Relationship Rut? Could a Fantasy Bond Be the Problem?

Serious long term relationships can be scary. After all, they require emotional vulnerability and intimacy. Sometimes a childhood attachment issue can rear its head and damage your adult relationships. One of the ways this can take place is a fantasy bond.

What is a fantasy bond?

A fantasy bond is a way to describe a relationship where two people unknowingly enter into a relationship with unspoken agreements to maintain some amount of emotional distance as a way to have some of the benefits of a relationship, with out the emotional risks.

Two people end up more in love with the idea of being a couple as a desirable unit than actually collaborating as partners. These kinds of relationships settle into routines and cycles without any check ins on feelings and goals.

Going through the motions—doing chores, taking the dog on a walk, bingeing a television series on the weekends—doesn’t leave room for deeper emotional connection. Rather, a fantasy bond offers the illusion of connection. After all, if you’re able to run a tight ship at home and rarely deal with conflict between you, what’s even the problem?

In reality, in place of real feelings and emotions, you’re substituting a fantasy of having those feelings. You might feel safe, but the things that make for a fulfilling healthy relationship last aren’t there. Your relationship might look good from the outside but the people inside it feel empty.

What causes a fantasy bond?

Fantasy bonds typically emerge out of fears of intimacy and vulnerability. The distance and lack of emotional connection preserve distance. That way, your fears of getting hurt or abandoned are pushed down. Often, signs of a fantasy bond show up after a big life event, such as moving in together, getting married, a serious illness, or the birth of a child.

These big life events are outward displays of love, and the weight of their importance can actually cause you to retreat further inward as a defense mechanism. You might be trying to defend yourself against the pain caused by previous attachment figures like parents that were intrusive or neglectful in childhood.

LGBTQ couples and fantasy bonds.

People who identify as LGBTQ often face unique challenges when it comes to emotional closeness. Because they may have fewer positive role models or have faced rejection from family members, they may struggle with intimacy and be driven to create a fantasy bond in order to feel safe and loved. This can be a barrier to developing healthy relationships, both romantic and platonic.

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open with others, we open up the possibility for true connection. But for many LGBTQ people, the fear of rejection is so great that they prefer to keep their distance, even if it means living in a state of loneliness while in a committed relationship.

Signs of a fantasy bond.

Because these kinds of relationship dynamics are largely unconscious, they can be difficult to spot. It will require taking stock of your emotional bond with your partner. After passing any big relationship milestones, you and your partner should check in together. Ask yourselves if your relationship is showing any of these signs.

  • Has the quality of the time you’re spending together changed? For example, do you no longer face toward one another, or gently touch one another when you’re speaking?
  • Are you not finding new interests together? Have you not been doing anything spontaneous?
  • Are you mostly engaging in small talk as opposed to deeper conversations?
  • Are you making less eye contact with your partner than you used to?
  • Are you more checked out during sex? Are you less passionate and intimate than you used to be?
  • Do you find yourselves speaking as a unit (“we” versus “I”) to others?
  • Do you only feel engaged with one another in a crisis or conflict?
  • You “never fight” or “agree on everything”
  • Do you feel a loss of independence?

Taking the next steps.

Healthy relationships built on emotional connection take attention and time. While it can be easy to slip into a fantasy bond, the fulfillment from a real partnership is worth the effort. The first step to breaking out of this routine is to acknowledge what’s going on. While it might seem scary, owning up to the lack of intimacy and real connection can get you started on the right track.

Start admitting to the fears of abandonment you might have. Feel free to express yourself truthfully, even if it means bringing up painful topics. Find ways to make yourselves more independent, more spontaneous, and more passionate.

These steps are best taken with the guidance of a professional therapist. If you’d like to learn more about couples counseling to bring your relationship from the superficial to a deeper connection, please feel free to schedule a free initial consultation.

Hello, I’m Miriam. I’m a psychotherapist with an online practice in California and Illinois.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.