The Impact Of Withdrawal Of Affection In A Relationship: Perspective From A Couples Therapist

What I often hear in couples therapy is:

  • “We used to be so close, but now it feels like there’s a wall between us.”
  • “I just don’t feel connected to my partner anymore.”
  • “It’s like we’re roommates.”

These are not uncommon thoughts. In fact, they are so common that it’s no wonder we don’t have better awareness around the average time when a marriage or partnership starts to decline.

When does with withdrawal of affection occur in relationships?

There are three major time points where it’s common to see a breakdown in relationships. This includes emotional withdrawal. I’ll refer to these time periods as the big THREE:

  1. The 2-year mark when the lust hormones switch to the love hormones. There are varying studies that support the switching of chemicals in our brains as our relationship ages – but there’s no denying that the honeymoon phase exists and the loss of that initial feeling can leave both partners feeling more vulnerable and less inclined to give physical and emotional attention.
  2. The fabled seven-year itch – an anecdotal deadline at a time when many couples are having children, managing a growing or possibly unstable career and financial pressures are at their peak. While this can happen earlier or later in a relationship, the introduction of added challenges leaves both partners with less time and energy to focus their attention on the other person.
  3. The 20-year committed partnership “everyone thought they would be together forever’ a fallout that no one saw coming. At this point, the small cracks in a relationship can feel like they’ve grown into gaping chasms. This doesn’t mean there’s no hope – but it does require a dedicated commitment to rebuilding what has been slowly crumbling for years.

What to happened to us?

Forget all the big reasons a relationship can get off track; kids, grief, infidelity – those issues can derail any relationship. But, the impact of the withdrawal of affection in a relationship can be one of the most devastating over the long haul.

The reasons for this withdrawal can vary, but the consequences are similar: one or both partners suffer from feelings of rejection, isolation, and loneliness. This leads to an increasing gap between the level and intensity of physical and emotional affection between each other.

As a highly experienced therapist, I have encountered numerous instances of couples seeking guidance due to a withdrawal of affection in their relationships.

Why is affection so important?

  1. The feeling of connection is vital to the health of any relationship. It is built on trust, communication, and emotional as well as physical intimacy. When one or both partners withdraw their affection, it can lead to a breakdown in the relationship’s foundation.
  2. This sense of disconnection can be emotionally draining and may lead to further withdrawal or even the end of the relationship.
  3. Losing the physical connection in a relationship can make it difficult for couples to maintain their emotional bond. Physical touch, whether it’s a simple hug or more intimate moments, plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of closeness and love between partners.

Can the withdrawal of affection be fixed?

This is one of the easiest and hardest relationship challenges to overcome. Easy because the fix is as simple as doing this one thing that is missing – touch each other, listen to each other and literally close the gap. Hard because this feeling of distance, both emotionally and physically, can be so deep that by the time you seek help identifying the root cause, it may feel insurmountable to overcome.

Can couples therapy help affection?

In couples therapy, we work to address the underlying issues that contribute to the withdrawal of affection. Some common factors include unresolved conflicts, unmet emotional needs, stress, infidelity, or even mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

The withdrawal of physical or emotional affection is one of the hardest to accept because it feels so foundational to what it means to be a couple. Relationships need input, work and a level of dedication toward staying healthy and strong.

Couples therapy is a valuable tool to help you navigate back to a feeling of closeness and connection. If you’re ready to take the first step, we are here to offer the guidance, support, and tools you need to rebuild the connection. Contact us, book an appointment, or schedule a free consultation to get started with couples therapy.

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The EMDR & Trauma Therapy Centre provides in-person therapy in Toronto and virtual therapy across Ontario. Specializing in EMDR and trauma therapy.