find a solution, fix what is wrong, or solve the problem. Often spouses can’t just listen to their partner’s heart without being defensive, reading into the conversation more than what was intended, or being hurt by what is said. Learn to say, “That must have been difficult.” “Sounds like you had a rough day.” “I would be disappointed if that kept happening to me too.”

Both husbands and wives long to be heard, understood, and respected. Most often your spouse comes to you to share his or her heart and life. Listening is the most powerful way to show your spouse that you understand and accept him or her.

Reconnecting Your Hearts

It will be important for you and your spouse to emotionally reconnect as soon as possible after being hurt and hooked into your cycle. Remember, disconnecting and not talking for days or sweeping the whole encounter under the rug and coming back together to take care of household tasks is not a reconnection of hearts. It is only a connection of schedules. Unresolved hurts and issues add strain and stress to your haven of safety. Soon you and your spouse learn not to turn toward each other but rather away.

HOW SHOULD YOU CONNECT AFTER BEING HURT?

Remember four things:

First, God was wise when he told us not to let the sun go down on our hurts, especially anger. Turn your hearts toward each other as soon as you are able. Before the end of the day is God’s preference.

Second, come back together and acknowledge what happened. Understand your as well as your spouse’s part of the cycle. Admit to your role in keeping the cycle going. Remember, your bond is more valuable than your being right.

Third, share your hurts and needs rather than your anger and frustration. Remember you both value the relationship. Neither wants to hurt or be hurt.

Fourth, when all is said and done, touch and talk to each other in a soft tone of voice, sharing encouraging words. This can be very powerful. The touch of your spouse is physiologically soothing and calming. It assures both of you that the bond is safe and sure.

CREATING CONNECTIONS:

There are many ways to build the attachment bond between you and your spouse. Here are three ways that are effective:

• First, pray together daily.

Beginning and ending your day in the presence of the Lord not only turns each of your hearts toward each other, it turns your hearts toward the safest place you’ll ever know: in your heavenly Father’s presence. Couples who pray together stay together, because by praying together they’re strengthening the bond between them in the presence of God. That’s powerful.

• Second, believe the best of intentions of your spouse.

Your spouse isn’t always out to get you, even though it seems that way at times. You long to be loved and valued, and so does your spouse. Believe that. Be there for each other as God refines and molds each of you into the image of Christ.

• Third, risk doing things differently.

Open up your heart and learn how to relate to your spouse in a way that draws you together.

When Your Relationship Is a Safe Place

It will be of great value that the emotional attachment bond between you and your souse becomes close, safe, trustworthy, and predictable. If your marriage is perceived to be a haven of safety, you and your spouse will be a resource for each other and able to withstand the pressures and pains of marriage and life.

But a close attachment bond doesn’t just happen. It is over the course of time and experiences, as each of you interact and respond to each other, that your bond will be nurtured and strengthened. In this way you will experience your relationship as a safe place where your heart can safely be shared and cherished.

This article came from the book, The Complete Marriage Book: Collected Wisdom from Leading Marriage Experts compiled by David and Jan Stoop, published by Fleming H. Revell. Their book contains a wealth of collective wisdom from authors such as Dr Norman Wright, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, Roger and Becky Tirabassi, Gary and Carrie Oliver, Dave and Claudia Arp, Paul and Jan Meier, Greg and Erin Smalley and more. This particular chapter, in it’s edited form, is titled “Creating a Safe and Close Connection.” Sharon Hart Morris wrote this particular one.

— ALSO —

The following is a Crosswalk.com article written by April Motl, which could be helpful to read:

Making Your Marriage a Safe Haven

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Filed under: Communication and Conflict

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215 responses to “When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse

  1. I let God choose my spouse this time. I’m unhappy. I find myself withdrawn from my spouse and God. I’m so hurt and irritated all the time from his criticism and sarcasm toward everyone and everything and he thinks he’s just being funny and gets defensive that he can’t joke around. There is no to very little intimacy. I don’t like it and get turned off by the vulgar, 14 yr old vocabulary he uses and thinks it’s funny. In being a light sleeper, I’m at my wits end with snoring in my ear, breathing on me and invading my sleep space as if I’m a body pillow. I’m beginning to believe I wasn’t meant to be married. I was happier when it was just me and Jesus. I don’t think I’m capable to be who he needs me to be. Or that I even want to be. He’s a good man, a servant, good to me, but yet I dread being in his presence too long. To be married, yet lonely. What’s the point?

