It’s a complaint I hear regularly from people looking for help for their marriages:“I feel distant from my spouse.” “I try to get my husband to open up, but instead he just shuts down.” “My wife just doesn’t seem interested in me anymore. I feel like we’re a million miles apart.” “I don’t know if I love him anymore.”

What we’re talking about here is emotional abandonment. Instead of physically leaving the relationship, your spouse simply checks out emotionally. They stop investing in the marriage, leaving their mate feeling detached and unwanted. To the outside world the situation can still look rosy, but in reality the relationship is dying a slow, quiet death.

How does a marriage reach this point? Sometimes it’s a slow slide into complacency, and other times it’s a little more sudden. Realize that if it’s a sudden abandonment, there likely is some precipitating event or incident between the two of you that needs to be resolved. On the other hand, if the deterioration has been more gradual, there are probably a lot of little things that have gone unresolved and are taking their toll on the relationship.

Here are some of the specific, primary causes of emotional distance between mates:

Unforgiveness. Emotional abandonment is unforgiveness taken to its extreme conclusion. When we feel that our spouse has hurt us and we refuse to forgive them, we look for ways to protect ourselves from being hurt again in the future. Closing off our heart from the other person is an easy way to do this, but it has deadly consequences. Unforgiveness always leads to isolation.

Overcoming unforgiveness requires a willingness to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness when we have hurt our spouse, and it also requires that we be willing to graciously extend forgiveness when our spouse has hurt us. This forgiveness step is based on a desire to re-unite.

Callous treatment. When I am careless in how I treat my spouse, it gets old really quickly. Whether it’s discourteousness, unkindness, or something worse, it creates hurt that may start out small, but can grow into deep wounds as it festers over time.

To avoid this, each partner needs to look at their own behaviour regularly and consider whether they are treating their spouse well. A mate, above all people, needs to be treated with gentleness and respect. Remember, your spouse is a gift to you, and they deserve to be treated as something precious.