A couple sits on the couch with the man staring off in the distance. What to do when your partner pulls away

Have you noticed your partner pulling away? It’s an unsettling feeling, especially if they’re telling you that everything’s fine and that doesn’t feel true. Even the most secure among us can start worrying about scary things like affairs or an impending breakup or divorce when we feel the emotional distance in our relationships growing. And if you’re already anxiously attached, feeling your partner pull away can supercharge your relationship anxiety. 

As an experienced marriage counselor and relationship coach, I’ve helped countless couples navigate periods of disconnection in their relationships, and I am here to help you too. If you’ve noticed your partner starting to withdraw, don’t panic. I’ve got some information that’s going to help you get to the bottom of what’s happening and what to do when your partner pulls away.

If you’d prefer to listen to this one, I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it in the player at the bottom of this page, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Is Your Partner Pulling Away? 

First things first, check your perceptions. Is he pulling away? Or could it be something else?

Especially in newer relationships, “pulling away” can be a sign that something has changed. It could be that the person you’re seeing is feeling some doubts. It may be they’re not quite as emotionally available as you thought, and they’re seeking space to keep the intimacy in your relationship from growing beyond the point that feels comfortable for them. And, particularly if you’re someone with an anxious attachment style, it’s also entirely possible that they’re not really pulling away at all, you’re just experiencing the normal anxiety that you would feel in any new relationship that’s not totally committed yet. 

(Unsure of your attachment style? Take my attachment style quiz.)

But in a more committed, established relationship, distance in the relationship can mean something different. It’s actually totally normal for long-term relationships to be more spacious than newer relationships. All long-term couples go through periods of greater closeness, as well as times when they’re a little further apart. What feels like your partner pulling away may even be a reflection of the confidence they have in your bond. They’re able to focus on other areas of life without worrying that your relationship will go anywhere —to them, it’s just that rock solid. 

But, that does mean you should ignore your gut when you feel your partner pulling away. Trust your instincts — if something feels new and different, it probably is. And even if everything is fine on your partner’s end, you deserve to be in a relationship that feels satisfyingly connected for you, rather than a relationship that leaves you feeling lonely.

Here are a few of the most common reasons that people pull away in a long-term relationship, aside from the normal ebbs and flows of connection that all couples experience. 

Why He or She Is Pulling Away

  1. Competing Priorities: Modern life is a whirlwind! Between work, parenting, personal goals, and trying to get some exercise and sleep occasionally, it’s a wonder any of us find time to focus on our relationships. If your partner is pulling away, consider whether they’re overwhelmed with other areas of life at the moment. 
  1. Attachment Issues: Sometimes, emotional withdrawal can be a protective response, especially for people with an avoidant attachment style (learn more about how anxious-avoidant relationships work). Insecure attachment or fear of intimacy can lead your partner to fear being vulnerable, leading them to create distance.
  1. Unresolved Relational Wounds: When your partner pulls away, the culprit may be unresolved conflict or old relational wounds. If hurt feelings get bottled up rather than discussed and repaired, relationships will grow emotionally distant. It’s important to discover this sooner rather than later, before your partner goes too far down the off ramp of emotional disconnection. Old, unresolved wounds are one of the major things that can cause relationships to fail
  1. Disengagement and Planning: This is probably the scariest reason that your partner may be pulling away, but I want to be a good friend to you and tell you the truth. Before people make big life decisions — like whether to work on a relationship or call it quits — they often disengage for a period of time to create space for independent reflection. That is not necessarily what’s happening in your relationship, but it is one possibility. 
  1. Depression: Mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety, can significantly impact your partner’s ability to connect emotionally. Emotional withdrawal may be a sign of inner struggles they’re facing. This is especially true if they’re dealing with grief, loss, or a major life setback. 
  1. Other attachments: I certainly hope that this is not the case for you, but it is an unfortunate reality that a sudden change in the emotional intimacy within a relationship can be a sign that one partner is getting their needs met elsewhere. If you suspect infidelity might be at the root of your partner pulling away, it’s important to seek out help from a really good couples counselor who will be able to help you uncover the truth and find the best path forward. 

What to Do When Your Partner Pulls Away

So, what can you do when your partner pulls away? I’ve got a few tips that will help you figure out what’s happening and how to reconnect. 

  1. Start a Courageous Conversation: It’s time to open up about what you’re noticing in the relationship and how you’re feeling about it. Make sure to lead with curiosity during these conversations (this is a great time to bust out your “I” Statements), rather than accusing your partner of shutting you out, losing interest in the relationship, or letting you down. Before you approach your partner, check out my article on how to have difficult conversations
  1. Cultivate Emotional Safety: This one is important, especially if your partner is pulling away because they’ve been feeling emotionally unsafe in your relationship — which is very possible. Emotional safety is the cornerstone of reconnection, and really the cornerstone of intimacy, so nurture it above all. 
  1. Ask for Feedback: Remember, this isn’t just about you and how you’ve been feeling about your partner’s disconnection. Make space for your partner’s experience by showing them that you’re interested in how they’ve been feeling. This will help them feel safer opening up, which is what will help you reconnect. 
  1. Be Vulnerable: Whenever we feel hurt or sad, it’s easy to translate those feelings directly into anger or criticism. But getting heated will only push your partner further away from you, which is the last thing you need right now. Instead, focus on expressing your vulnerable emotions. Let your partner know that you miss them and that you’re feeling sad about the distance in your relationship. 
  1. Get Support: Especially if your partner tells you that “nothing is wrong and everything is fine!” and you don’t feel satisfied with that answer, you need to get this in front of a really good marriage counselor, the sooner the better. Emotional disconnection in a relationship can reach the “point of no return,” and if it comes to that, even the best marriage counselor on the planet won’t be able to help you save your relationship

If you’re in the market for a marriage counselor, make sure you educate yourself about the type of clinician who will actually be qualified to help you. Check out my article on “How to Find a Marriage Counselor” to learn more. I’ve also got some advice for talking to your partner about couples counseling for you here. 

Help for Disconnection in Your Relationship

I hope you found this article helpful, and that it gave you some ideas about how to approach this conversation with your partner. Feeling your partner pulling away can be anxiety provoking, but sometimes confronting the problem together is a powerful growth opportunity that leads to a deeper, more satisfying connection for you both. 

If you’d like support from a couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on building close, healthy relationships, check out my “Emotional and Sexual Intimacy” collection of articles and podcasts. It’s all there for you!

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What to Do When Your Partner Pulls Away

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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