What to do when your partner becomes a stranger in your home

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Couples go through rough patches, as we all know.  But what happens when the relationship has eroded so much that you no longer know the other person.  I’m talking about where intimacy and meaningful discussions have been almost non-existent for years, and where you no longer have common interests or friends, and as a result the two of you no longer share your thoughts, dreams or even the details about your day.

And then one day you look at your partner and say to yourself:  ‘who is that person?’

It’s not that you don’t like them, it’s just that you have effectively been living separate lives for so long, even while living under the same roof, that you don’t know who the other person is any more.

Maybe one of you have been the main caregiver and this has absorbed most of your time, whilst at this same stage your partner worked to support the family but slowly drifted away and in doing so became disengaged from you and the family.

This is a surprising common scenario, but the good news is that it is a scenario you can rectify.

However, before you can even begin the process, the first step is to find out whether or not you BOTH want to reconnect?

To do this you will need to find a time in both your schedules that can be put aside to discuss your feelings in a calm and private environment. Bring up the big picture of your relationship, don’t focus on small daily details. Talk about your wish for change and be prepared to be empathetic to your mate’s feelings and fears about what you are trying to do here.

So, you’ve both decided YES, we want to reconnect – what next?

1.    Start by accepting your part in the problem. This means that you learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings and needs and refuse to blame your partner for not making you feel happy and secure. It means learning to treat yourself with kindness, caring, compassion, and acceptance instead of self-judgment.

2.  Relationships need time to thrive, so it is vitally important to set aside specific times to be together – to talk, play and make love. Intimacy cannot be maintained without time together. For those with children, remind yourself that your marriage/partnership is the foundation of the family and the cornerstone of your children’s security.

Tips for grabbing time together:

•  Limit your family’s outside activities so that you have time to hang out as a family and time to hang out as a couple.

•  Don’t let your children interrupt every conversation you have.

•  Carve out private time for yourselves as a couple. Even just 15 minutes every day, if your children are old enough to be left for a short while,
just a 15 minute walk after dinner may work.

•  Carve out private space – usually this is your bedroom, teach your children to knock before entering.

•  Get sitters and go on regular dates – dress up, look good and have some fun together.

3.  When conflict occurs, become open to learning about yourself and your partner and discover the deeper issues of the conflict. To do this there are certain communication tools that will help you build the habit of respectful arguing:

•  Firstly, make a brief list of the things you want to say. This way you remember to address everything that you need to get off your chest.

•  Focus on being polite, avoid making verbal attacks, using bad language, or criticizing your partner in any way.

•  State what you need to say through I messages “When you say (or do) this, I feel this way.” It no longer feels like you re attacking your partner.

•  When it is your turn to listen don’t interrupt

•  Take time out if necessary. However, agree that you will commit to finishing the conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it may become.

4.  Relationships flourish when there is an “attitude of gratitude”. Constant whingeing creates a negative atmosphere and takes all the fun out of a relationship. Instead, practice being grateful for what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have:

5.  Become a world class listener, it demonstrates that you really care about what he or she has to say. It also reinforces the fact that you care about your partner’s feelings and that you acknowledge and value his/her opinions. It also greatly reduces your propensity to overreact to, or get upset by, little things.

6.  Also explore ways to share love and affection without sex. Often, the more a couple is intimate with each other in ways other than sex, the more fulfilling their sex life becomes.  For example:

•  Remember to express your affection verbally. Giving words of encouragement and endearment, sending loving texts. We need to hear as well
as feel that the one we love loves us back.

•  Verbally praising your partner and your love in front of other people is a big part of showing affection.

•  Perform random acts of kindness. This is a great way to build your affection bank account, this does not need too much time or money
for instance, bringing your partner a cup of coffee and the paper to him/her in bed.

Building and maintaining intimacy in a relationship takes time, and it takes some people longer than others. But, usually, the harder you work at developing intimacy in your relationship, the more rewarding it is.

Remember, when we make our partner feel special and desired, you bring out the best in him or her.

This in turn helps to reignite those loving feelings, creating the space to rediscover and reconnect to that person who once presented as a stranger in your house.



What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling