Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, we're going to spill some tea about relationships.
Now, I'm not going to pretend that I'm some sort of guru with a roster of fulfilling, amicably concluded relationships to draw on. However, I am something of an expert on what not to do. As such, I've found that the golden rule (as is the case in platonic friendships and filial relationships) is emotional honesty.
I'm not saying that we need to bear our soul every second of the day. You shouldn't have to release your every thought to your Person to feel like you're communicating, either. But there's a happy middle ground somewhere between those spectrums.
Why aren't long-distance relationships so bad?
In comparison with those in long-distance relationships, individuals who have unwittingly become part of an emotionally distant relationship suffer more.
This is because people in long-distance relationships still have communication, which is gold dust for relationships. It's precisely because they know they're apart that they have to prioritise each other and make time. Indeed, as the distance amplifies silences and makes any dissatisfaction reverberate all the more intensely. It's really important to communicate when needs aren't being met.
If one party feels neglected in a long-distance relationship, there's only one way to resolve that: tell your partner. Therefore, even with physical barriers, emotive, empathetic communication is a great, if not the only true tool to negotiate these long absences.
However, if you have become acclimatised to an emotionally distant, neglectful, abusive, or apathetic relationship, there is no quick fix.
...and why is emotional distance so dangerous?
This is because you feel trapped, trapped in your insecurities or concerns about the other person, and enduringly unable to communicate that. This is either because you feel that your concerns wouldn't be taken seriously, or you're just simply not comfortable putting yourself out there. Rendering your emotions open in an honest and exposing way. Frankly, making yourself vulnerable is super hard, even if it's to friends you've known years or your own family. So it's no small feat.
That said, it's still possible, It's worth trying
You will find it awkward at first to put your needs first and state what you want or expect out of the relationship, and that's natural. It's weird to put yourself first, but we must all practice it more as a form of self-care. We can so easily pretend that everything is okay and manageable and brush off our suffering as something that isn't as valid or important as other forms of suffering. We're always the exception to 'self-care', and we have so much to relearn as a consequence.
You have to be willing to fall flat on your face and get your heart broken in a relationship
Otherwise you will realise that you maybe aren't using your heart all that much.
By this, I don't mean that you need to throw yourself off emotional cliffs just for the sake of it. I also don't believe that suffering always has a 'reason' or 'lesson' to learn from. Sometimes, life sucks and isn't fair. However, you have to respect that your heart is foolish and doesn't always know what it wants, but it does have needs and you will always know if they are being met or not.
If your partner constantly cancels plans last minute, or rebuffs your attempts at intimacy, or refuses to meet your friends or family, or even has little habits like dismissing your interests or passions – that's not the basis of a relationship. Those are micro-aggressions that build up over time. Even if it's a form of ribbing or banter, if it falls flat and makes you feel insecure, that's a result of a lack of truly knowing each other's personal boundaries. Furthermore, if you feel like you can't confide in your significant other, you may find yourself up a creek with no paddle because that leads to bottling emotions up.
Trust me when I say that nothing good comes from bottling things up unless you're a winemaker. In that case, there's probably an economic benefit somewhere.
Wait, what does emotional distance even really mean then?
Emotional distance means that you aren't truly comfortable with the other person in your relationship, and maybe you aren't even comfortable with yourself yet.
It's true that we rarely 'know' ourselves, no matter what the self-help gurus and therapists tell us. We don't need to have a goal of 'truly knowing' ourselves at any point; it's always about the journey. Plus, our 'selfhood' is constantly evolving, informed by our changing habits, preferences and actions, and thoughts. We would do well to remember that emotional and mental health are weighted just as highly as physical fitness in terms of our overall wellness.
Some initial suggestions...
A few steps to encourage greater emotional intimacy in an ailing relationship is to determine first of all how invested you both are.
It is worth having an open and honest 'all cards on the table' conversation. If you're still hiding things from each other, or playing hard to get, or acting as though the relationship is a game that you can 'win' by being unavailable or inaccessible, then you might be the problem.
That's another tough-to-swallow pill, the realisation that we, ourselves, may not be ready for the emotional vulnerability that a relationship entails. Relationships can't survive off compliments, sex, and forced smiles. Perhaps, you need to work on yourselves as individuals before you can commit to a relationship. That's perfectly fine. We all need periods of time to ourselves. Just make sure that you communicate that to your nearest and dearest because they may not be as near or dear as you think.
A quick note on 'Emotional Cheating'
Furthermore, another thing to consider is the increasingly common phenomena of 'emotional cheating'. While this isn't a hard and fast capital 'C' cheating situation in all cases, it's something to bear in mind. Even if you are aware of your partner's physical needs, that isn't to say that you are satisfying them in other respects.
That is where it can cause their mind and heart to wander if it gets emotional satisfaction from another source. We sometimes have to acknowledge that things aren't working because we aren't putting the effort in or risking ourselves in it.
This may read as a deterrent for relationships. It's not. I just want to make sure that you can all establish that you're on the same page as your partner, or at least in the same book.
It can be extremely damaging to feel emotionally adrift. That's where insecurity sets in and you can truly spiral.
But also, love is great, sharing is life-affirming, and relationships are wonderful if you use them properly.
Don't lose hope, but make sure that your heart sees the light of day every now and then.