Six Things to Know about Emotional Disconnection

What does emotional disconnection look like to you?

I spend a lot of time here writing about our husbands.

That grows out of my own experience. I’ve written about the difficult moment when I realized how deeply my husband had been hurt by my sexual rejection of him. Many women have shared that they, too, just didn’t understand.

It was only when we were able to understand on an emotional level what sex means to our husbands—and how the lack of sex hurt them emotionally—that we were able to take that first step toward improving the sexual intimacy–and the overall intimacy–in our marriages.

Understanding our husbands and having compassion for them does not require us to set aside our own feelings. It doesn’t mean that our husbands are more important than we are.

I’d spent a lot of years believing that my needs were more important than my husband’s. I struggled to learn that he is not less important than I am, just as he is not more important.

He and I both matter to our marriage. The feelings of both of us are important. Our desires are equally important. (I wrote about this in this post.)


Supporting wives in their marital growth means helping them understand their husbands.

Last year I wrote Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal, hoping to help my readers understand how their husbands may be experiencing the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages.

Quite a few readers commented, “But what about the women?”

I am not going to speak for all women, only for myself. My guess is that many of you will be able to relate to at least some of this.

I am one who experiences everything on an emotional level. The most meaningful conversations I’ve had with others have been the ones where there is mutual sharing that taps into our emotional selves. Growing up, I thought I was too emotional and too sensitive. Now I view that sensitivity and emotionalism as gifts that are part of my very essence. I am always aware of my emotional state.

The best way to connect with me emotionally is through conversation. During the difficult years of our marriage, the biggest hurt I experienced in my marriage was the lack of emotional intimacy through conversation with my husband.

So, similar to what I wrote about how men often experience sexual refusal, here is how I experienced emotional disconnection:

  1. Emotion is inherent to my sense of self. Therefore, I experience an emotional rejection (through lack of face-to-face conversation) as a rejection of me. Having to have sex in order to get that emotional connection tells me I am not valuable enough as I am.
  1. I am designed to want emotional connection frequently, and I am designed to seek comfort. This means that I like things to happen in a way that I recognize as safe. Being surprised by new stuff (especially mid-sex) completely throws me out of the zone. When my husband shares an emotion with me (even a difficult one), I feel valued and loved. God made me this way. My emotionality is a gift from God.
  1. I receive love best through emotional connection. Emotion is the one thing that connects to my whole way of living and the deepest part of my heart.
    • When the only time I got emotional attention was during and after sex, the words “I love you” were empty to me. Big Guy can tell me multiple times a day that he loves me (and he has always done this)—but if he isn’t making an authentic emotional connection with me, I don’t believe him.
    • NOTHING matches an emotionally connecting moment for me. My husband can love me in every way possible. He can provide for me, he can keep me safe, he can bring me gifts, and he can give me mind-blowing orgasms. He can do everything else I want or need. Added all together, this still doesn’t match what emotional connection can do for me. Emotional love trumps everything else combined.
  1. Depriving me of his emotional involvement in our conversations can be as damaging as depriving me of conversation altogether. Having a conversation that is devoid of feeling hurts me. I need to be known as much as I need to know. Our marital relationship misses out when our conversations are only about the exchange of information.
  1. Both the pattern and the specific instances of emotional disconnection hurt me. It is a pattern if my husband usually cuts me off and says, “Get to the point.” It is a pattern if most times when I begin a conversation I know he will want only the information with none of the discussion that I find meaningful. The pattern invades the very fabric of my life. My emotional makeup is the most precious part of me. The sharing of my feelings isn’t desirable to him. Every time it would happen was a reminder of the overwhelming hurt from my lack of worth to him.
  1. Whether my husband’s pattern was simply refusing to engage in conversation with me or limiting our conversation time to TV commercials, it was the worst thing in my life. We faced quite a few challenges in life, but the lack of emotional connection through conversation was devastating. I thought many times, “I could bear anything if only I could know he loved me.”

Since beginning my journey to work on sexual intimacy, I have learned how much of our emotional disconnection grew out of my husband’s hurt as a result of being deprived of true intimacy in our marriage.

Knowing that doesn’t remove the hurt I experienced.

Compassion and understanding for him have made me better able to heal from the hurt I experienced—but it doesn’t erase that hurt from having happened.


Are you a wife who feels emotionally disconnected from her husband?

Perhaps your list looks different from mine, or perhaps you now wonder if I’m inside your head.

Think back to when you read the sexual refusal post. Did you have a negative reaction thinking that your husband was nothing more than a caveman? Did you read that you were expected to have sex whenever your husband wanted, and that his desires were more important than yours?

The post said nothing about these things. However, when we are hurting it is easy to read between the lines and see our own heartache staring back at us.

If you feel emotionally disconnected from a husband who seems to have no desire to work on your relationship, it can be overwhelming to hear him complain about the lack of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

Your husband may be equally frustrated by your complaints about a lack of emotional intimacy if you refuse to work on sexual intimacy.

Both of you are hurting–and both of you can work to develop compassion and understanding for the other.

What if you were to look at these two posts together, this one along with the post on sexual refusal? Or, perhaps, both of you can make your own lists of how you experience the lack of connection in your marriage.

If you are unhappy with the lack of emotional connection and your husband is unhappy with the lack of sex, consider using both of these posts to begin a conversation with your husband.

Use them as tools to give you words to describe what you are experiencing. Use them to help you both understand what the other is saying, translating into your own point of view. Use them to talk about ways that what I’ve written resonates with you—or ways that it doesn’t.

Just as you may not have understood the emotional connection your husband was missing with the lack of sex in your marriage, he may not understand the connection you are missing with the lack of meaningful conversation (or however it is you need to connect with your husband).

The things I wrote in the post about sexual refusal may not speak for your husband. The things I’ve written here may not speak for you.

If they do speak for either of you, let them start a conversation to help you both understand each other and begin to heal your marriage.

Supporting and encouraging wives in their marital growth means helping them understand their husbands.

It also means helping them help their husbands be more understanding as well.

Ask your husband for his compassion and understanding, just as you work to offer yours to him.

You are no less important in your marriage than your husband is.

You bear our Creator’s image, and you are His beloved daughter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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22 Comments on “Six Things to Know about Emotional Disconnection”

  1. What you stated here is very key “Both of you are hurting and both of you can work to develop compassion and understanding for each other.” I have no problem with that, I think it would lead to the path of healing….he has to communicate with me though because I’m left in a place of not knowing what to do….

  2. One thing is significantly different about most wives need for emotional conversation versus most husbands need for sexual connection.

    And that is that a women can go to another close friend etc and achieve some level of emotional connection and relief. Granted it is not with her husband that she would prefer. But she is still able to achieve some form of emotional relief and support.

    husbands however have absolutely no option for sexual relief. They cannot go to ANYONE other than his wife.

    Think of being in a situation where you could talk to no one except your husband. And he refused to talk to you at all or will only allow you to talk a certain times or only about certain subjects and only for certain length of time etc. but you had zero other options and could talk to NO ONE else. How trapped would you feel?

    That is what husbands are dealing with. And that IS a significant difference.

    I totally get that the wife needs to feel close before she desires sex. But the husband likely needs the sexual connection before he will desire an emotional conversation. It is the preverbial chicken and the egg scenerio. Some one or both have to be the first one to break the cycle. And both have to understand and agree to change to stop the downward cycle and begin an upward growth cycle. If only one does or if the other refuses to change, then the upward growth cycle may never get off the ground.

    1. I could go to a woman and get some level of emotional relief–just as my husband could masturbate and get some sexual relief. It’s hard for me to see it as significantly different.

      Someone has to take the first step. If both spouses are waiting for the other one to change, the marriage will stay stagnant.

