Are you living together because it makes sense, but in reality there is no real emotional connection anymore? Experts call this being “emotionally divorced”.

Like many parents, Joe and Lisa devoted a lot of time to raising the kids. They worked long hours and spent all their remaining energy on tending to their kids’ needs. For 25 years, they served their children and watched the kids leave the nest, one by one, until it was only the two of them left at home.

Now they try to imagine how things were before they had kids. They used to sit on the porch and talk about work, exciting things and adventures for hours. Lisa would instinctively know when Joe had a tough day at work and offer him something to drink, leaving him to cool down for an hour or two before joining him in the study to discuss what was on his mind.

Joe could listen to Lisa talking for hours about the latest movie that she saw, and Lisa would listen attentively when Joe told her about the big sporting event that he watched with his friends.

Joe and Lisa were friends and companions. They made each other feel heard and seen. When one partner felt the need to connect on an emotional level, the other one would sense it and make themselves available.

This is how their relationship was in the beginning, but slowly – without being able to pinpoint when or why – they became disconnected. They started ignoring each other’s needs, or became too tired to invest time and attention in each other.

An observer would be able to notice catty or mean-spirited remarks by one partner (and the subsequent hurt look in the other’s eyes), but this emotional pain never got addressed because there simply wasn’t time to talk about things. After some time, the small rifts got deeper and started causing major damage to their relationship.

Are you Joe and Lisa?

After the kids left, Joe and Lisa’s relationship became increasingly disjointed. Sometimes they would eat together, other times not. Some nights they would sleep together, but more often each one  would sleep alone. Each of them carries the weight of his or her own burdens, fears and concerns alone, and they don’t share in each other’s joys either.

Both Joe and Lisa know that they have lost their emotional connection and that they are being inauthentic when they put up a united front before friends, family members and their adult children. Keeping up the facade is part of the emotional divorce.

Can you prevent it?

  • If one of you notices that you are becoming emotionally distant as a couple, it needs to be addressed without blame.
  • Commit to living in the present. Focus on what’s happening between the two of you now.
  • Try to pay attention to the emotional needs of your partner. Try to give him or her the emotional support that they are looking for.
  • If your partner isn’t a talker or sharer, you need to start asking leading questions.
  • If you are worried about raising an issue because it might lead to a fight, empower yourself by reading books and information about conflict handling. See a professional therapist if necessary.
  • Remember that your partner is also feeling hurt, scared and helpless.
  • Remind yourself that you used to be very close and emotionally connected. It might take some work, but you can get back to where you were and become an even closer couple than before.