So many people after a break-up struggle to get back the emotional connection they had with their ex. It feels like your ex is just being polite and not really interested in talking to you? How do you You suspected there is no “emotional connection”, but you don’t know how to go about creating it or even know what emotional connection is.
What exactly is emotional connection?
Different people have different definitions of what emotional connection is. I define emotional connection as “engaged curiosity with another person’s emotional experience”. It’s more than a detached reflection or paraphrasing what the other person is saying and more of a continuing desire to share their emotional experience as they see, feel or experience it.
When you’re trying to emotionally connect you’re listening to what’s being said and also picking up the subtle clues being communicated by someone’s emotional state. The emotional connection is made when the speaker and listener’s experience merge and become a mutual experience.
The most interesting thing about emotional connection is that we know it when we FEEL it. It’s not a thought, a guess or some intellectual pursuit, it’s a feeling of one-ness. You may even not agree on something, but you feel heard, listened to and understood at a deeper level (emotional level).
Need for emotional connection is in the human DNA
The need to connect and have a mutual experience or experiences with others is in our human DNA. When our experience is reflected back to us the way we experience it, we feel listened to, heard and valued. When we feel listened to, heard and valued, we feel connected.
Some people are naturals at making others feel listened to, heard and valued. But many people struggle with not just feeling connected but making others feel connected because they don’t invest enough time to really listen beyond the words spoken. They speak more than they listen, listen for what they want to hear, listen with judgement or try to change or distract someone from feeling.
Here is an example many of you may relate to. You contact your ex and they seem upset about something. You ask to try to understand the source of their ex’s upset but instead of reflecting back to them their emotional state in a way that validates their experience, you try to change or distract them from feeling what they feel with humour, telling them everything is going to be okay or sharing your own similar experience etc. Your intentions may be good, but you are not emotionally connecting. By trying to change or distract your ex, you’re invalidating your ex’s emotional experience and saying they shouldn’t feel what they feel or it’s wrong for them to be feeling those emotions.
The conversation may even end on a positive note, but because you didn’t make their experience a mutual experience, they feel alone in their experience. This creates a feeling of being emotionally disconnected.
Why many people fail to emotionally connect with their ex
Many people struggle with emotionally connecting with their ex is because they think emotionally connecting with an ex is about talking about feelings about the relationship, the break-up and getting back together: I feel this. Do you feel that? Is what I’m feeling what you are feeling etc.
Not only is this kind of approach to connection annoying especially to avoidants who are not naturally “sharers” and have limited emotional bandwidth, constantly talking about your feelings tiring and emotionally draining If your ex is an avoidant, it’ll make them feel unsafe sharing their feelings and emotional experience, further reinforcing the emotional disconnection.
You find yourself frustrated because the more you talk or want to talk about how you feel or ask about how your avoidant ex feels about you, the less your ex responds or wants to engage. Instead of feeling emotionally connected, you get into arguments and even have full blown out fights because there is an emotional disconnect.
Even when you reach out or your ex reaches out to try to emotionally connect on topics outside of the relationship – work, family, pets, interests/hobbies, current events etc., the conversations always comes back to you talking about your feelings because you have a tendency of putting yourself at the center of other people’s experience.
Over time it becomes harder and harder to emotionally connect or even find things to talk about.
The secret to becoming good at emotional connection
The secret to becoming good at emotional connection is learning to tune in on your ex’s emotions and emotional state, and share in their experience in a way that makes them feel listened to, heard and valued. All attachment styles want to feel that you understand what they’re emotionally experiencing, and are curious and genuinely interested in the things and people that matter to them.
The power of emotional connection is that when you’re curiously engaged with another person’s emotional experience in the way the other person sees, feels or experiences it, you find that you’re less emotionally reactive and less defensive. The increased attention and interest in the other person’s experiences helps foster positive feelings in them and in you inspite of personal distress, provocation, stress or tension in the interaction or relationship.
It’s like everything including negative feelings going on inside of you at that moment take the backseat because you’re attention and interest is focused on your ex’s experience – seeing what they’re telling you they see, hearing what they’re telling you they hear, feeling what they’re telling you they’re feeling, experiencing what they’re telling you they’re experiencing etc.
True emotional connection makes you feel one with someone
When we feel heard, listened to and understood at a deep emotional level, we feel one with the other person. This is what emotional connection does, it creates a sense of “one-mind” with someone. These one-mind moments trigger a deep emotional attraction to the person we’re emotionally connecting with.
The best way to create and deepen that feeling of one-mind is to practice tuning into other people’s emotional experience. I give this example because it happens to me all the time. You are telling your friend about a restaurant you went to hoping that they can emotionally connect with your experience. But then your friend responds by talking about their own similar experience in the same restaurant or some other restaurant. On the surface, this may look like emotional connection because you are both talking about the same subject and sharing your experiences with each other, but this is NOT emotional connection. What you are doing is sharing information but not experiencing each other’s experience.
Neither of you is talking about the other’s emotional experience. Neither of you is showing increased attention or interest in the other person’s experiences. You’re each talking about your own emotions and own experience. It’s like, “Let me tell you about my experience”… “Oh no… let me tell you about mine”.
Sometimes you can feel the person who seemed so interested and wanted to share and talk about their experience emotionally disconnect in real time. They change the topic or respond in ways that tell you they lost interest in the subject and don’t want to talk about it anymore. If your ex is an avoidant, they may drop the conversation mid way and stop responding. You’re left wondering, “What did I say to make them not want to talk anymore?”
What you did is they wanted to emotionally connect with you but you were distracted by your own feelings and emotions or own agenda, and missed the opportunity to curiously engage in your ex’s emotional experience.