      1. Chris,
        I think you’re missing something in Tad’s comment. A man who masturbates is absolutely dissatisfied with the results. The value and connection are all in his imagination because he is the only one there. There is _no_ emotional relief. Assuming this man is reacting to the hurt of being deprived (and not acting out some dysfunction), he starts with an emotional deficit and goes lower after masturbation. And, let’s not forget that temptation might take him other places… but the temptation is a burden whether he acts on it or not.

        On the other side of the equation, a woman can have an emotional connection with a friends, parents, siblings, and children. This all involves real validation from real people. The wife may be convinced that she doesn’t miss/want more emotional intimacy with her husband because it would lead to sex. Sometimes the husband is the cause for the distance, but that distance is often a tool the wife uses to avoid sex.

        This is played out in just about every marriage where children enter the picture, and the wife neglects the husband because she is satisfied in her role as mom. I assure you, the husband has no such option that can satisfy him anywhere near as much … unless he’s willing to cross boundaries that will wreck the marriage and his reputation. And this is Tad’s point.

        It isn’t only a poorly devised complaint. The fact that the wife can find emotional connection may delay how long it takes her to feel the need deeply and urgently, while the husband generally feels it strongly very soon. I’d also like to point out that resolving the problems with the husband are further delayed because those “outside” connections are frequently seen as a *good* thing. If the husband tries to regain his right role, he will usually have to struggle with his wife’s resistance *plus* the resistance of those other people (esp. in-laws) who will be *losing* her connection if it goes back to the husband. Aside from that, imagine how a husband can be made to look selfish or spiritually weak when people find out that he is jealously “wrecking her relationships” (which isn’t even what he really wants).

        There is no satisfaction, but lots of very dangerous temptation, social burdens, and obstacles for the husband. The wife doesn’t have the same level of difficulty when she has outside emotional connections …. unless those connections are so shallow that they really only compare to periodic ejaculation in a room all alone.

    2. I can promise you that a woman who has to find her need fulfilled through “somebody else” is a woman who becomes more than willing to let him find his needs fulfilled through “somebody else”. Without the connection with her husband, she is the equivalent of a prostitute. Her desire for emotional intimacy is every ounce equally important. Talk to suicide counselors if you would like some education on what an emotionally disconnected marriage does to a woman.

    3. I was always waiting for him to initiate and I do need this emotional connection before anything else. And he often would want intimacy but also not initiate it and waiting for me. It all ended up very badly. He felt very distant and rejected although I never pushed him away and now he tells me he is not even attracted to me. Granted, we have multiple issues going on but we were able to somehow plough through w some sex. And now he is absolutely and totally not in any state of desire for me. He sometimes tells me he can’t b’s he is getting older(53) and then he tells me he just doesnt want me. He tells me he controls IT and IT doesn’t control him. Innately, I know he doesn’t want me. And its a horrible feeling to have

      1. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. My guess is that it’s a combination of his own hurt from sexual rejection (even though you didn’t, he clearly felt it) and changes due to aging. If he spent most of his life getting aroused at the thought or sight of you, it might be a simple thing for him to assume that the lack of spontaneous arousal must be due to a lack of attraction.

        I would suggest that you pursue counseling together. If you strengthen those multiple issues you have, you may find that he rediscovers his attraction to you.

        We talked about this briefly in one of our podcast episodes, too. Check it out here.

  3. I don’t agree that masturbation provides sexual relief. I believe it provides some physical relief. But there is zero emotional connection. Which is what most men seem through sex. Is the connection which is completely and utterly missing with mastubation. While a wife talking with a friend or pastor etc can in fact be provided some emotional relief and connection and support.

    They are very, very different.

    1. Perhaps they are different–but we both felt rejected and unloved. Whether the pain was comparable or not, we both experienced pain from our lack of intimacy.

      1. Tad’s point is very important and fundamental to the problem men have in a sexless marriage.

        A wife may be missing the emotional connection with her husband because of a lack of quality conversation but she can seek some comfort by talking to others. This conversation with others can be healthy even in the best marriages.

