Emotional Neglect in Marriage: Signs and What Should You Do

All relationships go through ups and downs. However, if your partner makes you feel alone, overlooked, or misunderstood, it may be a sign that they’re emotionally neglecting you.

The problem is, your partner may not even know they’re doing it.

Here are a few signs of emotional neglect in marriage, as discussed by experts.

Table of Contents

Dr. Liz Jenkins, LMFT, CLC

Liz Jenkins

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Certified Life Transitions & Relationship Coach

It happens to the best of marriages…the most devoted, intelligent, committed, responsible people; people who never, ever thought they’d find themselves neglecting their spouse or feeling neglected one day wake up and realize they’ve drifted apart, distancing or being distanced and wondering how can the marriage be fixed, do they want it to be saved…does their spouse even notice?

Related: How to Fight for and Save Your Marriage Alone

Sometimes the “wake up call” comes in the form of uncovering lies or concealing things like friendships, SM activities, or just a general growing apart into two quite different lives filled with other people and different interests.

Affairs emerge when there is a lack of awareness in the state of the marriage; in how connected or disconnected each other is, and a gradual distancing and leading of separate lives. In fact, emotional affairs are one of the top outcomes of emotional neglect and distancing in a marriage.

Related: Warning Signs Your Partner Could Be Cheating

Feeling neglected often has us “keeping score” of how many times your loved one “fails” again such as not helping out with the chores, ignoring your sadness or fatigue, forgetting a special event, or no longer giving the love and attention you desire and deserve…the stuff they used to provide in the early days.

Acknowledge your part in the neglect

Are you the one turning away and not providing that emotional support and energy? Or is your spouse the guilty one? What if I suggested that both of you are responsible in some part to the situation? Yup, both of you at some level have let the marriage go to this point.

It takes time and energy to stay alert and ahead of the day-to-day drains on one’s self and the relationship. The process may feel uncomfortable.

In fact, you may dread the deeper look at where you are (kind of like the post-holiday stepping on the scale reveal), but it’s critical to look at where you are, right now… what’s working…what’s not working, and create a plan to get back on track.

The point here is to look back on your part and as you do, write all of this down or record into your phone, so you keep track.

Let’s say it’s you that is feeling neglected. Looking back over the past weeks, months, or years…how has it changed? What was it like when you felt emotionally nurtured and cared about? What did your spouse say or do that made you feel that way?

Now’s the tougher part, when did it start to change? What was going on in each other’s lives, careers? Any major changes, life events? How did it feel during those times? Do you recall moments when you started feeling neglected or a lesser priority? Did you two talk about your feelings or just let it go?

Maybe it was a big career push or the need to go to night school and hold down a job that had you both over-scheduled and each a lower priority. It might even have been discussed between the two of you at the beginning and it was 100% both on board.

The problem is that sometimes the reality of long lonely nights or managing the house and kids as if a single parent starts to erode even the best of our initial support.

It’s okay to find the gaps, the regrets, missed opportunities, or hurts left unspoken. In fact, it’s great that you do find these thoughts, feelings, or past events; these will be the basis of your reconnection plan.

So often, we buy into the myths and untruths that being married means you will just grow apart…that it’s normal to lose interest or attention…that being married includes neglecting yourself or your needs by putting your spouse or others ahead of yourself.

Well, I’ve got to tell you that neglect, and distancing lack of communication is not a “normal” thing in a marriage; it’s not part of the “aging process” of marriage. It takes effort, but marriages can and should be rewarding, exciting, and affair-proof…over the long haul.

Related: How to Be a Better Wife and Improve Your Marriage?, How to Be a Better Husband?

Speak up and share your concerns without accusing

I’ve shared just a few signs of emotional neglect and you may be experiencing something a bit different. That ‘s okay. It’s great you are aware of your needs and feelings. We just need to get to a place where you can share and listen to them and vis a versa.

Keep it a discussion

Remember, we want to create a non-judgmental, inviting and supportive place to air concerns and anxieties about ourselves, our spouse, and our relationship.

Raging, accusing, withdrawing, crying, etc., will only serve to shut down the open discussion. A starting point might be to share some of your feelings about how it used to be and how it is now.

See how they respond. Do they too feel the marriage has drifted and perhaps they are feeling emotionally disconnected or neglected? Again, not judging, just be open and curious.

Some folks are just not feeling savvy, so here’s a quicklist to get you both started on sharing how you are currently feeling.

  • Numb, discouraged, devalued, ignored, unloved, neglected, disconnected, ashamed,
    unlovable, angry, frustrated, overlooked, exhausted, blah, overwhelmed, anxious.
  • Excited, supported, connected, heard, loved, connected, energized, proud, committed,
    optimistic, hopeful, smart, fulfilled.

The goal with this activity is to begin to share and hear their side, understand them, and feel they are understanding you. Reconnecting emotionally begins in feeling heard, respected, and understood.

Keep an open mind, stay curious, ask questions, and share your thoughts. This is how all great relationships started with being excited and interested in learning more about each other.

