Physically Together and Emotionally Apart

By Ken Wells - 10/28/2022


Series Three: Blog Seventy-Four

Clients who are addicts in recovery and in a relationship often tell me that it is very difficult to physically be at home and emotionally connected with their partner. Like Carole King wrote in the song “So Far Away”— “Holding you again could only do me good—How I wish I could—-But you’re so far away” —-. These lyrics are true for those who are emotionally distant but physically present.

Without emotional connection a couples relationship is reduced to mere roommates who become like ships passing in the night. There are many relationships stuck in this dynamic. Resentment, fear, emptiness, shame and loneliness dominate. For addicts who have eliminated the drug of choice from their life, filling the black hole inside through cultivating emotional intimacy is practically impossible because they have never known how to connect to and express their own feelings. Left with their own inadequacy, difficult topics that need to be engaged are avoided and the distance grows.

Here are a few suggestions to help create emotional closeness:

  • Cultivate an intimate relationship with yourself. The core addiction for every addict is codependency. You try to regulate yourself by regulating your environment and others. You lose your own identity in this way. There is no way to create an intimate connection with someone else if you do not have a sense of connection with yourself. Addicts learn to define themselves through controlling others. They become enmeshed not knowing where they stop and others begin. Life becomes a mishmash of what other people think of them and rebellious attempt to do what you want when you want it. Addicts live life with the dread that they are a fraud. Intimacy with others first requires that you create a sense of who you are, what you feel and how to meet the needs that are revealed to you through your affect. Without this skill set you will be stuck with being physically together but emotionally apart.
  • Become more tolerant of others through listening. Without listening to each other, people objectify others. By that I mean, we presume how others think, what they want or will do based on our own data collection gathered without due process of checking things out with the other person. To do this, you must listen to others with your heart. Put yourself in the shoes of others. Attempt to think as they do. Endeavor to see the world through their eyes. You don’t have to surrender your view. Rather, you expand options by considering how the other person sees the world. Sit with their awareness by hearing them out. Summarize what they think, feel and want. You may never agree but you will deepen connection simply because you have increased understanding and tolerance by listening with your heart. When you listen with your heart you bring the other person closer to you. You will take down barriers of defense and bias. You will increase consideration of the other person’s point of view.
  • Balance personal power with shared decision-making. It doesn’t always have to be about you. Practice taking up less space. You do have social power which is influence and clout by who you are and the privilege you carry. Use it wisely. Be reverent about your influence. You don’t have to brandish your position of power with every decision just because you are the bread winner. Practice letting go and sharing decision-making with your capable partner. When it is all about you, distance will intensify even though your partner will go along to get along. You may think all is well and good when your partner is feeling distance and disconnected from the ideas and relationship you cherish. Set your personal power aside and share the decision-making.
  • Eliminate “power over” dynamics by cultivating “power with” experiences with your partner. Bond together in solidarity. Power over is coercive and controlling. It creates distance in relationships and disrupts connection. Practice making collective decisions. Empowerment comes from “power-within”. It’s the power that comes from speaking an uncomfortable truth and standing up for a value you believe in. It creates the force we feel flowing through us in the moments of deep connection with the compassionate energies that exist between two people. Harnessed in a coupleship it creates an unstoppable “power-with” dynamic that forms a solidarity that helps a couple get through difficult times. It creates a willingness to set aside your own individual interests in favor of your collective interests in the relationship.

It builds a foundation for being physically together and emotionally connected.

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