    1. Hi Rebecca, I noticed your comment is over a year old but prayerfully your still using the site for encouragement and support. I just want to share with you that I began praying for you and your husband and your marriage. I am currently “unhappy” in my marriage right now and could relate to some of your comments …especially the ending question, “To be married, yet lonely. What’s the point?”. I believe it’s even more challenging to hold up when as a Christian we know God’s plan for marriage. (For me, although I respect my husband’s position in our home and marriage it’s so hard to respect the person or even like him right now). So I have concluded that the purpose of marriage is to make us Holy not necessarily Happy (although I DO believe that’s suppose to be in there too). It strengthens my faith (as hard as it is at times) to pray for him when I really wanted to pretend he’s not in the room, to care for him, even when he’s speaking not so kind to me. So I pray for God’s intervention in your home and that He strengthens you Woman of God! Be Blessed.

  2. I feel so sad my marriage is not what I hoped for. I feel my tears are in vain. He only ignores me if I cry. It’s nice at times but only if it involves doing things that are his interests. We don’t have date night but once every several months…it’s always with the kids. I love our children, but seriously it’s sad seeing others have time when I don’t. We have so much stress on us and I’m tired of being on call always trying to do whats right 24/7; he doesn’t care or see it. I have so much to lose if I leave & I don’t want the kids to be in pain but I’m tired of coming last…

  3. I’m seeing something in common here with feeling as if you get the silent treatment. I feel that way…if I cry it’s by myself to myself…I don’t tell my family because I don’t want them to treat my husband bad because of it. I am dying inside… I am a good mom…not perfect, we took in my husband’s son who treats me poorly but has issues & his own mom abandonded him so I am hopeful he will get better. We rarely have time to go out…I have no life outside of work…I slowly had less time for myself & friends as was seen as unnecessary…now I am truly alone with my feelings.

    1. Me too for 21 years of marriage nursing my own heartaches. My husband seems to not care, does not even comfort me since we got married. If I have issues that involve him he just withdraws right away and gives me the cold treatment. He only talks, laughs, and smiles at me when I am not angry or upset. Now I feel tired of always pursuing him to have good communication or a good relationship. I am so much frustrated of always telling him about how I feel.

      1. Hi Lorna, I’m so sorry that you find yourself in this place. My husband and I went through a similar journey a number of years ago, except it was accompanied by a lot of arguing. Fortunately, with the Lord’s help, we were able to get to a better place. We now have a GREAT marriage, and are very connected, and we both feel loved and validated. I know that the journey is different for everyone but I have a few suggestions that may help. At the very least, I’m sure you can glean some things from them to apply to your relationship with your husband that will help you in some way.

        The first is a two-part (half hour) radio broadcast that the ministry of Focus on the Family aired just recently. It was one of their most popular programs that they aired in 2017. Here’s a description of the program: “LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner describe how their marriage was once headed for ruin because of his passivity and her strong-willed nature, and how God transformed their relationship through His healing power. The Wagners offer hope and encouragement to struggling couples in a discussion based on their book, Men Who Love Fierce Women.” What was really relevant in this is that Kimberly felt disconnected in their marriage. She felt like he didn’t even try to make things right and withdrew from her when she was the least bit emotional. But LeRoy explained his part in this… he doesn’t give excuses, but explains the other side. They learned a lot and found ways to connect so they now have a great marriage. The link to listen to the first part of the program is: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/loving-and-leading-your-strong-woman-pt1. And here’s a link to the second part: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/loving-and-leading-your-strong-woman-pt1. Also, here is a link to the book that they wrote:Men Who Love Fierce Women

        Please make the time to listen to those programs. And don’t wait if it’s possible. For some reason Focus on the Family usually move their programs after 30 or 60 days so it’s harder to find them after that. I’m not sure why they do it, but they do. And then here’s another article with others linked within it that may be able to help you to better understand your husband. Within the article, we give a link to a book that may give you some added insight. It’s a book I highly recommend you read. It is written by Milan and Kay Yerkovich and is titled, How We Love. It’s published by published by Water Brook. The authors of this book “draw on the tool of an attachment theory to show how your early life experiences created an ‘intimacy imprint’ —an underlying blueprint that shapes your behavior, beliefs, and expectations of all relationships, especially your marriage. They identify four types of injured imprints that combine in marriage to trap couples in a repetitive dance of pain. The principles and solution-focused tools in this book will equip you to… –identify the imprints disrupting your marriage –understand how your love style impacts your mate –break free of negative patterns that hinder your relationship –enhance your sexual intimacy, and –create a deeper, richer marriage.” I heard the Yerkovich’s talk about this subject and could see how it could absolutely change the lives of many couples in positive ways as they better understood each other’s communication styles. It’s truly an enlightening book –revealing things I never realized before. I thought it might be something you may want to read through yourself to see if it helps you.

