A marriage with no emotional intimacy is one of the most common (and painful) marital complaints reported by couples:
It keeps you up at night, worrying about what’s wrong with your relationship and whether your marriage can last.
It leaves you feeling frustrated, disconnected, and alone.
But no matter how emotionally disconnected you might feel right now, the good news is that you can rebuild connection in your relationship.
And take it even deeper than you’ve ever experienced before.
In this blog, you’re going to learn:
- What exactly a lack of emotional intimacy is
- Why relationships lose emotional intimacy
- 11 toxic signs that there’s no emotional intimacy in your marriage
What Is A Lack Of Emotional Intimacy?
Relationships that lack emotional intimacy are characterized by feelings of isolation, disconnection, and a lack of emotional safety. Even though there’s time spent together, there’s no real emotional connection or understanding between you. And the effects of a lack of intimacy are serious.
Over time, a lack of emotional intimacy will grind a relationship down, and ultimately break it apart:
A study* by psychologists Gigy & Kelly from the California Divorce Mediation Project found that the breakdown of emotional connection in relationships is one of the leading causes of divorce.
And one of the leading causes of affairs.
Can a Marriage Survive Without Emotional Intimacy?
Most marriages will struggle to survive without emotional intimacy. Emotional connection is an essential ingredient in a healthy marriage, and a core reason couples enter relationships in the first place. You might be able to tough it out for the kids or for financial reasons, but most couples desire more than just grinding away the years together.
And when a marriage has the potential to be so much more, why would you settle?
Modern marriage asks a lot more of us. It’s not the 1800s anymore – we want more than just a convenient financial or political arrangement:
- We want to feel close, connected, loved, and cherished.
- We want to become a kick-ass team, sharing life’s adventures and taking on the world together.
- And we want our relationships to nurture and inspire us – to help us grow into our best selves and fulfil our highest potential.
It’s not enough then for a marriage to just survive. Now, more than ever, we want our marriage to thrive.
And to do that, emotional intimacy is essential.
Why Do Relationships Lose Emotional Intimacy?
Relationships lose emotional intimacy for simple reasons like busy schedules or difficulty finding quality time together. Or there can be more emotionally-nuanced and complex reasons, from a lack of emotional safety, fear of vulnerability, or underlying tensions in the relationship.
Here’s the thing – although most couples desire a deep sense of connection, emotional intimacy can also be scary. And there are plenty of things that can get in the way:
- Unresolved hurts and conflicts that make it feel unsafe to open up.
- The vulnerability of being seen… Or the fear of being rejected, unlovable, or ‘not enough’.
- Simply not knowing how to build emotional intimacy, and being scared to try something new.
But maintaining or rebuilding emotional intimacy is a skill – and like any skill, it’s something that can be learned.
We’ll get to the how in a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at the effects of a lack of intimacy in a relationship.
11 Signs There’s No Emotional Intimacy In Your Relationship
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #1:
You’re Distancing Yourself
As emotional intimacy in a relationship begins to fade, it’s common to withdraw and emotionally detach as a coping strategy. Emotional disconnection is a painful experience, so it makes sense that you’d want to take steps to protect yourself.
But this emotional detachment only creates more distance, and the downward spiral of disconnection continues.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #2:
You Feel Lonely
It’s one of the most painful experiences you can have in a marriage – to spend so much time with your partner, and yet still feel alone:
To sleep in the same bed, eat meals at the dinner table, to share a life with them, and yet feel like you don’t know them. Or that they don’t truly see the real you.
Feeling lonely, misunderstood, or distant from your partner, even when you’re living under the same roof, is a clear sign there’s a serious lack of emotional connection in your relationship.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #3:
You’re Less Affectionate
A relationship without emotional intimacy can quickly become a relationship without affection.
When there’s distance between you, reaching out for physical affection – whether it’s holding hands, cuddling, or kissing – can feel vulnerable or scary.
