Luckily, my wife and I have a GREAT relationship now. But there was definitely a time when we struggled in our marriage due to her inability to connect with me emotionally. So learned to spot some of the emotionally distant wife signs.
Here’s what I learned:
Some of the signs of an emotionally distant wife include being on the phone constantly, deflecting blame onto others, shutting down during arguments, using drugs or alcohol to excess, and being a control freak. She may also by hypercritical of her spouse and others.
Marriage is supposed to be a union when 2 people come together.
In theory, it means we always have a partner, through thick and thin, to help us sail the sometimes rough waters of life.
But for some of us husbands, our wives aren’t always there for us on an emotional level. While sometimes the issues are clear, I wondered what some of the less clear signs of an emotionally distant wife might be.
Sometimes a woman’s emotional disconnect happens due to post-partum depression. Other times it’s rooted in feeling unfulfilled in a career, being isolated due to a move, or even a lack of female friends.
Yet other times, it has its roots in unresolved past sexual trauma.
So in this post, we’re diving deep into the world of wives who aren’t fully able to connect with their husbands on an emotional level.
I’ve been on the brink of divorce and saved my marriage, and I KNOW you can too, even with an emotionally distant wife.
I’ve been in your shoes. You want to move beyond the pain. And you desperately want your marriage to have trust, mutual acceptance, and respect; even if your wife remains a little distant.
Luckily, all hope is NOT lost, and there is something you can do, even if your spouse isn’t sure they want to save the marriage.
The website Regain offers licensed therapists who specialize in couples counseling and will work directly with you and your spouse online; anytime and from anywhere.
Serious about saving or improving your relationship?
CLICK HERE to answer a short quiz and see if Regain is right for you.
What does it mean to be emotionally distant?
If you are in or ever have been in a relationship with a spouse or partner who is emotionally unavailable, then you understand the frustration that comes with never fully getting to connect with them on an emotional level.
In the early days of our marriage, my wife rarely let me “in”.
While she could be very flirtatious and sexual, it was obvious that there was also a wall she had built around her to protect her from being hurt by others.
That distance led to me feeling lonely, alone and fueled my own insecurities. It also led me to try and pull closer, becoming clingier and more controlling in the process.
In short, it led our marriage down a very unhealthy path that both of us contributed to.
Sometimes an emotionally distant wife or husband might be:
- Evasive when asked in-depth questions
- Be defensive
- Easily angered
- Vague in answers (or just sticking to cold facts instead of talking about feelings)
- Highly critical of you or others
All of these attributes are designed to create space and emotional distance from others. They build an emotional wall which they believe protects them from getting hurt.
As the husband of an emotionally distant wife, you may end up feeling sad, depressed, isolated, unloved, or even ejected.
While it’s probably more common for women to complain about emotionally unavailable men, it’s actually more common than you might think for there to also be a lot of emotionally unavailable women.
I have a companion article to this one that goes into the same level of detail about the Signs of an Emotionally Distant Husband (click to read my article) so that article is well worth reading too.
After all, ANYONE is capable of being or becoming emotionally distant, so it’s a problem any of us can face and knowledge and awareness is the key to overcoming it. Ironically, oftentimes emotionally distant or unavailable people will be drawn to each other.
Is it an ongoing disconnect or temporary?
If you are seeing the emotionally distant wife signs, just know sometimes the situation is temporary, and other times, it’s ongoing.
If someone disconnects temporarily, it could be due to:
- A health issue (with themselves or a family member)
- Priorities at work
- Financial stress
- A recent emotional crisis like a divorce or death of a loved one
But if you have been married for some time and your wife is emotionally distant, chances are it’s something more ongoing (and thus serious).
What is emotional detachment?
Emotional detachment is a disorder that is clinically recognized.
Of course, if your wife is emotionally unavailable, that does NOT necessarily mean she has emotional detachment disorder. But just so you know the definition, emotional detachment disorder actually has 2 possibilities.
It may be when someone avoids uncomfortable situations knowing they could lead to anxiety. Thus, they just avoid situations that might cause them to shut down emotionally.
But emotional detachment disorder could also refer to people who shut down emotionally when dealing with a stressful situation.
