Here is a huge red flag for all of us to be aware of in our intimate relationships: If we find it easier to talk to someone else who we believe will understand us better than our partners.
Disclaimer: In this blog, I discuss couple relationships that do not involve domestic violence of any sort.
When we first form intimate relationships, there is typically no one else who we think will "get" us, as well as our partner does. With time, this changes for many of us. It is important to be aware of this transition and to recognize that without action, this gap in communication in perhaps our most essential relationship is bound to increase (and in several cases, break down permanently).
For both partners in such relationships, it may feel like they are "play-acting" or living two lives: one life in which they pretend to function as a couple and the other in which each feels entirely alone. Not surprisingly, each partner may experience symptoms of depression, anxiety etc., which may manifest in different ways. Often, coping mechanisms involve emotional withdrawal, alcohol, other substances, over-involvement in work or children and possibly, connecting closely with others (either emotionally or sexually or both). These and other coping mechanisms are effective in creating a distance between the intimate partners.
The break-down in partner communication affects not just the two people involved, but other family members too. Children are often the most impacted by this, irrespective of their age. Thus, the couple may live together for several years, trying to present a "united" front, but the children are the first to see through the pretense.
What can couples do when they find themselves in such a situation? If possible, open up about how they feel to EACH OTHER, despite fears of how the conversation may turn out. This may not be easy and the first attempt at real communication will probably not solve deep-rooted problems. However, it would be a start.
Some couples seek out therapy when their attempts at bridging the gap seem to be unsuccessful. In such cases, a third, objective party is often useful. As a therapist, I use a specific family systems theory (Bowen theory) to make sense of how/why the transition from "intense closeness" to "intense distance" takes place in many intimate relationships.
Whether or not you believe in therapy as a resource, I suggest to you that if you find yourself "running away" from a relationship by using any of the above-mentioned coping strategies, take the time to figure out what would make you stay and participate.
Sujata V, Ph.D, MFT
Always Learning..through the good AND not-so-good times!