It’s how all great marriages stay so successful and connected, they work really hard on staying connected and reconnecting often. Enjoy!

Dana McNeil, LMFT

Dana McNeil

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Founder, The Relationship Place

Clients sometimes seek out marriage counseling because one or both partners feel unappreciated, ignored, or disconnected. Sometimes they can feel lonely even when their partner is in the same room. Often these emotions can signal when emotional neglect is happening in a relationship.

One partner speaks and thinks about the other with contempt

Sometimes the emotional disconnection in a relationship can get to the point where one partner speaks to and thinks about their partner with contempt.

Contempt may not be as obvious as you think, it can take the form of small continuous digs and comments made about a partner’s intelligence or value, an inability to ever catch the partner doing something right, or comments to those outside of the relationship where a partner is demeaned or whose value is minimized.

Contempt is the number one predictor of a relationship ending.

Contempt can also do real damage to the person on the receiving end because it tells them that they have no value to the other partner. This eats into their self-esteem and their sense of security in the relationship and the person who they expected to be their team member.

One of the ways you can safeguard yourself from speaking to your partner in a way that signifies a lack of respect and care is to speak about situations using the word “I” versus “You”.

This is a basic tenet of therapy, and the reason it is so widely recommended is that it is much easier to hear the word “I” than to be on the receiving end of what could end in a statement that holds criticism.

Especially if a couple has gotten into a pattern of talking about their partner’s deficiencies, using “I” statements to talk about the situation is a helpful reframe on talking about frustrations.

When a partner is able to say for instance, “I feel frustrated that the dishwasher is loaded with the cheese knife in the top rack because it gets rusty” is much easier to hear than, “I keep telling you that you are loading the dishwasher wrong, don’t you get it?”

This technique allows your partner to avoid feeling they need to defend their intelligence and character and leaves much more space for a couple to hold a loving perspective about each other.

Make time for each other

Another way to keep emotionally connected is to make time for each other where you put away cell phones, turn off televisions, and actually sit down and have a short face-to-face conversation for about 20 minutes a day.

Don’t focus on the behaviors of the day without checking in as to how those activities impacted them emotionally

When a partner, family member, or friend talks about how something went during the day and you hear an emotion lingering in their words, point it out or ask about it.

If they are telling you about the way a meeting went at work or the difficulties they experienced on their video conference call, ask them about how they feel without giving advice or telling them what they should do differently.

Listening deeply for understanding, showing care, and giving mutual support are the biggest gifts you can give your partner.

You know your partner but there is always something more to learn from them, and we all want to feel heard and understood, especially from our partners.

Your loved one has lots of emotions happening for them, and being a safe space for them to talk about, process, and receive support without “fixing” their feelings will increase your emotional connection.

Consider whether your partner has a reason to pull away

Consider whether you may be avoiding engaging with your partner emotionally because there is an important talk you need to have or you are feeling some resentment and don’t know how to bring it up.

The emotional disconnect happens when you are pulling away, ignoring, or trying not to deal with difficult topics, and avoidance may be creating an emotional distance that your partner is picking upon.

If this is the case, look at why you may not be willing to have a difficult conversation and consider that you may be sending mixed messages to your partner about your level of commitment to engage only when things are feeling easy and going well.

Accepting the fact that you are not always going to see eye to eye on everything and being willing to have conversations where you both disagree is healthy.

Approaching your partner holding them in a positive perspective, showing mutual respect, and being willing to acknowledge your partner’s view even if you don’t agree says everything about the ability for your relationship to stay emotionally connected and satisfying.

Sometimes couples become emotionally neglectful over a period of slow decline where partners fall into the business of being in a relationship rather than connecting vulnerably and emotionally about their worries, fears, and struggles.

Many couples start to go on autopilot around all of the duties of parenting, chores, bill paying, and errands to the point where they don’t even really see each other anymore.

Couples need new shared experiences and novelty with each other to keep the emotional connection front and center in their relationship. These events or situations don’t have to be intricate, detailed, or expensive, but they do need to be non-negotiable units of time that are carved out for a couple.

Taking a walk in a new neighborhood, cooking dinner together, or listening to your favorite songs from high school are all examples of time spent as a couple being present with each other and open to re-experiencing your emotional connection.

Related: 3 Creative Date Night Ideas to Help You Reconnect With Your Spouse

Sometimes you need to seek out other tools or support through couples therapy

For many couples, things may have gotten so disconnected or emotionally strained that getting professional help allows for a reset or gives them the ability to learn new ways of asking for their needs from their partner.

Couples therapy also allows a scheduled time to work on your relationship with your partner in an environment of support, care, and input from an unbiased clinician who has no vested interest in the outcome of therapy but truly wants you to have the best relationship possible.

Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS

Latasha Matthews

Author, The Dumping Ground  | Individual, Couples & Family Therapist, Illumination Counseling and Coaching, LLC

Emotional neglect can be just as damaging as physical abuse in a marriage. Oftentimes it is difficult to recognize emotional neglect and it can be minimized or overlooked when the relationship is good otherwise.

