Adult relationships are often murky as is, with what the technology has done to dating. However, once you finally walk down the aisle, your future ought to be filled with only the most positive feelings, right? Well — one would think so. Unfortunately, emotional neglect in marriage is all too common these days.
The Beatles once said that “love is all you need,” but time and experience have shown that emotional support can make or break an adult intimate relationship. Furthermore, a clear lack of it is bound to negatively affect an individual, causing a drastic plummeting of self-confidence and self-worth. Sometimes, neglect is the result of having intimacy issues, such as feeling guilty after sex, for example.
But how can you recognize emotional neglect in marriage, and can anything be done about it? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Emotional Neglect?
When you’re in a relationship, whether defined by law or not, you have certain expectations. Most of the time, every person out there wants someone who will love them for who they truly are and accept them completely. Thus, they make emotional support a focal point of their relationship and the foundation upon which they build it further.
With emotional neglect, however, the relationship cannot move forward. In a nutshell, you could define emotional neglect as a lack of certain actions that would prove any existence of true care.
This means that if there is some emotional neglect in your relationship or marriage, you mostly feel like your needs are not met. And the biggest need of all is to have your feelings heard and understood.
If there is emotional neglect in the relationship, the individual neglecting their partner won’t just stop listening to them when they’re tired or something similar. Most of the time, they won’t respond to their needs, notice them, or attend to them.
The problem is, every human being out there yearns for love, understanding, and support. If they don’t get it, the negative consequences can leave a mark on their character and life.
Thus, it is vital to recognize emotional neglect as soon as possible and take steps to either recover as an individual or fix the relationship.
Abuse vs. Neglect
But before learning more about emotional neglect in marriage, it is vital to recognize the differences between emotional abuse and neglect. Some people may believe that it is the same thing, given that one can abuse another’s feelings and emotions. However, there’s a clear distinction to keep in mind here.
As you can recall, emotional neglect doesn’t require any action. If anything, it entails a complete lack of action, and thus care about the relationship. The person who’s being emotionally neglectful isn’t actually doing anything negative to their partner. The lack of interest is evident, and so is the absence of suitable emotional responses.
Emotional abuse, on the other hand, does entail “doing” something to the other person. As ridiculous as it may seem, it even shows that the person at least cares about hurting others. However, everything they do has a negative connotation to it. Thus, emotional abuse often includes gaslighting, name-calling, and other similarly traumatizing actions.
In short, emotional abuse consists of abusive commissions that destroy a person’s emotional well-being. In contrast, emotional neglect doesn’t entail emotional or physical maltreatment; it covers neglectful commissions that lower one’s quality of life.
Emotional Neglect in Marriage
Emotional neglect isn’t reserved for adults only. Most, if not all of the time, adults are the perpetrators. But they aren’t just neglecting their significant others but children as well.
Now that you can define what emotional neglect is, how does it relate to married couples or intimate adult relationships?
Well, since it is somewhat difficult to recognize, emotional neglect is one of the reasons many people stay in relationships even though they sense something is amiss. Unlike physical abuse, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s really bothering them and why they’re feeling as if their partner isn’t listening to them. At some point, they may even convince themselves that it is all in their head — and thus commit to years of neglect.
And that is the main problem with emotional neglect in marriage. When you say your vows, you commit to the person in front of you and promise that you’ll be there in sickness and in health. Nevertheless, the vows don’t tell you what you can do if your feelings are being ignored — or how you may resolve the issue.
What You May Feel If You’re Neglected in Your Marriage
If a person is experiencing emotional neglect in marriage, they will feel unworthy most of the time. The main reason for this is rejection.
Every time your partner neglects your feelings, they refuse you a proper emotional response that may boost your well-being. They aren’t just shifting the focus from you to something else, whether it’s one of their problems or something that’s happening to the world. They fail to respond and tend to your emotional needs, thus causing feelings of inadequacy and abandonment.
This sort of emotional holdback can trigger intense fear in a human being, as well as the same pain receptors that are triggered in case of a physical injury. In essence, even though there is no physical abuse, emotional neglect hurts like one. It truly is heartbreaking for an individual.
The worst part is that the relationship slowly deteriorates as emotional neglect takes its toll. If you’re married, your partner should be the one you can confide in and the person you make all your life-changing decisions with. However, if they’re neglectful, you become more distant.
Your Feelings Will Be Intense
Those who have experienced emotional neglect in marriage tend to feel unsafe and insecure about their relationships. As such, they may often feel as if:
• They’re alone in the relationship
• They cannot trust their partner
• Solitude is better than spending time with their significant other
• They don’t belong in that relationship or fit well with their partner’s family, friends, etc.
• They aren’t sure what their partner wants from them.
The neglected usually withdraw to themselves, afraid of facing the world and their partner because of the extreme feelings of low self-worth. The lack of emotional support makes them distance themselves from other people and avoid social gatherings, making plans about their future, etc.
