Answer: It’s tremendously problematic. I’ve spent the last 12 years searching for ways to express the absolute necessity of being emotionally engaged to distant partners. Yet author & researcher Brene Brown explains this common dynamic powerfully in her latest book Daring Greatly*: What’s the worst betrayal of trust you can think of? He sleeps with my best friend. She lies about where the money went. He/she choose someone over me.… All terrible betrayals, definitely, but there is a particular sort of betrayal that is more insidious and equally corrosive to trust. In fact, this betrayal usually happens long before the other ones. I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. The word betrayal evokes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend us to someone else who’s gossiping about us, and not choosing us over other people. These behaviors are certainly betrayals, but they’re not the only form of betrayal. If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connections, I would say disengagement. When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and stop fighting for the relationships, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in… What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain – there’s not event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making. We may tell a disengaged partner, “You don’t seem to care anymore, “but without “evidence” of this the response is “I’m home from work every night by six P.M. I tuck in the kids. I’m taking the boys to Little League. What do you want from me?” Emotional disengagement is not sustainable. Well, not if you’re hoping for a happy & meaningful relationship, at least. Fortunately, the research based couples therapy that the Flourish team is trained in knows quite a bit about emotional disengagement, what contributes to it, and how to help relationships & individuals get back on track. *By the way, if you have a pulse I URGE you to read this book.
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