Although there are not any physical signs to emotional neglect the long term impact of it can destroy the relationship and cause trust issues and emotional scars that are difficult to heal.

Here are a few signs that you could be experiencing emotional neglect in your marriage:

  • Your thoughts and feelings are not heard or respected. What you have to say rarely matters in the relationship. He or she always puts there needs first.
  • No resolve to fights or arguments. An unwillingness to engage or deal with fights or conflicts in the relationship decreases your ability to connect emotionally Healthy fighting shows a commitment to work through areas with your mate.
  • He or she is more concerned with friends and family. Your mate shows healthy concern for family or friends but does not take the same interest in your wants or desires
  • Lack of eye contact and the inability to focus. Being present and showing interest in the relationship shows that you are willing to connect emotionally
  • You often feel lonely in the relationship. Being in a relationship does not cure loneliness. If your neglects your emotional needs you will feel lonely and isolated in the relationship
  • Lack of support. You seek support outside of the relationship because your mate does not value the areas that are important to you.

Related: 25+ Warning Signs Your Relationship Is Over

Jaime Bronstein, LCSW

Jaime Bronstein

Licensed Therapist | Relationship Expert | Radio Host

Lack of empathy

When one partner is struggling with an issue and shares their feelings and the other partner doesn’t listen, this is a problem and a sure sign of emotional neglect. Ideally, both people in the relationship feel like they are seen and heard when sharing their feelings.

To cope with this type of emotional neglect, you can very kindly ask your partner to be present when you share your feelings and request that they try to put themselves in your shoes to show that they are being empathetic.

Lack of physical intimacy

When a couple is not physically intimate with one another and only one person is making advances without success, it would appear as though someone is checked-out of the relationship, and the one “making the moves” might be offended or hurt by the rejection.

It is advisable to have an open conversation about the “elephant in the room” to discuss what is going on and how things can change.

Also, when a couple has a healthy sex life, even though it is a physical act, it is also emotional, therefore, a lack of physical intimacy exemplifies that the couple is experiencing emotional neglect.

Lack of communication

Unfortunately, there are couples who struggle with communicating and it can be very detrimental to a relationship. When two people aren’t sharing how they feel with one another they not only are emotionally neglecting each other, but they are emotionally neglecting themselves as well.

Do your best to use your voice and speak openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The more vulnerable you are the more you will inspire your partner to be vulnerable also.

Interrupting one another

When someone interrupts, it means that they aren’t listening; they’re just waiting to say what they have to say.

It might not seem like a big deal, but interrupting is truly emotionally neglectful because it’s sending the message that what you have to say is more important than your partner’s words. The one who gets interrupted is left feeling un-validated and disempowered.

When interrupting occurs in a relationship, it’s advised for the one who interrupts to own-up and apologizes and to be more aware of their actions moving forward.

Audrey Hope, D.D.

Audrey Hope

Certified Addiction and Trauma Therapist | Relationship Expert

If you are emotionally ignored you will feel a silent rage that haunts you in every waking hour. Here is my advice on what to do:

Make sure you don’t ignore how you are feeling

Release your pain and frustration in a healthy way. Call a therapist, take a walk with a friend, go to the woods and scream it out, run it out, but also have a physical release of what you are feeling.

Don’t lie to yourself or to others by telling them or yourself you are fine. Acknowledge your feelings and overcome them.

Do not let the problem linger or bury it under the rug

Tell your partner that you are not going to be able to take this neglect any longer and that you two need to handle it.

This means sitting down at the therapist’s office or discussing new communication tools at dinner. Tell your partner you guys need to get help or this could seriously damage your future.

Make new boundaries of self- love and self- care

When you change and when you say “no” and “enough” the allowance of this behavior will stop.
Don’t let your partner twist your mind and tell you that you are imagining it. Honor yourself and make healthy vows and laws that you will live by.

For example: “I will no longer allow myself to be dismissed”, “I will not allow myself to be mistreated and ignored”, “I will take action to change my life”, ” I will never allow anyone to put me down”.. etc.

When you stop allowing the behavior, things will change. Your partner will know that you are not taking it anymore and if they don’t change their ways, you will be out the door.

Kira Hayes, MA, MFT

Kira Hayes

Marriage and Family Therapist, Affirming Pathways Psychotherapy, LLC

Emotional neglect is challenging to name and identify, but is an element of conflict and distance that shows up often in intimate relationships and is an issue I see a lot in intimate relationship therapy.

Some examples of how partners describe these experiences are:

  • “My partner feels so far away from me. Do they even care?”
  • “It seems like anytime I need comfort from my wife she shuts down or dismisses my pain.”
  • “When my husband is upset with me I always get the ‘silent treatment’ and it makes me feel so alone.”
  • “I wish I could share how stressful my day at work was with my spouse but whenever I try it seems to completely overwhelm them so I have stopped even trying.”
  • “I often feel like I cannot really be my true self around my wife.”
  • “I love my husband but I’d never go to him when I have any real issues and need support, I always go to my friends instead.”

