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3 Not-So-Common Issues That Can Cause Emotional Distance in Marriage

Man and woman sitting back to back
I’ve been married for nine years and feel alone. My husband and I don’t connect emotionally at all. What do I do?

I’m not able to tell whether my spouse can’t connect with me emotionally — or just doesn’t want to. He’s a great provider and very loyal, and everyone he meets loves him. But the two of us don’t share any interests and can’t seem to relate. The emotional distance is just too huge. We’ve been to several marital therapists: Some think the issue is that our communication styles (love languages) are different. One counselor said my husband is self-absorbed and needs to grow up and take responsibility for being married. And another suggested he has narcissistic personality disorder. Whatever’s going on, I’m ready to be done with this marriage. I don’t have a biblical reason to divorce, but I’m exhausted.

 


ANSWER:

Before saying anything else, we want to validate all you’ve done to this point to save and improve your marriage. And at the same time, we want to acknowledge the very real draining effect of the loneliness you described.

God designed the freely chosen commitment of marriage to lead to deep intimacy and connection. So when that doesn’t happen, it’s normal to feel frustrated that your husband won’t engage with you emotionally. It’s normal to feel discouraged that you can’t get a straight answer from people who are supposed to be experts. It’s even normal to feel like quitting your marriage.

That’s why we’re glad you continue to reach out for help. There is hope that you can enjoy a successful marriage. Instead of giving up, now’s the time to press in even harder and dig even deeper. Why? Because you’ve seen several counselors about the same concern and get different opinions. That’s often a clue there’s more to the story.

With this in mind, we encourage you to consider three not-so-common, easy-to-miss issues that may contribute to the emotional distance in your marriage:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Traumatic brain injury

This Q&A is just an overview. Still, as you read, ask yourself if anything stands out. Make notes to share with your therapist. Counselors aren’t always trained to look for or diagnose these situations. So any light you’re able to shed on what’s happening can help them identify root issues and come alongside you and your husband in the best way.

Autism spectrum disorder

It sounds like your husband might not know how to respond when you need him to understand your feelings. He may be faithful to your marriage and things important to him while at the same time be uncomfortable or unable to connect emotionally or physically with you.

These behaviors can be evidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes Asperger syndrome.

An example of what autism spectrum disorder can look like

When the hospital called to tell Melissa that her mother wouldn’t survive the night, she darted out the door to be with her mom. Her husband stayed home with the kids.

Melissa spent eight hours at the hospital and was there when her mother died. She returned home early in the morning — overwhelmed, grieving, and shaky. She just needed a hug and to be told that everything would be OK. But when she woke her husband to talk, he immediately started listing all the chores he took care of while she was gone. Then he said goodnight and went back to bed.

Key takeaways

Reactive attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) — also called disrupted attachment — is normally reserved for diagnosing young children. However, if a child experiences a disrupted attachment, they won’t just outgrow it.

The underlying lack of attachment to a primary caregiver continues to impact the person throughout life. In fact, research suggests that over 50% of marriages may have at least one non-securely attached partner. But because behavioral symptoms of RAD usually change over time, an accurate diagnosis can be difficult.

If your husband has a disrupted or broken attachment, he may:

  • Have a hard time trusting you or other people — or he doesn’t trust people at all.
  • Express his love conditionally and quickly withdraw it if the relationship becomes tense or strained.
  • Go through life thinking he doesn’t need you or anybody else.
  • Act like a revolving door: He wants you close, then he doesn’t, then he does, then he doesn’t … The cycle never ends.
  • React defensively when you press him to be relationally vulnerable or close.
  • Not be able (or refuse) to connect emotionally to you.

An example of what reactive attachment disorder can look like

Robert and Claire had been married for 11 years. While they were dating, Claire felt that Robert put a lot of effort into hearing her story and giving her words of affirmation. Things changed after they got married, though. Robert no longer asked Claire how she was feeling or discussed what mattered to her; he just wanted to talk about politics, the news, or his frustrations at work.

