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19 Worst Emotionally Distant Wife Signs

My (now ex) wife and I often struggled in our marriage due to her inability to connect with me emotionally. So learned to spot some of the emotionally distant wife signs.

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 be hypercritical of her spouse and others.

Marriage is supposed to be a union when 2 people come together.

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.

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.

emotionally distant wife signs Middle Class Dad woman with black hair with her back to the camera wearing black and a red sash walking down a wooded path

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.

So, 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 in that moment.

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.

But it’s superficial. It lacks any real depth or connection.

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 always want to address the issues in their past that caused the pain that is at the root of their issues.

So, any attempt to talk about it, or if the person at the root of 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).

For me and my (soon to be ex) wife, it made me needy and clingy as I just craved that emotional intimacy and connection she was mostly unable to give. The less she gave, the more I sought it.

And my behavior, a reaction to hers, ultimately pushed her away.

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.

So, you, as her spouse, 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to be emotionally distant?

Being emotionally distant means to not connect with others emotionally or show emotion in any significant or consistent manner. They may feel emotions deeply, but struggle to express them to those they love.

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.

Throughout much 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.

emotionally distant wife signs Middle Class Dad woman with red hair dressed on black standing on a rock at the base of a lake

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. These people either avoid potentially uncomfortable situations altogether or people who simply shut down; the classic silent treatment.

Of course, if your wife is emotionally unavailable, that does NOT necessarily mean she has emotional detachment disorder.

But as I mentioned, 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 of emotional detachment 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
  • Non-committal
  • 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?

Many things can push us away emotionally and become detached from our spouse and others, such as post-partum depression, sexual abuse or trauma, betrayal, and menopause.

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)
  • Menopause
  • 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?

Emotional detachment can be reversed. Start by being honest with those closest to you about it. Then, be honest with yourself about the root of the issue. Lastly, take baby steps towards being the person you want to be, being kind to yourself along the way if you slip up.

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.

Ultimately, our efforts weren’t enough to save our marriage in the long run, and she announced in the spring of 2021 that she was done, which came as quite a shock given how far we’d come.

Check out this recent article to explore why a wife might suddenly announce that without warning, and whether that’s fair given there had been no warning signs or pleas for wanting something to change.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

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 my 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?

Most marriages will have a really tough time surviving without emotional (or physical) intimacy. A lack of intimacy builds resentment, confusion, and can push a partner to infidelity out of a need to get their needs met and feel that connection with someone.

Without a connection, 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. Just click that link to read it on my site.

emotionally distant wife signs Middle Class Dad black and white photo of a woman's face with her eyes closed

How can you tell if someone is emotionally unavailable?

If you are looking for the signs of someone who was emotionally unavailable, look for 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.

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 as we got to know each other better, we began to realize there was damage there that led both of us to being limited in our ability to connect with each other.

It just showed up in different ways for her than it did for me.

How do you live with someone who is emotionally unavailable?

If your spouse is emotionally unavailable, stop placing unrealistic expectations on them, and just appreciate them for who they are. It’s OK to talk about it and express how it makes you feel. But expecting them to suddenly be different will result in both of you feeling frustrated and disappointed.

In the case of my wife and me, neither of us was 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; sometimes to excess.

For me, while I did drink, it rarely got out of control. 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?

Yes. Marriage counseling is a great resource for anyone who struggles to connect emotionally with their spouse. And a good therapist can help even if your spouse refuses to go or doesn’t think they have a problem.

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.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Final Thoughts

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 you like this post, please follow my Save Your Marriage board on Pinterest for more great tips from myself and top marriage experts!

Jeff Campbell

Matt Blow

Monday 4th of May 2020

My wife and I of 10 years are dual Active Duty Soldiers, and I recently learned that we both have cheated on each other, sent pic of ourselves to other people, and at different times been emotionally unavailable. We have couseling scheduled for Tuesday but your post to a sensitive husband at 3 a.m. has helped mentally. I really hope that couseling can help.

Jeff Campbell

Monday 4th of May 2020

Hi Matt

Thanks for sharing that and your kind words. The right therapist can definitely help. The good news is you both have done things to damage the marriage and you are both willing to take the steps to fix it. In some ways that is easier than if only you or she had cheated and were trying to convince the other to stay.

Just be open and honest in the therapy sessions (it will take at least 3 before you likely start to feel/see significant progress). Avoid the urge to come up with excuses or blame her for why you cheated. And try and be forgiving with her for her cheating too.

Ultimately we all make mistakes, and no one is keeping score. But the fact that you are both are willing to put effort into fixing things is a really good sign. If you haven't seen them already, you might find these articles of mine can help further:



Lyle w

Monday 22nd of April 2019

Wow, you have really opened my eyes on why were divorcing now.wish I saw this 5 years ago. ?

Jeff Campbell

Monday 22nd of April 2019

Hi Lyle

Well, I'm certainly sorry too. I am glad you found it insightful though.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.