Dr. Kim’s new book “14 Keys to Lasting Love: How to Have the Marriage You’ve Always Wanted” comes out on January 8, 2019. This book will change your marriage, and it will most certainly change you. Over the next few weeks, Dr. Kim will highlight some of the principles from the book in his weekly “Insights.”
For most of us both physical and emotional distance can cause problems. Physical distance takes many forms. A couple may be apart for a night, a week, or longer. Each has its own challenges. Maybe you are thinking that a night apart is not a big deal. I agree. But what if you used that night as an opportunity to grow your marriage? Think about what you could do while away that would let your spouse know they are still at the top of your list. I know a wife whose husband travels, so she always has a note waiting for him when he checks into a hotel. Think about what that does for the husband. He knows she took the time to do something special for him. It connects them in a special way even though they may be miles apart. Her husband told me that it never gets old.
Other times of separation have their own challenges, but technology can bring us together no matter how many miles are between us. Nancy and I know a couple who is going through a year apart while he is deployed. This is his third deployment during their marriage. It is never easy, but they leverage technology and stay in close contact. Is it the same as being face-to-face? No, but it’s so much better than pre-technology days.
When I think about my parents’ early years of marriage, I can’t even comprehend all they endured. My dad was gone for months at a time fighting a war in another part of the world. They bridged the distance with snail-mail letters. I have a trunk full of them; he wrote my mother almost every day that he was gone. They used what they had to close the distance. Today we have so many ways to connect that distance becomes a problem only if we let it. Being proactive to connect closes the gap. What if military couples don’t take advantage of what is available to connect them? What if a couple never connects when they are apart for a night, a few days, or weeks?
Are the two of you ever separated by physical distance? How do you handle the time apart? Do you find ways to connect and remain closely tied to each other’s lives? What could you do to close the gap when the two of you are apart?
While we may anticipate some challenges with physical distance, we don’t expect to encounter emotional distance. We are marrying the person of our dreams. Our Prince Charming. Our beautiful bride. We are supposed to live happily ever after, and happily ever after includes being emotionally connected. Emotional distance is different. You can be sitting side by side in your home and feel apart. The plan is for that emotional connection to grow and deepen over the years of a marriage. Sadly, for some it never grows. When that connection does not happen and expectations are not met, the emotional distance begins.
When emotional distance rears its ugly head in marriage, we don’t know what to do. We may say something like, “I don’t feel as close to you as I used to.” That’s a pretty vulnerable statement. It is a stretch for many people to even get those words out. Then, if the receiving spouse blows it off or discounts it in any way, the other spouse will usually either fight back in an unhealthy way or withdraw. Now the emotional distance grows and the spouse who took the risk will be very cautious about bringing up the problem again. One wife told me that she’d never felt as lonely as she did sitting beside her husband. I believe that most couples have an emotional connection at some time in their relationship. On the other hand, if the receiving spouse says, “Me too,” or, “I don’t want you to feel that way. What can I do to help?” the emotional gap begins to close. The longer the emotional distance goes unattended, the more difficult the process of repair and healing.
Have the two of you ever experienced emotional distance? Was there a catalyst that led to the distance? How can you keep from repeating that pattern? Has the emotional distance resulted in physical distance? What can each of you do to begin connecting again?