Claire began to feel emotionally distant. She tried to do things Robert asked and be interested in things that mattered to him, but her attempts were often rejected or ignored. Claire felt that whatever she tried to do to get close to Robert made him push her away. He sometimes called her clingy or needy.

Key takeaways

Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the third not-so-common issue that can cause emotional distance. The injury could be a closed-head injury, like a concussion, or it could be a penetrating open-head injury. And it can cause mild to severe changes to a person’s mental health and personality.

Did your husband ever take a hit to his head during a sports event or accident? At the time, he may not have been officially diagnosed with a TBI. However, if his inability to connect with you emotionally can’t be credited to any other reason, consider talking with your primary care doctor. Get a referral for a CT scan to confirm or deny an undiagnosed chronic brain issue.

An example of what traumatic brain injury can look like

17-year-old Sandy and her family were in a car accident. Her parents and brother were fine, but Sandy’s head hit hard against the door window where she was seated.

The hospital cared for the gashes to her skull and sent her home, but Sandy wasn’t herself. She couldn’t stand loud sounds. She didn’t interact with people like she used to. And when she did respond to someone, it was with agitation — especially if the conversation required her to engage emotionally. She increasingly ignored family and friends to do her own thing.

Key takeaways

Hold onto hope

Because the counseling you’ve already tried hasn’t given solid answers, you might feel despair at the thought of another round. But we encourage you not to give up.

Instead, keep in mind that although the situations we’ve described aren’t common they can greatly impact a person’s ability to relate in normal ways. One or more may be what’s keeping your husband from emotionally connecting with you. Getting to the bottom of things can open doors to healing.

Where should you start?

Find competent mental health and medical professionals

Look for professionals who can assess for autism spectrum disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and traumatic brain injury. Take time to research and interview each one. And be prepared to see several because there might not be a single therapist in your area who’s competent in evaluating for all three of these unique issues.

The process may feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but it’s worth the search. Developing a strategy to move forward in your marriage will be easier once you have a more complete and accurate understanding of the issues impacting your husband’s behaviors.

When you have your team in place, you might first need to set up individual therapy sessions. Then, at the right time, your counselors may suggest one or more joint sessions for you and your husband to address the issues together.

Set realistic expectations and achievable goals

We need to offer a note of compassionate caution: Working toward healing doesn’t mean your husband or your marriage will be “fixed.” Rather, getting an accurate explanation of what’s going on will give you the insights and tools needed for a marriage that can be successful, joyful, and God-honoring — even in the face of ongoing challenges. The path won’t be easy; it might even be painful. But it will be ultimately freeing for both you and your husband.

Be intentional about self-care — and your support system

Self-care is about addressing your physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs. As part of self-care, make time to prayerfully build relationships with wise people who will support you in your marriage and this journey — not those who will give their opinions about what they think you “should” do.

Remember where your hope lies

God loves you and your husband, and He cares about your future and your marriage. Stay the course. Trust Him with your exhaustion, trust Him with the counseling process, and trust Him with the outcome. Hold onto the Lord’s promise of hope.

Find ongoing support

If you’d like to talk more about what you’re walking through, call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and help you take the next steps toward restoring hope. They can also suggest referrals to ongoing support from qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area. In the meantime, the resources below can be helpful.

*Names have been changed.

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Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

Rhonda Stoppe

Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Mrs. Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

Are You Really Okay?

Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

Mrs. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

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Newest Release - Episode 1: The Truth About Life!

In this episode, we will tackle tough questions like, “When does life begin?” and “What does the Bible
say about Life?” You’ll discover and understand the stages of pre-born life and that babies are more than
just a clump of cells!

Yes, I Promise to Pray for the Pre-born and Their Moms!

Will you pray for the pre-born and moms that are facing unexpected pregnancies? We will send you a 7-day prayer guide that will help guide you along this journey with us!! You can even choose to receive this great resource by text!

Thank you for committing to pray for the pre-born!

Sign up below for your free seven-day prayer guide. This daily guide will help give direction to your prayers for the pro-life movement. We will be praying with you! 

Focus on the Family

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