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The Easy (And Cheap) Way To Save Your Marriage

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Sexual Aversion Disorder » Featured Article

By Keith York, MFT

Keith York, MFTOne of the biggest killers of a great relationship is something called "Emotional Distance." I know, it sounds like a very pop psychology phrase, so let me break it down for you:

You know those couples who seem to work so well together?

Those couples who never fight?

Maybe you're secretly jealous of them. Maybe their relationship is strong. But don't jump to the Jealousy Card too soon, because there's a chance they're suffering from Emotional Distance - no fighting, no loving, no happiness.

No kidding.

Emotional Distancing is the phenomenon when a couple is so quick to squelch an argument, bring up a touchy subject, or ask for something they want, they end up neglecting constructive communication entirely.

The result is a truly unsatisfying relationship.

And the more it happens, the larger the problem grows until a couple simply accepts it as a normal way of relating.

Sound unproductive? It is, and it's NOT normal. But it happens ALL the time with couples I see.


Let's break it down even further to really examine how this communication virus occurs.


Mr. and Mrs. B got married because they felt they had found, in each other, a perfect mate. They could talk about anything. They were in love.

Then, something unexpected started to happen...

Feelings started bubbling up and they began to notice some tension and dissatisfaction in their relationship.

So, Mr. and Mrs. B did what any of us would do: they tried to talk about it. It worked before, it should work now, right?

The problem is, as time went on, things didn't work like they did before. Talking it out became frustrating and they'd lose patience with each other and argue more. The more they tried, the worse things got.

So what did they do?

They stopped trying.

Each thought, "Well, arguing isn't getting us anywhere and it hurts like crazy, so I'll just not make waves and stop bringing up touchy subjects."

So here's what happens:

Mr. B and Mrs. B keep the peace by avoiding anything they believe may lead to an argument and hurt feelings. As well intentioned as this may seem, however, when they called this unspoken truce, they stopped communicating true thoughts, feelings, and dreams.

Now, Mr. B fills up the hole left by his Emotional Distance from his wife with his work, and Mrs. B does the same with her children and friends.

This works for awhile because he becomes successful in his career, and she seems to get her emotional needs met as a good mother and friend.

As time passes, however, Mr. B finds he can't possibly get his emotional needs fulfilled solely by his career, and Mrs. B finds that she's unhealthily placing an emotional burden on her children - her friends keep telling her she's not the same, happy person she used to be. She can't deny it. And then it happens...

One of them has an affair.

The affair is a symptom of a pattern of broken down communication called Emotional Distancing.

When the B's finally come to see me, they are understandably angry and hurt. They want to talk about the problem - the affair. They're not aware of the real culprit that started long ago - Emotional Distancing.

Both partners play an important part in creating this unhappy pattern, certainly way more than they realize. So what should they do?


As I said, Emotional Distancing is very common with couples, and I see it over and over again.

But there is some good news!

This problem can be reversed and even prevented REALLY easily.

Here's how:

Esteemed couples therapist John Gottman, author of "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," teaches couples the art of a simple yet powerful technique to strengthen a marriage and prevent Emotional Distancing. It's so simple it doesn't seem like it can possibly work, but it does. It's all about Couple Rituals that create shared meaning in a relationship.

Here's how it works...

If losing touch with your partner is a path to Emotional Distancing, then staying in touch is the antidote. You can easily do this by establishing quick, satisfying rituals that keep Emotional Distance away. I called it...

"The Food, Fun, Moon, Sun Plan".


We all need to eat. Most of us love to eat. The great thing about food, for couples, is mealtime. Mealtimes are the perfect daily ritual for couples to connect, sharing the highlights and lowlights of the day - no TV allowed, and sitting is mandatory.

Grouching about a hard day, or gushing about a great day, is way more than just trading information with your partner over dinner. Commiserating and laughing helps establish an intimate connection; a chance to let your partner in on your personal life (note to men: WOMEN ARE DYING FOR THIS) and add to the special relationship you have only with your husband or wife.


All couples have their own definition of fun times together. Whether it's a walk around the neighborhood after work, or HBO Night on Sundays, do it often, do it only with each other (save the friend get-together for other times), and make sure it's something you both enjoy.

This one is effective on so many levels: if it's a walk or a hike, you both get some exercise; because of the built in conversation starters afforded by nature or window shopping, it's great for couples who can use some help kick-starting a conversation; sharing a laugh about a favorite TV show is great for couples with children who can't just pick up and leave the house on a dime.

Couple activities are important rituals for fun, connection, and building relationship. Having an activity that you both enjoy and schedule into your life as a daily or weekly ritual will help stave off Emotional Distance.

Tip: The shortest distance between two people is laughter and fun.


How do you start off and end each day with your partner? This is a HUGELY important question to answer and address. This Couple Ritual is so simple and powerful, yet completely overlooked by tired, stressed out husbands and wives. And it can have some of the greatest impact on banishing Emotional Distance.

For many couples, first thing in the morning and last thing at night is the only time they actually have to themselves. It's often the quietest time of the day, and affords the best chance for couples to reconnect.

A simple kiss good morning or good night; pillow talk while drifting off to sleep or first thing in the morning before the kids wake up - all are perfect chances for reunion, for a couple to reconnect emotionally and physically when time is limited, and an easily established routine.

I highly recommend the Food, Fun, Moon, Sun Plan.

The key is to start small.

For some couples, particularly those suffering from Emotional Distancing, starting a new ritual may be a chore and they may have to force themselves to interact in this new way.

Remember, it takes 30 days of a new behavior for it to become a habit in your life, so give yourself a break if it doesn't happen overnight.

Emotional Distance may keep trying to take over, because avoiding your partner seems easier in the short-term. But putting your partner first will pay off like a winning lottery ticket in the long-term.

And it's a lot cheaper!

Now, if you're reading this right now and you think your relationship is suffering from Emotional Distance; if you're afraid to bring things up with your partner because you fear the same old fight will start; if you desperately wish to get back the love and intimacy you once had in your relationship...

Make the commitment NOW to finally get this part of your marriage and relationship handled.

Start living the life you and your partner both DESERVE and DESIRE.

Take the time now to create your Extraordinary Relationship.

About the Author...

Keith has been working with couples for over 10 years and he can help you get to the heart of the matter, and arm you with more tools to protect and recover your relationship from the damaging effects of Emotional Distancing.

You are invited to visit his website for more information at or email him at

To reach him immediately and receive a free telephone consultation, please call 510-978-1116.

Last Update: 10/19/2012

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