“How do I reconnect with my husband?”
That’s a question I get in various forms from so many of you who email. Life has gotten too busy, you feel like you pass like ships in the night, and you just want to feel like you know each other again.
As we’re launching a new year, I thought it would be a good idea to look again at how to reconnect with your husband if you feel as if the previous year–or years!–has made you grow apart.
Here, for instance, are two questions quite typical of many that come in to the blog:
I am married to an emotionally distant man. We go through the motions of being married, but I have no idea what’s actually going on in his heart. In fact, I doubt there’s much there at all. And he certainly has no idea what’s going on in mine! We only have one child left at home and I’m afraid that when he leaves for college we’ll have nothing left between us.
I’m tired of feeling all alone! My husband doesn’t want to do anything except play on his computer or play video games. We never spent any time together. Shouldn’t marriage be about the two of you? I don’t know how much more loneliness I can take.
Okay, those are rather sad to start off our year. But I know many of you are lonely. So let’s set the stage here on what emotional connection looks like, what it doesn’t look like, and how we can move towards reconnecting.
Some truths about emotional connection
Connection is based on communication. And there are five different levels of communication–cliches, facts, opinions, feelings, needs, as I talked about in a big post last month.
We can share facts about our day–“It was so busy today, the last client didn’t leave until 5:15, and I didn’t think I was going to get out of there.”
But we can also share feelings–“I’m not even sure I like this job. People put so many demands on you and it all seems so pointless. We’re not producing anything worthwhile anyway.”
And then you can get to the point of sharing needs–“I just feel like there’s more to life than this. When I’m in my shop with a saw and some wood, I feel like I’m creating something. But all day long at work I feel like I’m just chasing paper, playing some big game, that doesn’t mean anything. I need more than that.”
Do you see the difference?
I want to continue what I started talking about in that post on the levels of communication, and look at some practical ways that we can boost communication. So let’s go a little bit deeper today!
Many couples never get beyond facts or opinions.
Here’s the problem: when you’re stuck at the facts or opinions level, tension is going to start to build up, because you’re not really emotionally connected. You don’t know anything about what’s going on in each other’s hearts.
And so with each interaction that is only surface level, it’s going to feel like you’re actually growing more distant. That’s right: talking may actually make you feel worse, if the talking isn’t about something important.
And you can’t just jump over several levels of communication and expect to be able to get truly vulnerable and talk about your needs without starting to share consistently at some of the other levels.
That’s why the answer to grow emotional connection isn’t necessarily to do something big. If you start insisting on a date night, for instance, where it’s supposed to be all romantic, you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed and hurt. There’s too much tension there to have the date night go well! Instead, it’s better to start with little things to put into your day that can help you connect, and then, once that connection is starting to be there, add some bigger things to your life regularly that are low-stress and low-pressure.
But first, a few more truths about reconnecting with your husband:
Truth #1: Most men are not emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable
Some men may indeed be emotionally unavailable, but what I’ve found in so many marriages is that the couple has built up patterns of interaction that have made sharing feelings hard.
So ask yourself this–when we were dating, did I know what my husband was feeling and thinking? Did he talk about his needs? Was he vulnerable to me? If so, it’s unlikely he’s suddenly become completely emotionally unavailable. It’s more likely that life has made him stressed, or that you’ve gotten into negative patterns of relating that have cut you both off from each other.
If he never opened up to you, and you never felt emotionally close, that’s a bigger problem, and may require a licensed counselor.
Truth #2: Most people actually want a good marriage
The vast majority of people rank having a good marriage as a major goal of theirs.
Often when we’re distant, though, we assume: “he must be angry at me and doesn’t really love me anymore.” We project negative feelings on our husbands that they may not actually have. He just may feel awkward, stressed, or unsure of what to do. Most likely he wants to feel closer to you, too! But he probably feels a lot of failure when he’s around you, because you’re likely upset at the lack of communication, and he senses it. And when a guy senses that he’s disappointed you, he will tend to retreat.
Of course he shouldn’t do that! But that’s not really the point right now: the point I want you to grasp is that your husband most likely wants to reconnect with you, too! Few people honestly want to go through life feeling distant from their spouse.
So here’s your assignment: assume the best of him. Assume that he is not deliberately keeping you at arm’s length. It will make a huge difference!
(Again, if he honestly doesn’t want the best, then I’d suggest seeing a licensed therapist, but in the majority of cases, the husband does care).
Truth #3: Most people are lazy
We fall into these ruts, like playing video games all night or watching Netflix and never talking. And then those turn into habits. It’s hard to break a habit unless there’s something else vying for our attention. If you guys are used to separating at night, it’s going to be hard to start doing something together unless there’s an actual option ahead of you. So when he goes off and gets back on his computer after dinner, it isn’t necessarily that he’s deliberately abandoning you. He’s developed a habit. And he isn’t likely to break that habit unless there’s something else on the agenda for that night.
Truth #4: Men tend to appreciate low-key communication
Or, to put it another way, women tend to be more comfortable communicating face to face, when we’re sitting across the table sharing our hearts. Men tend to open up more when they communicate side by side, when they’re doing something together. If you try to force him to sit down and talk to you, he’ll likely feel very uncomfortable, like he’s on the spot. So try reconnecting by actually doing something!
Again–these are generalities. In your marriage it may work the other way, and sometimes different personality types make communication preferences quite different from what we’d normally assume. But often the generalities ring true!
Like this post so far? You should also check out:
Putting it All Together: Baby Steps for Reconnecting with Your Husband
Suggest something small
Walls of tension have built up between you which make it hard to talk about something important. And here’s a simple fact:
When we lose the ability to talk about the little things, then we lose the ability to talk about the big things.
Talking about the state of your relationship and talking about that tension is definitely a big thing. So that isn’t your aim. Instead, your aim should be to bring down some of those walls so that it becomes easier to talk about big things!
That comes by suggesting something small. Why not take a walk after dinner? Or share a cup of coffee together right after the kids go to bed? You don’t need to spend the whole evening together. Just develop a new habit that helps you start to talk without tension.
Try my conversation starters, too!
Ask with no guilt trips
Don’t say, “I feel like we haven’t talked in ages. Can we talk tonight?” That puts him on the defensive immediately. Or steer clear of, “All you ever do is get on the computer. How about you just give me ten minutes for once tonight?” Again, negative connotation.
Try something like this:
Hey, hon, how about after dinner we take a quick walk around the neighbourhood and get some exercise and look at the leaves?
Or even, why don’t we share a cup of coffee together before we get on our computers tonight?
Then, when you are together, let’s do something deliberate that helps take us to deeper levels of communication. I’ve talked about this concept before, but this one habit can change everything about how you feel about each other. Ask him, “What’s the best time you had today? When did you feel more productive and most successful?” Then share your own. Then ask him, “When were you most stressed and disappointed today?” Then share your own experience.
Don’t make judgments or try to fix anything. Just listen. Laugh. Repeat back some of the things he was saying. And that’s it. It doesn’t have to take very long. Maybe just ten minutes.
And then go back to your computer or Netflix. The rest of your evening may still be lonely. But let’s work on simply starting to communicate again and opening the doors to feeling like you know each other. That brings the tension level down, and after a few weeks of that you’re ready to start tackling some bigger issues! But try to fix everything in one go, and you’ll be adding to tension, not taking away from it. You can’t talk about big problems in your relationship until you’ve built up some goodwill to handle it. And this is the easiest way to do it!
Don’t forget the power of making love to help you reconnect with your husband!
One more thought. Here’s what happens when there’s tension in a relationship: we tend to retreat in the areas of our lives where we’re the most vulnerable. So women tend to retreat sexually, and men tend to retreat emotionally.
But what happens when we do that? We make that distance worse, because women tend to feel closer when we share emotionally, and men tend to feel closer when we share sexually. Make love to a man, and it’s often going to be much easier to have those conversations about feelings. Talk to a woman on a heart level, and it’s often going to be much easier for her to be in the mood for sex.
Hold on a second. Stop everything you’re thinking right now! I can just hear the wheels start to turn. “How do you expect me to make love to a guy who never ever talks to me? How do you expect me to want to be that open with someone who doesn’t even care about me?”
I get it. I do. But please hear me out: if the emotional distance is bothering you, just realize that it may not have started out as emotional distance. It may have started as sexual distance, at least in his mind. And it’s amazing how making love can often, in and of itself, start to bring down the tension level in your relationship!
Now, if there are other issues, like trust issues, or infidelity, or emotional abuse, then I’m not saying you should jump into bed with him at all. You really need to get help! And if sex has never felt good for you, then of course that’s important to work on (and my Orgasm Course can help!).
But I do believe that if we can start reconnecting in small ways in every area of our relationship, it’s going to be much easier to feel emotionally connected!
One of the best ways to reconnect sexually is with the Intimately Us app!
