Emotional neglect in relationships can have a powerful detrimental effect on the quality and longevity of adult romantic relationships. Unfortunately, it is all too common and something that often leads couples to seek relationship counselling.
What is emotional neglect?
Sian Jones is a relationship counsellor and she defines it this way. Emotional neglect is the opposite of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is often an intentional form of abuse. It is characterised by one person subjecting another to behaviour that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety and chronic depression. Emotional neglect, on the other hand, is a failure to respond adequately to their partners emotional needs. It is rarely intentional, and people are often unaware they are doing it.
Are you being emotionally neglected?
Whilst it’s natural for relationships to have their ups and downs, if your partner has an ongoing habit of leaving you feeling ignored, misunderstood or alone; it may be a sign of emotionally neglect.
Emotional neglect is often coupled with feelings of hurt and disappointment. Not being listened to or understood by a partner can lead to overwhelming feelings of frustration and resentment when happening on a regular basis. It is not necessarily about agreeing with a partner or feeling the same way. It’s about actually hearing that your partner is feeling distressed, hurt or worried about something and acknowledging that it is important to them – even if it isn’t to you.
During relationship counselling, couples often talk about how communication has broken down between them and they are unable to resolve their differences. This often leads to problems being ignored and pushed under the carpet, but they keep resurfacing repeatedly.
Often, this can be due to one partner missing emotional cues, then failing respond in a timely manner. Additionally, if one or both partners regularly engage in emotional avoidance, they often end up in arguments which focus on the facts rather than the emotions that have been evoked.
A simple example
Here is a simple example that a couple gave during a relationship counselling session with me. Whilst Sarah was at work in her office during the day, she’d heard that there was a likelihood that some people would be facing redundancy. As she got into her husband Marks car at the station at the end of the day. The first thing, she said was that she was afraid she might lose her job. At the same time, she looked at her watch and said she was worried that if they were late again that the nursery would charge them.
Meanwhile, Mark was perky because he’d had a good appraisal at work and started to talk about it. Sarah asked “Mark, did you hear what I said?” Instead of acknowledging Sarah’s news about possibly losing her job, he replied, “Okay, I’ll drive faster then!” Mark then noticed that Sarah looked angry and before she could say anything else, he snapped defensively “Now, what have I done? What’s the matter with you?!” Sarah was left feeling unsupported and alone in her worries.
Whether Mark intended to or not, his behaviour was an example of emotional neglect. Because he failed to notice and respond appropriately to Sarah’s feelings of anxiety. Additionally, he allowed his own feelings of excitement about his job to take over at a time when she needed his support. His offer to drive faster may have addressed the need of the nursery, but it failed to address Sarah’s feelings and emotional needs. Lastly, when he saw Sarah’s face, he acted defensively, pushing further away her need for comfort.
Some of the signs of emotional neglect are:
- The emotional support in your relationship is one-sided (one person does most of the work, while the other makes little effort).
- You feel as though you’re walking on eggshells whenever the topic of discussion is about the relationship and how you are feeling.
- Life demands take priority, making you feel unworthy of the same attention given to other things.
- Arguments have intensified, typically over irrelevant things. Because your real concerns are suppressed so your frustration comes out in other ways to your partner.
- Loneliness is experienced inside of a relationship. Loneliness is one of the greatest warning signs of an emotionally neglectful couple.
- Topics of conversation seems to be dull and interesting to one partner. And if conversation does become of interest it then gravitates back to the uninterested partner.
- It’s a challenge to initiate spending quality time. Quality time may be reduced to practicing individual interests while being present in the same room.
Feeling alone is possibly the biggest red flag of an emotional neglect, because it sits so uncomfortably when you have a partner. It not only raises self-doubt; it is also a tangible disparity. On one hand, you have a partner who’s intelligent, has a good sense of humour, is generous and kind natured. You may share common goals and interests, but you still feel alone. The relationship may be good on the surface, but it lacks emotional substance.
What is an emotional connection?
Emotional connection is not just about sharing positive feelings or affection with our partner. It also means you can hold uncomfortable feelings when problems arise. Trusting that you as an individual, and as a couple, can address potentially difficult subjects, get upset, but still work through the problems with your sense of self and the relationship intact.
Emotional connection also includes sharing the more tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves. Such as feelings of aloneness, fear of our own inadequacies and our biggest fear of all – rejection and abandonment.
As a relationship counsellor, I am inclined to find it more difficult dealing with couples who claim they don’t argue. Because in my opinion, fighting in a relationship, is a positive thing, because it shows you both are emotionally involved. Arguing may not be the best way to get our needs met but it does signify that we are still interested and want to connect.
Emotional connection is the backbone of a relationship. Without it, the relationship has a hollowness about it. This hollowness tends to echo louder in times of stress or conflict, just when you emotionally need your partner more than ever.
How relationship counselling can help emotional neglect
The person being impacted by emotional neglect are usually some of the most likeable people I have met. And yet, one person feels alone within their relationship and their partner fails to understand why.
This might be because their partner is not their ‘go to’ person. Simply because he/she does not know how to be that person. Or it could be a fear of their partner’s strong reactions or defensiveness, often due to a lack of understanding and frustration.
The good news is, these skills can be learned through couples counselling. A good relationship counsellor will help take some of the emotion out of the situation. This will enable you both the opportunity to express your feelings more effectively. They may ask you for an example of a recent conversaton where one person felt emotionally neglected. And then help you identify exactly where the communication began to break down and why. Then most importantly, the role you both potentially played in that, usually unintentionally.
Relationship counselling can help you really understand, and address each-others needs more appropriately. This will result in the relationship moving forward more positively. With a greater understanding of yourself and your partner.
If you would like to book an appointment to see one of our relationship therapists at Online Couples Counselling contact us today. Request an appointment