In all of these examples, a partner is distant or disconnected from the other which can be a constant experience within the relationship or even specific to times of emotional needs of comfort and security.

This distance can translate within a relationship as an intense experience of rejection, unworthiness, abandonment or lack of belonging.

As humans we have within us an innate need, especially from our intimate partners, for aware connection and emotional responsiveness to help us feel safe in our times of need and the security to share our vulnerabilities with each other.

As a therapist, I find I’m most drawn to John Bowlby’s attachment theory and the impacts adult attachment has on intimate relationships.

Adult attachment research is based around assuming the motivational system that drives emotional bonding between caregivers and children is also responsible for driving the emotional bonds we make as adults, especially in our intimate relationships.

In my experience, I most commonly come across the avoidant attachment styles in relationships struggling with emotional neglect. The avoidant (or dismissive) adult attachment is withdrawn and often uncomfortable with emotions and intimacy which looks a lot like the examples above.

The goal of working with this challenge is to assist the partners in developing a secure attachment by first helping them come together in exploring where the emotional cutoff behaviors originated, most often in earlier childhood as a means to cope with experiences of emotional distancing from caregivers.

By helping to understand what the distancing behaviors help the partner cope with, work can begin from a place of the partners understanding and being able to make meaning of the behaviors in order to be more aware and engage in a way that builds safety and security to slowly explore emotional vulnerability with each other.

That might look like the non-avoidant partner increasing their own self soothing in order to soften and slow their pursuit for emotional needs being met by the avoidant partner so that they can begin getting more comfortable around emotional expression and closeness so they can move back into the relationship.

What can the avoidant/emotionally neglectful partner work on:

  • Challenge yourself to be more alert and aware of your impulse to read your partner’s behaviors or emotions in negative ways, as it may lead to justifying your distancing response.
  • Remind yourself of the positive experiences and responses you see in your partner and within your relationship so that you can appreciate and find gratefulness.
  • If you feel you truly need space to withdraw, ask your partner if they can tolerate some time for you to take that space with the reassurance that once you feel calmer you will return to continue reconnecting with them and being present for them and your relationship together.
  • Challenge yourself to take the risk and give your partner a chance to support and comfort you rather than falling into the space of constant self-reliance.
  • Pay attention to the thoughts or sensations you experience that drive you to disconnect and distance yourself or your needs so that you can redirect them and make space for your voice and it’s value.

What can you do as a partner of someone who is avoidant/emotionally neglectful?

Work to provide a slow pacing with your partner as they work on becoming more safe and secure in their relationship with you.

Offering reassurances and opportunities for your partner to safely express their thoughts or emotions with you and checking in to make sure they feel comfortable with closeness through this process will help that growing in togetherness.

A secure relationship has availability, attentiveness and responsiveness.

Jessica Jefferson, LMFT

Jessica Jefferson

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Founder, Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services, LLC

Emotional neglect in relationships slowly ruin a relationship and often times lead to a decrease in physical intimacy. More often than not, couples are able to pinpoint when physical intimacy ended rather than the emotional.

It is important to look for the right signs on emotional neglect because they take longer to fix than physical intimacy issues.

Here are some signs of emotional neglect:

You are either the last person to find out details about your partners life

Sometimes, you may not find out at all. The foundation of emotional intimacy is knowing your partner’s worries, stressors, dreams, and goals. If you aren’t a part of those conversations, it is hard to feel a part of your partner’s life.

You barely talk about the small and big things

Connecting with your partner on a daily basis is essential. Knowing that you can talk to your partner about the small and/or big of the day helps foster an emotional connection on a regular basis.

If you don’t feel that you can speak with your partner about the small things, you may feel afraid to do so with the big stuff as well. That in of itself means that you don’t feel emotionally safe with your partner and therefore, not connected with them.

You aren’t getting your needs met

You have probably told your partner time and time again the things that you need in order to feel fulfilled in your relationship.

Your needs could be anything from quality time, physical touch, or communication. Your partner might try for a few days or not try at all, either way, you are unsatisfied, alone and let down.

You feel unappreciated

You are working hard to fix your relationship, your home, and your life, but all your efforts go unnoticed and that stings.

You aren’t looking for a parade but some acknowledgment that your efforts are appreciated feel good. You just want to feel that you are a part of something that you matter and if you don’t feel that way, it can really sting.

Your physical intimacy has declined

You might still be having sex, but not as often as you like and maybe it isn’t as enjoyable. Your small tokens of love (kisses, small pats on the butt, back rubs, etc) rarely happen, and if they do it is only to initiate sex, which makes it even more annoying.

You want to be intimate with your partner, but it is hard when you don’t feel emotionally connected with your partner.

If your relationship is starting to show any of the signs above, that means it is time for a change and most likely professional help.

