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S2 EP220 – Frustrated That Your Partner Tunes You Out?

Episode Summary

If your partner tunes you out, are you aware of your part in the system? Are you the one tuning others out and are you aware that this might be causing you to feel unhappy and stuck? Discover how to heal this relationship system. 


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Does your partner sometimes or often tune you out, or do you often tune others out? This is often a result of a system between you and your partner or others, and this is what I want to talk about today.

My client, Astrid, consulted with me because of this issue in her marriage. “Jacob seems so unconscious a lot of the time,” Astrid told me. “He doesn’t hear a lot of what I say to him, and he seems to forget a lot of things. I don’t get it. He doesn’t seem this way at work – just with me. It drives me crazy!”

I had been doing sessions with Jacob and Astrid, both individually and as a couple. I had noticed that Jacob seemed to be much more present and conscious in our individual sessions than in our joint sessions. Having seen this often between couples, I understood the system that was operating here.

“Astrid,” I said to her, “as you know, Jacob comes from a very judgmental family. He learned early to numb out and go unconscious in the face of judgment. One of the things that goes on a lot between the two of you is you either feel judgmental toward him, or you verbalize the judgment. What are you aware of regarding your major judgments toward him?”

“Oh, he is inconsiderate and self-centered. He is stupid, unconscious and he doesn’t care about me.”

“Yes, and sometimes you verbalize these judgments and sometimes you just think them, but either way he picks up your judgmental energy. His learned automatic response to your judgment is to go unconscious. This is how he protects himself from the pain of your judgments.” 

“That’s really interesting!” Astrid said. Fortunately, she was very open to learning about her part of the system. “So, his going unconscious is as automatic as me being judgmental. I have such a hard time knowing when I am being judgmental. As you know, my whole family is judgmental, and I got used to it. I guess I’m just like the rest of my family.”

“Yes,” I said, “you learned in your judgmental family to become judgmental, and he learned in his judgmental family to go unconscious in the face of judgment. Your wounded selves each learned different ways of dealing with judgment – yours by identifying with it and using it as a form on control over yourself and others, and Jacob by resisting the control through becoming unconscious. You can’t do anything about Jacob’s unconsciousness, but you certainly can do something about your judgmental-ness.”

“I guess the irony is that I judge him for his unconsciousness, but I’m very unconscious of being judgmental! I’m sure he doesn’t experience me as being considerate and caring when I’m being judgmental!”  The light bulb was going on for Astrid.

Generally, each person has equal responsibility for creating this system.

The following week, I had a session with Jacob. I asked him to open to learning about his unconsciousness with Astrid. As he went inside, he became aware of the loneliness and heartache he always felt in the face of others’ judgments toward him. He saw that when he was very young, he had learned to avoid this pain by numbing out.

Jacob was actually not an inconsiderate, self-centered, stupid, and uncaring husband. He was a good, kind, and intelligent person. But he lost touch with his caring when his intention was to avoid the pain of judgment. We started to work on how he could take loving care of himself in the face of judgment.

Jacob practiced noticing his pain in the face of judgment and opening to learning with his wise higher self about how to speak up for himself rather than protect with unconsciousness. Astrid practiced noticing her judgments and shifting her intent from controlling Jacob to loving herself. As each of them did their own Inner Bonding work of noticing their intention, their relationship dramatically improved. Jacob was delighted that Astrid was much more accepting of him, and Astrid was thrilled that Jacob was more present and caring toward her. They even started to feel turned on to each other, after a number of years of a non-existent sex life.

This relationship system, of one person being overtly controlling with anger or judgment, and the other being withdrawn or unconscious, is a very common relationship system. Many partners end their relationship due to this dysfunctional system. If you are in a similar relationship system, I encourage you to learn more about your end of this system, rather than just leave it. You might be surprised at the result!

Another common relationship system that has the same result of a partner tuning out the other partner, occurs when one partner has an expectation of their partner, and energetically pulls on the partner to meet their expectation.