It’s just so much, well, FUN! And sometimes having an app suggest things for you to do brings tension down, too, because it adds this layer between you where you don’t have to be as vulnerable and suggest things. The app’s telling you to do it, not me!
Plus the Intimately Us app is designed so that it’s not only about trying new things in bed and having more fun, but it’s actually designed to help you talk and communicate about what you want and like. And there are so many prompts and games in there as well to work on your emotional connection.
It’s a new year now, and 2020 was HARD. We all were under more pressure than usual.
So as you launch into 2021, make a concerted effort to stay connected with your husband–or to reconnect if that connection has waned. And remember–small things add up. And small things are often more effective at first anyway. So do little things that help you connect on a daily basis, and you may find that you’re able to get those deeper levels of communication sooner than you thought!
What do you think? Have you ever experienced a dynamic like this in your marriage? What did you do about it? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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Great suggestions. I think having a regular date night or just dedicated time spent together is crucially important. My husband and I haven’t had that for 4 years since the kids came along, and I really think it’s starting to show. Hopefully he’ll be less busy and we’ll have more time to spend as a couple after we move.
Another thing that builds connection imo is being a spouse of your word. If you say you want to spent time together and have a date night but then never make time for it, it shows the spouse you’re not a man/woman of your word, which leads to a tearing away of trust in a marriage. (A lack of trust in general is something our marriage has dealt with over the years).
We’re moving back to the state we’re both originally from and back to the great community and church we were part of years ago, so I’m hoping that new environment and proximity to family and friends will help us find time to spend together as just a couple, not a family (with baby #3 expected to arrive in September).
I was just wondering if another truth is that many men (and some women) are happy with how things are and don’t see the problem.
I read a study today that showed that men are usually more satisfied in their marriage than women. Every marriage is different but I wonder if the reason that many men are say that they are happier than their wife is that they feel satisfied with how things are. They maybe don’t know better or think that this is how things should be.
My wife can sometimes be a typical. “Guy”. I have been feeling distant from her because we didn’t sleep together in the same bed and almost never do things together.
During Christmas we have both been at home and I brought it up (we were actually doing dishes together and it was easier to talk) and I brought up have I felt distant from her and that we never really do anything together but take care of the kids. She was really surprised I felt like this. She doesn’t feel that anything is wrong and is happy and satisfied. She of course listened and said that she wants to get better at connecting with me and she has. We still haven’t found anything to do together but things have been better(I hope they stay the same after we both start working).
This conversation showed me that different expectations on how a marriage should look can create a distance. My wife would be totally fine with how things were. She says she is happy. She told me that she thinks it’s like this because her parents we’re like this. They never really interacted or did things together. So that’s how she grew up that a marriage should look like and she has been happy with that.
We had a similar conversation about expectations when we first got married. The issue ultimately stemmed from having different definitions for the same words! I would tell him I wanted to spend more quality time with him, and he thought that meant being in proximity to one another whereas I meant closely interacting with one another. So we would argue in circles because he thought he was doing what I asked.
That’s really insightful, Anon. I think that very much may be the case in many marriages. That’s also why it’s so important to talk about things, too, because often your spouse doesn’t realize how you feel and your spouse is more than willing to make some changes–they just didn’t know it was something you wanted.
I hope things stay that way when you get back to work, too!
My husband and I both have touch as our primary love language. We make it a point to snuggle in bed every day. At first it was right before bedtime, but now it’s right after we put our daughter to sleep and before we both go back downstairs to watch a movie or read or whatever. That’s when we have our deep conversations, prayers, and *ahem* fun times. It’s my favorite part of the day, and we both start to get pretty cranky if we neglect it.
Thanks for saying this, “ And so with each interaction that is only surface level, it’s going to feel like you’re actually growing more distant. ”
Yep. Lived that one. I appreciate also the caveat about not jumping to trying to fix things if there is emotional abuse. Because I tried all the things you mentioned in this post before I recognized the abuse factor in the marriage. Needless to say- none of them worked. In my case, husband told me early on that he didn’t intend to deal with negative emotions and so I needed to find friends if I was sad, angry, or hurt. And I thought that to be a good Christian wife meant I had to submit to that decision. A couple of decades of harm ensued. Your blog was the first place that I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr to be a wife.
I’m so glad I could help you, Empowered! Jesus doesn’t want us being martyrs so that someone else can continue to be selfish. He wants everyone transformed into His likeness, which means that in our relationships with others, we should be moving people towards Jesus, not enabling selfishness. I wish everyone understood that.
Thank you for this article!
Not sure if this will make sense to some of you but when I read the letter of the wife who’s married to an emotional distant man I couldn’t stop thinking about my adult son.
