When a relationship feels stuck or distant, it is hard to know how to rekindle the connection and create a sense of shared closeness again. You may have the same reasons for feeling disconnected as your partner: working too much, poor sleep, and too much time spent on electronics are common explanations for couples drifting apart. You may be puzzled at your partner’s remoteness and seeming disinterest in your relationship. If you’ve made gentle inquiries and are not getting anywhere, you’re probably trying to figure out how to take more direct action without adding to the tension. Maybe you’re worried he or she is involved with someone else or even having an affair.
Direct questions about inflammatory topics such as affairs are likely to cause a defensive reaction and shut down dialogue. Asking your partner to go on dates or get intimate may backfire if you’re living in an atmosphere of buried resentments.
You may find you get more productive results if you choose a time to talk when there are few distractions. Early in the weekend, you could ask if Sunday afternoon would be a good time to go someplace for a walk or get a snack at a place you both like. While a glass of wine or beer may be a pleasant relaxant, it is a potential distraction in this kind of conversation, so doing some light outdoor activity may be your best bet.
Starting off with some appreciation can help: “I know you’ve been working a lot lately. I just miss taking our special time together.” Or, “The kids take up a lot of space in life. I want to make sure we stay connected.”
If that doesn’t go anywhere, you can offer low-key overtures: “I’m feeling a bit adrift here.” Or, “I notice I’m kind of hesitant to talk to you right now. I’m not really sure why, so I thought I’d go ahead and try anyway. Are you up for that?”
Other conversation starters might include: “I’m wondering how you think we’re doing these days.” Or, “When I think about how things were this time last year, it is feeling pretty different. What’s your perspective?”
If the response you get is anything other than warm or concerned, you’ll need to manage your own reaction. Getting anxious or demanding will not be useful. Wrap up with something like this: “I guess now is not a good time. Let me know when we can connect. It seems like you’re not happy, and I’d like to know what I could do to make things better.” Or, “Wow, I’m kind of taken by surprise here. I thought we could check in is all. Maybe we both need some more time to put our thoughts together.” Or, “I’m concerned that I opened a can of worms. I don’t want to keep talking if it doesn’t feel right. I bet we can come up with some good ideas later, when we’re not upset.”
Doing this successfully takes self-control and the ability to calm yourself; we develop these capacities over time, with practice. However, these skills are worth developing for many reasons and will serve you well in various areas of life, including your career, so starting with your personal relationship is time well spent. If you can show this kind of maturity and behave reasonably with your partner, he or she is more likely to want to talk to you, especially if he or she is somehow struggling in life or in the relationship. Managing your own responses is the best way to gain your partner’s respect and affection.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kate McNulty, LCSW, therapist in Portland, Oregon
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