        Between these articles and books, I believe you could gain some insights. I hope so and pray you will gain wisdom as to why your husband is acting this way. I know that some husbands (and some wives too) just don’t know how to handle emotions that they don’t feel that they can fix. So instead they withdraw, hoping it will all work itself out somehow. But it doesn’t usually work that way, unbeknownst to them. My husband used to do that. But he woke up and helped me to wake up and realize that we both needed to change some things. There’s another book that helped me to better understand this concept. It’s titled, Married but Not Engaged: Why Men Check Out and What You Can Do to Create the Intimacy You Desire. It’s written by Paul and Sandy Coughlin. I don’t know if you can get this book, but it can be very insightful to read.

        I know I gave you a lot to process here and to read through, but if you truly want insight, it will take some added effort. But it’s worth every word you read, every prayer you pray for insight, and every move you make towards trying to gain added insight into all of this. I hope this helps.

  4. I can relate fully to this post. My husband and I have only been married a year. He has already got “too comfortable” in my opinion – he has stopped trying to “win me” and do nice things for me. We aren’t intimate, we never go out and do things. He only cares about himself. He spends so much time on the computer, doing homework and playing games. He barely even has time for our daughter. It’s very frustrating and sad.

    I feel so sorry for her because I know she will grow up knowing her Dad was always “too busy”. Every time I try to talk to him about all my frustrations (and in a nice manner), he gets defensive, acts childish, and gets angry! He can’t even have a civilized conversation with me. I think he has anger and communication issues. He won’t go to counseling and I believe that is the only thing that will save our marriage. I’m at a point in my young life, I just want to be happy and feel connected to my partner. I haven’t felt connected to him in a very long time and I’m not sure if I will again. As much as it hurts my heart for my daughter, overall happiness is what is best for us. I may be filing for divorce.

    1. How do I deal with a husband who is totally oblivious to what could put our marriage in danger!?! – The first time I had a birthday as a newlywed my husband’s best friend had my favourite flowers delivered to the house. When I was expecting my first child his best friend visited me during the day and brought me some yarn to make something for the baby. On my 50th birthday while in Italy a young boy was selling roses at the restaurant where we were eating. My husband’s CEOS had invited us. When they heard it was my birthday they wanted to celebrate with champagne and when we told them we do not drink each one of them bought me a rose. My husband did not. He was proud of himself for having sales “resistance”.

      When I suspect someone’s intentions he considers me critical and negative and scolds me. Yet he had an affair just before our 6th wedding anniversary. On our 40th anniversary bought me a new ring and started opening up to the details of the affair. We went for counseling, he asked me to forgive him, our pastor prayed with us and for us. One day my husband told me that he was tired of fighting God and after 35 years he confessed that the affair he talked about never happened. Then he told me about the “real affair” and it turned out that it was with a different woman with a different name and she was a coworker who had invited us for dinner one day, before it all happened. We ate with her husband present. We were parents to two small children and she was the mother of two toddlers as well. I was shocked and so was my Pastor.

      My 50th anniversary is coming up. Our grown children are thinking of helping us celebrate but I personally feel that I would be betraying the well wishers since just about most of my married life has been a lie. In a moment of anger and despair I returned the wedding rings to my husband, but recently when I felt that I should have them back, I found out he cannot remember where he put them. Just tell me anything that could help the situation, spiritually at least since we are both born again Christians.

      1. Dear Mrs G. … Oh, how my heart goes out to you. This is such a tangled web. I’m not even sure where to start. But after praying, I will try. First off, as far as your husband’s disconnect emotionally –not giving gifts and celebrating your birthdays with you and such… I’m not sure why that is.

        The ministry of Focus on the Family just completed a two day radio broadcast where Dr David Clark discusses his book on the topic of “Moving from Loneliness to Intimacy in your Marriage.” He talks about being “Lonely Yet Married.” In that radio series and in his book, he talks about spouses who are disconnected from having a clue as to what their spouse needs from them. Then he talks about some of the reasons and some things that can be done about it. I recommend you listen to the broadcasts. The reason I say this is because of how sad it is that you are looking at 50 years of marriage and you have felt lonely for so much of it. But what would be sadder is to continue on that same path for 50 years and one day, or two days… etc. People CAN change. I’ve seen God perform miracles as a couple puts their hands into His and ask Him to show them how to walk into a “new beginning” for their life together.

