What makes couples lose emotional connection in marriage


Jennifer’s husband was threatening her with a divorce. It had been eight months of no sex between them. Jennifer came to the sexology clinic, desperate to salvage her marriage. “I do not want to imagine being divorced. You have to rescue this situation,” she insisted. “However hard I have tried, my body has just refused to have sex with James. I have no feelings for him!”

Jennifer, 37, had been married for 10 years. She had two children aged three and nine. She had gradually lost interest in sex over the years. James, her husband, was frustrated. I took Jennifer’s sexual history and questioned her relationship with James. I conducted laboratory tests to find out if there was a medical problem interfering with her sex drive. My conclusion was that the couple had lost their emotional connection.

Take it this way: Women’s sexual urge is closely linked to their emotional connection with their partner. For them, sex is a way of cementing the trust, love and the interest they have in a partner. Sometimes women lose the trust and the sense of emotional connection. As such, they are no longer sure whether they hold a special place in the man’s heart, making them feel vulnerable and forced to hold back their emotions. With time, they get totally disconnected from the man’s emotional radar.

“Very accurate assessment, doctor. That is where I am. I just wonder how I got into this messy state,” Jennifer said. This is a problem that grows over the years. In Jennifer’s case, the origin was James’ communication style.

Spouses are always making attempts to communicate with each other, via words, body language or actions. Not many men are good with words but a number do try. Body language affirms what your partner is communicating. Facial expression, nodding, shaking the head and many gestures and expressions confirm that your partner is interested in your feelings or otherwise.

But actions speak even louder. A number of couples will hold hands, hug and do small caring acts such as giving each other mani and pedicures, resting on each other while watching TV, holding each other while asleep, and so on.

There are three ways couples respond to communication cues from their partners, which can either build or kill emotional connection and intimacy. There are people who are persistently in a fighting mode. They will never say a nice word to you. Your attempt at positive body language towards them elicits a negative response and sometimes outright rejection, even in public places. Let’s call such people oppressors because their spouses feel oppressed. “Now that is my husband. Very colonial, dictatorial and hard to love,” Jennifer interjected.

There is a second group of people whose response to their partners’ advances is equally worrying. These are the indifferent ones. You never know what they are up to. They do not verbalise their feelings. They ignore you when you talk to them. They always seem pre-occupied with their own lives. Your spouse does not initiate anything intimate and if you fail to do it, the intimacy dies.

“I see no difference between the oppressors and the indifferent spouses, they are both difficult to live with. It would serve me better if you just discussed solutions to these problems,” Jennifer said.

Well, the answer lies in the third group – the receptive spouses. They are full of sweet words for you. They pay attention when you are talking to them. They probe to understand what you are going through emotionally. They empathise. They respond to your feelings with kindness. They do not hesitate to hold, hug and show kindness to you.

Jennifer was living with an oppressor and they were no longer emotionally connected. As a result, having sex was just impossible. I had the couple go through counselling and therapy. After six months, they were re-energised and James had mastered social skills pretty well. As they walked out of the consultation room after their last session, I only hoped there would be no relapse. Maintaining emotional connection is a delicate thing and has to be continuously worked on.


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