Your relationship can prosper with work and dedication, you just have to let your partner know how you feel and that you want things to be better.

Sheila Tucker, LAMFT

Sheila Tucker

Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Heart Mind & Soul Counseling

Emotional neglect doesn’t happen. Instead, it’s about what doesn’t happen or the part that’s missing from the relationship.

Emotional neglect is more intangible. It can be described as failing to notice, attune to, and respond appropriately to your partner’s needs and concerns.

Emotional neglect often feels like rejection. In our need for connection as humans, rejection sends a signal to our amygdala initiating the fight or flight response.

In this moment of fear, for example, fear of losing the relationship, we crave the security of our partner. When it doesn’t happen, we begin to feel unsafe and insecure in our relationship. We no longer believe our partner is there for us. Rather, we’re all alone.

Some signs of emotional neglect within a relationship can include:

  • In times of need, you reach out to a friend instead of your partner. You don’t trust your partner’s availability.
  • Not feeling emotionally safe to be yourself around your partner. This can also show up as numbing out or suppressing your feelings.
  • Feeling confused about what your partner wants from you or what you want from them.
  • You feel alone, especially when your partner is present.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to healing the years of emotional neglect present since childhood. However, there are some things you can start doing today to help with the process.

Complete an emotional check-in

Ask yourself every day how you’re feeling. Then ask yourself what your partner is feeling. Tuning into your emotional barometer as well as that of your partner will help you to become more attuned to the needs of the relationship.

When you’re able, verify your response by asking your partner. For example, “You look sad today. How are you feeling?”

Make time for one another

It’s easy to lose connection due to day-to-day commitments and responsibilities. Keep in mind it’s the quality of the time spent and not the quantity.

A few conversation points can be to talk about what’s working in the relationship and what you appreciate about your partner, ask your partner how they’re feeling, or discuss a need each of you has and what you can do to meet it.

Seek out a licensed therapist who specializes in working with couples

When you’re in the middle of a fight or flight response it’s difficult to interact effectively with your partner. A therapist will support you in establishing an emotionally safe relationship.

One where you’ll be better able to not only express your feelings, wants, and needs, but will also be heard.

Tammy Baghdassarian

Tammy Baghdassarian

Executive Director, Keystone Treatment

Emotional intimacy and neglect are huge influences in the longevity and quality of adult intimate relationships.

Unlike emotional or physical abuse where there is an identifiable negative action, emotional neglect can easily be overlooked since it predominantly manifests in the absence of action in responding to the partner’s emotional needs.

Some signs of emotional neglect in your relationship could include:

  • Relying on friends or family members outside of your partner to provide support.
  • Not understanding what your partner wants from you
  • Feelings of loneliness in a relationship.
  • Wanting to isolate as a couple versus engage in social activities with others.
  • Difficulty self-soothing.
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed.
  • Difficulty being yourself around your partner.

Our needs to be noticed by and connected with our partners are natural and help us develop a healthy attachment. This is not a matter of if you love your partner or if your partner loves you; emotional neglect is incredibly common, especially in today’s society.

The important thing is to bring awareness to something we may not be aware is affecting the relationship and creating a plan to act on it.

If you feel like you cannot rely on your partner a lot of the time, or if you’re feeling lonely when with them, it could mean it’s time to explore what can be done to increase emotional intimacy.

Ways of improving communication and reducing emotional neglect include:

Spend quality time together

Quality is more important than quantity. A walk every day with your partner won’t be as effective as a walk twice a week with your partner where you discuss concerns, difficulties, or triumphs! Sharing feelings will deepen your connection.

Talk to your partner

Let them know you’re feeling lonely or unsupported. They likely can feel like something has been off. Being honest and expressing yourself will allow your partner to stop guessing what’s wrong and act on it.

Likewise, ask your partner how they are feeling. Saying something like, “You seem upset today, what’s going on?” can open up a much-needed conversation.

Seek help

If you feel overwhelmed or are having difficulty making changes on your own, seek professional help. Marriage and Family therapists and sex therapists can help give you and your partner tools to increase emotional intimacy.

Coltrane Lord

Coltrane Lord

Sacred Intimacy & Relationship Expert

This worldwide pandemic has forced all couples to look deeply into the nature of their relationships and hopefully celebrate their connections and commonalities. Unfortunately, it also highlights where a couple experiences emotional neglect.

You feel alone in the relationship

The simple, but not so simple, signs of emotional neglect is how you feel. If you feel alone but together in a relationship, then you or your partner are holding back emotionally.

But this is tricky territory because you will first have to decipher if your feelings are projections from your own unresolved emotional pains, or your partner’s lack of emotion is because they are holding back from you, or they just do not have the capacity to be emotionally available.

Related: How to Fight for and Save Your Marriage Alone

Let’s say you are both in a stable emotional state but suddenly you feel like your partner has shifted emotionally. Here are the signs that they have “shut down”:

Spending more time outside of your presence without explanation where they have been or what they are doing

Vague phrases like, “I just had a meeting,” or, “I was out with some friends.” When your gut intuition feels like more details should follow and you are questioning why they are withholding information, or you ask follow-up questions and they either ignore you or get annoyed by the prying, this is an emotional disconnect.

