Human beings have complex emotional needs, and when we’re in a relationship with someone, it’s very important for those needs to be met.
Emotional neglect can be tricky to identify in a relationship or marriage, but it can also be very damaging.
We can all feel like our emotional needs are neglected now and again, but it becomes a significant problem when it happens consistently.
Not only can it take its toll on your relationship, it can damage your self-esteem.
Here’s an insight into what emotional neglect in the context of a romantic relationship is, how to spot it, and what you can do about it.
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What does emotional neglect really mean?
Emotional neglect is a concept that we’re more used to hearing about in child-parent relationships rather than romantic relationships or marriages.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a big issue between romantic partners.
Emotional neglect is when a partner or spouse consistently fails to take the other person’s feelings into account, or actively ignores those feelings or emotions. It’s a failure to respond adequately to a partner’s emotional needs.
Emotional abuse can be tricky to identify as it’s not tangible, but it does at least involve some kind of negative action. Emotional neglect, on the other hand, is about a complete lack of action.
Have you ever heard someone complaining about how their partner is emotionally unavailable?
If someone is emotionally neglectful of a partner, it can feel like they constantly have their walls up. They don’t take any notice of their partner’s feelings, and definitely don’t do anything about them.
If you don’t have the emotional connection with your partner or spouse that you’d like to have, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that they do or don’t do that makes you feel that way.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. It can make you feel un-loved and take its toll on your self-esteem. Not being noticed sends you the message that your feelings and needs just don’t matter.
As it’s so difficult to identify emotional neglect, we’ve put together some signs that should help you to spot it if it’s present in your relationship or marriage.
14 signs of emotional neglect in a relationship.
1. The focus is always on them.
Their life and their needs are always the center of attention. Your achievements or bad days go unacknowledged, but they expect you to celebrate or commiserate with them.
They’re the center of their own world, and you feel like a side show.
2. They aren’t the first person you want to tell.
You get some good news or some bad news and your first instinct is to tell… your best friend, or your mother, or your brother, or whoever it is.
Your partner or spouse isn’t the first person you want to tell, because you know you won’t get the reaction you’re hoping for or the support you need.
3. You feel like you’re on your own in the relationship.
Your overwhelming feeling is that there’s actually only one of you in this relationship. That they’re not really present at all.
You don’t feel like you have their support or like they’re committed to making the relationship or marriage work.
You can’t shake the feeling of being lonely, even when they’re right next to you.
4. They shut down when you try to talk to them.
If you try to talk to them about any issues in your relationship, they just close off.
They shut down, flat out ignore you, or even leave the room when you try to discuss any issues, or your future together.
They don’t engage in arguments with you, as that would just be too much like hard work and would mean the two of you would then have to resolve the conflict.
5. They give you the silent treatment.
When they’re angry with you, they don’t shout at you or tell you what you’ve done wrong. That would mean putting too much effort into the relationship.
They’d rather just give you the silent treatment and let you suffer, wondering exactly what it is that’s upset them.
6. You have no idea what they want from you.
You’re not sure what they want out of the relationship or from you. You don’t know what they expect from you or why they’re with you.
You feel like you’re at sea without so much as a lighthouse to let you know where the rocks are.
7. Your self-esteem is at an all-time low.
You’re starting to feel down on yourself.
Your partner’s lack of interest in you is taking its toll, as you’re starting to feel like you’re unworthy of their love and attention. Or, for that matter, anyone else’s love or attention.
8. You’re suppressing your feelings.
The message you’re getting from your partner or spouse is that your feelings aren’t worth paying any attention to and are insignificant, so you’re starting to believe that.
You don’t even take them seriously yourself, pushing them down and passing them off as inconsequential or petty.
9. They don’t spend time with you.
They don’t prioritize spending time with you, and sometimes it feels like they actively avoid it.
They’re always busy with one thing or another, and quality time together is few and far between.
You never have long, lingering phone calls just passing the time of day. They keep conversations brief.
10. You feel like you can’t be yourself with them.
You can’t relax and unwind around your partner, because you just don’t feel comfortable around them.
You know they don’t really love you for who you are, and you’ve learned that they don’t take your emotions seriously.
So, you now just hide them away and just tell them what they want to hear.
11. They don’t make an effort with your friends or family.
They don’t make the effort to connect with you on an emotional level, and they certainly aren’t going above and beyond to connect with the people who are most important to you.
They’ve made it clear that they’re not interested in spending time with your friends or family. And, when they are with them, they don’t engage them in conversation or try to get to know them better.
12. They forget important dates.
If they’re not emotionally involved in the relationship or marriage, they probably don’t place any emotional importance on the dates that most couples celebrate together, or at least acknowledge.
They might forget your birthday, your anniversary, or never remember the date that someone important to you passed away.
That can be very hurtful and mean you feel unimportant or like your joy or pain isn’t worth taking seriously.
13. They put off taking steps forward.
You want your relationship to move forward, making plans for the future, going on adventures together, or even having children.
But they find ways to procrastinate and put it off. They tell you it’s not the right time, but they don’t offer you any reasons why.
