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  • Wendy Elzinga

The delicate balance of distance and closeness

Updated: May 1


How is the social distance playing on your marriage? Have you found a new sense of closeness and connection from being together 24/7 or are you starting to really get on each others last nerve?

I'm saddened to read that domestic violence has gone up worldwide since everyone has had to shelter in place and the impact of stress is heavy on all. How is it that some relationships seem to navigate stress well and consist of two individuals pulling together as a team and other relationships struggle to hold together under the weight of stress?

I believe that one thing that adds to the impact of stressors pressing from outside of the relationship are the stressors that come from within the relationship. And one of those stressors is disruption in the delicate balance of distance and closeness that each couple needs to navigate. We need a combination of distance and closeness for ourselves individually and as a couple. And the ratio is not the same for any individual and so it certainly isn't the same for couples. Each couple has to negotiate between the individuals how much closeness and distance is optimal to maintain a sense of relational satisfaction.


I remember when my husband and I were both in graduate school together. It was the end of the final semester of our Master's degree program, so the pressure was high not only to do well on exams but to make plans for that next step. Stress for me is a catalyst to crave closeness and stress for my husband was a indicator that he needs alone time. Two people with two different needs both dealing with stress at the same time is a recipe for conflict. And I wonder how many people are experiencing that kind of conflict right now. It helps to know yourself, grasp an understanding of the stressors that impact you and what you need to do for self care and to build resilience. It's also good to know your partner and what their unique needs are. If you can recognize that people handle stress and recharge in different ways you, you can approach each other with a spirit of mutual compassion and understanding. Back in grad school I struggled with that and perceived my husbands need to isolate as rejection. And it was hard to see that not everyone wants connection under stress. That just seemed normal to me. Now that I understand him and that he is wired different than me, I can give him the space he needs, find my connections from friends and family while at the same time drawing him in so that he doesn't drift too far. Over the years he has admitted that he needs that, and I probably need to not grasp so tightly to another and find ways to soothe myself. And in experiencing that I could see how our differences compliment each other, in all sorts of ways.


It helps to accept that not everyone is wired the same and to be able to negotiate and compromise when it comes to competing needs. It also helps to let go of the notion that there is a right and a wrong way to do things. Recognize that two people with competing needs do not have to argue over who is right and who is wrong but instead Should focus on how to communicate in a way that insures both feel heard, loved and accepted. The other idea to hold onto has to do with perspective, you can see your differences as a wedge that drives you apart or you can view your differences as an opportunity for self growth and to help your partner grow as well. The next time you struggle with your partner's opposite way of doing things, whether that be in areas of structure or spontinaity, spending or saving, neatness or messiness or desire for closeness or distance, work on understanding their needs and developing an awareness of how moving toward them can make you more flexible and flexibility makes you more resilient to the impact of stress. As a couple you can develop a mutual strength within the relationship that can buffer you from the stresses impacting you from outside the relationship.

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