For example, my client, Bill, consulted with me because his wife, Penny, frequently tuned him out. As I worked with Bill, it became apparent that he had an expectation that Penny should be like a loving mother, soothing his pain for him when he came to her upset. Instead of taking responsibility for his own pain, he handed his inner child to Penny and then pulled on her like a needy child. Penny went into resistance, both emotionally and physically. She would withdraw and shut down to Bill, not wanting to interact with him nor have sex with him. To Penny, there was nothing attractive about a man being a needy little boy. Then Bill would complain that Penny tuned him out and didn’t want to have sex with him.

I worked with Bill on learning to take responsibility for his own feelings, and I worked with Penny on speaking up when she felt pulled on by Bill to caretake him. Penny learned to gently say to Bill, “Honey, I feel pulled on by you and I don’t want responsibility for your feelings.” Bill was open to learning this from Penny, and her speaking up helped him to become aware of his self-abandonment. Eventually, as each did their own inner work, their relationship greatly improved.

A similar pattern was occurring between my clients Raymond and Eve. They were on the verge of divorce when they consulted with me. In my first session with them, Raymond was almost mute, while Eve was very vocal about how disappointed she was in Raymond. She felt he never wanted to connect with her, even though he said he did.

In my individual sessions with them, it became very apparent that Eve had a huge expectation that Raymond should listen to her and care about her feelings. As I worked with her with Inner Bonding, her inner child told Eve that she felt ignored by her. “You don’t listen to my feelings or care about me,” her inner child told her. Because Eve was abandoning herself, she then projected onto Raymond that he should be the loving adult to her inner child that she was not being to herself. When Raymond shut down instead of listening to Penny, she then got angry and blamed him for the problems in their relationship. It wasn’t easy for Eve to let go of this expectation of Raymond, because this is what she had learned in her family of origin to believe a good relationship was about.

On the other hand, Raymond wasn’t at all tuned out in his sessions with me. Just like with Penny, Raymond needs to learn to speak up for himself and let Eve know when he was feeling pulled on by her, as well as judged by her, rather than shut down and go into resistance, which is what he had been doing. Raymond was a fast learner and quickly learned to speak up for himself, but this wasn’t easy for Eve. She was certain that Raymond was the whole problem, and it took her quite some time to be open to learning about her controlling end of their system.

Control and resistance are often the relationship gremlins that result in a partner tuning the other partner out.

My client Paul consulted with me because of this issue. “I’m so sick and tired of Andrea’s anger and bossiness that I’m about ready to leave this relationship,” he said in our session. “Everything has to be her way. Why can’t she just keep her mouth shut? She is ruining this relationship. I hate her judgmentalness. Every time she does this it casts a black cloud over our relationship, and I end up feeling awful.”

Paul and Andrea were in one of their typical power struggles. Paul tended to operate as a resistant adolescent regarding household chores. If something needed to be done, he would say he would do it and then tune Andrea out and procrastinate to the point where Andrea would blow up. Then he would withdraw, blaming Andrea rather than take any responsibility for his resistance. 

“Paul,” I asked him, “how did you react when Andrea got angry and judgmental?”

“I got angry and tried to explain to her why I hadn’t fixed the curtain rod yet. But she wouldn’t listen to me so then I withdrew. After that, I didn’t want to interact with her and so I tuned her out,” he said.

“So Andrea is trying to control you with her anger and judgment, and you are trying to control her with your anger, explanations, withdrawal, and then tuning her out. And you are very determined to resist being controlled by her. So, do you want to complain to me about Andrea and blame your feelings and behavior on her anger, or do you want to understand your end of this system and learn about what you can do differently?” I asked him.

“I just want her to stop being angry and judging me,” he said.

“Paul, you have been trying to have control over Andrea’s anger for the whole five years of your relationship. Is it working?” I asked him.

“No. But why can’t she just stop?” he whined.

“Well, why can’t you just stop tuning her out and resisting and become responsible in the household and responsible for your own feelings instead of being a victim of Andrea?” I asked him.

“Oh. I see what you mean,” he said, finally opening to learning about himself. “She must be as unaware of what she is doing as I am of what I am doing.”