And if a lack of emotional connection has started to affect your sex life, physical affection can be misread as an unwanted attempt to initiate sex, which creates even more strain and tension.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #4:
You’re Having Less Sex
Whether you’re in a sexless marriage or a low-sex relationship, a lack of emotional intimacy is a commonly-overlooked cause.
Many couples make the unfortunate mistake of blaming low libidos. Which has them searching for answers in all the wrong places.
But if you’re not having as much sex as you’d like to (or if you find that the topic of sex keeps leading to arguments) emotional detachment can be a likely cause.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #5:
You Don’t Know What To Say
If you don’t have the skills to build emotional intimacy in your relationship, it’s likely that your conversations have become flat and lifeless. After so long together, it can feel like there’s nothing left to say.
But the same skills that build intimacy are the same skills that give you new and exciting things to talk about.
Who you are, the things you think, and the things you feel, are always changing. Which means there’s always more to share, explore, and discover about each other.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #6:
You’ve Lost Empathy
You probably know that empathy – ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ – is important. But if you’re lacking emotional intimacy in your relationship, having empathy can be difficult:
How can you seek to understand each other if you feel emotionally distant? And if you feel like your partner doesn’t listen or show you empathy, it can be challenging to offer it in return.
As you lose empathy for each other, opening up and being vulnerable feels unsafe, leading to even more emotional withdrawal.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #7:
You’re Arguing More
From the top things couples argue about (sex, parenting, money, family, housework), to the seemingly trivial (like the right way to make a grilled cheese sandwich*), a lack of emotional connection puts you on edge and always ready to fight.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #8:
You Communicate With ‘Barbed Jokes’
You know the ones:
Those thinly-veiled attempts at ‘innocent humour’ that are actually unspoken complaints or passive-aggressive attempts to get your point across, or change each other’s behaviour.
When there’s no emotional intimacy in your marriage, it doesn’t feel safe to bring up concerns directly. So we try to use less direct methods. (#protip: not being clear makes things worse).
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #9:
You’re Walking On Eggshells
If you’re scared of saying the wrong thing or getting into an argument, then you’re likely walking on eggshells around each other.
But trying to always say the right thing and manage your partner’s moods is exhausting – and it’s a sign that the trust and intimacy in your relationship is dangerously low.
It means you’re either fighting too much, or you don’t have an effective strategy for having difficult conversations and turning conflict into connection. To begin rebuilding emotional intimacy, the first step is letting go of responsibility for your partner’s emotions.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #10:
You Don’t Support Each Other
When you have emotional intimacy, you feel like an unstoppable team. It’s the two of you, taking on the world together, and supporting each other to become your best selves.
But if the intimacy is gone, you don’t have the energy or the desire to champion each other. You’re more like adversaries: score-keeping and trying to ‘win’ against each other.
signs there’s no emotional intimacy #11:
You Question If You’re In The Right Relationship
Emotional connection is an essential human need and a core reason why we get into relationships. So if your emotional needs are not being met, it’s natural to doubt whether your relationship will make you happy in the long term.
You might find yourself fantasizing about other people, or thinking through the practicalities of a separation.
Although it’s natural to have moments of doubt in a marriage, if it’s a long-term pattern, it’s a sign that something needs to change.
Rebuilding Intimacy In A Relationship
Well… That’s the bleak bit out of the way.
Now that you know some of the warning signs to look out for, it’s time to focus on how to rebuild emotional intimacy.
In part two, you’ll learn 14 practical, evidence-based tools, techniques, habits, and mindsets that’ll help you create a deeply-connected relationship. Check it out here:
Sources & References
Borresen, Kelsey. (2016, January 15) 17 Truly Ridiculous Things Couples Have Actually Fought About. Huffpost.
Brookes Kift, L. (2017, February 27) In Relationships, Not Arguing Means You’re Not Communicating. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/relationships-not-arguing-means-youre-not-communicating/
Reece Stockhausen & Jodie Milton have made improving people’s lives and relationships both their passion, and their career. With over 25 years experience in the Personal Development industry, and 7 years coaching singles and couples, their no-BS advice has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, and HuffPost.
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