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What to Do When One - or Both - Partners Pull Away

Have you been feeling distant from your partner lately? When one or both partners pull away from the relationship, it can feel lonely. You don’t talk about much more than what’s for dinner or what you should watch on tv that night, and your partnership may feel very one-sided. But what is causing the divide? And even more importantly, how can you fix it before it’s too late?

Why Partners Pull Away

The slow pull away from your partner can happen consciously or happen over the course of years. In the latter case, we get busy with day to day life, wrapped up in work, family, and the home, and stop taking the time to connect deeply with our partners. Then one day, you wake up and feel like you barely know one another any more! You have both been changing and growing without including the other.

On the other hand, some partners pull away due to conflict. Rather than engage again in the same argument or negative pattern, it becomes easier to simply pull away. It’s a way of protecting yourself so you don’t get hurt again. But if you are avoiding interacting within your relationship, you may as well be roommates rather than romantic partners. You can’t have a healthy relationship if you aren’t committed to maintaining it.

The Consequences of Emotional Distance

Once emotional distance is established, you might be thinking “why bother?”. It may feel easier to pull away than to open yourself up to your partner and make the move to become closer again. It may feel easier, because being vulnerable is scary. Yet the alternative, avoidance, is much worse.

Sidestepping the truth will keep tripping you up each time you come upon it. Even though it might feel easier to pull away and keep your distance, it will only increase the distance between you. This is often accompanied by loneliness, resentment, and even anger, depending how long you have been doing down this path.

So before you have moved so far apart that you feel like you will never find each other again, take a chance to rebuild your bridges.

How to Feel Closer to Your Partner Again

Whatever the reason there is distance between you and your partner, there are ways to close the gap between you.

1. Start communicating again. Most couples that come to me for support tell me that they lack communication. Guess what? The number one way to improve communication between the two of you is to start talking again! The trick is to take time to talk about real things.

Go for a walk, and ask how they are feeling in the relationship, how they are feeling about life these days, and go deeper than the day-to-day conversations. Do you remember when you first started dating, and you could talk for hours about everything and nothing? You were discovering one another. There is still more to discover! It may be even more important now that you are sharing your lives together. Check in with each other, and listen.

2. Touch your partner. Physical connection is essential to the survival of a relationship, and when there is a disconnect emotionally, there is usually physical distance as well. Simple acts of affection like a soft touch, holding hands, a hug, or a kiss can all be bids for connection.

3. Be nice and avoid criticism. When needs go unmet, we tend to jump into survival mode and put up our guard. We do this to protect ourselves from being hurt more. Yet this constant defense mode means we will attack the slightest threat. Microaggressions like rolling eyes, name-calling, saying "whatever," and other daily slights can be devastating to your relationship. Try to be more aware of any microaggressions and stop them; be more conscious to find kind words to express to your partner.

Are you trying to do better in your relationship, but keep slipping up? Read more on how to handle these little slips.

4. Learn your partner’s love language. You may think that you do things nice for your lover, but you may not be doing the things that meet their need to feel loved. If you aren’t sure about what they need to feel loved, ask them for a list of actions that say “I love you” to them. You can also look to the past for things that you used to do for one another that you’ve stopped doing. Their own demonstration of love to you may be their own love language, since we often give love the way we like to be loved. Learn more about the 5 Love Languages for more ideas on how to show love to your partner.

No matter who is pulling away in the relationship, there is an opportunity for you to shift the way things are going. Yes, it may feel “risky” to put yourself out there again. But in the end, taking that risk may be the one thing that saves the relationship and shifts the way you handle discomfort in the future.


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