This post was updated on Feb 21, 2023
Emotional neglect in adult relationships can result from certain behavior patterns learned during childhood. Since primary family systems generally serve as a model which individuals measure their future adult relationships, childhood neglect can often leave permanent scars and distort one’s view of the world, their place in it, and their relationships with other people.
If maintaining romantic relationships seems challenging and you feel like you can’t achieve happiness no matter what you do, it might be useful to start looking for common denominators of your discontent. You could be choosing partners who exhibit the same type of behavior towards you, or you may feel trapped by a pattern of behavior that makes you put your own needs aside.
Whatever the case, if you lack intimacy in your relationship, it may be time to think about the actual causes behind your challenges and find out how to make the necessary changes to step into a more fulfilled partnership.
What Are The Examples Of Emotional Neglect?
As opposed to abuse, emotional neglect isn’t something that happens to a person, it’s about the absence of the actions which would fulfill your emotional needs. People need to feel seen, loved, cared for, and to know that they matter. When it comes to romantic relationships, providing these needs to one another requires emotional intelligence. Some people pick up these needs when they are young if they’re lucky enough to grow up in a loving household. Sadly, that’s not always the case.
If emotional awareness, validation of your feelings, and the ability to talk about them weren’t present in your childhood, you might not have learned those skills at a young age and are sometimes unable to identify and express your feelings in a healthy manner. You might not even expect those who love you to show interest and concern about your feelings and provide you the space to express and discuss them. The lack of such an awareness may prevent you from having emotionally enriched and connected relationships with life in general.
In such cases, one or both partners involved in a relationship often miss essential emotional cues and fail to notice and respond to each other’s needs. When this is a consistent pattern of behavior, left unaddressed for too long, it may cause considerable damage to the relationship and can require a substantial effort to repair. And, a repair you might not perceive as worthwhile due to your own lack of self esteem.
What Does Being Neglected Mean?
There’s significantly more research on child abuse and neglect, but the main signs of emotional neglect in adult relationships are similar for both children and adults, so they can be used to recognize this issue in adult relationships as well.
If you’re trying to figure out the reasons behind the problems present in your relationship, look for the most common signs and examples of emotional neglect in an adult relationship. Ask yourself:
- Does your partner minimize, dismiss or ignore your feelings?
- Are you being mocked or criticized whenever you open up about your feelings or show vulnerability?
- Are your emotional needs for reassurance and comfort dismissed as childish or unimportant?
- Do you feel like all your painful experiences are downplayed, even when you’re obviously having a tough time?
- Are you expected to put aside your feelings, even during hardships, and go on like nothing’s wrong?
- Are you missing attention, affection, and validation from your partner?
- Do you feel lonely or alone in your relationship?
- Are you being made fun of or disparaged when you reach out for help or support?
- Do you get cold and disinterested reactions from your partner?
- Do you stifle your discontent and tolerate unfair treatment or lack of respect?
- Are your needs and requests often ignored?
- Do you miss intimacy, closeness, romance, and other positive interactions with your partner?
- Is your partner frequently giving you the silent treatment to manipulate you into changing your behavior or as a form of “punishment”?
What Are The Negative Psychological Effects Of Neglect?
These types of behavior are naturally perceived as rejection and being an adult doesn’t necessarily help you rationalize your feelings or the causes that drive your partner’s behavior. When it comes to emotions, our brains may jump right back into that “abandoned child” mind frame.
This happens because situations like these cause our brains to react as they would to a physical injury. Since the same pain receptors activate, we may feel intense fear and, naturally, the need for protection and comfort. This type of reaction has been described by certain neuroscience studies that point to the immense power of emotions and the way we deal with them. Aside from our subjective feeling of (un)happiness, fostering negative emotions was proven to be detrimental to our physical health and connected to numerous health problems.
If your partner fails to provide the much-needed care and attention, this perpetuates the cycle of neglect and may cause a lasting feeling of abandonment and unworthiness. Not feeling worthy of your partner’s love and attention for prolonged periods can cause severe psychological effects and disorders.
Some of the most common effects of emotional neglect include:
- Restlessness, anxiety, depression, or other more severe psychiatric disorders.
- Mood swings, sudden outbursts, and difficulty regulating your emotions.
- High-risk behaviors, including substance use disorder, or other types of addiction.
- Lack of confidence and low self-esteem, feeling insecure and unlovable.
- Fear, shame, guilt, anger, or other negative emotions.
- Heightened self-criticism and a negative self-image.
- Hiding or burying your emotions, not being able to open up to anyone.
- Inability to form close relationships due to trust issues.
- Poor social skills, inability to ask for help or accept it when offered, or difficulty setting boundaries.
- WIthdrawal into solitude and avoidance of social situations.
How Do You Cope With Neglect In A Relationship?
Unfortunately, if you feel neglected and unloved for a long time, and your partner fails to notice and respond to your feelings, this might permanently damage your relationship. If you start feeling that you can’t rely on your partner, there are steps you could take to try and salvage your relationship by raising awareness about the issues that are causing your unhappiness.
Mending romantic relationships that have been going in the wrong direction for too long is certainly a challenging task, but not an impossible one. When you start examining your feelings more closely, you can begin to understand what’s wrong instead of avoiding or dismissing critical issues.
This process can be painful for both partners, but if you’ve been neglected for a long time, concentrating on your own well-being and validation of your feelings is a priority. Once you both recognize your own and each other’s patterns of behavior that have led you to this point, you can choose to put in the necessary effort and change them. Or not. The most important thing to do in the long run is to reparent those parts of self that were neglected and choose partnership from your Healthy Adult self. Our #HealthyAdult book can help you understand more of what this article is saying and can be found on Amazon.
PIVOT Can Help You Overcome Abuse & Neglect With Expert Relationship Intimacy Coaching
If you feel ready to try to revive your relationship or tend to your own well-being and self-authenticity, there are ways to get professional help and support. You can let PIVOT’s relationship coaches lead you towards your set goals after they help you decide what they are. Whether you choose one of the empowering Glass House retreats, personalized individual sessions, or relationship intimacy coaching, you’ll be in safe hands. When you engage in PIVOT, there are two facilitators for each couple to assure everyone is fully seen, heard, and supported. Our couples intensives can significantly change the direction of your relationship and begin to create a deeper level of understanding and connection. Finding the will and strength to change is an attainable goal!