When One Partner Wants More Closeness Than the Other–5 Things to Know

If you were searching for “When one partners wants more closeness than the other” and came across this article, I’m going to take a guess that  you want more closeness than your partner (therapists often call this partner “the pursuer”). If you are a partner that prefers more alone time (therapists often call this partner “the withdrawer”), my guess is you are reading this at the request of your distressed spouse.

As with everything else, it would be helpful if you and your partner were alike in your preferences for TV, food, sleep, parenting methods, and sexual frequency. Realistically, however, the desires for closeness versus time apart is often another place of negotiation for many couples. 

Whether this is a mild annoyance or a cause for great distress, we want to share these five tips.

1. It’s normal to have different preferences for closeness.

Don’t fret if your partner values alone time more than you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love your or care about you. But it also doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to an unfulfilling relationship.

2. It’s great to have at least one partner who pursues closeness.

Honestly, the relationships I worry about the most are the ones where neither partner has a strong desire for closeness. If at least one of you craves it and keeps you both in check by making sure time together is prioritized, this is a huge win for your relationship. If neither of you felt distressed by lack of connection, you may feel more like roommates than intimate partners. Appreciate this gift to the relationship, because it is a gift. Even when my husband would prefer to watch game 782 of the world series than have an in-depth chat, I know deep down he likes that his marriage counselor/pursuer wife keeps our marriage in check!

3. Women generally pursue closeness more than men.

I know this tip doesn’t shock you. But, yes, women are often (not always) the pursuers of closeness in the relationship. There are many reasons for this, explanations that could warrant an entire blog post or book. Recently, I was in a couples training seminar with renowned couples expert, Terry Real, and I love what he said about this. Since this blog is all about sharing the insider info about relationships, I’ll pass along a summary of what he said:

Women are more empowered nowadays. They aren’t dependent on marriage the way they used to be. They have raised the bar. Women want a level of emotional intimacy that men aren’t raised to deliver or even value. 

Wow. This means a) it is normal for one partner to want more emotional closeness and b) you should still expect more from your relationship.

4. It matters how you approach your partner.

The pursuer (the one who desires more closeness) can feel like they are in great distress when their partner doesn’t bring much emotional depth to the relationship. However, the way they voice their distress can often have the opposite effect and send their partner even further into hiding. I tell pursuers all the time—what you are fighting for (closeness) is so good! The way you are fighting for it (demanding, criticizing) is not so good. If you are demanding your partner want closeness with you or criticizing them that they don’t, your partner may not respond well. Communicating your needs for closeness needs to be delivered as a request or an invitation for it to entice your partner.

5. It can be learned . . . and should be.

Another thing Terry Real went on to say is that often “men aren’t necessarily unhappy with their marriage; they are unhappy that their wives are unhappy with them.” If one of you is a bit challenged in the emotional intimacy department, keep in mind this skill can be learned. And like I tell my daughter when she refuses to try the new vegetable on her plate—if you don’t try it, you’ll never know if you would like it!

Reference: Healing Trauma in Couples Therapy with Janina Fisher and Terry Real. Presented May 28-29, 2020 through Leading Edge Seminars.  

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