Having an intermittent need for space is completely normal in a romantic relationship and can be healthy, giving it room to grow and flourish. It doesn't mean that your partner is sick of you, they just need time for themselves.
Physical and emotional space can also help both partners develop a sense of independence and fuel love, desire and longing. Giving your other half space has numerous benefits that can help a relationship stay fresh and last, but only as long as it doesn't extend over a considerable period of time and become a habit.
Sadly, we often see couples use the excuse of needing personal space as a way to avoid intimacy. It is common for couples to drift apart emotionally and/or sexually over time. This can happen without obvious signs because more often than not, it can be masked by daily conversations and interactions that are purely functional, such as taking care of mundane household matters, children, and family issues.
Even spending extended time together as a family, especially with children, doesn't qualify a couple as being emotionally connected.
The question is: is your partner eager to spend quality time with you alone in an intimate manner? If your interaction is merely transactional, which is only about childcare and household matters, then you have a problem on your hands.
When you love someone, it is painful to see your romantic partner acting cold, distant, withdrawn, and treating you like a stranger. Don't suffer in a distant relationship; it is not something that can be waited out. You need to take action to help your partner remove the armour placed around their heart.
There are many things that trigger emotional drifting; some might have to do with your partner and some with you. So how can you tell if your partner is emotionally unavailable or disengaged?
A person becomes emotionally unavailable when they make a conscious decision to not show they are vulnerable or let themselves be affected by other people's feelings and perceptions. When they are so guarded and so afraid of getting hurt they block themselves from experiencing and showing anything, says Valentina Tudose, a relationship expert and certified hypnotherapist.
"Many of us are taught that showing emotions is a sign of weakness and that vulnerability is for losers. We learn to bottle these feelings up and hide them under a mask of self-control, cockiness or indifference, hoping to keep people away and stop them from seeing our true self," says Tudose.
"When we fall in love, the emotions we feel are even more out of control and we struggle to maintain balance and stay grounded. This is scary for many of us who fear that love will make us uncover a part of ourselves that won't measure up with the partner's expectations and they won't like us."
Tudose says those who are emotionally unavailable will build walls and stop themselves from expressing affection. They never make compliments (at least not sincere ones); keep people at a physical and emotional distance by not showing who they really are; and constantly put on a facade of being strong, careless or disinterested.
"What they don't realise is when they are emotionally unavailable the very walls that protect them from being hurt are also the walls that stop them from experiencing true intimacy," she says. However, emotionally unavailable people tend to be very sensitive deep down, she explains.
"At one point or another they have experienced very intense emotions; they might have been madly in love or might have opened their heart fully to someone - and that ended badly. To prevent this from happening again, they are protecting themselves by not allowing those emotions to take root by never creating deep enough connections."
Unfortunately, they are good at hiding their true self when dating, Tudose says.
"That's what they do best. Emotional unavailability is in itself a mask, a protection mechanism against being hurt. It works by showing a side of themselves that is not real, and it's created simply to allow them to function and get what they want without being hurt."
"Someone who never feels comfortable enough with the idea of falling in love and 'losing control' is very likely to want to see that in someone else, as that will give them confirmation that they are succeeding in their goal to stay safe."
Be aware that the real reason your partner protects their emotions is not because they want to hurt you, it is just the best way they know how to stay safeValentina Tudose, relationship expert
The danger is they give just enough to make the other partner fall in love with them, but never allow themselves to have deep enough feelings for the partner, Tudose warns. But there are ways to connect with an emotionally unavailable partner.
What an emotionally unavailable person needs the most is to feel safe and learn trust, so if someone can teach them to trust again, they may be willing to open up and learn how to be vulnerable, she advises. But this process takes time and patience.
If you are dating or married to one such emotionally distant partner, Tudose says, "Be aware that the real reason your partner protects their emotions is not because they want to hurt you, it is just the best way they know how to stay safe. Help them learn more about your emotions (and emotions in general) by providing a safe space where you both can explore new ways of connecting."
Furthermore, she warns against expecting them to change overnight (or even at all) as they might not even realise this is a reality that they have created for themselves.
"Show them rather than tell them that it is OK to acknowledge your emotions and guide them gently and lovingly on this journey of self-discovery."
Luisa Tam is a correspondent at the Post
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