Our intentions are generally pretty good. The majority of us are trying to be the best romantic partner we can, at least most of the time. But sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, we don’t act like the person we want to be. Interestingly, research consistently suggests that the vast majority of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are unconsciously motivated.
In fact, many scientists suggest that up to 95% of what we do and say is not consciously generated, as much as it feels that it is. Think about that for a minute. Scientists actually can observe parts of the brain responding – thus creating a feeling or prompting a movement – before the conscious mind is aware! That means that your conscious mind receives input about what is already happening, but because we are control freaks, we pretend it was our conscious idea in the first place! Hilarious.
Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more common distancing tactics that men and women play out in romantic relationship without even realizing it. These behaviors may not be consciously chosen with the intention of creating distance. However, the unconscious may be actively working to create some space between you and your partner. Behaviors like these can sometimes interfere with an active, satisfying sex life. BUT it is important to remember that sometimes distance is healthy and supportive of romance, so don’t just assume that creating distance is a bad thing. Also, as Freud himself would say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, which means that the behavior may be pure and uncomplicated in its motive. This article is simply an invitation for you to examine your own actions so that you may determine if there are any you’d like to consciously tweak.
- Going to bed at different times. Many couples have to do this because of work schedules, or simply differing body clocks. However, some couples seem to fall into these patterns and stick with them, with no clear benefit for anyone. Going to bed at the same time offers couples a chance to cuddle, have pillow talk, and basically be more sensually focused rather than brain focused. Couples who forfeit this connection every night miss a wonderful opportunity for intimate bonding.
- Texting during dinner. Ouch, this is one we are all guilty of. But don’t you feel sorry for the partner in a restaurant who is essentially eating alone? Making a habit of bringing the phone to the dinner table is a great way to avoid conversation with your partner. Is that really what you want to do?
- Watching your TV shows. Yes it’s true, most people have their favorite nights on TV, and favorite TV shows can become an important part of some people’s lives. But tuning out your partner one night a week (or more) so you can tune into someone else’s life is not necessarily a compliment to your loved one. Can you tape your shows and watch them at a more convenient time? Or try and find shows that you both can agree on? At least if you are watching together, there can be a sense of connection if you try.
- Falling asleep on the couch. This is another habit that can create distance for a couple. Sometimes the act of falling asleep, even when partners are in the same room, results in the awake partner feeling shut down and unimportant. And you can see why – falling asleep on the couch regularly says to a partner “no more intimate contact tonight. I’m done.” This can feel rejecting and lonely for the partner left awake, especially when there are so few opportunities for intimate bonding in the stressful lives we lead.
- Yes, you were waiting for this one – perhaps the most obvious of all – your computer. Whether you hide out in your office in the evenings, or you bring the laptop into the family room, your attention is still on the screen and not with your partner. Facebook, games, email, virtual worlds….OMG the list is endless! I know there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all that you want to in cyberspace. But here’s the deal –cyberspace is a bottomless pit. Your lover’s patience is not. I have seen many marriages dissolve while one partner stayed glued to their computer screen. What a shame.
Let me remind you that none of these behaviors is always motivated by a desire for distance. They are simply some of the more common habits people can get into that may magnify disconnection and cause further discord. If you see yourself in any of these examples, then I’d suggest you start talking to your partner. Speak up in a calm, loving way about what’s not feeling quite right in the relationship.
The sooner you work on it, the better your chances will be of a smooth recovery. I tell my patients that problems are like mold in the refrigerator. When we ignore them, they grow rapidly and then they are that much more challenging to clean up. Relationships are a struggle for everyone at times. Putting some effort into issues now really can prevent bigger problems from unfolding down the road.
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