Whether you've been dating a short while or many years, relationships experience ebbs and flows, and if you're in an ebb and noticing that your partner is distant, it can be really painful. So what should you do if you feel like your partner is distant? It can feel really scary if someone you love — or even just someone you really like — was once super hot in their availability with you, and now they are super cold. Distance is incredibly hard to bear for a long period of time in a relationship, because that's one of the most important components of dating someone — having regular, reliable support, love and understanding for one another. When that is gone, the relationship can feel like a very desolate place.
But don't freak out. I spoke with 15 love and relationship experts about what you should do in this situation, and they all had incredible suggestions and insight. First and foremost, remember this: Do not even think about being defensive. If you go in with your hackles up, an honest conversation with your partner cannot happen. Leave your assumptions at the door too. And keep in mind these 15 helpful hints if you're experiencing some distance from your partner, and you want to do something about it.
1. Ask Questions
"Ask questions," psi counselor Laurel Clark tells Bustle. "People need space, so it may be that you need to give your partner space, but it may also be that there's something wrong and he or she doesn't know how to talk about it." By bringing it up, you make it possible for the two of you to hash things out.
"Invite that person to talk about what is going on," she says. "Asking questions like, 'What's on your mind?' might work, but if he or she is not self-reflective, they might not know how to answer." If so, try being more direct. "You might need to say something like, 'I've felt you pulling away and wonder if I might be able to support you with what's going on.'" This way, you can really get to the crux of the problem — and, hopefully, find a solution.
2. Acknowledge What Is Happening
"Acknowledge the distance that you feel and ask your partner if they have felt it too," psychologist and breakup coach Joy Harden Bradford tells Bustle. "Ask if there is something going on that needs to be discussed and be open to the answer." Though you might not like what your partner says, be open to their honest response.
"The conversation won't go well if your immediate reaction is to be defensive," she says. "Remember that your goal is to work on reducing the distance, not make it wider." So take a deep breath, talk about the distance, and be ready to hear what's really going on with your partner.
3. Give Them Space
"Give them space," Marina Sbrochi, IPPY award-winning author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life tells Bustle. Once they have some space, ask them why, she says, and then give them space again. This situation requires a dance, and it's important to go slowly.
"Make sure you listen without getting defensive and see what’s up," she suggests. Hear what they have to say, and consider: "Can you work with it?" Once you've had that talk, pull back again.
4. See If The Distance Is Intentional
"If you feel your partner pulling away, try gently asking if he [or she] has noticed the distance recently," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist tells Bustle. "This might be an opening to a necessary discussion exploring what’s going on." If your partner is in denial — or if you're reading into something more strongly than necessary — you may need to go deeper.
"If you partner says he [or she] hasn’t noticed anything and you bump up against a wall of denial, do not push, press or force him [or her] to face the unpleasant," she says. "Rather, tell him [or her] you have been sensing a shift in the connection and ask him [or her] when would be a good time for him to comfortably begin a conversation with you." Though they might not want to address it — or may not even be aware of it — the distance needs to be discussed. From there, take turns really allowing each other to speak. "Each partner takes a turn listening without interruptions while the other talks and feels heard," she says. "Solutions are not nearly as important as each partner feeling heard, validated, and accepted — flaws and all."
5. Let Them Air Their Thoughts
"For some, they like a chase," Gestalt life coach Nina Rubin tells Bustle. "For most, it might mean they are churning through things in their minds." Either way, it's time to have a chat.
"You can notice how pulling away makes you feel and comment to your partner that it's driving a wedge between you," she says. "Remind your partner that you're available and can listen. You may or may not be able to fix it, but sharing the burden of most problems often helps immensely." Talk it out.
6. Let Some Time Go By
"Do not pursue," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "It’s the worst thing you can do." Instead, she advises that you give them some space. "Give it time to see if it’s temporary, because your partner may just need some space or time." If some time passes and the problem doesn't go away, bring it up.
"If it's not [temporary], address the issue in a non-accusatory, non-confrontational way to get to the bottom of what’s going on with him or her." And listen to the response without being defensive.