The classic silent treatment, while not necessarily indicative of someone having emotional detachment disorder, is a great example of this latter description.
If your marriage struggles with your spouse giving the silent treatment, just know it’s NOT acceptable and IS a form of abuse and manipulation.
So I really suggest you take a moment and review my highly shared article that defines the Silent Treatment (click to read my article), explains just how toxic it is, AND walks you through fixing it in your marriage.
What are the signs of emotional detachment?
There are a few things to look for if you think your wife has emotional detachment. So review the following list of symptoms and see how many fit:
- She is unable to share her emotions
- She’d rather be on her phone than talk
- She suddenly goes quiet and shuts down
- A lack of compassion for other’s feelings
- Refuses to plan for the future (prefers to just live in the moment)
- She has a history of long-distance relationships
Ultimately, we’re talking about a pattern of keeping people at arm’s length. Some of the signs of an emotionally distant wife include not letting anyone get too close.
Conversations are superficial, humor is used to deflect uncomfortable topics, and ultimately she will build a wall around herself to protect her from being hurt by anyone.
Why is someone emotionally detached?
Lots of things can push us away emotionally from our spouse and others. Often, but not always, these are rooted in childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect.
With men, it’s not uncommon for Dads to really push their sons to “man up” and not show emotions, to not cry, and to not be vulnerable. While this is getting to be less common than it was in decades past, it’s still a widespread practice for raising boys.
With women, the roots of being emotionally unavailable are often different.
Women can become emotionally distant due to a variety of factors such as:
- Post-partum depression
- Feeling alone and isolated
- Wanting a family but not being able to get pregnant
- Having a family too soon (and not getting to be a young adult)
- Serious illness (breast cancer, ovarian cancer)
- Unresolved past sexual trauma
- Betrayal by a loved one
But either way, men and women who struggle to express themselves emotionally in a healthy way often end up self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
Since they have repressed their emotions, they don’t fully understand them and drugs and alcohol help numb the pain that comes with that.
Can you reverse emotional detachment?
The short answer is yes; almost any trauma can be worked through, and anxiety can be overcome.
Emotional detachment is a simple defense mechanism.
Over time, things happen to us that are painful. We can meet those things head on, feel our feelings and then let them go. But more often than not, people don’t want to face the pain, so they bury it deep down inside them.
The biggest downside with pretending the pain isn’t there is it causes us to build walls and keep others out. We end up observing life instead of living it. When we do that, while we are technically avoiding the painful feelings, we are also robbing ourselves of feeling true joy, bliss, and love.
To reverse emotional detachment or any form of emotional disconnection or unavailability, we have to first just acknowledge the elephant in the room. That acknowledgment has to start with ourselves, but it also needs to extend to family and friends.
Trust me; everyone else knows what’s going on. So by admitting it, you’re taking the 1st step towards fixing it. The longer you’ve been living with your walls up, though, the longer this process may take. So be patient.
The next step is learning to overcome the illusion of control.
People try and control when things have happened that made them feel out of control. Thus, the child of an abusive parent might become an abusive parent because at least they were now in control.
In truth, we have no control over anything other than our own actions, statements, and choices.
Thus, we have to accept that sometimes people will hurt our feelings.
Relationships might end, people could betray us. But we can’t control anyone else’s actions, and building up a protective emotional wall doesn’t actually change that; it just keeps us from being able to really experience the true joy and meaning of life.
How my wife overcame her emotional detachment
Ultimately in the case of an emotionally unavailable wife, we have to first determine the underlying cause of the emotional detachment.
Both my wife and I have some level of emotional detachment.
In my wife’s case, she grew up the child of drug and alcohol abusers. It wasn’t uncommon as a young child for her parents to pass joints around with her right there in the middle. Then when her folks split, her Dad virtually vanished for many years.
Her mom remarried another addict who became her step-dad.
Her childhood was far from being age-appropriate, and there were a number of times when they went without food or electricity because her dad blew the money on drugs. She became emotionally detached and unavailable as a means of protecting herself from pain.
After all, if the most important people in her world could let her downtime and time again in such significant ways, how would the rest of the world treat her?
Like me, my wife has had a lot of therapy.