“Right,” I said. “The two of you learned very early in life to try to control and resist being controlled, and these old patterns are governing your relationship. But what is the point of leaving? You will each take your patterns with you, and you will each end up in similar relationships, as you have in the past. So why not recognize that you are not a victim and address your issues?” I asked him.

“Okay,” he said. “So what do you see as my issues?”

“I see two major issues,” I said. “I know that household things, such as the broken curtain rod, don’t bother you, but they do bother Andrea. You put her in a bind, because when she says she will hire someone to fix the things that need fixing, you get upset and tell her you will do it and then you don’t. So one major issue is that it is more important to you to resist being controlled than to be a caring person with yourself and her. I am not excusing Andrea’s anger and judgmentalness – that is her end of the system. But you have not accepted that you have no control over her anger. This is the other major issue for you – your lack of acceptance over your lack of control over her. She tries to control you and you resist and tune her out to try to control her, and not be controlled by her.

“If you really want things to change, then the only control you have is over changing you, not over changing her. When you are ready to make caring about yourself and her more important than resisting, you will start a consistent Inner Bonding process and things will likely change between you.”

This is a huge challenge for a person who has been in resistance his whole life. Once Paul stops blaming Andrea, then he can do the deep Inner Bonding work of healing his resistance.

Tuning out a partner is a form of resistance – a way to have control over not being controlled. And it generally starts early in childhood.

For example, my client Elisa had been working with the Inner Bonding process for a few years and had done much healing around her past abuse issues and with her family, especially regarding her mother. But with all her healing, her relationship was in shambles, and she felt anxious, empty, and sad much of the time. She frequently got angry and irritated with her husband about minor things. She found this especially disturbing because it was exactly the way her mother had treated her.

Elisa clearly heard her inner voice asking for what she wanted, such as less stress and more sleep, but she didn’t respect her inner child or take responsibility for her feelings of anxiety, sadness, and emptiness. She also heard the voice of her spiritual guidance, yet she rarely asked for advice and even more rarely took action on what she was told. Elisa knew her inner child needed her love, yet she persisted in hating her. When Elisa looked at her life, she was completely mystified at her inability to love herself and to take meaningful and loving action on her own behalf. She was truly stuck.

Elisa attended one of my five-day Inner Bonding intensives to try to break through her stuckness. On the fourth day she was working one-on-one with me and feeling frustrated with her lack of progress.

“I hate my inner child,” Elisa told me. “I think she is bad. I don’t want to love her. I can’t love her. I know I should. I know I’m supposed to. I know no one else can do this for me, but I don’t want to.”

As I listened to these words, something in Elisa’s voice and manner struck me – she looked and sounded like a rebellious adolescent secretly gloating over the fact that her parents could not make her do what they wanted. “Ha, ha, you can’t make me” was the feeling I picked up.

“Elisa,” I asked, “Do you feel resistant?”

“Yes!” she shouted. “That’s exactly what I feel.”

Knowing her background, I was aware that Elisa was brought up by an extremely controlling mother.

“Elisa, what do you think your mother wanted from you the most?”

“She wanted me to love her,” she promptly replied.

“So you did everything she wanted you to do, you gave in to her control, except in this. She could not make you love her. Is that right? She could not control you in this area?” I asked.

“That’s right! I remember being seven and deciding that I would never love her. I knew that no matter what she did to me, she could not make me love her. And it was not just her she wanted me to love. She wanted me to love my sister and be loving in general. She wanted me to be a sweet, loving girl.”

“So,” I asked, “this is where you took your stand against being controlled? This is where you said ‘No, you can’t make me?’ “

“Yes!” Elisa’s hands tightened into fists. “She could make me do everything else, but she couldn’t make me be loving.”

“So in order for you to be loving now to your inner child, you would have to give in to your mother’s demands? You would have to let her think she has won?”  I asked her.

“Oh my God!” she said. “That’s what has me stuck! I can’t be loving because my mother will think she has control over me, and I can’t stand that thought.”

“So you would rather be miserable than let your mother think she won?” I asked softly.

