When we think of ‘closeness’ in relationships, we often think of it as a good thing.
As long as we’re both happy with how close we are together – no problem.
But when one partner starts to feel suffocated by the other’s affections, or you start to feel you’re being rejected by the other wanting more space, conflict can develop.
Relationships can be like a diagram of circles. Each of us is a circle and how far our circles overlap is how much our lives overlap. Where circles only just touch, we live almost independently. If our circles almost totally overlap, we live ‘on top of each other’.
You might expect that a lot of couples ‘overlap’ at the start of their relationship – infatuation helps to create bonds that often last long-term.
But, as time goes by, one or both of us may want to regain some independence. This can happen simply as we get to know each other and get used to each other, or it can happen because of specific instances creating distance or putting pressure on our relationship.
A mismatch in levels of closeness can manifest itself in lots of ways:
- One of us may want to spend more time with the other, whereas the other may want more space.
- One of us may wish the other was more open about their emotions, while the other may feel already emotionally open enough.
- One of us may want to know where the other is most of the time, while the other may find that suffocating.
People often have different needs that can change over time or due to different circumstances. Understanding that is often the key to resolving conflict.
What to do about it
If you feel your level of closeness is an issue in your relationship, making a little change may be all that’s needed to create a big difference.
Sometimes, just taking the time to talk things over in a constructive and calm manner is all that’s needed to start making positive changes.
For example, you may argue about how much you stay in contact when you’re not together. One of you may feel that if you give any ground, you’ll lose your sense of independence – and that things will get worse. But it could be that just sending the occasional text is all that’s needed to reassure your partner.
It can also be useful to think back on, and talk about, anything that’s happened in the relationship recently (or in the last few years) that might have changed things. It’s not always easy to view your relationship objectively (feelings so often get in the way) but you may find that doing so can make things more understandable – and maybe less painful.
You might understand that if your partner is becoming more withdrawn, it isn’t necessarily because he or she is trying to shut you out but because, for example, he or she is having a hard time at work. Or, your partner’s apparent clinginess might start to make more sense when you acknowledge it’s a result of a family bereavement.
It can be more complicated
Of course, issues surrounding closeness or feelings of suffocation can stem from other, more complicated problems.
If one partner can’t stand the idea of the other being away for any period of time, or needs constant reassurance about their whereabouts and what they’re doing, serious trust issues could be at play. One partner may feel the need to control the other because he or she fears being abandoned – which, at its worst, could develop into an emotionally abusive relationship.
Likewise, if one partner doesn’t want to spend time together, he or she may be avoiding dealing with relationship issues by becoming ‘unavailable’.
How we can help
If you think you may need support, our counsellors can help you see your relationship from a wider perspective and help you work through any communication pitfalls.
Issues surrounding closeness sometimes stem from two partners having different ‘attachment styles’. Counselling can also help you understand what your attachment style is – and why it is your style.
Or counselling can simply help you to understand that this kind of issue is normal – and that you aren’t alone in finding things difficult.
If you’d like to talk through closeness issues with one of our counsellors, either by yourself or as a couple, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.