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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

When your Loved One Won’t Connect to you Emotionally

The problem.

If you are in a relationship with a person who has a personality disorder or is for some other reason, unable to connect to you in an emotionally satisfying way, then you probably find yourself in a “double bind dynamic” (Robarge, 2017). If you have tried to connect to your loved one by asking for him or her to change, you have most likely been told, “This is who I am, take it or leave it.”

You may have decided through cognitive reasoning within your own head, that you will accept this person as is; thinking, “After all, no one’s perfect!” And you carry on with your life, following his/her “rules of engagement.”

This is the double bind. You decide to stay involved with a person, see that person often, yet continuously be deprived of emotional connection. This means, that you are with someone you care about, yet you feel constantly empty. This is because although you are interacting with the person, there is no attunement or emotional resonance in the relationship. Attunement and resonance are key components for healthy relating. Without them, your relationship is hollow.


Attunement:  The ability to hear, see, sense, interpret, and respond to the other person’s verbal and nonverbal cues in a way to communicate to the other person that he/she is genuinely seen, felt, and understood. Dan Siegel (Wylie & Turner, n.d.) calls this “contingent communication,” a highly complex, supremely delicate, interpersonal dance between two biological/psychological systems.

Resonance: This a complex and rapid exchange of information, largely non-verbal, between two people. Resonance allows for a deep personal connection, below the level of consciousness. It is emotional harmony and draws the emotions between two people into congruence. It is the mechanism that provides bonding between a mother and infant. Resonance is the mechanism of love. It is a synchronicity created by the two people involved. It is the act of emotional responsiveness, mirrored between the two, like a dance.

On Being Ignored.

When you settle for a relationship with someone who defines the “rules of engagement” of no conflict, no stress, and basically, no real connection on an emotional level, you collude to your own neglect.

Within relationships with people who find it too difficult to have real connection, you will find that you are still called to participate in the relationship frequently. However, you will discover the interactions to be very shallow and lacking in meeting your deepest needs to be seen and known for who you are. In essence, you are spending time with someone who is simultaneously with you while also not “seeing” you or even caring to “see” you.

The “double bind” dynamic that Robarge speaks of has to do with being in relationship with someone who refuses to offer you emotional attunement and emotional resonance. As you agree to be in the relationship with the person, because “after all, no one’s perfect,” you put yourself in a double bind because you are committing to someone who ignores you emotionally.

So, you try to adjust your expectations. In fact, through this process of adjustment, you find yourself relating to someone where you won’t have a nourishing emotional exchange coming back your way. You will try harder to accept better and “detach with love,” as your relational expectations are not met.

Your loved one will still text you, email you, talk to you, go out to eat with you, etc., but during these interactions you will concurrently be emotionally ignored. This is painful. The reason this is painful is because there is no emotional depth in the relationship and you know it. People are not biologically wired to be emotionally detached from each other, particularly those who matter the most.

During this emotional barrenness, neurobiologically, your brain will strive for connection. You will experience anxiety and depression, as your brain becomes confused and dysregulated because of the pseudo-connection that is occurring in the duo. This does not make sense neurologically and your brain will try to adjust the situation by creating feelings of pain.

These feelings of pain are there to cause you to “do something about this situation!” As you continue to train yourself to “accept reality” your pain continues, until eventual numbness prevails.

Living in “the Gap.”

Therapists and other people will tell you to learn to “live within the gap.” This is that space between your expectations about your relationship and the reality of the relationship.  As you try to learn to live within this gap, you eventually find yourself lost and drowning in the gap, feeling desperate to be loved (Robarge, 2017).

Your confusion turns to cognitive dissonance as you see your loved one right there in front of you, but his/her inability to connect to you makes it seem as if he/she’s 1000 miles away.

You become internally heartbroken, yet trapped to do nothing about it. You develop a sense of “learned helplessness” as you become robot-like in your attempts to maintain the relationship.

Relationships like this are disappointing at best.

The sad reality is that in this relationship you will not be emotionally satisfied. No amount of entertainment or pleasantness or politeness will make up for the level of emotional deadness you are experiencing.  You may be talking, but you will feel like nothing is happening; your heart’s desire for connection will be continuously dampened.

If you were honest with yourself, you would realize that one of the most meaningful parts of your life are your relationships, and that connecting to people is important to you.  In fact, you could say that this aspect of life is part of who you are as a human being.  Because the other person is unwilling to allow you to experience deep and meaningful connection with him/her you are left bereft of this experience.

In the end you discover, the cost to keep this relationship, is the loss of yourself.


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Emotional Competency. (n.d.) Love: Limbic Resonance. Retrieved from:

Robarge, A. (Jan. 7, 2017). Colluding with Being Ignored and Self Betrayal In Relationships. Published by: Retrieved from:

Wylie, M.S. & Turner, Y. (n.d.). The Attuned Therapist. Retrieved from:

When your Loved One Won’t Connect to you Emotionally

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2019). When your Loved One Won’t Connect to you Emotionally. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from