Susan described her marriage as emotionally draining, unfulfilling, and frustrating. She feels so alone in her six years of marriage as her husband could not emotionally connect with her. Sometimes it feels like she`s married to a robot, someone who is incapable and uncomfortable with any display of emotion. She is tired in engaging her husband, tired of being shut out, tired of making all the effort to bond with her husband. Susan has reached the point of trying to end their marriage.
Why could she be experiencing this? Looking at her situation, I see two possibilities as to why her husband is emotionally distant. First, her husband probably has an emotionally distant personality. People with this tendency are uncomfortable to give and receive any form of affections. Thus, they seem emotionally distant to their significant other. People with avoidant tendencies grew up in an emotionally cold environment, wherein they were not allowed to show emotions or they have no emotionally secure attachment with their parents. Having an avoidant partner is very painful to a wife as she feels alienated from her husband. If you are suspecting that your husband is like this, you may check the 10 signs of an avoidant partner here and learn how to deal with it here.
Another possible reason to the husband`s emotional disconnect is the pattern of communication present in the relationship. Dr. John Gottman stated that there are four negative communications which could predict divorce or separation. He called them the four horsemen, these are: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Susan, the wife I mentioned above, recounted a verbal exchange with her husband that warranted a 1-week cold war. As we will notice, the four horsemen are present in their conversation.
She said: (criticism) Bakit ba sa tuwing nanghihingi ako ng pabor sayo eh hindi pwede?
He said: (defend) Eh sa hindi nga kaya eh, kung nagsabi ka sana ng maaga di nakapagprepare ako.
She said: (contempt) May emergency bang prepared? Para ito lang ang hinihingi ko hindi kaya? Anyway, okay lang. Kaya hindi tayo umaasenso dahil magkaiba tayo ng pananaw. Hindi man lang kita masandalan sa kahit konting bagay.
He said: (stonewalling) Bahala ka na nga.
Dr. John Gottman defined the four horsemen of apocalpyse.
- Criticism. Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong. Examples of criticisms are making generalizations such as saying “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …
- Contempt. Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her
- Insults and name calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery.
- Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip
- Defensiveness. Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack
- Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
- Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said
- Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …”
- Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
- Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying
- Whining “It’s not fair.”
- Stonewalling. Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness
- Stony silence
- Monosyllabic mutterings
- Changing the subject
- Removing yourself physically
We saw how the four horsemen were played in the couple’s conversation. And basing from this, I have assumed that this is not the first time that they have this kind of verbal exchange. That said, this type of communication is a possible reason between S and husband’s growing emotional distance. If you can recognize the presence of the four horsemen in your communication it is best to learn and adopt a more respectful and effective communication. Dr. Gottman discussed here the antidote to the four horsemen.
With Susan’s situation, I don’t know which came first: the husband’s avoidant personality or the four horsemen or both are present. But as a good news, S and her husband agreed to work on their marriage and change some set-up in their relationship. Hopefully, the couple will be able to communicate effectively and have an improved marriage generally.