5 Steps to Relationship Distance
One Person Can Disconnect Faster
Kevin and Laura were distant. They weren’t sleeping in the same bedroom. They were wondering if they should stay together when they came to us. They had kids and they were concerned about them. They knew that splitting up wasn’t going to help their kids. They wondered what sleeping in different bedrooms was really communicating to their kids.
They felt stuck.
My wife, Michelle, said, “It sounds like you feel distant from each other.”
Kevin replied, “I try to talk to Laura, but she just shuts down. She doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Laura added, “It seems like the fighting doesn’t help. We hurt each other, so it’s better not to talk about it at all. So, we stay away from each other.”
Kevin and Laura were stuck in resentment and distance.
I’ve seen this pattern over and over again. When conflict isn’t resolved, or at least managed, the end result over a period of time is resentment and distance.
Here’s the pattern that I see.
1. Unmet Needs / Unfulfilled Expectations
Some of the most common ways that disagreements start are either with unmet needs or unfulfilled expectations. When my partner doesn’t respond in the way that I like, an argument starts.
This is conflict. When you don’t deal with it, the pattern continues.
If the two people actually listen to one another and validate their needs, they have a better chance of figuring how to handle it.
When they don’t listen to one another, someone becomes disappointed. In a split second it turns into anger or blame.
3. Anger / Blame
When we feel ignored or attacked, we frequently respond to protect ourselves. It can come out in a number of ways. We move from disappointment to anger in a split second.
If this is dealt with, we stop the pattern. If we can stop and take a breath, we can still come back and listen to each other. This works even if it takes a few days.
When we don’t resolve the disagreement, resentment can set in.
Resentment and bitterness can creep into a relationship. Over time, this resentment grows and it can consume us. You can get more and more resentment built up. When our partner brings up the same issue, the resentment trigger kicks in and old tempers rise.
The more resentment builds up, the more likely we are to resort to distance
Soon, distance becomes the language of the relationship. Someone gives up. Someone can check out.
Laura was distant. She felt that they weren’t getting anywhere and she didn’t want to resolve it.
At Different Times
In couples, I’ve seen that it doesn’t necessarily happen to both partners at the same time. They are not always both at the distance stage.
If one person has held on to resentment over a period of time, that person can be at a distance and ready to check out of the relationship.
The other partner may not even be aware that there is a problem. They may be surprised when their spouse wants to quit. The spouse that once wanted to seek counseling is now not interested in getting help.
When I hear that one person is skeptical about working on the relationship I’ll often ask, “Have you always felt that way?” Often, the response is that they used to want to seek help. They would ask their spouse and the spouse didn’t want to get help. The more they were turned down, the more resentment and distance began to grow.
When I was new to mentoring and I would hear that one person didn’t want to work on the relationship, it was easy for me to judge. It’s easy for the one that is trying to resolve things to look good to others.
I’ve gotten wiser and I now know that one person has gotten to the distance stage faster than their partner. I know that there is always two sides to every issue.
I now listen to find out what has happened in the relationship and how long this has been going on.
What Do You Do About It?
In this post, I’m outlining a pattern that I’ve observed. The solution is to work on resolving needs and expectations. It’s about working with the couple on validation, understanding, conflict management and the other skills that we teach.
Tips for Mentors:
- Don’t Judge – It’s easy to hear that one person looks anxious to work on it and other doesn’t. Often, it hasn’t always been that way. I like to hear both sides of the story and I like to understand what has happened.
- Gain Commitment – You can ask them both if they are willing to work on it now, regardless of who was willing to work on it in the past. Are you willing to work on restoring the relationship?
- Work on the Relationship – Acknowledging this pattern can be part of working on the relationship. This is all about the different skills that we teach. It’s going to take some work.