And really — can anyone blame them? They cannot express their true self in front of their partner and mostly feel unloved and unaccepted. That alone is enough to inspire anxiety, stress, and/or depression, which put even more pressure on the relationship.
The Opposite of Emotional Neglect in Marriage
Now, some people may say that they have never experienced emotional neglect in marriage. The problem is — it’s often hard to notice something that can be explained with being in a bad mood on a particular day.
Has your partner ever ignored your feelings just because they were simply annoying at that point? How about shifting the focus on something else? Has your significant other ever made you feel like your feelings don’t matter at a particular moment because something else was going on?
All of this may seem reasonable to you because you understand that not every day can be perfect. However, you shouldn’t be looking for perfection at all. Failure to recognize and appreciate someone’s feelings should not be a bonus but a standard. And ignoring someone’s emotions is emotional neglect, no matter how the neglecter feels at that very moment.
In Tune With Each Other
So what is the opposite of a lack of emotional support and care? Well, you could say that emotional attunement covers all the (emotional) parts in a marriage that most, if not all, couples expect. It means that they share an emotional and intimate connection, which allows them to not only recognize but react properly to each other’s feelings.
When there’s no emotional neglect in marriage, couples are in tune with each other and able to react to both good and bad experiences. Moreover, they aren’t afraid to go the extra mile to show the other person how much they value them and that their feelings matter.
In essence, emotional attunement means that both partners use all of their senses to reach the utmost levels of empathy. They put a lot of effort into understanding their significant other’s feelings and responding to them with love, care, and affection. What’s more, they reflect those feelings and share them, thus bringing themselves closer to their partner and strengthening their bond.
How to Recognize Emotional Neglect in Marriage: 8 Crucial Signs
Just like with most things in life, it is possible to recognize emotional neglect in marriage; all you have to do is carefully consider the relationship. However, the range of signs you may notice will depend on the type of relationship you have with your partner, your personalities, lifestyles, etc.
The following list is, therefore, not exhaustive by any means. Still, it should help you pinpoint things that bother you in your relationship. Afterward, you should consider talking with your partner about them, either when alone or in the company of a therapist.
#1. Lack of Physical Intimacy
The easiest way to feel rejected in your marriage is for your partner to avoid having sex or even touching you. Everyone knows that you cannot help yourself when you’re in love and happy — you want to feel as close to your significant other as possible. Otherwise, there’s reasonable doubt you’ve checked yourself out of the relationship emotionally.
#2. Lack of Fights and Silent Treatment
You would think that fighting means a relationship has gone sour and is coming to an end. However, fighting with someone means you’re actually doing something — which is the opposite of emotional neglect.
That’s why you ought to worry if the fights stop all of a sudden, and your partner seems as if they don’t care anymore about proving you wrong. The lack of action could indicate their emotionlessness toward you. That can, in turn, serve as a sign that it is time to work on your relationship more.
Additionally, the silent treatment may be another sign of emotional neglect in marriage. Though it does entail ignoring someone with the purpose of them yielding to one’s point of view, it involves no particular actions that can be seen as abuse. Still, its very essence is emotional punishment, which is how most emotional neglect feels like.
#3. No Meaningful Conversations
If you’re not communicating with your spouse, it’s likely that your marriage will die a slow death. As one of the building blocks of marriage, communication is the main way you show and explain how you feel, what’s been going on with you, etc.
However, if the conversations are meaningless, you and your partner will not be able to strengthen the bond you share. In fact, it may just get severed by having the same old mundane conversation every day, never covering anything beyond the essentials.
Of course, important things, such as finances, kids, and family, will always be the main topics. But you have to talk about your feelings as well. In case of emotional neglect, that’s one of the topics your partner is likely to avoid.
#4. No Empathy
An empathetic person will react to someone feeling upset or crying. They won’t be able to help themselves; they will suddenly feel the same things they are feeling and want to come to their aid.
If your partner lacks empathy toward you, you’ll mostly feel alone with your emotions. Whether they’re happy or sad, your partner won’t be able to cry or rejoice with you. They’re so caught up in their own world that they won’t even acknowledge your feelings. No matter how many signals there are, they’ll be blind for all of them.
#5. Defensive Behavior
You cannot decide for someone whether they’re hurt or not; if they say that you’ve hurt their feelings, you ought to acknowledge that and make amends.
If your partner is defensive instead, that’s a clear sign of some form of emotional neglect. Instead of listening to what you’re saying and trying to explain their point of view, taking into account yours as well, they’ll get angry, upset, or broody, leading up to silent treatment.
The result? The neglected may feel as if they are the main problem in the marriage and that they’re causing all this anger by being sensitive. That, in turn, may make them feel unworthy in the long run. Moreover, they may become downright anxious about the level of emotional support they’re (not) getting.