Finding out about new interests they have only after they have been doing it for a few weeks

For example, if your partner starts to take up golf, or a cooking class and is really enjoying it but you only find out about it after instead of while they were planning on it, shows that they have an emotional desire to experience something new but are not available to you to share that.

They open up to friends instead of you

When they tell their friends about how they feel about certain things, but rarely share with you how they feel is emotional neglect in partnership. Some people cannot be intimate in partnership, and so they choose to be more intimate with people they are not tied to.

If you are experiencing an emotional crisis and your partner cannot hold space for you, that is emotional neglect, especially if they expect you to be there for them. Oftentimes, people who are conflict-averse fall into the category of being emotionally unavailable.

Here are the best things to do in a relationship that is lacking in emotional connection:

  • Understand that relationships are often mirrors for what we need to learn personally. So if you are experiencing an emotionally detached person, feel whether you are needy of emotional stability or not.
  • Check into your past to find out if there are any experiences you still need to resolve.
  • If the above two steps have been looked at, first see your partner in the best light possible and ask them if there is something going on without judgment or criticism or the need to change anything at the moment.
  • Practice nonviolent communication or conscious communication by asking them what you want and sharing how you feel without imposing any expectations on your partner to give them room to feel into their own space. For example, “I would love for you to tell me about your interests as they come up, when you don’t I feel hurt.”
  • Be vulnerable. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of vulnerability to melt the walls of someone who cannot or will not be emotionally present.

Katie MacDougall, LPC

Katie MacDougall

Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Morning Light Christian Counseling

When we think about the word “neglect,” we often think of physical neglect. Neglecting physical needs could include not providing food or water for a child or vulnerable adult.

While physical needs are essential, emotional needs are as well. We know that emotionally neglected infants fail to thrive. Similarly, emotionally neglected spouses rarely succeed in their relationships.

Reflect on your own behavior

When looking for signs of emotional neglect in marriage, it is easy to look at what your spouse is doing. Instead, start by looking for observable signs in your own behavior.

Like a neglected child, your symptoms of emotional neglect may be easier to spot than the person’s behaviors neglecting you. If you’re neglected in your marriage, you may be hoarding love.

An example of this behavior could include monopolizing conversations with friends as a result of not being able to experience a meaningful connection through conversation with your spouse. You may also act out to get attention. This attention-seeking behavior could include passive-aggressive tendencies at work or at home.

Identify what you need from your marriage

If you notice these behaviors in yourself, it is important to identify what you need in order to feel like your emotional needs are being met.

Communicate your needs to your spouse

Next, it is important to determine whether you can safely communicate these needs to your spouse. If you cannot safely communicate these needs to your spouse, it may be important to seek professional help in order to better communicate those needs or seek separation until the situation is physically safe. If you can safely communicate those needs to your spouse, it is important to do so.

Express your needs to your spouse using a calm tone and emotional words. These steps will help prevent arguments from escalating or your spouse from shutting down.

Claire Barber

claire barber

Certified Mental Health Consultant | Family Care Specialist, Treeological

Doesn’t notice your needs

Over time, people change and when your partner fails to notice that your needs have changed and sees things as they were, or always have been, this is a form of neglect and needs to be discussed.

An example might be that your partner may be dealing with a stressful situation at work but doesn’t want to bring it home which can leave you feeling excluded.

Lack of arguing

Sometimes a sudden lack of arguing can be a sign of neglect. The theory is that if there’s no conflict there’s no need for resolution, and the neglect is a driving force pulling you further apart.

Communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship, and if your conversations are only about the house, family, or finances with no sharing of new ideas or opinions of current events it may be a sign of a neglected relationship. This is not necessarily the end of the relationship.

Acknowledge the feelings

The first step as with just about everything in life is to acknowledge the problem. From there you must make efforts to reconnect.

There is no real quick-fix but what may help is going back to basics and beginning your courtship again. Generally, this is how you got to know each other in the beginning and now you can begin anew.

Emma Carpenter, MA

Emma Carpenter

Couples Counselor, A Better Life Therapy

There are many ways that emotional neglect can show up in a marriage. The presence of Gottman’s 4 Horseman — criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling — during the conflict, without repair attempts being, made is one of the ways I see it most in couples I work with.

While conflict is normal in all relationships, marriages that have emotional neglect often have other signs such as lack of emotional, physical, and psychological intimacy, the disappearance of loving and caring words or actions, not engaging in supportive behaviors, and refusing to have deeper conversations.

What should you do?

Acknowledge that it is happening

In order to end emotional neglect, there needs to be an acknowledgment of both parts that it’s happening. Talk to your partner about how you’ve been feeling and ask them to share with you in return.

