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Drifted Apart? Four aspects of closeness in couple relationships

Posted 22 Sep '14 by Gill Wier

Couples who come for counselling often say they have lost a previous sense of closeness and have “drifted apart”.  At different stages of life each partner may be looking for different degrees or types of closeness.  Reflecting on the four aspects of closeness listed below can help you to understand in which areas you have become more distant from each other and what you might do to regain a sense of closeness.

Four different aspects of closeness*

1. Sexual closeness – the ability to be comfortable with sexual intercourse and with levels of sexual closeness that are acceptable to both partners.  Differences in needs for sexual closeness are very common within couples.  If you have not had sex with your partner for a long time this is probably contributing to the sense of distance between you.  It may not be easy for you to simply start having sex again – you may find it helpful to work on some of the other aspects of closeness first ….

2. Physical and non-verbal closeness – giving and receiving affection through non-verbal interaction, for example, hugs, cuddles, holding hands, an arm around the shoulder when a partner is upset.  Eye contact and facial expression also contribute to the sense of closeness.  Individuals vary widely in how much physical contact they need or can accept so this aspect of closeness will need to be negotiated so that it is acceptable to both partners.

3. Emotional closeness – the ability to relate with empathy to the feelings and experiences of your partner varies from person to person.  This can become an area of distress if one partner feels the level of empathy from the other is either too intrusive or too withdrawn.  Taking time each day to sit down and talk with your partner can help rebuild emotional closeness.  Make sure that both of you get roughly equal time to both talk and listen.   Simply sharing how your day has been can help you feel more connected.

4. Operational closeness – this includes day to day aspects of the life of a couple such as the sharing of tasks and activities, communication about what each other will be doing during the day and when they will be back, planning and organising life together.  It might also include a different need in each partner for privacy or togetherness and the issue of whether to have separate or shared interests and friends.

Questions to consider and discuss with your partner

  •  In which aspects of closeness do you have different needs?  In which are you similar? On a scale of 1-10 each rate how comfortable you are with the current level of closeness you share in each aspec
  • Identify one aspect which you both want to see change.  (For example, we would both like more physical affection from each other)
  • Agree together one small thing you will each do over the next week to work towards this goal (For example, Bill will give Linda a kiss each morning to say goodbye when he leaves for work, Linda will hold hands with Bill when they are walking along the street).
  • Are there any aspects in which you have felt too close to each other, either now or in the past?  If so, what small steps could you take to allow each other some more space or independence?


*includes material from “Therapy with Couples” by Michael Crowe and Jane Ridley