March 4, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Feeling Emotionally Distant From My Husband

Dear Dr. Chani,

I had a surprising experience on Rosh Hashanah that I have been worrying about ever since. I sensed a lot of distance between me and my husband. He seemed like he was in his own world. I am wondering if there is something distracting him or if our marriage has slowly been disintegrating without me realizing it. I am not sure what to think or how to react to it.

My husband works in another part of the country so we rarely see each other. He travels each week to a remote location, works long days, and returns home for Shabbos. We speak by phone every day, but I do not enjoy talking on the phone, especially late at night, which is the only time that he is available to talk. Over the years, things seemed to have been fine between us. We enjoy our family time each Shabbos and we make decisions about our children together.

But this Rosh Hashanah was different. Our children decided to be in other places so we were alone together. I thought it would be nice for us to spend time together and just talk. But our meals were very awkward and short. I felt like my husband was just not interested in what I had to say. He always seemed eager to end the meals and go off on his own—whether to read a book or visit one of his buddies. I was so shocked that I didn’t even know what to think.

I was wondering if maybe my husband was cheating on me so I checked his phone and social media accounts. So far I have not found anything suspicious. But I am plagued with a fear that my husband is no longer interested in me, and I feel so alone.

It sounds pathetic for me to ask him about his behavior. I loathe to sound like I am emotionally needy. If I do decide to talk to him, what should I say?

Sincerely,
Ahava


Dear Ahava,

You are understandably hurt and taken aback from your interactions with your husband on Rosh Hashanah. What seemed like an idyllic opportunity for you to spend time alone together turned into you feeling simply alone. It could be that there is something temporary that led to your situation or something that has been developing over time and you just noticed it now. Based on your description, there are some aspects to your relationship that might have contributed to the dynamic with your husband. The only way for you to get more clarity is to speak with him about it.

Let’s explore what triggered your concern. You were looking forward to sharing time together and hoped that Rosh Hashanah would be an opportunity to have quality time as a couple. It seemed natural to you that you would enjoy long conversations. Maybe you envisioned talking about your feelings, things that are interesting to you, or your plans for the future. While it might sound surprising, having a comfortable, free-flowing conversation about meaningful topics does not always come easy. If you are not in the habit of having this dynamic it can be difficult to create it on demand.

It might help for you to reflect and explore the conversations you’ve tended to have with your husband in the past, and especially over the last year or so. This can give insight into what you are both used to and what is shaping both of your expectations for conversations. To what extent have you spoken about practical things—like taking care of errands, dividing up responsibilities or making decisions? To what extent have you shared your impressions about your life experiences or funny stories that happened to you? What topics do you each tend to talk about? How do you each listen and respond to one another?

It sounds like one of the subjects you tend to focus on is your children. It is common for couples with children to talk about practical matters and interesting stories about their children. When you are used to focusing on the responsibilities of parenthood, livelihood and maintaining a home, it can be challenging to have conversations that focus on yourselves and your relationship. At the same time, when you have a lot of practical conversations, it can fool you. You imagine that you and your husband have a lot to talk about. Yet, practical conversations are very different from deep and meaningful conversations. Deep conversations allow you to connect in a way that is real and personal, and for this you both need to feel comfortable being open with one another.

Sometimes people feel uncertain about having a deep and meaningful conversation because they are out-of-practice and feel shaky—like when you go ice skating after you haven’t been on ice for a while. Looking back, you might find that you never really had those types of conversations in your relationship. Sometimes couples get distracted by the many conversations they have about day-to-day matters, or they lead somewhat parallel lives without realizing that a gap exists between them. It is interesting that when there were no children at the table, your attention was drawn to the fact that there is little connective conversation between you and your husband.

Think about what you expected your marriage to be like and how it is now. Until Rosh Hashanah, was your relationship the way you wanted it to be? If so, what do you think changed drastically by Rosh Hashanah? If it was not the way you expected, why is that and what can you do now to change it?

After you reflect about how your relationship has been and what you would like it to be, approach your husband to discuss it with him. Depending on how you feel, you can frame a conversation just around what happened on Rosh Hashanah or have a general conversation about your relationship.

Here are some things to consider when you think about speaking with your husband:

As you begin talking, be careful to maintain a neutral or positive tone. Keep in mind that your goal in the conversation is to have it result in closeness, not more distance. The more you demonstrate that you are trying to connect, the better your conversation will go. Avoid sounding like you are blaming your husband for something. Instead, make sure that your demeanor and tone of voice express a genuine interest in knowing what Rosh Hashanah was like for him and what he was feeling.

As you begin your conversation, start on a positive note. You might express appreciation to your husband for something that he did on Rosh Hashanah and how you were looking forward to spending time with him. Then, share with him how you noticed that your conversations were not as frequent and flowing as you expected. Ask him if he noticed it, too.

As you develop your conversation, focus on using open-ended questions to discover what is going on in your husband’s mind. Why does he think the conversations were not so free-flowing? As he talks, make sure to focus on what he is saying and listen with interest, even if you disagree. Focus on trying to understand why he feels the way he feels, rather than if you agree or disagree with what he is saying.

It is possible that your husband also noticed the gap between you and would like to work on it with you. Yet he may not have noticed it as much, and he might need time to reflect and think about what you are saying. It is also possible that he is intentionally avoiding conversation with you because something is bothering him—and that something might have to do with you or it might be something else that you know nothing about.

Whatever your husband chooses to share, make sure to listen intently and validate him. As you listen, you are not only getting to hear crucial information from your husband, but you are developing your connection to him. Let this initial discussion open the door for more conversations so that you can get more clarity about your husband’s view of your relationship and understand more about each other. This can be a giant step forward that enables you to start a new year of making your marriage more connective and enriching.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com

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