Category Archives: Relationships & Marriage

Married and Lonely: Being Emotionally Intimate


Last week we explored what contributes to emotional distance and how to address your own distance to be less lonely in your marriage. Most of you will naturally be more open, positive, and playful with your spouse when you address your own distancing mindsets and behaviors. But others of you will need some help taking down the walls you’ve built up and moving toward your spouse.

Let’s start with an example: You are feeling lonely, so you nudge your spouse: “I wish you listened to me like my friends do. It’s so hard for me to talk to you.”

Spouse responds with, “What are you talking about? I’m listening now.”

“When you stare at me with that blank face, I think you don’t care at all about what I have to say.”

Spouse reacts with, “That’s insulting. Of course I care about you.” Then your spouse storms out of the room.

Has this ever happened in your relationship? You give subtle nudges for more attention and approval. Yet when you try to get closer to your spouse, you end up co-creating more emotional distance!

That’s because our mate’s can sense when we are emotionally pulling and pushing on them, even if it’s subtle. And when we feel pressured or pursued, a natural reaction is to withdraw, shut down, or defend. Thus trying to pull your mate closer can actually bring more distance.

The key to increasing emotional intimacy is to be more intimate yourself, instead of trying to get your spouse to be more intimate first.  We are naturally competitive beings and tend to look for ways to shape up others to meet our needs. Learning to first look at how we are contributing to the things we are upset about will take practice and repetition.

Define Emotional Intimacy

First, let’s define what emotional intimacy means and looks like. Dr. Dan Papero, family therapist and international speaker, said it best when he defined intimacy as:

“…the ability to have a relationship with another human being in which I can be myself. And you can listen without correcting me or backing away. You can stay connected to me, and I can do the same for you.” ~ Dr. Papero, Divorce Video

In this definition, emotional intimacy comes from seeing your spouse as separate from you emotionally while maintaining good personal contact. Emotional intimacy isn’t merely expressing every thought and emotion you have, it’s getting calm enough to keep learning about each other. Often we listen to our assumptions, expectations, and hurt feelings more than keeping ourselves open to learning about each other.

It’s very hard to be open and listen if you are protecting yourself from hurt or assuming harm. On the other hand, when you feel less emotionally responsible or threatened by your spouse’s reactions and emotions, than you can be more open and emotionally available with your spouse.

Openness can be playful, light and easy going or it can be serious, curious, and interested in your spouse. We are open when we are calm and not reacting as if there is a threat. This openness comes and goes, and it can be hard to see our part in the times we feel less open.

3 Steps to Being Emotionally Intimate

Let’s break down how to feel closer without trying to pull your spouse closer, so you can find the choices you never knew you had.

1. Observe & Identify Your Own Distance: 

Instead of blaming your spouse, observe your own emotional distance. Observe what makes you switch from playful and open to closed off and distant. And identify how you switch back to being open again.

I know many of you are tempted to blame your spouse in this step. While your spouse plays a part, it’s important to not get sidetracked and convinced your reaction is completely your spouse’s fault. Read “Married and Lonely: Addressing Emotional Distance” for descriptions of behaviors, mindsets, and triggers to help increase your self-awareness of the part you play.

2. View Your Spouse as Separate Than You:

If you think you spouse’s behavior is a reflection of how he or she feel about you, then you will start getting critical and increase your emotional distance. Instead of assuming your spouse is avoiding you, find a more objective way to think about his or her actions.

For instance, if your spouse is being quiet when you talk, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. He may be concentrating hard, preoccupied with his own stress, or nervous about how to respond. When you think of your spouse as emotionally separate than you, then his or her behavior doesn’t define your self-worth. In this way, you don’t need to protect yourself and are more open to learning about your spouse.

3. Move Toward Your Spouse:

Most people will ebb and flow between how much time you want to spend with yourself and how much time you want in solitude. If you are wanting to be closer to your spouse, then move toward your spouse. Reach out without pressuring your mate to respond.

Join them in their activity or join them in the same room with your own activity/task. Instead of waiting on your spouse to move toward you, move toward him or her. And definitely move toward your spouse instead of complaining about what your spouse doesn’t do anymore.

How can you be more emotionally intimate with your spouse?


To work on your own emotional intimacy in your marriage, individuals and married couples can schedule a counseling appointment with Marci, or Missouri residents can also consult with her online via Talkspace.

Photo Credit: “Love is being stupid together” by Nattu

Married and Lonely: Addressing Emotional Distance


More married couples are lonely than ever before. And most feel hopeless on how to better connect with their spouse after many years of distance growing between them.

While you used to be able to tell your spouse anything. Over time, you learned what upsets your partner and you started avoiding those topics. Now  you aren’t as open as when you first started dating. And some of you are shutting down positive feelings that used to come naturally.

Many of you are even wondering if having an affair or divorce is the answer to deal with your loneliness in the marriage. But before you throw in the towel, let’s explore what contributes to this distance and how to address it.

While you may not return to the spark you had at the beginning of your relationship, you can develop a new, deeper level of emotional intimacy with your spouse. You do this by working on your own reactions and behaviors that are distancing, so you are more emotionally present, open, and playful with your spouse.

 Understand Emotional Distance

Before we address emotional distance, we must first understand it. Many couples get emotional distance confused with marriage differences. Having a different goal or interest than your spouse doesn’t mean you have emotional distance. People can have different interests and ideas, yet still have a great connection and intimacy.

Emotional distance is a pattern of interactions. It is an emotional response to a perceived emotional threat, and doesn’t occur without conflict either internally or externally. In other words, emotional distance is co-created in an attempt to avoid conflict or feelings of hurt and rejection.