Avoidants in general are not “emotional sharers”, and when they make an effort to share their emotions and feelings about something important or of interest to them and you shut it down, they feel rejected if they’re a fearful avoidant, and if they’re a dismissive avoidant, they feel “what’s the point of even trying?”. Sometimes that one conversation; that one missed opportunity to show you care about the people they care about and are interested in the things they’re interested in or are trying to share with you can negatively impact an avoidant ex’s general feeling about getting back together.
The goal of emotional connection is a shared emotional experience
It may sound simple, but your ex’s level of engagement is a direct reflection of the strength of your emotional connection. If it doesn’t feel like you’re sharing an experience, you’re not emotionally connecting. So next time you want to emotionally connect with your ex, reach out with something
- Your ex is emotionally invested in (and you can identify the emotion).
- You can show engaged curiosity and interest.
- The two of you can have a shared emotional experience.
- You can create a continuing desire to share experiences.
The goal should be to end the conversation feeling that you not only heard your ex’s words, you also feel emotionally closer. You should feel that you know a lot more about their emotional state, and the feeling and the emotions that motivate their interest in the subject than you did before the conversation.
What I’ve found over the years is that the things that emotionally connected the two of you and created overall positive feelings before the break-up will likely be emotionally connecting after the break-up. The only exception is if you haven’t been in contact and haven’t been in each other’s lives for a long period of time, connecting over things you previously connected on may be a bit of a struggle. Also if your ex is emotionally guarded, creating an emotional connection will be harder than if they’re more open to contact.
Always remember that emotions drive most of our actions, behaviour and interactions and if you can make your ex feel closer to you as a result of an interaction, you will increase their engagement and even motivate them to reach out more.
When your ex reaches out to emotionally connect (bid for connection)
Sometimes an ex will reach out randomly with something and you feel that they’re somehow trying to emotionally connect with you. This is called a bid for connection.
The Gottman institute defines a bid for connection as “any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection”. Bids show up in simple ways such as a smile emoji, “How was your day?” or “Did you see the news?” text, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help.
When you get a bid for connection from your ex, ask yourself 1) why are they reaching out? 2) what emotion or emotional state are they communicating, 3) how do I respond in a way that makes them feel listened to, heard and valued and creates positive feelings that bring us closer.
Many people either miss or ignore their ex’s bid for connection and miss the opportunity to emotionally connect or get closer because they’re busy being emotionally reactive and defensive. Sometimes they don’t even see how their ex is trying to emotionally connect or want to show interest in what their ex is saying because it’s not what they want to hear from their ex. All they want is talk about their feelings and their ex’s feelings for them or something that happened in the past or fix problems or get back together etc.
Others turn their ex’s bid for connection into an argument, provocation, conflict, tension or an interview-like session about why their ex is reaching out, what they mean by this or that, or something completely distracting from the bid for connection.
The opposite of turning towards a bid for connection is turning away from it. Turning away from an ex’s attempt for a positive connection, understanding, support or safety makes them feel rejected, dismissed, devalued, misunderstood, and unimportant. Continually turning away from bids for connection create emotional distance.
Sustained emotional connection creates emotional momentum
Emotional bids for connection are not only attempts to connect, they’re also opportunities to show care your ex that you care about them, their well-being and what’s important to them. I helps sometimes before before you reach out to your ex to ask yourself, 1) why am I reaching out? 2) what emotion or emotional state am I communicating, 3) how is it likely to be received by my ex and 4) will this spark a positive feeling bring us closer?
When you send a bid for connection and it’s received in a way that make you feel heard and valued, you feel connected because of the mutual experience. That feeling of connectedness is your ex turning towards your bid for connection. Likewise, when you turn towards your ex’s bid for connection, it makes them feel closer to you.
Sometimes you can connect and show you care in one response to a bid for connection, and other times you will need to ask questions to further understand their experience and better respond to it.
Make sure that your questions don’t feel like a drill down for more details or put your ex on the defensive. It defeats the whole purpose of a bid for connection. The objective should be to ask appropriate open-ended questions that create a safe space for positive feelings of a shared experience.
Sustained positive feelings of a shared experience create emotional momentum. I define emotional momentum as increased engagement, connection and feelings of attraction.
And the best thing about emotional connection is that you don’t even have to think of what to say because your ex will be giving you (through their emotions) clues to how to carry the conversation. The reduces overthinking a response.
It’s like when a friend or family member texts or calls, you can right away tell they’re either excited/happy or sad and without thinking too much about how to respond or what to say, you respond, and the conversation flows naturally. Sometimes you find yourselves going from topic to another without losing the emotional connection.
A “next time” attitude and trust that love and care will be returned
Before I let you go and start creating emotional momentum, understand that sometimes you may send a bid for connection and your ex doesn’t respond enthusiastically or respond at all, don’t always assume that they don’t want to connect. Sometimes there are things going on in your ex’s life in that moment that has nothing to do with you. Develop an attitude of “next time” and trust that your efforts to emotionally connect will be seen, valued and returned.
A “next time” attitude and trust that love and care will be returned is one of the traits of someone with a secure attachment. Compared to both anxious and avoidant attachment styles, individuals with a secure attachment style are usually more positive and more realistic about their chances because they believe that partners (and exes) generally have good intentions and that any negative behaviours their partner (or ex) may display are temporary and reversible. Only when there is clear evidence that their ex acted with malicious intent or is purposefully being hurtful do securely attached people attribute bad intentions to an ex and act to protect themselves. This self-confidence allows them to be proactive and consistent in both words and actions – and it pays off. Compared to insecurely attached, securely attached individuals are more likely to attract back their ex.