        A husband will be missing the same emotional connection through a lack of quality intimacy but he cannot/must-not seek any intimacy outside of his marriage and therefore has absolutely no outlet if his wife refuses to be intimate.

        The key point here is that, to a husband, sex is part of being intimate with his wife and not the other way ’round. Masturbation is part of sex but is not connected to his wife and therefore does not fulfill any part of the intimacy he so crave’s.

    2. Unfortunately Tad, we’re Christian males. It is different, you are correct. We have less recourse, but that just gives us the impetus to take the lead, take the headship of the marriage like we’re supposed to, and take that first step. I’m going to generalize a bit, but men are much better prepared to deal with emotional distress, we can detach ourselves where women just simply can’t. In that respect, they’re the “weaker vessel” that we are supposed to “dwell with in knowledge”.

      It stinks at times. It really, really does. But if we’re Christian, then we know the Truth: The Chicken came first.

      Anyone have some corn?

      1. How can a man take the lead if his wife refuses all forms of initmacy even after the man has taken not just one but many steps, sometimes over many months/years, to change or alter the emotional balance within the marriage?

  4. Chris, you draw some powerful parallels as you compare your need for conversational intimacy with your husband’s need for sexual intimacy.

    Sometimes we hear about a woman needing conversation and other forms of intimacy SO THAT she can enjoy sex. While that may be true to some extent, you expressed clearly that her need for connection through conversation is viable on its own. Likewise men might agree that while sex aids their ability to engage in intimate conversation, the sex on its own is more than adequate.

    In response to Tad’s comments, even though I can go elsewhere for intimate conversation, it is my husband with whom I long and need to connect that way. In other words, I may connect emotionally with someone else via conversation, but its an insufficient substitute. Also, going elsewhere can lead to dangerous temptations-physical affairs often begin as emotional affairs.

  5. @Tad …how trapped would i feel…yes i ve no one else so close as my husband as we r living abroad .reverse to the traditional cycle he has his family to uplift him emotionally whereas i hvnoone to talk to about my twin needs….n still i m expected to break the downward cycle

  6. I have the opposite problem, my husband won’t have sex with me and eschews all emotional intimacy. Yay me.

  7. All I want to know is, is there an SSRI or supplement like curcumen that can just kill my desire for sex so I no longer have to deal with this torment? It wou!d be a relief. My wife and I get along great and I’m very helpful and she really enjoys our sexual intimacy but still with young children it might be only every 6 to 9 weeks. She enjoys multip!e orgasms, I get one. I’m tired of the temptation of other women, in tired of the temptation of unhealthy things. I’m tired of being tormented every minute of every day with a terrible news that won’t go away that seems to have no other purpose but to condemn my soul to hell . I don’t even want to ask her to change, I just want chemical castration so I can get on with my life and be released from this bondage. Then my wife and I can both be happy. Any thoughts on a chemically induced removal of the need? Talking does not help, being helpful and giving my all to her servitude does not help.

    1. Even if your sex drive completely disappeared, it would not ease the hurt in your heart. If you’re like most men, sexual connection is the most powerful pathway to emotional connection. It is likely that without the constant physical reminder of sex, you might not face as many temptations throughout the day. I suspect those temptations remind you of your hurt. But without the drive for sex, it doesn’t sound like you would feel any more emotionally connected to your wife than you do now.

      Talk with a pastor or a counselor about how to deal with your emotional pain. Think about how the relationship is in other ways, about your wife’s emotional needs, about how you can communicate your pain to her, and what comfort God has for you. Talking isn’t going to help if what she hears is that you’re more concerned about your sexual needs than about her as a whole person. Helping out won’t help if you’ve given any indication that you do it only because you want sex. Marriage counseling might be helpful in teaching you and your wife to express yourselves and to really hear each other’s hearts.

      I’m sorry you are hurting in your marriage.

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