Elisa was silent for nearly a minute. Then she looked directly at me and said, “That is exactly what I’ve been doing, but I didn’t realize it. And you know what? I don’t want to do that anymore.”

“What if your mother thinks she has finally gotten control over you?”

“Well, that makes me feel kind of sick inside, but it would be better than being irritated and angry so much. Yes…I think I can live with her thinking she has control over me,” she said.

“Maybe you’ve been in a power struggle with your mother all this time without even realizing it – one that you seem ready to let go of. Do you think that by resisting being controlled by your mother, your life has been controlled by the power struggle?”

“Yes,” Elisa said. “I see that now. It’s like I’ve been controlled by my own resistance!” Excitement had flooded her cheeks with color. “This makes so much sense. I feel like a door is opening in me.”

I saw the shift in Elisa as she sat before me, and I knew that this insight would profoundly change her ability to love others. But Elisa would have to address a second part of her resistance before she could fully heal.

“Elisa,” I continued in a gentle voice, “Being a loving person also means loving yourself. And that means loving your inner child, the part you keep saying you hate.”

“Oh, yeah. The bad part.” She frowned. “What does that have to do with resisting my mother?”

“Well, the part you call ‘bad’ is really your wounded self, not your inner child, and this part is just like your mother – angry, irritated, controlling. Really loving yourself means dropping any judgments you have made about yourself and your mother and healing that wounded part of you, the child and adolescent who got so hurt by your mother, yet learned to be like her in many ways. You have been very resistant to loving this wounded part of yourself.”

“I get it. Because my mother tried to make me love her, I resisted, and that meant resisting loving any part of myself that was like her. The thing is,” Elisa continued, shaking her head, “I do love my mother, even though she is still controlling sometimes. And I really am just like her sometimes. So I guess I can learn to love that part of me if I don’t have to resist her control anymore.” She let out a deep breath. “Whew, I feel so relieved!”

Elisa’s face broke into a radiant smile I’d never seen on her before. She was shining, bubbling over with joy. When I saw her the next morning, she was still exuberant, laughing, hugging other people in the workshop, overflowing with joy. Her soul was beginning to taste freedom after all those years of bondage to the power struggle inside her. Resisting control, instead of loving herself and others, had been Elisa’s savior, her God, albeit a false one. Now she was free to choose the path of love. Watching her from across the room as I sipped my tea, I realized that Elisa looked like she had just been let out of prison. And of course, because she was no longer resistant to loving her husband, their relationship greatly improved.

Being willing to give up a lifelong pattern of tuning out and resistance can be very frightening. I saw this clearly with my client Brittany. Brittany and I had worked together for about a month, and she had done a lot of growing, but now she was stuck. Her friendships and love relationship were not going well, and her employer was constantly yelling at her, as had most of her previous employers. Her connection with her spiritual guidance was sporadic.

One of the symptoms Brittany and I had explored at different times was that she seemed to fade away whenever difficult feelings came up. Sometimes she would even fall asleep during her work with me. This, combined with the fact that Brittany had a very controlling father, suggested to me that she might be stuck in resistance.

“Brittany,” I asked her one morning, “what do you think your father wanted from you the most?”

“He wanted me to listen to him,” she answered.

“So you gave in with everything else, but he couldn’t get you to listen?” I asked her.

She broke into a sheepish, yet self-satisfied smile. “Yeah. It drove him crazy. He would end up yelling at me, ‘Why don’t you ever listen?'”

“So this was where you drew the line? He could not force you to listen. He could force you to do a lot of other things, but not to listen,” I offered.

Laughing, Brittany said, “Yeah, that’s right!”

“What does your employer say when she’s yelling at you?” I asked her.

Brittany’s eyes widened. “I can’t believe it – she says the same thing! She is always saying to me, ‘Brittany, why can’t you just listen?’ It drives her crazy.” Again came the gloating, self-satisfied laugh.

“What about in here, in our sessions?” I asked. “Do you think I am trying to control you when I bring up difficult issues?”

“I guess so,” she conceded, shifting in her chair. “It feels like you are invading me somehow.”

“So you just fade out, tuning me out?” I asked her.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t make sense. I’m here to get help,” she said.