7. Take An Honest Look At Yourself
"Pulling away is a frequent defense mechanism when a partner is chronically angry, critical or overbearing," Boston-based clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner tells Bustle. Though you might not be angry, critical or overbearing, allow at least an honest pause within yourself to see if you've checked any of those boxes of late.
"To allow someone to move towards you, you must rein in the anger, criticism, or crowding of personal or emotional space to allow them to come back." If this doesn't apply to you, disregard; but if it does, be honest with yourself.
8. Disregard Your Assumptions
"Open communication without assumptions is the best way to find out why your partner is acting distant," executive editor and founder of Cupid's Pulse Lori Bizzoco tells Bustle. "When a partner pulls away, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are doing anything wrong or not wanting to be with you." So put aside your assumptions and have a real talk.
"Sometimes it could be a sign of depression, anxiety or fear about something else in their life," Bizzoco says. Whatever you do, don't automatically assume anything.
9. Get To The Bottom Of The Issue
"I would suggest that the person addresses it directly," psychologist Nicole Martinez, who is the author of eight books, including The Reality of Relationships , tells Bustle. "They should tell their partner that they have felt and noticed them being more distant. They should inquire as to why this is happening. This is really essential, as the answer may be something they can work on and fix, or it might be that the other person has lost feelings for them."
Either way, it's best to get it all out in the open. "If it is the former, they can work on things and avoid things spiraling into larger issues or a breakup," Martinez says. "If it is the latter, it is better to know, so that they can start to grieve and move forward with their lives."
10. Do Not Accuse
"Open up the lines of communication, but not in a defensive way," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin , tells Bustle. "Going at someone in an accusatory fashion will only escalate a problem, and perhaps you don’t know the full story of what’s going on." Bring it up, and let go of the outcome. "Be direct about how you’re feeling, but not in a way that they’re going to feel attacked," she says. "Do it calmly so you both can have a honest discussion." Honesty is, of course, the best policy, in all circumstances.
11. Don't Make It About Yourself
"Often when we feel a partner is pulling away, we assume it is our fault," zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. "Instead of taking a defensive mode, be open and supportive." When you bring it up, don't make it about yourself. "Don't say, 'You are not paying attention to me," but rather, 'I feel you might have something going on. Is there something that is weighing on your mind? I'm here for you,'" she says.
By phrasing it like that, you're opening you and your partner up to honesty. "The greatest gift is the gift of presence," she reminds. Just be there for your boo and see what happens.
12. Start The Conversation
"Respect their space to an extent if you perceive it to be a phase, but if the behavior persists, have an honest conversation about it," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "Sometimes people don't know how to accurately express themselves, so they create distance to force a conversation." Not cool, but it's OK to call your partner out on it — nicely — and let them speak to what's going on.
"It's not the best tactic" to create distance to force a convo, Rogers acknowledges, "but if you truly love this person and want things to work out, then it's best to lend a hand." Very true — and very fair.
13. Name What You See
"In a curious way, tell your partner what you’re noticing — avoid blaming your partner — and ask if she or he noticed it too," marriage counselor Jessica Wade tells Bustle. "Use this as an opportunity to have a heartfelt conversation about how your relationship is going." In this way, you open yourself and your partner up to an important conversation — without judgment, control or assumptions.
14. Look At Your Own Feelings
"If you feel your partner pulling away, examine what you are feeling when it happens," therapist Teresa Solomita tells Bustle. "Then, make time to talk to them and let them know how their distance is affecting you," she says. Phrase your own feelings using "I" statements: "Lately I've been feeling [blank] when you [blank]," she suggests. "You can let them know that you notice that they are preoccupied and are concerned, and ask questions to get to the bottom of the situation. "If you miss them, let them know," she advises. But do not attack or lash out, under any circumstances.
15. Share Your Evidence
"Ask what is going on," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together, tells Bustle. "Give evidence of what tells you he or she is moving away, and ask why." Evidence can be helpful if your partner is oblivious or in denial. "Then be sure to listen and not argue," she says. "You need to know what's going on." Above all, divorce your words from accusations or anger, and just listen.
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