Emotional Neglect in Marriage

Louis Laves-Webb

May 26, 2020

Emotional neglect pertains to what “doesn’t” happen emotionally in relationships. Because “nothing” happens, neglect can initially appear benign or can be easily glanced over. However, upon deeper reflection, neglect is much more insidious than its more easily identified cousin - abuse. With neglect, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. As an example, if you asked someone what their 3rd grade experience was like and they had a 3rd grade teacher that gave them all satisfactory remarks, they would more than likely say it was “fine”. However, that’s a far different experience than one in which the teacher took extra time, made additional accommodations for the student's learning disability, and met with the student's parents throughout the school year. The challenge is that both experiences would more than likely be reported as “fine”.

As we look more deeply into how emotional neglect appears in relationships, we’ll look from a detective’s perspective, trying to search for clues and experiences that are indicative of experiences that remain unknown.

Lack of Prioritization

Emotional neglect thrives when relationships aren’t prioritized. This can take many forms and include prioritizing work, sports, friends, other family members, and addictions over the relationship. When this occurs, it can erode intimacy and can be indicative of further emotional neglect. Sincerely attempting to understand your partner’s emotional life can be complex at times and requires presence, intention, and a sincere effort. Prioritizing your partner allows you to enhance this emotional skill set, can provide safety in the relationship, and can increase overall intimacy and connection.

Avoidance

Let’s face it-- sometimes, it’s easier to just not try to address areas of concern or to simply look the other way. This type of avoidance, when it continues over a long period of time or becomes a habituated relationship pattern, is emotional neglect. Simply put, “Sticking your head in the sand” is a neglectful relationship strategy. Of course, sometimes it’s difficult or intimidating to address relationship issues head on but the only way out is truly through. “Showing up” in this way can provide resolution of difficulties, promote growth, and increase feelings of partnership.

Lack of Acknowledgement of Your Partner's Emotional Life or Experiences

Our emotional lives are a significant part of our experiences, memories, and fantasy lives. Those couples that acknowledge this and embrace the benefits found in this emotional realm find fertile ground for understanding one another more deeply and create more profound connections, in addition to building added support and love. However, emotions can be complicated and messy, and it can be easier to simply suppress or repress this aspect of relationships. Over time suppression can become self-destructive, and a heavier numbness can overtake the relationship. This type of neglect can be dismissive and ignorant to the emotional benefit of looking at and participating in some of this challenging yet invaluable emotional work.

Judgement

Judgement is a flavor of defensiveness and can allow the judging partner to feel temporarily safe by creating empathy barriers. However, judgement is a sword that can cut to the quick of relationship growth while neglecting everyone in its proximity. Judgement can initially feel easier than experiencing vulnerable feelings, but the lasting impact can leave couples feeling distant, depressed, and isolated. Work at suspending judgement and cultivate greater curiosity and understanding.

Minimal Effort to Understand Your Partner's Emotional Life

Relationships need emotional deposits to thrive. These type of “deposits” can take effort, time, and attention. For some, this demand and consideration may seem overwhelming and therefore may choose an “easier” way of contributing to neglect in their relationship. For some, due to personality disorders, addictions, or other emotional barriers, this type of connection can be more of a challenge and can require some additional resources, such as counseling or deeper personal work.

Advocation is the Counter to Neglect

The opposite of neglect is not care; it’s advocacy. Look for areas to understand your partner more deeply and really work to “lean into” these areas together. Challenge yourself to do what’s uncomfortable but affords emotional expansion like nothing else. When emotions are heard, understood, and cared for, relationships naturally and effortlessly evolve into intimate experiences and reparative narratives with greater selflessness and connected love.

Couples can spend years in an unfulfilling marriage without ever being able to determine why they are unhappy in their relationship. Often, their relationship may be suffering from emotional neglect by one or both partners. Without a clear understanding of what to look out for, this emotional neglect may go unnoticed until the relationship may no longer be salvable. If you believe emotional neglect may be present in your relationship, contact our Austin marriage counselors to learn more about how we may be able to help your relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I deal with emotional neglect in marriage?

Dealing with emotional neglect in marriage can leave a heavy mental toll on those who have experienced it. Therefore, one of the best ways to deal with emotional neglect in marriage is to talk to a therapist. In general, here are a few tips for dealing with emotional neglect in marriage: 

  • Take time to process your feelings and understand why you feel emotionally neglected
  • Try your best to communicate your feelings to your partner 
  • See a therapist

If you live in the state of Texas, Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S is here to help you deal with emotional neglect. 

What are some examples of emotional neglect in marriage? 

There are several behavioral patterns that can be considered emotional neglect within a marriage. Behaviors that may be signs of emotional neglect include: 

  • Your feelings and thoughts are not being respected
  • You feel lonely even though you’re in a committed relationship 
  • Your spouse is more concerned about their friends and immediate family 
  • Your partner is no longer interested in physical intimacy 
  • You’re being interrupted when trying to explain your feelings
  • You feel unappreciated

These are a few of the signs that you may be experiencing emotional neglect within your marriage. Schedule an appointment with a therapist to discuss your feelings and learn if you are experiencing emotional neglect in your marriage. 

Is emotional neglect in a marriage considered abuse? 

Emotional neglect can be considered abuse based on the severity of the neglect. In some cases, your partner is not consciously making an effort to emotionally neglect you, making emotional neglect as abuse a situational definition. 

What is emotional neglect in a marriage? 

Emotional neglect in marriage occurs when one partner fails to attend to, notice, or respond to their partner’s emotional needs within a marriage. 

What are the effects of emotional neglect in marriage?

Emotional neglect within a marriage may lead to a neglected partner spending much of their time feeling lost, alone, or even worthless.

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