Emotional Connection – How to Connect With Your Ex’s Emotions

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? 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. This is my definition.

Emotional connection is a step further than “active listening”. In ‘active listening” you paraphrase and reflect back what the other person is saying but you may not necessarily pick up on how they’re feeling at that particular moment, what’s bothering them or their level of engagement.

Emotional connection is listening to what’s being said and also picking up the subtle clues being communicated by someone’s emotional state. It’s “listening” to their emotions AND reflecting back to them their emotional state in a way that validates their experience. The emotional connection is made is 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.

Why many people fail to emotionally connect with their ex

Another reason why 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 constantly talking about your feelings tiring and emotionally draining, constantly talking about your feelings will make your ex 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 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 key to becoming good at emotional connection

The key 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.

To connect with your ex’s emotions, you need to learn to feel their emotions like they were your own, and reflect their emotional experience back to them.

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/different experiences.

Neither of you is feeling the other’s emotions, neither of you is talking about the other’s emotional experience. 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”.

Emotional connection creates engagement and moves an ex to act

When trying to emotionally connect with your ex, the goal should be to end the conversation feeling that you not only heard your ex’s words, you also connected with their emotions. You should feel that you know a lot more about what emotionally drives them than you did before the conversation.

The emphasis is: emotionally drives your ex.

Emotions drive most of our interactions including willingness to share our experiences and inner world and motivation to reach out. When you identify what drives your ex/the things that they deeply care about or are emotionally invested in and can emotionally connect with those emotions, you will increase their engagement and even motivate them to reach out more.

It may sound simple, but your ex’s level of engagement is a direct reflection of the strength of your emotional connection.

Obviously the emotions that we consider to be positive – happiness, excitement, joy, inspiration, awe etc., elicit more interaction and engagement but sadness or anger can elicit just as much engagement as happiness, excitement. What’s important is connecting with the emotion they’re experiencing.

It’s best however to try and connect on emotions that make both of you feel good about the interaction. Some of the things that an ex may deeply care about or is emotionally invested in include family, friends, pets, work, music, food, self work/awareness, healthy living/working out, religion, local politics, causes/activism, world affairs, etc.

What I’ve found over the years is that the things that emotionally connected 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 if a struggle. Also if your ex is emotionally guarded, creating an emotional connection will be harder than if they’re more open to contact.

Bids for connection are essential for emotional connection

Make it a practice 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?

And when your ex’s reaches out first, ask the same questions 1) why are they reaching out? 2) what emotion or emotional state are they communicating, 3) what emotion am I feeling and 4) how do I respond in a way that sparks a positive feeling and brings us closer?

A text that addresses all of these questions is 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 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.

Many people either miss or ignore their ex’s bid for connection because all they want is talk about their feelings and their ex’s feelings for them or are distracted by something that happened in the past. Others turn the bid for connection into an argument, conflict 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 makes them feel rejected, dismissed, devalued and unimportant. Continually turning away from bids for connection create emotional distance.

Sustained emotional connection creates emotional momentum

Emotional bds 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.

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.

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.

10 signs you are emotionally connecting with your ex

Sometimes emotional connection with your ex happens instantly, sometimes you have to build the emotional connection over a period of time. Here are 10 signs you are emotionally connecting with your ex.

1. Your ex is actively interested (excited) in whatever it is you are talking about (you feel that they are present with you).

2.  Your ex is emotionally engaged both in sustaining the conversation and follow-ups (e.g. asking more questions, sharing links or initiating more things to talk about).

3.  You do not stress over what to “talk about” because you and your ex can talk about a range of topics and still not feel like you have had ‘enough’ of each other.

4.  You are not worried about coming across as needy (or contacting your ex too much) because you know your ex wants to talk to you, and looks forward to talking to you.

5.  Contact is regular and gaining momentum.

6.  Conversations flow naturally (you don’t feel like you are pulling teeth or walking on egg-shells).

7.  You feel genuinely understood, listened to and heard, and your ex feels the same.

8.  Your conversations involve a range of emotions shared together. Some conversation may be serious, and other times laid back. Sometimes you talk about your day and other times you joke, tease and laugh together. And sometimes you agree and sometimes you respectfully agree to disagree etc.

9.  You are the first person your ex thinks of contacting when they feel happy or when they feel sad (because they know that you will feel exactly how they feel).

10.  You feel like you “get” each other and sometimes words are not necessary (because you feel what the other feels).


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2 replies on “Emotional Connection – How to Connect With Your Ex’s Emotions”
  1. says: Angeli

    I love this so much! Do you have any articles on how to develop this emotional connection? Does the connection have to be automatic, or can you learn the ability to develop an emotional connection?

    1. says: Yangki Akiteng

      Yes, so many as a matter of fact. “Emotional connection” is what this site is about. Type “emotional connection” in the site search.

      Some people are ‘naturals” at emotional connection because of how they were raised and others are professionally trained (e.g. therapists). But most people learn it. So yes, it can be learned… and I’m trying to teach it… 🙂

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