He is High Functional Autistic, been distant emotionally is part of who he is. It is something that doesn’t come natural and he doesn’t feel the need to express his emotions. Counseling has help been more open, but I will never have a hug or a kiss from him unless I ask for one.
Just wanted to bring this perspective because there are many men or women on the spectrum that they have been misunderstood (specially older generations since autism is a “newer disability”).
Such an important pespective, Geo. Thank you. I ran a post a while ago about what if your husband is on the autism spectrum, and so many women commented! I think I need to revisit that.
I am a marriage counselor and a relationship educator. My training and experience agree with your point that small daily acts of connection help the most. Several suggestions I have found helpful include: 1. Six hugs a day, full body embrace for at least six seconds. Physical touch is powerfully connecting. 2. When not together during your day, take at least three moments to remember something you love about your spouse. Also send each other brief texts that express appreciation for your spouse. Something like, “My day is going well. It would be so much better if I was with you.” Doing these little acts of connection put both of you in a positive frame of mind when you are together again. 3. My daily contract. Find something you can do every day that your spouse appreciates. Write that action step out in which you tell your spouse I will do this every day for you as to emphasize how much I love you. Sign it and do it. My daily contract for my wife is to make her a cup of tea and a healthy smoothie every morning first thing. She appreciates this and it has a stronger impact because she knows it is a deliberate act of love.
The value here is that little daily acts of connection help maintain an effective level of connection. And, when a couple is strongly connected, everything else works. Communication becomes easier. While it is true that communication strengthens connection, the truth is good connection is the foundation of good communication.
These insights are elaborated in a very helpful book by Steven Stosny and Pat Love, How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About it. Men like this book in that it shows them ways to strengthen connection in ways that work for them.
Thank you for these practical suggestions.
Thank you for this! I need to start doing this!
Thank you for this!
Hi sheila did your daughter stop making youtube videos for good? I really miss her videos she was like a breath of fresh air 🙂
I think she has stopped, at least for now. She’s still trying to work out what she’d like to do going forward, but I’ll pass on your words to her!
Difficult. The best way to connect with my husband is doing something together we both enjoy, so we don’t need to talk about opinions. Thank God we like the same types of movies and enjoy the same kind of food…but as far as opinions are concerned, we disagree almost on everything. Even facts are not the same facts for him and for me! Of course I could just let him do all the talking and just listen, for he loves to talk. I’m just SO DONE for always having to be the one to say uh-huh, yeah and indeed all the time. When I try to share my views I get interrupted or corrected or pushed or pulled to give them up or to modify them. I don’t know if I even want to be deeply connected with him. His ideas, views and opinions are so far from mine. I rather make our everyday life as agreeable as possible and keep my own head and mind for myself. We do share our faith in Jesus Christ…but almost all the rest is different.
I am here commenting but it’s not exactly about this topic. I needed some advice. I have been tired all day and went to the grocery store with my husband even though I figured I shouldn’t because I was in a bad mood and he wasn’t helping. As we are in the produce I was just wanting to get through the list since I am tired and I asked him to get me a cucumber. He said he wouldn’t because he thinks it’s “gay”. I was furious and angry because all I needed was his help and not petty reasons why he couldn’t do this for me. He said I was only angry because I didn’t get what I wanted him too since he offered to get me other items. I was so enraged by the fact that he felt this way over a vegetable, I just gave him the list and walked out. I believe that if he thinks such a petty thing over a vegetable what other excuses would he give to not help me on this grocery trip. I am tired of immature attitudes like this and it makes me feel alone.
Wow, that’s really rough and that’s not okay. I think giving him the list was a good boundary. Can you talk with him about this later? “We are a team, and that means you need to pull your weight, rather than tease me and make jokes to get out of working. You may think it is funny, but all you are doing is causing me more work and stress, and that is not loving nor kind. How can we work at this better so that we each feel like a team?” And maybe read the mental load series from June, because that may apply to you!
I appreciate the advice Sheila.
I wish it was a joke but my husband was actually being serious. He would not get me a cucumber because he thought it was gay like it was some threat to his masculinity. That’s why I was so angry and taken back.
He came back out after shopping and I was nervous we would get into a fight but he was in high spirits, and I let it go. I did make a joke with him and said “good thing there wasn’t anymore penis shaped food on the list”.
I just hope my husband saw how petty and unhelpful he was and that in the end he did all the grocery shopping so it didn’t even matter to begin with. Sigh he did put the groceries away so I could take a nap.