How Playing It Safe Can Create Emotional Distance in a Relationship

It might be difficult at times to believe that you and your partner are on the same page and that the person you are with now is the same person you fell in love with, as you undoubtedly already know from firsthand experience. Maintaining the initial spark in a relationship amidst time’s passing is one of the most difficult aspects of it.

Why do initial passions fade?

Why does it appear that the person we once loved is more of a stranger or a roommate now?

The egocentrism involved is one of the main obstacles. Everybody gets lost in their own worlds and suppresses their emotions when they are most fearful of being harmed. Since there are fewer stakes in the beginning, we can take a chance on being vulnerable. But after a lengthy period of time together, it becomes fearful to upset the status quo. Due to the difficulty of simply walking away, we are more reliant on our partner’s perception of us and have more to lose if we are wounded. As a result, we begin to ignore the unresolved problems that occasionally surface, let things go, and emotionally play it safe.

However, it’s the emotional risks that draw us closer, and it takes a certain amount of anxiety and vulnerability to maintain some thrill. What adds novelty and appeal to a long-term relationship is discovering newer and deeper sides of one another. Reestablishing a connection in an environment of security and comfort is necessary.

Let’s look at a couple together.

Consider Kathryn and David. They have been married for around 25 years and are in their mid-fifties. They are both busy executives who had grown apart over time. Kathryn has been pushing David away despite his desire to rekindle their relationship.

This is David’s version of events:

As much as I hate to say it, Kathryn and I feel more like housemates right now than husband and wife. Even though our careers keep us both extremely busy, I still look forward to seeing her when I get home from trips or even from hard days at work because I want to connect with her. I worry that we’ve both become so engrossed in our individual interests that we’ve truly lost touch of and made our relationship a low priority. I wish we could occasionally get out and do something fun together.

The issue is that Kathryn doesn’t appear to care about me at all. She ignores me whenever I approach her or ask her to go out and do anything social or even just enjoyable for the two of us. Sometimes I worry that she’s grown tired of me or that she no longer finds me intriguing because it feels like she has this wall up.

David is hesitant to express his feelings to Kathryn. He thinks he already knows the truth about Kathryn’s behavior—that she has lost interest—and is terrified of being rejected. He’s worried that talking about his worries will validate his deepest worries about his marriage and himself—that he’s not the vibrant, youthful man he once was, and that his wife no longer finds him attractive. It’s easier, it seems, to keep his inner monologue to himself, or better still, to just stop asking Kathryn out.

Nevertheless, Kathryn has an opinion of her own that David is unaware of as they don’t discuss it.

Kathryn says:

David doesn’t understand that I feel so horrible about myself that it’s difficult for me to go out like we used to, even though he constantly asking to go out and mingle. To be honest, I don’t think well of myself. I just want to stay at home in my comfort zone and not have to worry about having to get dressed up and seeing all the clothes in the closet that no longer fit. It’s hard enough having to figure out what to wear in the mornings when I go to work, and then feeling horrible about myself all day. My mother always advised against telling a man you don’t think you look good; instead, put on a brave front and act as though you feel amazing. However, I don’t feel attractive at all. These days, all I see in the mirror are the wrinkles and the extra weight.

Kathryn is also concerned that discussing her self-perception with David will simply make him focus on her shortcomings and validate her self-defeating thoughts over her appearance.

An outsider could easily see how difficult it can be for both of these partners to talk about what’s going on inside and put their fears on the line without taking things personally, but David and Kathryn are so wrapped up in their own worlds that they fail to see that there could be a completely different viewpoint. This also makes it difficult for the pair to declare their desire for another and to get back in touch with one another.

Don’t be this couple!

Marital counseling isn’t always necessary to break through this kind of impasse—though it can occasionally be helpful if you’re stuck!—all it takes is taking a chance and speaking your opinion. It’s acceptable to feel fear, yet speaking is still a necessary action.

When we’re most vulnerable, it’s normal to take things personally. It’s also simple to assume the worst and get defensive in response. However, you might never know what chances for intimacy you’re passing up in your marriage if you’re not ready to take a chance!