It has become ordinary to send a text to break up or to say I love you for the first time. It’s a way to play it safe and escape from difficult emotions. Breaking up by text avoids the hard parts of rejection. Avoiding the hard parts is what emotional distancing is all about. Fear and lack of courage are the driving forces in too many relationships.

Emotional distancing means being afraid of feelings. This is understandable because feelings are a tricky business, they seem to have a life of their own and are often mysterious. Emotional distancing is to avoid the risk of learning about feelings. The strategy that underlies emotional distancing is to shut feelings down and stay logical to be safe. The problem with this strategy is that it is too lopsided.

The goal in aging and maturity is to achieve greater range, greater possibilities to who you are. Emotional distancing shuts down half of your potential. One of the best parts of aging well is using your logical, thinking brain right along with your heart full of feelings. The goal is to access both.

We often tilt and favor one more than the other and that’s ok. Those that believe feelings are the ultimate guide to life and relationships need to learn that feelings love to play tricks on you. Women often are partial to their feelings as if they are a barometer of some deep truth. Feelings are unreliable, exaggerate, love drama and chaos. Feelings enjoy fear, like the dessert section of the buffet bar at Hoss’s. Men, love logic and the comfort of thinking things through oh, so carefully and often they carry a fire extinguisher to feelings. Again, we all need access to both to create relationships that work and will endure.

So how does one learn to survive in the messy business of feelings? Back in 1980, I worked with victims of incest (in a culture that did not believe it existed) many of whom were very emotionally shut down after their trauma. I created a technique with different feeling words on each card. This list is called Feeling Vocabulary list and is printable from my website, it is on the Emotions & Emotional Honesty page. Anyone can begin by practicing the language of feelings.

Skim through the list and then consider your day, and ask yourself about your feelings. Give them a chance to brew a bit and then explore, is there something you need to share or say to someone else or do differently? Work through your fears of being rejected and arm yourself with the new idea that being more authentic adds spice to a relationship. Feelings are interesting and if you respect them, they will change. People get stuck in feelings because they’ve hoarded them and stayed silent which encourages them to linger.

Emotional distancing only has the appearance of safety. Squelching feelings is just as bad as hoarding them. Remember that everyone is afraid, relationships require a tremendous amount of talking about feelings. You have a far better chance at lasting beyond those easy, glorious, mushy beginnings the more you practice sharing feelings. It’s the practice of sharing that builds trust and intimacy. Stop relying on texting to take the easy way out.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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