Every couple develops some emotional distance the longer they are together. Most people try to work on their spouse’s distancing behaviors instead of their own. Typically, the more you try to get your spouse to understand your point, the more you end up pushing them away. 

Almost everyone enjoys a little distance from time to time. It only becomes a problem when it erodes the marriage friendship between a couple. To this extreme, you may feel little or no positive feelings for your partner. But once you realize you play a part in creating your own loneliness, you can begin doing something about your own distancing.

Address Your Own Emotional Distance

Next, think about what thoughts or feelings contribute to you distancing when talking, interacting, or disagreeing with your spouse. It’s so much easier to observe what your spouse does or doesn’t do that triggers you to pull away, and it’s much harder to observe our own distance. But becoming a good observer of ourselves is the key to addressing our own distancing tendencies and finding new choices.

Grab something to write with and record which of the following ways you distance, whether it’s pulling away internally or behaviorally. Some examples of emotional distance are:

  • Accomodating your spouse to keep the peace
  • Using work, hobbies, substances, or an affair to avoid conflict with your spouse
  • Turning to your kids for emotional or social needs more than your spouse
  • Pretending to agree but doing what you want behind your spouse’s back
  • Avoiding topics that upset your spouse
  • Being present physically but tuning your spouse out

Also record the reactions and behaviors you have that trigger emotional distance in you and/or your spouse. Here are some ideas to stir your reflections:

  • Taking differences and others’ moods personally
  • Being critical or thinking you’re the better spouse
  • Giving advice or diagnosing your spouse
  • Trying to prove your point and be heard
  • Complaining in an attempt to get your spouse closer to you
  • Being urgent and pressuring the other to talk
  • Being self-critical and think no one wants to be with you

If you record any of these ways of distancing, then you are probably having a hard time staying calm in your spouse’s presence. Kathleen Cauley, licensed marriage and family therapist, emphasizes that communication is less about getting your point heard, and more about calming down to hear. In this way, openness is “staying interested in your spouse without assuming: 1) it has something to do with you, 2) it hurts your feelings, or 3) it will get in your way.” ( from video: Myths about Communication.)

Challenge Your Negative Assumptions

So how do you get yourself calm enough to not pull away physically or emotionally? Find a new way to think when you interact with your spouse that makes you feel less emotionally threatened. Challenge your assumptions about your spouse, because your spouse’s behavior and/or response does not have to define your your value or importance!

For example, if your spouse is emotionally unavailable to you on occasion, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy without his/her response. Nor does it mean that your spouse don’t care about you or you aren’t important to him/her. But when you make these assumptions, you probably start pulling away to protect yourself.

Our assumptions fuel our distance, and emotional separateness creates intimacy and openness. Meaning his emotions are separate from how he feels about you. If you don’t take your spouse’s busyness, tension, or unavailability as a threat to your own emotional well being, then you are free to be emotionally available and upbeat. You don’t have to distance too. So when your spouse is available, you will be too.

Developing a new level of emotional intimacy is developing a new way of thinking, so you can create a new way of being with your spouse. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Married and Lonely Series” where I explore steps to “Being Emotionally Intimate.”

What are you doing or thinking that contributes to your distancing with your spouse?



To dig deeper into what is contributing to your emotional distance, Subscribe to Liberating Choices and receive the “Journal for Self-Reflection: 15 Questions to Increase Emotional Intimacy” FREE. 

Photo Credit: “Come Together” by Hartwig HKD

Adapting to Death in the Family

I am often asked how to grieve when someone dies in their family. Most people want to get through the grief process as fast as possible, because of the great deal of emotional pain that you experience when a relationship ends. Some individuals want to express all the emotions they are experiencing in hopes that they will get through their grief faster. And others try to distract their self from the pain or deny the loss’ impact on their family.

While I think it’s important to explore how the individual adapts to the loss of having this person in their life, it is just as important to explore how the family as a whole deals with the loss. Families vary in their ability to manage stressful events and emotionality.

Some losses have profound impact on how a family functions day to day, like in the death of parent in a young family. As anxiety increases in the family about future loss, heightened stress, and leadership changes, how does one get comfortable enough to explore and learn from these changes in the family?

Dr. Anne McKnight, Director of the Bowen Center for the Family, shares a different way of looking at death in the family beyond how one individual is coping. Dr. McKnight shares that the “death of an individual changes how a family operates.” To hear the 30-minute interview with Dr. Anne McKnight on how a family reacts and reorganizes itself after the death of a loved one, watch this:


While families vary in their ability to deal with stress, changes, and emotionality, the death can have a ripple effect for years to come. Prior to the loss, a family may have dealt with a stressor or symptom calmly, but now the family may be on high alert for future real or perceived threats.

The more aware one is that the death is having an impact on how they deal with everyday stressors, the more choices it opens up for how one adapts and moves forward. Awareness can also bring opportunities when a person felt stuck prior to the loss. For some, it is a natural time to re-evaluate their life, relationships, and goals.

So there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, just what works for you while taking a look at the whole picture. As you and your family try to adapt to the loss, it’s important to consider the role of the deceased person before their death and how the family deals with the relationship disruption over time. It’s natural to want to prevent loss and disruptions, just as it is to try to deal with the challenges we are dealt throughout life.


Subscribe to Family Matters on You Tube to hear more thoughtful interviews. The mission of the Bowen Center is “to assist families in solving major life problems through understanding and improving human relationships.”

And if you would like to explore how you and your family are adapting to the emotional wave of death of a loved one, you can schedule an appointment with Marci in Kansas City MO area or online either via “Skype” or Talkspace.