They can’t understand your need to talk about, make plans for, and build a shared future.
14. You always solve problems single-handedly.
You’ve learned that there’s no point turning to your partner or spouse for help or support when things get tough, so by now you just automatically sort it out on your own.
You know that you’re on your own when it comes to sorting out all your problems, big and small.
You’ve developed some solid coping mechanisms that don’t involve asking your partner for their opinion.
8 steps to deal with emotional neglect.
1. Reflect on the underlying causes.
So, you’ve realized that there’s emotional neglect in your relationship or marriage. But before you can take steps to deal with it you need to think about where it’s come from.
What’s the cause of this emotional neglect? Where did it spring from?
Is it something that’s characterized your relationship since day one, or were they once incredibly supportive, and this neglect has developed over time?
Did it develop spontaneously and slowly, or can you trace it back to a certain event?
Sometimes, emotional neglect is a result of a lack of love in a relationship.
As the initial rush of passionate romantic love starts to fade, rather than being replaced with a different kind of love, as it does in most relationships, sometimes it just turns into apathy.
And rather than accepting that a lack of love might spell the end of the relationship, both partners just settle for an unhealthy dynamic.
But this is not always the case. Emotional neglect in relationships can come about if one partner is going through a tough time and becomes so centered on their own troubles that they forget to take their partner into account.
They take their partner’s support for granted and are so focused on their own struggles that they stop reciprocating that support.
Going through a tough time yourself can mean you can’t be quite as supportive to your partner or spouse temporarily, and that’s okay. In long term relationships and marriages, both partners will have to support each other at different times.
The problem is when someone sees their own issues as a valid excuse for totally neglecting their partner’s emotions in the long term.
A relationship should be an equal partnership and you can’t expect someone to always be your rock if you never give anything back.
2. Consider therapy.
Emotional neglect in a relationship or marriage can be something that’s very difficult to fix without professional help.
Finding the right therapist could give you both the space to express your feelings, get some perspective, and find your way back to each other.
Relationship Hero can guide the way and help you achieve the best outcome. Through regular sessions with a dedicated relationship expert (by yourself and/or as a couple), you’ll learn precisely how to create a healthier and more fulfilling relationship—one that can last a lifetime. Learn more about Relationship Hero and get the kind of tactical relationship advice and ongoing support you need.
3. Take positive action.
If you want your relationship to thrive and last, you can’t just sit back and wait for your partner to change or realize the way they’ve been behaving.
You’re going to have to accept the situation and actively do something to make a difference to your relationship.
Rather than just complaining about their behavior, to other people or to them, you need to start reflecting on how the two of you can fix this.
Although they’re the one neglecting you emotionally, you can’t expect them to take all the responsibility for changing things.
4. Sit down for a talk.
Many people try to avoid sitting down for serious talks about their relationship or marriage, but this isn’t something that’s going to be fixed with a quick chat.
You need to pick a good moment for both of you, when there are no time constraints and you’re not overtired, hungry, or stressed. Bring up the problems in your relationship that are being caused by their emotional neglect.
Make sure you come at this conversation from a place of love and understanding, rather than being angry and accusatory from the beginning, as that won’t get you anywhere.
5. Don’t play the victim.
The fact that your partner or spouse has neglected your emotional needs may well have caused you lots of hurt, but if you want to make things better between you, that hurt shouldn’t be the focus of your conversation.
Concentrating on how they’ve hurt you will only make them get defensive.
If you want to make this work, then by all means vent about their behavior to a trusted friend, but not to your partner’s face.
Instead, let them know that you want to get to the bottom of this so that your relationship has a healthy future.
Talk about what you can both do to make a difference and create a healthier dynamic between you.
6. Spend quality time together.
Suggest to your partner or spouse that the two of you spend more quality time focusing on each other to try to get that spark back.
Book a holiday, go out to meet friends together, try something new, or go on romantic dates.
Think about what it was that first attracted you to each other and do what you can to rekindle that.
7. Be honest with yourself.
Unfortunately, emotional neglect in a relationship isn’t something that can always be fixed. It could be a symptom of cracks that run so deep they can’t be patched up.
If you can honestly say that you’ve done everything you can to save your relationship and it just hasn’t worked, then it might be time to consider whether the two of you would be better off apart.
There’s no point staying in a relationship that’s making you both unhappy, so be honest with yourself if the time has come to let it go.
8. Be patient.
Always remember that problems like these will never be solved overnight. It’s going to take a lot of hard work from both of you to get your relationship back on track.
But, if you’re patient and willing to put that work in, there’s every chance that you’ll get back to a place of mutual emotional support and happiness.
Still not sure what to do if you feel emotionally neglected by your partner or spouse? This is a tricky situation, and one that can easily be made worse with the wrong approach. But Relationship Hero can guide the way and help you achieve the best outcome. Through regular sessions with a dedicated relationship expert (by yourself and/or as a couple), you’ll learn precisely how to create a healthier and more fulfilling relationship—one that can last a lifetime. Learn more about Relationship Hero and get the kind of tactical relationship advice and ongoing support you need.
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