How to fix an emotional disconnect in a relationship

Does it feel like you are in a relationship with a stranger sometimes? Find out how to fix an emotional disconnect.

There can come a time in every relationship when you feel like you have lost the closeness you once had. Or perhaps you have an emotionally unavailable partner, and that connection has always felt slightly elusive. 

So how can you repair this? Is there still hope for you as a couple? Or is your relationship ultimately doomed?

To help you regain the bond you once had, or hoped for, in this article we explore five ways you can fix emotional disconnect in a relationship.

1) Voice your needs

If you and/or your partner aren’t good at communicating what you need, it can build frustration, resentment and, ultimately, lead to a sense of distance between you. Or make you feel like the other is emotionally unavailable. 

The simple fact is that your partner won’t know how you are feeling, what you want or what you don’t like, if you don’t let them know – and vice versa. So suggest you have an honest chat about how you feel, and what you want from each other. 

Try not to use ‘blame’ language like ‘“You always…” or “You never…”. Instead, try phrasing your feelings as “When you XXX I feel…” or “I’d really like it if you…”

Your partner might feel reluctant to open up at first, so be patient. And it is important that you both try to empathise with and understand each other when expressing how you feel or when sharing vulnerabilities, rather than taking it personally or feeling a sense of blame.  

End any conversation with agreements on how you want to move forward. Are there things each of you can do, or not do, that can help the other feel more loved, appreciated, or happy? 

You might even want to get into the habit of having open, frank conversations, and schedule a time every month to have a ‘feelings chat’.

2) Have a ‘monthly request’

Another idea is to start having one request a month you can make of each other. For example, on the first of every month, you can ask your partner, “I’d really like it if you did/ didn’t…” The rule is that the other partner has to agree to the request, and is allowed to reject it if they wish. 

Turning it into a game in this way keeps it light – there’s no need to have a long explanation about it, or to justify why you are making the request. You just get to make it and your partner either accepts or rejects it, in which case you get to make another. 

This can help prevent resentment building, and enables annoyances to be voiced before they become a point of contention between you. Sometimes your partner’s request can be enlightening – you might not have realised that the way you left your plate in the sink frustrated them.

And as you both get to make a request, it’s equal, so neither partner feels picked on.

3) Compliment the positive things your partner does

It can also help to start by acknowledging what is working or positive in your relationship. Everyone likes to be complimented, and for their efforts to be noticed. 

So if your partner does something you appreciate, let them know. Or you can just point out to them all their positive traits. 

It’s human nature to want to return good deeds, so your kind words are likely to be reciprocated, which can help foster warmer feelings between you. Your partner is also more likely to repeat behaviours that win them compliments, so you can tactically start complimenting actions you’d like to see more of!

Looking for the good, rather than dwelling on the bad can be the start of a new habit. And before you know it you are viewing your relationship in a whole new, positive light – and feeling closer to your partner as a result. 

4) Choose to laugh, rather than getting annoyed

You can even take this one step further, and change your response to annoyances. The truth is that anyone will irritate us at some point in a long term relationship. Even if you were to replicate yourself and have a relationship with a mirror image of you, you’d find yourself annoying!

So if we can’t change someone’s irritating habits in the moment, what can we do? We can change how we respond to them. Here’s one suggestion: the next time your partner does something small that usually irritates you, such as forgetting to put the lid on the jam, try choosing to feel amused by it, rather than cross. 

This probably won’t feel easy or come automatically in the beginning. But just like biting our nails or smoking, our thoughts and feelings are habits, and we can choose to change them if we want to, and are prepared to put effort in. 

If you persist, over time your perspective will change and you’ll find your partner’s ways endearing and amusing, just like you may have done at the start of your relationship. And you may find that as your responses change, so may your partner’s, and they’ll stop being quite so irritated by all your annoying habits.

Just to add a word of caution here though. We are referring to small, annoying (and usually unconscious) habits, not toxic behaviours. If your partner belittles you or is physically abusive, we are not suggesting you learn to find that endearing.  

And just because you decide to change your response to irritating habits, doesn’t mean you need to put up with them. You can still point out when the bin hasn’t been put out again, and ask them to try to remember in future, but you can do so with a smile, rather than anger or resentment. 

5) Do something together

When we first fall in love, we want to spend every second of the day with our partner, and often make an effort to embrace each others’ interests. 

But over time, we can drift back to the activities we like, and stop spending so much time together, or be willing to participate in each others’ interests. Or we can gradually change over the years, and start to embrace new interests that our partner doesn’t share. 

And one day, we can realise we don’t have much in common with our partner any more. It can even feel like we don’t really know them; we’re just strangers sharing a house. 

One way to rebuild that connection again, is to find activities you can do together. Is there anything one of you likes that the other can participate in? Or is there something new you can start doing as a couple? It might even be as simple as finding a TV series you both enjoy, at the start.

With a shared interest, you can start to appreciate each other all over again, and will have a conversation point you can both contribute to. 

Great relationships take work

Great relationships don’t just happen. They take a mutual commitment to having good relationship, and a willingness to work at it when needed. 

That ‘work’ can be as simple as noticing when you feel disconnected from your partner, and finding ways to bridge that gap. Or as basic as keeping communication open between you, and expressing how you feel to each other. 

Sometimes a disconnect can indicate a deeper rooted issue, and you may decide that your relationship has run its course. And there is no shame in that. It’s better to part amicably than to stay together in a relationship that doesn’t make you both happy or meet your needs. 

But often a feeling of disconnection can be resolved by some simple actions and changes, like those we suggested above. And who knows? You might just recapture the feelings and romance you once shared when you first met? Or end up with a stronger, happier relationship. 

Photo by Jorge Gardner