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3 Possible Reasons Your Partner Isn’t Connecting With You

These can ruin a marriage if unacknowledged, undiagnosed, and untreated.

Key points

  • Having one, or a combo, of the three A’s can be devastating, particularly if your partner won’t or can’t work on themselves and the relationship.
  • Couples therapy with someone knowledgeable about the issues can be quite helpful.
  • It's important not to take your spouse's lack of connection personally when these factors are the reason for the distance.
  • Knowing you’re not alone and hearing from others in similar situations can be supportive and validating.

"What is wrong with you?" "Why are you always so distant?" "I want to connect with you, but I don't think you feel the same way." "You never want to have sex, and I feel rejected."

If you have uttered these words to your spouse, you are probably among the millions of spouses or partners dealing with one of the "3 A's" in your relationship: addiction, autism, and affairs.

Stefan Spassov/Unsplash
Source: Stefan Spassov/Unsplash


Addicts can be hard to connect with because addiction hijacks their brains. It makes smart people do stupid things. It infiltrates your loved one's personality and literally takes them away from you. They're there but not there. It's hard to understand addiction if you don't know how addiction works because so much about it is utterly irrational.

When an addictive substance is ingested, the reward center of the brain (nucleus accumbens) experiences a surge of dopamine and lights up. The good feelings, or "high," are remembered, and the brain craves more of the same. The stronger the "hit" to the pleasure center, the more likely addiction will result. Once this dynamic is set into motion, the brain looks for ways to feel this pleasure again. (It's actually a bit more complicated than this, but this is the general idea of how addiction works.)

The loved ones watching the addict don't understand why they can't see how risky their behaviors are or why they continue to do the same exact behavior that caused them (both) heartache and pain last week. When the higher-functioning brain (prefrontal cortex) is hijacked, it is overrun by a more primitive part of the brain that simply wants "more." Over 2 percent of the world's population struggles with substance use addictions.

There are other compulsive behaviors that can be problematic as well. These are not addictions in the clinical sense (per the DSM-5), but the brain is hijacked in much the same way as with drugs and alcohol. Gambling, shopping, porn, and sex are examples of behaviors that fall into this category, and they can cause just as much harm to a person's life and relationships.

Because denial is a function of addiction, it's not always easy to tell if a person is actually addicted to a substance or behavior or whether they truly can (as many declare) "stop any time they want." But here are some telltale signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Preoccupation with the "substance" (drug, behavior)
  • Continued use despite consequences (arrests, spending down savings, health issues)
  • Gaslighting and defensiveness (telling the non-using spouse that they are the crazy one or that the non-user isn't seeing what they think they are seeing)
  • Progression of the illness (the addict uses more and more of their substance while also becoming increasingly isolated)

Addicts cease to be fully "present" in relationships because they are either in a mood-altered state, they are finding ways to get their next fix, or they are feeling regret for something they did (or didn't do that they should have) when they were high.

If you're not sure if your loved one is an addict, the best test to see if someone is no longer able to stop is to ask them to stop using for one week and see what happens (i.e., are they climbing the walls, craving the substance, or is it no big deal to not use). Or, seek professional help from an addiction specialist for a more formal assessment.


There are approximately 37.2 million people around the world with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Aspergers Syndrome (AS). A good portion of these people may not know they are on the spectrum. Likewise, partners of these folks (referred to as Non-Spectrum or NS for short) may not be aware that their partner is on the spectrum.

John Schnobrich/Unsplash
Source: John Schnobrich/Unsplash

In my practice, I currently have three people who are contemplating a breakup due to their mate's behavior that they describe as selfish, hurtful, clueless, bizarre, and rejecting. It can be hard to tolerate this lack of connection.

The symptoms of ASD or AS include having trouble getting into and staying in close relationships, avoiding joining conversations, missing social cues, having a flat affect, not being all that interested in the emotional part of the sexual connection, and being relatively socially isolated (preferring alone time which can feel rejecting to partners). On-the-spectrum folks tend to work in jobs where they work alone, such as science, accounting, or in the tech industry.

If you suspect your spouse may have ASD or AS, it's important that they get tested. It may not change your desire to leave, but it can certainly explain much of the hurtful behavior and help you not take it so personally.

Although ASD and AS are not so easy to treat, some of the co-existing issues, such as depression, anxiety, or OCD, for example, may be treatable. Seeking out the help of an Autism specialist—both medically and psychologically—can make a big difference. Additionally, getting couples therapy from someone knowledgeable and skilled in working with Autism can mean the difference between finding solutions in your relationship or splitting up.

Alejandro Quiroz/Unsplash
Source: Alejandro Quiroz/Unsplash


Unfortunately, like addiction and autism, affairs are a fairly prevalent phenomenon among monogamous couples. Research has uncovered that between 20-25 percent of men cheat on their spouses, while 10-15 percent of women cheat on their mates.

Some of the telltale signs of someone having an affair is that they are not as available emotionally (and frequently physically). Their reasons for not being present are often that their head and heart are off with their affair partner, reminiscing about carefree get-togethers, sexcapades, and fantasies of being with their paramour again.

Cheating spouses can become cantankerous and abusive. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that they demonize their spouse in order to justify their cheating ("she's such a b*^$%, and I can't stand to be around her," or "he's so controlling that I need to get away to feel like myself"). The second is self-hatred. Certainly, many cheaters might be deemed sociopathic (no conscience or healthy guilt), but those who do feel bad about lying and cheating undoubtedly hate themselves on some level. Bad moods also happen when the unfaithful partner wants a "fix" and can't get it.

Other behaviors to watch for include being away from home more (having frequent business trips, having to work late), gaslighting, and defensiveness ("I don't have to answer my phone every time you call!" or "I did call you back and you didn't answer either—where were you?"), and daydreaming or staring off into space. One of the more hurtful signs is that they no longer want to be intimate with you. They may tell you that they've lost interest in sex or that they don't find you attractive any longer, but the bottom line is that your sex life together becomes a thing of the past.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Having one, or a combo, of the three A's can be devastating, particularly if your partner won't or can't work on themselves and the relationship.

Professional assessments can help you know exactly what you're dealing with, but these test results might not be enough to make you want to stay with an unavailable partner.

Couples therapy with someone knowledgeable about the issues can be quite helpful.

It's important to get support by way of individual or group therapy. When people can do both, they heal faster. Individual therapy is great to have a safe space to share your experience, but because it can be very isolating to deal with any one of these issues, group therapy can also be invaluable. Knowing you're not alone and hearing from others in similar situations can be supportive and validating.

To find a therapist near you, visit Psychology Today's Therapist Directory.

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