Another key step in her overcoming her childhood issues was that she (and I also) quit drinking alcohol for about 3 years once we (and our marriage) hit rock bottom in 2013. Our marriage almost came to an end after I had an affair in 2013.
Luckily, instead of imploding, we used that chaos to really get our heads on straight, including sobriety and began to really focus on and admit our own childhood issues that were damaging our relationship and making both of us emotionally distant.
I chronicle our journey about Overcoming Infidelity (click to read on my site) and rebuilding trust in one of my most popular articles on Pinterest. Definitely check it out if that has ever been an issue in your relationship.
Overcoming emotional detachment in my life
In my case, my being somewhat emotionally unavailable was rooted in a fear of people leaving that I developed at a young age.
My mother and father divorced when I was 6 months old. By the time I was 2, she had remarried and we moved 1000 miles away.
I grew up having only a fleeting relationship with my father, who struggled to come out in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The challenges he faced as a gay man in the early 70s took most of his time and attention, leaving little for me.
Over time we grew close (up until his passing in 2014). But I detail my life in one of early posts about Growing Up with a Gay Father (click to read on my site) which at one time was my most popular.
By the time I was 11, they too had divorced due to his alcoholism and physical abuse towards my mom.
My step-father, the man I had grown to call Dad, then died a few years later. I chronicled that part of my life also in a highly shared post about Growing Up with an Alcoholic Father (click to read on my site) and breaking that cycle of addiction.
It wasn’t until years later, after seeing a number of therapists, and having several failed relationships, with my wife and I’s marriage at a crisis that I finally came to terms with my childhood issues and how they tended to cause me to sabotage relationships.
I would do things to cause them to end so that at least the demise was (seemingly) within my control.
Like the alcoholic who finally admits they are an alcoholic, once you come to terms and accept why you do the things you do, you’re halfway to fixing things.
Can a marriage survive without emotional intimacy?
In short, most marriages will have a really tough time surviving without emotional (or physical) intimacy.
Otherwise, you’re basically just roommates; there’s no connection, no spark, no passion. True, you can be physically intimate without being emotionally intimate (hence one night stands exist).
But for most marriages, the two often go hand in hand.
And if your wife is just not available emotionally, it will be very challenging to go through life together when life gets tough (and it will).
I go into much greater detail on Can a Marriage Last Without Intimacy? (click to read on my site) in a highly shared post. So if you’re wondering that same question, you might be really surprised by the success rate of marriages lacking in that department.
How can you tell if someone is emotionally unavailable?
When my wife and I met in October of 2005, the last thing on our minds was whether either of us was emotionally unavailable.
We were excited; we felt that spark and electricity.
She and I had also both had tumultuous relationships that had recently ended, so it just felt nice to feel that pull to someone without the noise and baggage that comes with long-term relationships.
But, had we been looking for the signs of someone who was emotionally unavailable, we might have seen some of the following:
- Mixed signals (excited one minute and aloof and distant the next)
- A flatterer (someone who excessively compliments and flirts)
- Perfectionist (someone who strives for constant perfection out of a need to control)
- Overly critical of past relationships (can sometimes be within reason, but it’s rarely all someone else’s fault)
- Quick to get romantic (moving to sex quickly is a great way to avoid emotional intimacy)
- Big egos (confidence is one thing, but being conceited is often used to mask low self-esteem)
Of course, those aren’t the only signs of an emotionally unavailable wife or husband. Many also won’t possess ALL of those traits.
But it’s a great place to start and good to not ignore warning signs in the heat of the moment.
How do you live with someone who is emotionally unavailable?
In the case of my wife and I, neither of us were fully able to connect emotionally with each other. We both had walls up as a defense mechanism; they just presented themselves differently.
Unfortunately for my wife, the pain she was burying drove her to drink uncontrollably.
For me, while I did drink, it rarely got out of control as it did for my wife. Instead for me, it drove me to be overly critical, short-tempered, irritable, and placing blame, and finding fault (in everyone but myself) was very important.
Luckily, we both found ways of working through our issues, and stopping drinking alcohol for about 3 years was pretty huge for both of us. It helped give us that clarity and allowed us to really come to terms with our demons without clouded judgment or numbed pain.
