When you're hanging out at home, or spending time together, it's reasonable to expect your partner to be present in the relationship. But if they're emotionally neglecting you, your time together isn't likely going to be very fulfilling. And it might even get to the point where it's downright painful.
"Emotional neglect is when a person repeatedly ignores, invalidates, or belittles the feelings of another person with whom they are in a relationship," therapist Jeanette Tolson, LCSW, CASAC, tells Bustle. "This can lead to feelings of disconnection in the relationship and low self-esteem in the person whose feelings are not important."
Of course, there's a difference between needing some time alone, and being emotionally neglectful. That's why it's always important to be understanding if your partner needs a little space. But if it seems like they're constantly letting you down, you'll need to talk ASAP and figure out why.
"Many times, when a person ignores or invalidates another person's feelings, they themselves are feeling very overwhelmed by their own feelings and they may not have a language to discuss it," Tolson says. By having a chat, and possibly even going to couples therapy, you can start to better understand each other.
It can take time and effort to bridge the gap, but if the relationship is otherwise healthy, it will be possible to do. "When both partners are motivated and capable of doing the work," Tolson says, "they can shift the feelings dynamic to improve the situation." Here are some signs of emotional neglect in a relationship, according to experts.
1. They Minimize Your Feelings
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Emotionally neglectful people are often quick to belittle their partner's feelings. It may be done with a quick "what's the big deal?" or an uncaring "why are you being so sensitive?" — all said in a way that shuts the conversation down.
"This is emotional neglect because the purpose of these statements is to invalidate the feelings or to make the person with the feelings think that they are blowing things out of proportion," Tolson says. "This often leads the partner who wants to share feelings to start bottling them up." And since this isn't healthy, you'll want to address this with your partner ASAP. If it continues, it may be time to consider leaving the relationship.
2. They Shut Down Physically
Closed off body language, such as a lack of eye contact, can also be used to shut a convo down. And if it happens all the time, a feeling of neglect won't be far behind.
"Such attitudes and behaviors are emotionally neglectful in that they do not allow for emotional connection," clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly, tells Bustle. "When connection between partners is avoided or destructive, one (or both) partners will feel that their vital, emotional world is not important or worthy of attention. Feelings of hurt, rejection, and anger commonly arise when emotional neglect occurs."
3. They Leave You Hanging
If your partner is being emotionally neglectful, they'll have "little concern or awareness about making you feel undervalued or unappreciated," certified relationship coach, Rosalind Sedacca, tells Bustle. "So they are likely to break a date or other appointment at the last minute if something else comes along of more interest to them." Once again, it's important to address this with your partner, especially if it keeps happening.
4. They Give You The Silent Treatment
Does your partner ever give you the silent treatment? Perhaps after you argue? "The silent treatment is one of the most common and damaging patterns of conflict in relationships," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "It’s a form of emotional neglect because it keeps you from experiencing resolution and emotional relief."
If your partner tends to react passive-aggressively when they're upset, bring it to their attention and see if they're willing to change. After all, there are always better ways to respond to stress in a relationship, than to shut each other out.
5. They Never Open Up
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If your partner doesn't openly express their inner thoughts and emotions to you, it can be a sign of emotional neglect, Liz Colizza, MA, LPC, head of research at Lasting, tells Bustle. Maybe they only offer factual and functional information, or only talk when you pry conversation out of them.
Of course, everyone's different in terms of how much they want to open up. But it's important to consider how this makes you feel. If the habit continues, even after you've clearly explained what you need, it may even be a sign the relationship isn't worth it.
6. They Criticize You
If your partner criticizes you, then it's clear they don't take your feelings into account before speaking. And that, Sedacca says, is a sign of emotional neglect, as well as a lack of respect. If they don't seem to stop this habit once you bring it up, it may be worth it to get out of the relationship, especially since this can lead to emotional abuse.
7. You Can Tell They Aren't Listening
Even if it looks like they're listening, if you can tell your partner isn't truly absorbing anything you say, Colizza says it could be a form of emotional neglect.
They might seem distracted or preoccupied with something else, she says. Or when you stop talking, they don't pick up naturally and add to the conversation.
While some couples aren't big talkers, if this is something you need in order to feel connected, it may eventually lead to feelings of neglect.
8. Their Focus Is Always Elsewhere
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It's perfectly fine to be busy with work, or to have hobbies that mean a lot to you. And spending time away from each other, to focus on your own lives, is actually incredibly healthy. But it's not great if your partner is absorbed 24/7 in things that don't fuel a connection in your relationship.
"It might not be intentional but your needs are still neglected," Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and the owner of Exclusive Matchmaking, tells Bustle. "There is no connection that is being nurtured and it's hurting you. It can even be a consistent failure to acknowledge your presence when you come home from work; it shows you aren't the priority."
9. They Don't Want To Talk About The Relationship
While it isn't necessary to discuss relationship problems all evening long, if it seems like your partner never wants to talk about anything important, it can start to take a toll on your wellbeing.
"By keeping you in a state of stress and uncertainty about the relationship, your partner is showing you that you aren’t a priority in the relationship," Bennett says. "If [they have] time for work, hobbies, and seeing friends, then there is time to discuss what matters in the relationship."
No relationship will ever be problem-free, and you will let each other down on occasion. But if your partner has any of the habits listed above, there's a chance they're emotionally neglecting you.
This can be something you work on either on your own, or with the help of a therapist. Over time — and if the relationship is meant to be — they should be able to open up, communicate more, and be a more supportive partner overall.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.