If you are an emotionally distant husband you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand!
When couples get stuck in the dance of pursuit and distance, it’s rarely the distancer who changes his steps. The distancer may feel unhappy about how things are going in the marriage(link is external), but he’s still more likely to continue business as usual, than move toward a partner who is in pursuit mode.
For this reason, much of my advice in Marriage Rules(link is external) is directed toward the pursuer. She is more likely to be in pain, and therefore more likely to have her motor running for change.
If you’re a distancer, keep in mind that your distance is actually encouraging pursuit. The very qualities that may make her “impossible to talk to” may have a great deal to do with the fact that she feels she can’t reach you. She may feel that her voice and pain can’t affect you, and that she’s no longer your number one person.
Also keep in mind that distancing and stonewalling are good predictors of divorce. Many women, exhausted by years of pursuing and feeling unheard, leave the marriage“suddenly.” When a distancer fears that his partner may actually walk out, he may flip into a position of intense pursuit. But it may be too late.
Here are four fundamental ways to modify your role as “distancer.”
1. Take space, not distance. If you need space, take it in a way that won’t trigger pursuit. It’s one thing to work on a project in the garage when you’ve made a plan over dinner to do so, and another to just disappear into the garage as soon as your partner gets home from work. Be as reachable for her as you would be for a top business client or very close friend.
2. Move toward her. Warm things up, learn to listen with an open heart, and give her your attention, appreciation and full presence. Consult her about problems you face at work or in your family and value her feedback. Tell her how you appreciate the contribution she’s made to your life.
3. Recommit to fairness. If there is an unequal sharing of housework and childcare take the lead to figure out how to make it fair. Notice when the house and the kids need attention. Notice when the kids’ laundry is getting moldy in the washer. I cannot exaggerate how many marriages still rise and fall on the unfair division of labor in family life, and how often this inequality triggers the pursuer-distancer dance.
4. Confront her. If she’s “too difficult” to talk to, don’t write her off, concluding that you’ve married the wrong person. If you’re in the marriage now, put both feet in it. Request the specific behavioral changes that will make it easier for you to talk to her. Tell her what you need—and tell her for as long as it takes.
Keep in mind that most “pursuers” would rather be confronted by a strong partner with a clear request for a behavioral change, than be met with silence.
A firm, constructive complaint lets your partner know that you care about making the relationship better and that you’re willing to fight for it. And every marriage deserves a fighting chance.