If you are living with an emotionally unavailable wife or husband, try these steps:
- Understand their triggers (that doesn’t mean walk on eggshells around them, but knowledge is power)
- Know your own triggers too (so you don’t take things more personally than is really warranted)
- Ask questions more than making statements (statements make people defensive)
- Do talk about your feelings (when you (do this), I feel (this feeling), because (of this)
- Be patient with them (and yourself and the process)
- Appreciate them for who they are
- Avoid placing expectations on them (sets yourself up for disappointment and arguments)
- Ask their opinion and listen (don’t just wait your turn to talk)
Can marriage counseling help emotionally distant wives?
Marriage counseling is a great resource as is therapy in general.
For a wide variety of issues, seeing a good therapist or marriage counselor can really help couples understand and work through issues, as can individual therapy.
My wife and I were lucky enough when we lived in Dallas to work with a therapist who would work with us both individually and together and since we each had separate issues as well as issues in the marriage, it was a tremendously helpful way to help us heal and move forward.
So if you’re wondering If Marriage Counseling Can Help (click to read on my site), check out one of my highly shared Pinterest posts on that marriage counseling and some of the really surprising benefits you might get from it.
So now let’s review the . . .
19 Worst Emotionally Distant Wife Signs
1. She is vague, aloof, or evasive in answering questions
Nothing scares an emotionally distant woman more than deep meaningful conversations about her, her past, your relationship with her, or what she’s feeling.
Thus, anytime the conversation turns that way you might see a vague, non-committal answer and redirecting the attention away from herself.
2. Sometimes she seems to blow things way out of proportion
Because she’s keeping pain masked inside of herself, it naturally will build over time and eventually find a way out. When that happens, it often explodes and comes out in ways that seem way over the top for the conversation you were having.
You’ll likely be caught off guard as to why she reacted as strongly as she did.
3. She’s flirty but avoids in-depth discussions
Emotionally unavailable women (and men) love to flirt. They can be vivacious, loud, sexy, and give off very attractive energy.
This too is kind of a smoke-screen as they want to make their partners feel like are building emotional intimacy in an attempt to quickly move past that stage.
4. They tend to be a control freak
Because most emotionally unavailable women have issues rooted in childhood pain, abuse, or neglect, and as a child, they felt helpless and out of control, as an adult, they often have an unhealthy obsession with control.
They (mistakenly) feel that by trying to control everything now, they are somehow protecting themselves from future harm.
5. She has a big ego
Lots of external things can be used to mask insecurity and ego is certainly one of them.
Bragging is a way of trying to improve how someone feels about themselves. Unfortunately, since it’s rooted in vanity instead of accomplishments, it actually tends to make people feel even more insecure.
6. Changes the subject quickly when her past comes up
It goes without saying that emotionally distant wives (or husbands) don’t want to address the issues in their past that caused the pain that is at the root of their issues.
Thus, any attempt to talk about it, or if the person at the root if the issue is still in the picture, she’ll often do ANYTHING to avoid feelings and discussion.
7. She can seem inconsiderate, or unaware of how her actions affect others
Because she’s so focused on masking (and in some cases self-medicating) her pain, she’s often oblivious to how her actions affect her husband, kids, family, and friends.
She’s not truly selfish, but she’s so locked into her own defense mechanisms, she can’t truly provide for anyone else’s needs.
8. You see signs of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem affects LOTS of people.
Society, school, family, and friends all put expectations on us (and are usually well-meaning). But when we fail to meet those expectations, especially repeatedly, we start to feel like a failure.
For an emotionally unavailable wife, without getting help, she will start to feel like a failure as a wife (and mother if you have kids), all of which can destroy her self-esteem.
If you need some awesomely simple, but effective Tips on Boosting Self-Esteem (click to read on my site), check out one of my earlier articles which details some powerful steps ANYONE can take today to start seeing a difference tomorrow.
9. You feel alone even when you’re with her
One of the biggest downsides of being with an emotionally distant wife is that no matter how much you are around her, or what you do with her, you still feel alone.
That loneliness can grow over time too and it can also cause husbands to try and cling more tightly thinking that will improve the emotional intimacy (which it won’t).
10. She spends more time on her phone than talking with you
The phone is a huge part of our lives these days. In many ways screens are great (you’re likely reading this on one). But they can also cause a distraction, and lead to a huge disconnect. It’s ironic given they are designed to help us connect.
