Question

I’m married to a man who can’t emotionally connect with me. I have a nine out of ten emotional meter “need” and his need is at level one. We’ve been to counseling and it hasn’t worked. How can I be happy in a marriage where I don’t want to have sex with my partner that I can’t connect to? I don’t have any emotional connection with him on any subject. He is an “all or nothing” kind of thinking person. I can’t be a robot like him, and he can’t feel empathy for me, so we avoid each other. Otherwise, we fight when we talk about our relationship. I guess my question is, “how do I be happy in my marriage where there will never be an emotional connection between us?”

Answer

I’m not going to pretend there are easy solutions to your marital dilemma. You’re starving for emotional connection and, yet, there are expectations of closeness when you have nothing left to give. I’m glad you’re still willing to ask for ideas and support, even though I can hear you’re losing hope. I’ll share some thoughts that might help you see your situation in a new light.

I believe that you and your husband are both doing what makes sense to each of you. I get that his robotic and emotionally avoidant responses cut deep for you. I also suspect that your approach to the relationship is likely painful for him. Even though you describe him as unemotional, I’ve actually never met a man or woman who wasn’t emotional. I have met lots of people who don’t know what to do with their emotions, so they create maladaptive responses to help them keep their balance through life.

I have a hunch that his robotic state may be one of these coping strategies that helps him feel stable and in control. I’ve never met him and have no idea what other factors may be at play here. It’s possible he’s on the autism spectrum, a trauma survivor, or grew up in a family where being in touch with emotions was discouraged. Any one of these areas would make it challenging to find the sweetness of emotional connection.

However, if you write him off as unemotional and believe that he doesn’t need what you need, then you’ll more easily give up on him and the relationship. I recognize that I have limited information and limited space to respond to you, so I have to make assumptions and simplify. I do believe, though, that his desire to get close to you is driven by emotion and longing for connection.

You’re both overwhelming each other in your own unique way. If you’re each on opposite ends of the emotional expression spectrum, then it’s likely you’re inadvertently pushing the other person further in the direction that hurts you most. Since you’re the one writing me the question, I would encourage you to see if you can acknowledge how your coping strategy of pushing for emotional connection could be negatively impacting the relationship. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that asking for emotional connection is wrong or that you’re singlehandedly ruining your marriage. I’m saying that it’s easy for each partner to get more rigid in their approach when they’re starving for closeness.

If you’re willing to go first in breaking this gridlock, you might tell him that you can see how your push for emotional closeness is probably overwhelming to him and that it must be difficult and overwhelming to have you respond in this way. You can ask him what it’s like for him. You can see if you can learn more about his responses back to. You can also find out what he’s hoping will happen when he responds this way. See if you can begin to map out how you’re both pushing each other further from the connection I believe you both want. It would be great if this conversation could eventually circle around to include both experiences so you can unite together to find a better way to find peace in your marriage.

Most people need help from a therapist trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to do this type of work on identifying and interrupting the cycle of disconnection. Dr. Sue Johnson has outlined how couples get stuck in these cycles in her two books, “Hold Me Tight” and “Love Sense.” I highly recommend you both read these together to better understand how you can find each other again.

Emotional connection is important if you want to have a safe and loving marriage, but it’s not going to look exactly the same for each couple or even for each spouse. If you approach your husband from the belief that he’s doing what he’s doing to try and manage his emotions, you can hang onto hope that he’s not a lost cause and that your marriage have still have some love and life left in it.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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