Emotional Detachment in a Relationship: How to Make It Work for You

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There is an art to emotional detachment in a relationship to make it work for you. On the one hand, when you constantly tune out your partner during a conflict, you’re slowly chipping away at the ties that bind your relationship, and you’re caught unawares when it finally crumbles like a sand castle. Then again, emotional detachment can save you from unwelcome afflictive emotions, such as anger, hatred, envy and fear, because you are able to set boundaries, and step back and disconnect, thereby maintaining your calm and objectivity.

emotional detachment

As you can see, emotional detachment comes in two kinds:

Negative emotional detachment is the act of shutting out your loved one and numbing any emotion, good or bad. It’s unconscious learned apathy from prior constant exposure to situations that cause anxiety. It’s a form of coping mechanism to shield yourself from hurt.

In a conflict, you resort to negative detachment to protect yourself from getting hurt and avoid worsening the conflict. Your silence and indifference may stop the word war, but your behavior is counterproductive because, instead of finding a mutually satisfactory solution in a non-hostile manner, both of you develop resentment for the unresolved issues and things left unsaid.

Positive emotional detachment is still being emotionally involved but having the ability to step outside the situation and cut any attachment to outcome. You empathize with the challenges that come but do not claim them as your own. In this way, you can maintain your emotional balance and philosophical perspective. Positive emotional detachment allows you to think rationally and not mind what the other says about you. In this manner, you have control over your disposition and refrain from impulsive reactions. Knowing the two different types of detachment, can you cultivate one and avoid the other? Yes, it’s possible.

How to develop positive emotional detachment:

1.  Be aware of the thoughts, views and ruminations that regularly occupy your mind. Which ones push your buttons and how do you control your emotions? Identify the behavior of your partner that make you react in a negative way, then decide that their bad behavior is not your fault or your responsibility.

Related: The Art of Meaningful Connection with Others

2.  Recognize when your ego is controlling you. Some signs of an egoistic person are:

  • a sense of entitlement
  • selfish and narcissistic
  • control freak
  • takes offense at criticism
  • reinvents the truth
  • attention seeker
  • verbally abusive
  • manipulative

Check yourself – do you always put your own interests, needs and desires above your partner’s? Do you give them a chance to talk? Do you empathize with them? And do you really listen? Then set about controlling your ego and becoming more mindful of them and the environment.

3.  Make meditation a daily habit. Meditation helps you focus on the present, cuts emotional reactivity, builds compassion, and allows you to view situations in a nonjudgmental way. You realize your smallness in relation to the universe, thus counteracting egoistic tendencies. The effects of meditation on your mind and spirit helps you to achieve positive emotional detachment that gives you inner peace and harmony.

4.  Put a limit to your selflessness. You want to help your partner but when you go beyond helping and you take on their responsibilities, you’ll find it harder to detach yourself from their problems. Set boundaries so that your goodness is not abused.

How to avoid negative emotional detachment:

1. Work on your communication skills. Communication is at the heart of stable and harmonious relationships. But if you have extremely different communication techniques, having a dialogue will be difficult. When it happens all too often, you gradually withdraw from your loved one and retreat into your inner self. This leads to detachment. Learn to be on talking terms again.

Related: 3 Tips for Enhancing Communication with Mindful Listening

2. Try to understand what provokes your partner into uncontrollable rage. Maybe it’s the words you utter. Therapists advise not using words like “always” and “never.” Say how you feel or what you would like by using statements that begin with “I.” “You” statements sound accusatory or blaming.

3. Conquer your fears. Emotional detachment from a partner usually stems from a fear of vulnerability. Overcome it by being open to experiences where the outcome is unknown. Accept that life isn’t perfect, bad things happen that can hurt you emotionally. Then tell yourself that being hurt is not your fault and does not reflect on you as a person. But baring your heart and soul to your partner can deepen the intimacy and free you from your fears.

4. Get physical. Get closer to your loved one through little gestures of affection. Give them a pat, hug and embrace for no reason, hold hands. The language of touch is a powerful tool to establishing more personal ties and breaking down the walls of detachment you have built.

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