If your wife is constantly on her phone and not engaged at the moment and present to you and what you are both doing, that’s a clear emotionally distant wife sign.
If you think she might have a Cell Phone Addiction (click to read on my site), review some of the sure signs of that and check out some of my proven steps that I KNOW will help with that.
11. Indifference towards you, even in an argument
If your wife doesn’t even get angry or frustrated in the heat of an argument, that too is a bad sign.
After all, relationships are supposed to be built on passion. If that passion goes away, it can be hard to sustain anything else.
12. She talks down to you
It’s totally OK to disagree with your spouse (or anyone else). But in this day and age, it’s become increasingly common to be intolerant of anyone whose opinion is different than yours. That’s honestly a huge societal problem, and a subject best left for a different article.
But if your wife can’t argue with you without criticizing you, name-calling, or belittling, that’s a huge problem. Not only is it disrespectful, but it’s destroying the relationship.
In fact, it’s one of the 4 Worst Things a Couple Can Do to Each Other (click to read my article which reviews all 4) according to renowned marriage expert Dr. John Gottman.
13. You are low on the priority list
An emotionally unavailable wife simply can’t focus on much beyond her own needs and keeping up that protective shell around her.
Thus, you, as her husband, will often be WAY down on the priority list, especially if you have kids.
14. She’s quick to deflect blame away from herself
Defensiveness, not taking ownership, or at the very least adding a “but” to the end of an apology are the cornerstones of people who are emotionally distant, broken, or unavailable.
To take REAL ownership requires vulnerability, and until she has started to heal and move forward, that just won’t be possible.
15. She has little to no interest in sex
While emotionally unavailable men, can still (sometimes) engage in sex without emotional intimacy, sometimes (but certainly not always), an emotionally distant woman will withdraw from sex.
This is because sometimes (but again, not always) it’s harder for women to separate sex and emotional intimacy.
16. You have no idea what she’s thinking about
When we feel alone, disconnected, and separated from our wife, it gets very hard to understand, relate to, or know what she’s thinking.
17. She drinks alcohol or does drugs to excess
Nothing masks the pain of trauma, abuse, or neglect quite like drugs and alcohol. So, while many use these things recreationally without a serious issue an emotionally distant wife (or husband) uses these things as a crutch.
Because they don’t want to feel their feelings, they continue self-medicating hoping the pain will go away. Because the pain is inside them, though, they are never able to escape it, often leading to increasing levels of use and abuse.
18. She’s unwilling to go to therapy
Is there anything quite as vulnerable as seeing a therapist?
After all, in therapy, we are literally spilling our guts to a complete stranger. So it’s VERY common for emotionally distant men and women to refuse to go to therapy. Sure many are savvy enough to say things like “I don’t need therapy” or “I use yoga/martial arts/reiki,, etc” as my therapy.
In truth, those are excuses to avoid being vulnerable.
While not every therapist is great, if the issues are deep-rooted, true healing often can’t begin until they try therapy.
19. She shuts down during arguments
There’s nothing worse than the dreaded silent treatment.
You are having an argument and then abruptly, without warning, your spouse stops participating in the conversation and just won’t continue.
You have no idea when, or even if, the conversation will continue. They have taken control over the entire situation and often won’t say anything further leaving the other in limbo.
In truth, the silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation.
If you think you engage in this, know that it’s OK to take a break if you are overly frustrated or need a minute to cool off. But it’s not OK to leave your spouse in limbo indefinitely.
Just let them know you need a moment alone but let them know when they can expect to continue to the conversation.
Did I cover all the emotionally distant wife signs you were expecting?
In this post, we took an in-depth look into emotionally distant wives and what some of the signs might be that indicate that.
We explored the reasons why a wife might become emotionally disconnected, whether that emotional disconnect can be reversed, and if a marriage can survive without intimacy.
If your marriage is struggling with emotional distance, then check out this quick video on the 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage (click to watch on their site) that WILL help get yours back on track.
Are you seeing any of the emotionally distant wife signs?
If you like this post, please follow my Save Your Marriage board on Pinterest for more great tips from myself and top marriage experts!