Emotional Coldness in a Relationship

Emotional coldness is a relationship problem that can cause significant harm. Learn its causes and how to deal with it in this article.
Emotional Coldness in a Relationship

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Emotional coldness in couples is something that millions of people have to deal with daily. In fact, it’s one of the most common relationship problems, not to mention that it’s responsible for deterioration and many breakups. Feeling emotionally alone in a relationship has many consequences, so today, we want to talk about it in detail.

This situation can also be called emotional detachment, emotional indifference, or low empathy. No matter what you call it, in the end, it’s a real problem that sometimes you may not know how to deal with. That’s why we’d like to leave you with some tips. However, first, let’s investigate the possible causes behind this phenomenon.

The causes of emotional coldness in a relationship

When talking about emotional coldness in a relationship, we have to differentiate between two cases: coldness that was there from the beginning, and that which manifests itself later. Although their features can become similar, the possible causes that motivate such behavior are not.

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It’s not the same if your partner has always been cold from an emotional point of view as if this train has begun to assimilate recently. Sometimes, we overlook red flags at the beginning of a relationship that we don’t identify until a couple of months later.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a series of explanations for why your partner may be acting cold to you. To do this, we took the two contexts mentioned above as a starting point.

Emotional coldness stemming from avoidant attachment

La frialdad emocional en la pareja puede deberse al apego evitativo
If the indifference exists from the beginning of the relationship (or earlier), it’s likely to be a problem that has been carried over from your partner’s childhood.

Avoidant attachment refers to a pattern of behavior that develops during childhood. It begins when parents or caregivers do not show enough affection during the most important stages of growth. Consequently, young children develop an attachment to them, but tend to suppress emotions and become very independent.

However, this is not something that only manifests itself in childhood, nor the child-parent relationship. It does so in all contexts in which attachment has a central component. Experts and researchers agree that this type of attachment creates low rates of satisfaction in relationships.

In short, your partner may have developed this pattern of behavior, which would indicate why they’re so cold to you. Contrary to popular belief, this type of attachment is very common, with around 30% of people displaying these traits. Out of 10 people, three develop this type of attachment and carry it with them for most of their lives.

Emotional Distancing

Emotional distancing is behavior aimed at hiding one’s feelings and, at the same time, ignoring those of others. It can be triggered consciously and unconsciously and has multiple psychological implications. It’s sometimes referred to as emotional detachment.

It’s often considered a defense mechanism to protect the individual from pain, stress, conflict, and anxiety, even if this involves multiple negative consequences. Some psychosocial disorders can explain this behavior. However, it’s often due to experiences that have arisen before or during this or a past relationship (infidelity, abandonment, fights, and so on).

Emotional indifference

Some experts don’t hesitate to label emotional indifference as a symptom that opposes love. After all, it’s a behavior that’s set apart from the previous cases since it’s done consciously. For example, when there’s dissatisfaction, there may be a desire to continue the relationship, leading a partner to act indifferent towards the other.

Emotional indifference can also arise as a result of secondary processes. For example, emotional numbing is a type of emotional indifference developed by patients with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. In any case, most of the time, it’s a conscious act of rejection of the relationship itself.

These are the three possible causes of emotional coldness in the couple. In short, it can be generated by trauma in the style of attachment (initially to the mother/father who then expanded to others). Also, it may arise as a defense mechanism to avoid hurting yourself (suffering from heartbreak, for example). Finally, it may just be a sign that the love your partner once felt towards you has diminished.

The consequences of emotional coldness in a relationship

La frialdad emocional en la pareja puede ocasionar graves consecuencias
The deterioration of a relationship affects this aspect and can deteriorate the emotional life of either person.

Emotional coldness in the couple is something that never goes unnoticed. Its consequences are felt from minute one and vary according to several elements. These include the relationship’s longevity, the degree of love felt or professed between partners, the projects that exist between you, and your ages.

Overall, some of the consequences are the following:

  • Frustration and dissatisfaction in the relationship
  • Fears and insecurities about the relationship
  • Constant conflicts and fights
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Feeling guilt (which leads you to justify your partner’s attitudes)
  • Development of pathological jealousy
  • Attachment and dependence

These are just some of the consequences of emotional coldness in the couple. However, we could naturally list dozens and dozens more. What is certain is that dissatisfaction is guaranteed, which will affect you emotionally in many ways. If nothing is done about it, you’ll be destined to deal with emotional coldness until you end the relationship.

What can be done to prevent emotional coldness in a relationship?

All the causes listed above are solvable – at least to the extent your partner is willing to contribute their grain of sand. Avoidant attachment, emotional indifference, and emotional distancing can be corrected when both partners are willing to invest in the relationship. Here are some ideas how:

  • Talk openly with your partner. Let them know how you feel about their attitude and the damage it’s doing to the relationship.
  • Reflect together on the possible causes or behaviors behind their coldness. Are they internal or external to the relationship?
  • Let your partner know that you care. Also, let them know that you want to work on the relationship, and that you’re not able to help them unless they express their emotions.
  • Establish routines in which you both physically and emotionally share affection (hugs, kisses, good conversation, and so on).
  • Make it a goal not to repress or dismiss what you or your partner feeling at any given moment, whether the feeling is positive or negative.
  • Finally, consider seeking professional help to attend couples therapy.

Aside from all the advice, this last step can be the one that makes the difference between success and failure in the relationship. Don’t close yourselves off to this idea. Seek help when you feel that you’re not reaching your goals. If there’s a willingness to continue the relationship, there’s always hope.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Abbasi, I. S., & Alghamdi, N. G. (2017). Polarized couples in therapy: Recognizing indifference as the opposite of love. Journal of sex & marital therapy. 2017; 43(1): 40-48.
  • Butzer, B., & Campbell, L. Adult attachment, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction: A study of married couples. Personal relationships. 2008; 15(1): 141-154.
  • Juhl, J., Sand, E. C., & Routledge, C. The effects of nostalgia and avoidant attachment on relationship satisfaction and romantic motives. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2012; 29(5): 661-670.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.