Start to rebuild the friendship layers of your relationship

Get to know each other, turn towards bids for connection, and express appreciation and admiration. This will help reignite feelings of intimacy.

It’s also important to start engaging in love languages again. Talk with one another about what makes you feel loved and find ways to spend time doing those things.

Ingrid Sthare

Ingrid Sthare

Relationship Expert | Founder, Relationship Coaching & Coupling

Emotional neglect feels like rejection, which feels like physical pain within our bodies. It can show up in your partner staring at an electronic box from a television to a cellphone. A transactional conversation about dinner options or scheduling.

Emotional neglect in a partnership creates deep loneliness which can create frustration because there is someone else there physically and yet reaching them emotionally can feel impossible and impenetrable.

Typically, the person craving a deeper connection will have tried date nights and other romantic attempts to hook their partner to no avail.

Lack of interest and curiosity about your partner

It often includes a lack of physical intimacy as well as a lack of emotional intimacy. It’s when people exist as they call it “roommates”, but it’s with less emotional support than one would have for a platonic actual roommate.

What to do?

Address it immediately and get professional help

It’s often difficult to get back on track without it because the neglecting partner may not see anything wrong. And as I mentioned, attempts typically have been made to reconnect to no avail. Further pushing can begin to push the other person away.

With a trusted professional, new exploration can begin. Is it hormonal changes? Is it the trust that has eroded over time? Is there too much reliance on technology transporting energy to something or someone else rather than in the relationship right in front of them? It is easy to grow apart with so many distractions.

So many contacts on social media and few deep connections in real life. And one can take the other for granted, expecting they’ll be there always.

I help clients reconnect by teaching them to trust themselves and their significant other. Only when there is real trust, can communication begin. If you don’t trust your partner, listening is impossible.

Stay curious to stay emotionally connected

You want to learn to become curious about your partner. So for starters, ask curious questions instead of assuming you know the answer already.

Long term relationships rely on knowing the other person but favorite flowers and favorite restaurants can change over time. Are tulips still your favorite flower? Do you think you still enjoy your work as a teacher?

People ask curious questions in courtship to get to know the other person. People keep growing past courtship and the relationship should continue to too!

You might be surprised that you’ve both grown and changed over time and you may actually be excited and interested in each other’s growth.

Jamie Bacharach

Jamie Bacharach

Licensed Medical Acupuncturist | Health Coach | Head of Practice, Acupuncture Jerusalem

The spouse changes the subject whenever a partner brings up an emotional subject or otherwise becomes emotional

This kind of neglect or detachment represents a spouse retreating to an emotional, non-confrontational place whenever emotions are running high and is typically easy to detect.

This reaction could either represent resentment towards their partner and a lack of willingness to help them shoulder their emotional baggage, or a total aversion to emotions altogether which is more of a problem which a spouse may have with themselves.

Problems with only their spouses’ emotions represent a greater threat to the marriage itself, while problems with any kind of emotions is a broader existential problem with the spouse in question.

When emotional neglect of this sort is experienced, it needs to be called out or highlighted gently. It won’t be an easy conversion to have or problem to overcome, but allowing the problem to repeat itself and worsen will only prolong and exacerbate the problems that are going on.

Harriet Walker

Harriet Walker

Relationship Editor, Galtelligence

Feeling alone even when you’re together

Although you share the same bed and house with your husband, you may feel alone and lonely when you are emotionally neglected. This is because you both do not have an emotional connection. This neglect leads to being unhappy in your marriage.

Refuses to argue

While it’s great that you and your spouse do not argue, it can also be a sign that you have an unhealthy marriage. This is because when you have a healthy fight, you are showing that you both want to stay connected and work through your conflicts.

If your partner is a little too laid back during upsetting situations, he may not be as invested as you think he is.

Getting attracted to others

When you feel alone, you’ll start to seek emotional fulfillment outside your relationship. This starts to fuel physical and emotional attraction towards other men and ultimately leads to growing distant from your husband.

Shuts down during conversations

When your spouse is stonewalling (or shutting down during conversations), that’s a clear indication that you are being neglected emotionally. Not only is he not listening to your needs, but he is also not letting you know how he feels.

What you should do?

Identify the type of emotional neglect happening in your relationship

You can talk to a trusted friend or a therapist to go through things. This will allow you to properly explain things with your spouse when you are ready.

Assess whether or not you are contributing to the problem

Are you being emotionally unavailable to him as well? What are you doing to fix the problem?

Confront your spouse about your needs

If you feel like the relationship is worth saving, you should both be making ways to fix it. You can even get the help of a therapist for this. You can also start communicating more and asking deeper questions.

Dr. Omerine Aseh

omerine Aseh

Family Medicine Physician, You First TeleMedicine | Emotional Recovery Coach | Global Speaker

When you think of signs of emotional neglect, think of a rock; it does not respond. Emotional neglect is like a quiet monster under the rug; everyone knows it’s there but we are afraid to confront it. It’s like empty space; an absence of something essential.