“Maybe resisting what you perceive as control or invasion feels safer. Maybe it’s more important to feel safe than to get help,” I said.

“But it’s ruining everything – my work, my relationship. Nothing is going right,” she said.

“That’s true. But your first priority seems to be keeping yourself safe by tuning out. Until you decide it’s more important to be loving to yourself and others – which means being willing to listen and learn, even if it feels like you are being controlled – you will keep fading out,” I said.

“But that’s crazy!” she said.

“Not to your wounded self. To the wounded part, it makes perfect sense to resist, to hold the line against being totally consumed,” I told her.

“Margaret, I feel like going to sleep right now,” she said.

“I guess your wounded self doesn’t like being busted,” I offered.

“Well,” she said, “I know I’ve got to deal with this for my life to get better, but I sure can feel the part of me that would rather tune you out, no matter what the cost.”

Brittany shifted her gaze and stared out the window. After a few moments, she said in a small voice, “The idea of giving up this resistance feels so scary.” Tears filled her eyes. She looked terrified.

Brittany had to face a hard decision. She could give up her resistance and start to listen to others, accepting the fact that she may feel at first as if others are controlling her. Or she could continue to create a facade of safety based on her resistance and her refusal to listen, thereby accepting the fact that she would continue to suffer problems in her work and her relationship. She had to decide which was more important to her: resisting control or being loving to herself and others. Of course, what Brittany wanted – what we all want in our wounded self – was to continue to fade away and resist while enjoying the results of being loving. If she persisted in her denial, lying to herself that this was possible, she would have stayed stuck. Fortunately, Brittany chose to open to learning about loving herself. She had been resistant, not only to listening to others, but also to listening to herself – her own feelings and guidance. It wasn’t easy for her, but she eventually did learn to listen to herself, to her partner, to her boss, and to others. Of course, both her work and her relationship greatly improved.

Suzanna came to see me because she was so unhappy in her marriage. She had been married to Jason for thirty-one years and was very confused about why she was so unhappy, since she knew that she still loved him. Not only was she depressed, but she was also sick much of the time and couldn’t seem to discover the reason.

As we explored, it became apparent that Jason was very stuck, both in neediness and in resistance. Jason came from a very invasive mother and an absent father. He had withdrawn early in life to protect against his mother’s invasiveness. While he professed great love for Suzanna, his actions were not caring. He was either pulling on her for time, attention, or sex – being invasive just like his mother – or he was tuning her out, resisting giving her anything she wanted, especially empathy, caring, and emotional intimacy – just like he had resisted his mother. Suzanna could not want any emotional closeness or caring from him without his resisting. While Suzanna saw that she was at times controlling, she also saw that Jason perceived that she was controlling even when she wasn’t. Suzanna worked hard on letting go of her controlling behavior, hoping that Jason would then stop tuning her out and resisting, but things got even worse. As soon as she pulled back from trying to control Jason, he felt abandoned and pulled on her even more for time, sex, and attention, but as soon as she came forward, he emotionally retreated, again tuning her out. She found she couldn’t even offer a suggestion without his shutting down and resisting. She noticed that Jason could be very giving to others but not with her. She finally realized that he saw her as his mother, no matter what she did.

Suzanna asked Jason to join her in doing Inner Bonding work, but he refused. While Suzanna still loved Jason, she finally made the difficult decision to leave the marriage, as much for her health as for anything else. She discovered that soon after she left, her health returned. The energy she had exerted in dealing with Jason’s invasive pull, resistance and withdrawal had exhausted her.

Jason was devastated. He told Suzanna he loved her and that he knew she still loved him. He could not understand why she would leave, yet he still refused to open to learning and do his inner work. His denial regarding his emotional withdrawal, neediness, and resistance cost him dearly.

I encourage everyone to open to learning about your end of your relationship system regarding all your relationships. You might be amazed at what happens with your relationships.

I invite you join me for my bi-monthly masterclass and receive my live help, which you can learn about at

And, I invite you to heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my new book, “Lonely No More: The Astonishing Power of Inner Bonding” and from our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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