Giving out hot and cold signals is one of the worst forms of emotional neglect, as you end up being always on edge. You never know what your partner will do next or how they will react. It’s not that they inspire fear in you, but they are extremely unreliable. That in and of itself makes you feel as if you’re alone in the relationship.
#7. Failure to Listen Attentively
Now, of course, your partner cannot give you their undivided attention at all times. Life has to go on; both of you have work, finances, and errands to worry about.
However, when you do get their attention, they should be able to listen to you attentively and at least offer their support. Nobody is asking them to find solutions to your problems. All they really have to do is show that they’re there for you and ready to offer a helping hand should you need one.
But emotional neglect is evident if your partner isn’t able to have a decent conversation with you. No matter how busy or distracted they are, at some point, they ought to pay more attention.
Still, that doesn’t happen in case of emotional neglect. In fact, you won’t only be ignored — your partner may even decide to end the conversation abruptly. They may simply walk away as they don’t want to waste any more time on your feelings and thoughts.
#8. No Support for Their Partner’s Good News or Achievements
In a healthy relationship, both partners are able to build each other up. When one of them feels low, the other one will go the extra mile to try to get them to see the good side of things. Similarly, when one of them gets some good news and wants to share the happiness, the other one ought to join in the celebrations!
But when it comes to emotional neglect in marriage, the neglecter may not offer enough support in those moments. In fact, they may be so caught up in their own feelings that they will try to destroy the moment by focusing on the negative.
Otherwise, they may not react at all, or have a rather underwhelming reaction one doesn’t expect from their one true love. In that case, any achievements of the neglected feel a little bit worthless — just like them.
How to Cope With Emotional Neglect in Your Marriage
Feeling alone in your marriage is never a good thing, so most people may start considering divorce right away. If you’re impulsive and don’t like to be tied down, especially not to a person that only contributes to your loneliness — this may be a viable option.
However, just because someone is emotionally neglectful doesn’t mean they’re acting that way on purpose. Most of the time, those who were neglected in their childhood grow up to hide their own emotions and become the neglecters themselves. Basically, they’re carrying around emotional trauma that prevents them from truly feeling emotions and empathizing with others.
So if you don’t want a divorce, what can you do instead? Here are some essential tips on coping with emotional neglect in marriage and steps to take to resolve the issue:
3 Effective Tips for Dealing With Emotional Neglect in Your Marriage
1. Don’t Judge — Try to Understand
If you’re the one being neglected, it’s probably all too easy to play the blaming game and see your partner as the bad guy. But you have to understand that more often than not, emotional neglect doesn’t become a thing overnight or is a sign of malice.
Because of that, when you do talk to your partner at some point, you should remain understanding and loving. Don’t make them feel as if you’re bashing them or pinpointing everything that’s wrong with them. There’s a good chance they’re being unintentionally neglectful and will want to make an effort to put things back in order.
2. Don’t Be a Victim — Be Their Friend
If you decide to play the victim card, your partner will get even more defensive than before. They may even try to distance themselves from you further.
Nobody wants to be told about their faults, especially not when they have hurt someone. However, if you take the time to explain your feelings, you can get your partner to consider your perspective.
In contrast, if you decide to be the victim and list every single thing you believe they’ve done bad and how they’ve hurt you, you won’t get too far. In fact, you’ll make them think that being distant was the right approach, seeing as hurtful yelling and the blame game are the only other two options when talking about mutual feelings.
Besides, consider the role you’ve played in all of this. You may have contributed to the emotional neglect somehow. That’s not to say that you should blame yourself. However, you may have triggered this state with your own behavior at some point.
There’s no harm in reflecting on your mistakes, if there are any. If anything, it will show your partner that you don’t deem yourself perfect — you have flaws too.
3. Get Professional Help
There’s no reason for you to fight this alone, as you may not even be successful at it. Human emotions are a fickle thing, after all. In order to resolve a lack of them, it’s necessary to confide in experts who, more often than not, have all the answers — or at least a way to get to them.
A marriage counselor can help a couple communicate better and relay information in a positive, non-judgemental way. At the same time, they can serve as an unbiased judge who can point out emotional neglect and make the neglecter face it.
That all would, of course, be done with utmost care and professionalism. All a couple should do is be ready to work on their relationship. The process may be slow, and at times, it may be uncomfortable too. Still, the reward — a healthy relationship between two mature adults — is definitely worth it.
Whether you’re experiencing emotional neglect in marriage or your partner has told you that they feel neglected, it’s vital to understand that this isn’t the end. You don’t have to give up on your marriage just because you’ve run into an obstacle.
Instead, take your time to get closer to your partner and deal with the issue on hand effectively and without playing a victim or blaming them for your faults.
Emotional neglect in marriage can be resolved with time, effort, and some help from professionals. It’s up to you to decide, however, whether you’re ready to do something about it or will risk growing even more distant until finally, the relationship breaks. For more help and support with your marriage, consider BetterHelp online counseling.