Emotional neglect looks different in every marriage because it is based on perception. Overall, think of emotional neglect as a failure to respond to a partner’s emotional needs.

The signs can be subtle. Sometimes you know there is an issue but you can’t quite put your finger on the problem.

Here are ten signs:

  • Not making eye contact.
  • Short, quick responses, or no response.
  • Communication via text only.
  • Limited communication directed at mutual topics like the kids or shared property.
  • Not responding to your partner’s emotions.
  • Forgetting important dates.
  • Avoiding conflict even as your own anger festers.
  • Failing to recognize when your partner is upset.
  • Failing to congratulate your spouse on any personal achievement.
  • Shutting or walking off down during a conversation.

How do you deal with emotional neglect?

Decide your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Remember that you are only responsible for your own self and that you are unable to control another person’s emotional state.

  • Thoughts. Apathy and gratefulness do not co-exist. Adopting a morning ritual of reciting 10 things that you are grateful for each day helps keep your thoughts positive.
  • Emotions. Positive thoughts lead to a positive emotional state. The next part is key, GUARD your emotions. Think of emotions as the glue between your thoughts and behavior.
  • Behavior. Positive thoughts and emotions will naturally lead to positive behaviors. Just like an athlete rehearses before a game, the key to a successful performance is deciding on your behavior and rehearsing your reaction to your spouse several times before the situation.

Remember that TEB is a muscle that needs to be exercised daily in order to be strengthened. Invest in your own personal development. In most cases this leads to better fulfillment and eventually your spouse will take notice.

As a woman who has been married for over 12yrs, I find that taking ownership of my TEB and intentionally choosing to be fulfilled is the best way to cope with this.

Life is too short, and we cannot allow our emotional state to depend on someone else. If we do, we will be like puppets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is emotional neglect the same as emotional abuse?

Emotional neglect and emotional abuse aren’t the same things, although they can occur side by side in a relationship. Emotional abuse involves deliberate and repeated attempts to control or manipulate a partner’s emotions or behavior, such as name-calling, humiliation, or gaslighting.
Emotional neglect, on the other hand, refers to a lack of emotional support or attention, such as ignoring a partner’s feelings or needs. Both emotional neglect and emotional abuse can have a negative impact on a marriage and may require professional help.

Can emotional neglect be unintentional?

Yes, emotional neglect in marriage can be unintentional, especially if the partner is unaware of their behavior or its impact on the relationship.

Many people are unaware that they’re emotionally neglecting their partner or have difficulty expressing or recognizing feelings. 

It’s important to address emotional neglect with empathy and understanding and seek professional help to improve communication and emotional connection in the relationship.

Can emotional neglect be remedied in marriage?

Yes, emotional neglect in marriage can be remedied if both partners make an effort and are willing to do so. It often requires open and honest communication, empathy, and a commitment to improving the emotional connection in the relationship. 

Professional help, such as couples therapy, can also be helpful in identifying and addressing underlying issues and developing effective strategies to improve emotional intimacy in the marriage.

What are the long-term effects of emotional neglect in marriage?

The long-term effects of emotional neglect in marriage can be severe, leading to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even trauma. It can also lead to dissatisfaction in the marriage, increased conflict, and eventually divorce. 

If you suspect that you’re being emotionally neglected in your marriage, it’s important to see a therapist or counselor to work through your feelings and prevent long-term damage to your mental health and well-being.

Why is it important to address emotional neglect in marriage?

Dealing with emotional neglect in marriage is critical to the health and well-being of both partners in the relationship. It can lead to more conflict, less intimacy, and long-term damage to mental health. 

When couples work together to address emotional neglect, they can improve their communication, build emotional intimacy, and strengthen their relationship overall.

Can emotional neglect lead to divorce?

Yes, emotional neglect can contribute to divorce if it’s not addressed. Over time, emotional neglect can lead to feelings of disconnection, loneliness, and resentment, which can undermine the foundation of a marriage. 

When a partner feels they’re constantly ignored or rejected, they may begin to question the value of the relationship and look elsewhere for emotional fulfillment. 

Seeking professional help and actively working to improve the emotional bond in the marriage can help prevent the damaging effects of emotional neglect.

How can emotional neglect affect children in a marriage?

Emotional neglect in a marriage can negatively impact children because they may be caught in their parent’s emotional disconnection.

Children may sense tension and a lack of emotional intimacy in the household, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and confusion. 

They may also struggle with their own emotional development because they aren’t receiving the emotional support and guidance they need from their parents.

Emotional neglect in a marriage can positively impact children’s emotional well-being and development.

Is emotional neglect always the fault of one partner?

Emotional neglect in a marriage isn’t always the fault of one partner. Often, a combination of factors plays a role, such as communication patterns, emotional awareness, and past experiences.

Both partners may have difficulty expressing or recognizing feelings, which can lead to a lack of emotional connection in the relationship. 

It’s important to address emotional neglect with empathy and understanding and to work together to improve emotional intimacy in the marriage.

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