A recent study explores why relationships can often seem like a never-ending cycle of uniting and then separating, sometimes on a daily basis for people who live together and have to part every morning when going to work, and then reuniting at the end of the workday. The study talks about emotional “jet-lag,” a feeling that each of you in the relationship is in a different time zone and you aren’t in sync. The study offers some suggestions that couples can implement in order to strengthen their connection through reducing the emotional distance between them.
Notable findings from the research
The researchers found that people who aren’t so into an upcoming phase in the union-separation cycle will experience more negative emotions and they will be hard hit by that phase. For example, the tendency to feel frustrated, lonely and other negative emotions will be higher if you aren’t so good at handling separation from your partner. These emotions can start manifesting even before the transition happens.
The team also observed that people in long distance relationships are hit harder by the separation phase. This is probably because these partners hardly spend a lot of time with each other, and the short time they are together just “flies past” and they are left unhappy that they have to separate so soon.
The extent to which one is comfortable being alone affects how jet-lagged they feel. For example, introverts who are more comfortable on their own aren’t as adversely affected by separation when compared to extroverts who thrive in the company of others. Conversely, reunions can trigger a bit of jet-lag for introverts because they are moving into a phase which requires them to give up being on their own and start accommodating another person in their emotional and physical space.
How satisfied one is with their relationship can also play a role in how much jet-lag they feel during the different transitions. For example, if one of the partners feels that the other one has grown emotionally distant, they may not be too eager for a reunion since it signals that one partner will have to witness another drawn out period of their partner’s emotional distance.
How can you tell that the emotional distance between you and your partner is widening?
Repression. When you start repressing your feelings while you are with your partner, chances are there is an emotional chasm between you. One’s partner should be a big part of their support system, and you should be able to express how you feel freely. Repression is therefore a major sign that the emotional distance between the two of you is widening.
Insufficient alone-time. If you or your partner starts feeling that they are not getting as much alone time as they need, they or you may be becoming emotionally distant. The need for me-time varies from one person to another. For example, extroverts may need less alone time than introverts. When this need isn’t met, they may start unconsciously pulling away from the relationship and becoming distant emotionally.
Mismatched emotional needs. This is where the classic “love language” mismatch comes in. How do you know that your partner loves and cares for you? If the way they think they are doing it differs from the way you need it to be done, you may gradually become emotionally distant. For example, if one partner expresses their love by showering their partner with gifts and yet the other person responds more to physical touch, the mismatch in their outlook could trigger an emotional distance to develop between them.
How to cope with jet-lag in your relationship
Explore its causes. The first step to addressing any problem is to admit it exists and dig for its root cause. If you are feeling jet-lagged by the numerous transitions in your relationship, find out why. For example, are you feeling jet-lagged by an upcoming reunion with your partner at a time when your job is demanding that you put in extra hours and you are anxious that your spouse may not take it too well? Find out what exactly is causing you to feel relationship jet lag and get ways to address those underlying reasons.
Cater for jet lag in your schedule. Another way to deal with relationship jet lag is by actively planning for it or designing coping mechanisms into your schedule. For example, if separating from your partner with whom you are in a long distance relationship gives you plenty of jet lag, be proactive and plan your schedule in such a way that the blow of the separation will be blunted. You could schedule fun activities with your friends, for example, so that you avoid being alone during that time when your partner has just left.
Regard jet lag as normal. It is also helpful to normalize jet lag in relationships. Avoid being too harsh on yourself by labeling yourself as co-dependent or needy if you experience jet lag during the separation or reunion phase of your relationship. Accepting this experience allows you to develop healthy coping mechanisms that can help you to bounce back quickly after the period of jet lag.
We have seen that how comfortable one partner is in a relationship can influence the degree to which they experience jet lag during the numerous transitions of reunion followed by separation. A key intervention to this jet lag therefore lies in understanding what is working and what isn’t, and then taking corrective action. For example, if you have unrealistic expectations (which are unsurprisingly not being met), then it helps to reassess and recalibrate those expectations. A quick example to illustrate this; if you expect your partner to instinctively know why you are upset or you expect them to always remember things, you are being unrealistic in your expectations. Tone them down and realize that you are dealing with a fellow human who depends on healthy communication to understand how you are feeling, and they too can forget from time to time.
It is also wise to regularly set aside time to reconnect or strengthen your connection by doing things you enjoy together. Remember, people don’t quit relationships because of conflict. They quit because there no longer exists an emotional connection between them. Don’t let your relationship fade due to jet lag!
To Your Success,