        Here is the web site link for Part 1 of the series: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/moving-from-loneliness-to-intimacy-in-your-marriage-pt1. And here is the link for Part 2: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/moving-from-loneliness-to-intimacy-in-your-marriage-pt2. Please just give it a try. You are only limited by your own hesitation. Here is a link to the book Dr Clarke wrote on this subject for further study: Married…But Lonely: Stop Merely Existing. Start Living Intimately.

        Additionally, here is another book I recommend you read. It is titled (and here is a link to read more): How We Love. This book is written by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. It’s published by published by Water Brook. The authors of this book “draw on the tool of an attachment theory to show how your early life experiences created an ‘intimacy imprint’ —an underlying blueprint that shapes your behavior, beliefs, and expectations of all relationships, especially your marriage. They identify four types of injured imprints that combine in marriage to trap couples in a repetitive dance of pain. The principles and solution-focused tools in this book will equip you to… –identify the imprints disrupting your marriage –understand how your love style impacts your mate –break free of negative patterns that hinder your relationship –enhance your sexual intimacy, and –create a deeper, richer marriage.” I heard the Yerkovich’s talk about this subject and could see how it could absolutely change the lives of many couples in positive ways as they better understood each other’s communication styles. It’s truly an enlightening book –revealing things I never realized before. I thought it might be something you may want to read through yourself to see if it helps you.

        You might wonder why you would want to do all of this… after all, it was your husband who did all of this, which hurt your marriage relationship. The reason I recommend this is because someone has to be the hero here. And because you reached out and are obviously more aware of feelings, and healthy behavior, I’m thinking God is asking you to be the one to reach out for His help in this way.

        As far as his cheating behavior… there is NO WAY that any of this is acceptable in any way. I can only imagine how difficult this is for you to wrap your mind and your heart around. Your husband lied to you and to your pastor, and to everyone who trusted him, such as your children. But you mention that most of this came out on your 40th anniversary. Your 50th is now coming up. It seems that you still have a lot of hurtful feelings that need to be worked through and taken care of properly so you don’t keep dragging them around for the rest of your life. I HIGHLY recommend that you do that. This isn’t healthy for you or anyone in your life. Bitterness and on-going grieving will discolor every aspect of your life. You need to get the help you need so you can release the pain that keeps creeping into your emotions.

        We have several topics that I recommend you read through on this web site. We have some that deal with infidelity, and the “Bitterness and Forgiveness” topic would be a good one to read through. You have unresolved issues. Read through the quotes to start with, using God to talk to you. And then see where He directs you from there. You need to experience freedom from the pain you don’t deserve. God wants to help you with that, and find that place of joy in your life. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

        There are several ways you can do this. You can contact another counselor –one who is marriage-friendly who deals with infidelity issues. If you don’t know of one, you can contact the ministry of Focus on the Family at focusonthefamily.com. They have a great referral list. Also, they have counselors on staff that can point you in a good direction. They can at the very least help you to figure out what to do about the 50 year anniversary celebration. If it were up to me, I believe I might still have it because you have been together for 50 years. That is truly an accomplishment, especially with all you have gone through and the fact that your children want to honor you in this way. I would put my heart into enjoying the great party. Celebrate in Christ. As you can see throughout the Bible, God encourages His children to have feasts and celebrate all that God has done and is doing. But this is my opinion. You are not celebrating lies if you are celebrating what God is and has done. I’m not walking in your shoes, so pray about it. I pray for you that God will give you and your husband and your family “a new beginning” to years ahead that are joyful — not looking back, but forward.

  5. I’m also in a stagnant marriage of 21 years. My husband is a grudge holder as is his mother. There is way too much to type so I’ll hit on the basics if possible. 2009 he was diagnosed with third stage colon cancer. I took care of him 24/7 which is what is expected as his wife. However fast forward, he has always been a sneaky manipulator and his behavior resumed when he had his last chemo treatment.

    His mother never, ever was any moral support for me even though she lives 30 minutes away. Never. Back to his old tricks on the internet, going out after work, etc. I even joined the Catholic church as a last resort. And he never attended with me after all that. I’m stuck in a part time job with no benefits, while he brings home $1,500 a week. I get no financial help except a “roof over my head” according to what he has stated in the past…even though my name is on the mortgage too.

    He has been verbally abusive to me and our son in the past to the point that protective services came out a few years ago to talk to him. So now he’s come up with this manipulation scheme of cutting me off from everything. There is no intimacy since we sleep in separate rooms due to his extreme snoring. He refuses to go to the doctor for check ups, a repeat colonoscopy to check for return cancer, nothing. It’s as if he know that if he gets sick again, I’m going to be the one caring for him all over again. The last time left me emotionally drained; I had zero help. There is so much more to this story, but I’m frustrated beyond belief…