How Emotional Neglect Damages Relationships (2023)

Emotional neglect involves a failure to provide emotional support to that personshouldoffer, given one's own relationship to the other. Therefore, a parent is considered to be emotionally neglecting a child when the parent does not show the child the level of affection orAttentionthat she should do it as a parent (even if she can provide for the child's physical needs such as food, health care, clothing and shelter).

Emotional neglect is also different from emotional neglectabuse.Emotional Abuse(as distinct from physical abuse) includes abusive commissions—that is,againThings that can be emotionally hurtful or traumatizing (e.g., verbal abuse, manipulation,gas lighting, etc.); while emotional neglect involves neglectful omissions, i.e.omittingDoing things that promote emotional well-being.

While there is helpful literature on the harmful effects ofchildhoodemotional neglect in adulthood (see, for example, Jonice WebbsGuest blogInpsychology today), less has been written about emotional neglect in adult relationships. In this post, I will examine the conditions under which one can be said to be emotionally neglectful of one partner (married or single)—that is, the conditions under which one is justified in concluding that the partner is not providing emotional support does that he or she should.

The determination of emotional neglect is open-ended; like other value judgments, the term is inherently vague. There are therefore borderline cases that are not determinable or subject to rational disagreement. Still, justifying judgments of emotional neglect is logical.

Such justification is a function ofPurposeof the relationship itself. For example, the purpose ofUpbringingis to create the conditions for your child to flourish. These conditions clearly include emotional support, such as B. Providing affection and understanding where appropriate. Likewise, the purpose of aMarriageor civil partnership also includes an emotional support system. The purpose of the latter relationships is to provide a framework to share one's life experiences, both positive and negative, and to gain mutual understanding,intimacy, and take care. There are marriages of convenience aimed at special functions (e.g. entitlement to social benefits or obtaining citizenship). However, these relationships are parasitic on the primary relationship, which is based on emotional support.

Depending on the parties to the relationship, the level of emotional support and commitment required to make the relationship work can vary. For example, two more dissatisfied partners may need less emotional support than average. Therefore, the value judgment of how much emotional support a partner should provide can be significantcontextually relative.

Still, there are clear cases of emotional neglect. A persistent habit or tendency to have no or almost no physical contact would normally fall below the minimum emotional support that the significant other should provide. The same is true for a consistent pattern of refusing to spend time with a partner, preferring instead to engage in a solitary activity (e.g., playing solitaire).


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So what should a life partner do to provide the emotional support they should? These would be forms of emotional support that most people would agree on as reasons for entering into marriage or civil partnership. These include physical, behavioral, and cognitive forms of emotional support. Physical forms include intimate exchanges of affection such as hugging, kissing, and touchingsexualContact. Behaviors include actions that show that one cares for or is there for the other, such as B. Spending time with the other or helping the other out of a difficult situation. Cognitive forms include things like having patience, listening, providing feedback on life problems, and showing empathy.

Typically, emotional support involves a combination of physical, behavioral, and cognitive aspects, and the support package can be greater than the sum of its parts. For example, putting your arms around others, giving gentle feedback, and canceling an appointment at work is a form of emotional support that is more than its parts. It is also true that there are "different strokes for different people". For example, we may have different sexual preferences; However, most couples (but not all) would agree that they desire itsomeform of sexual contact.

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Further, being emotionally neglectful is considered a personal attribute orcharacter trait, includes ahabitnot providing the emotional support one should have given the purpose of the relationship. Thus, a partner who occasionally behaves emotionally neglectful (e.g., refuses to have sex or behaves distantly and unkindly after a marital argument) is not necessarily emotionally neglectful, even if he or she has acted that way on specific occasions. It is only when such actions rise to the level of disposition or habit that one can properly be called emotionally neglectful. However, it is quite clear that even those of us who are not emotionally neglectful can often endure reducing the occasions when we are emotionally neglectful.

So is your significant other emotionally neglectful? While answering this question may require discretion, you should now have some guidelines to approach it rationally:

  1. Is the emotional support system in your civil partnership relativeone-sided(You offer or try to provide emotional support to your partner, but not the other way around)?
  2. Is your partner in ahabitnot being emotionally supportive?
  3. Can you describe clearly the ways in which your partner (usually) fails to provide emotional support (physical, behavioral, or cognitive)?
  4. Does your partner's described failure(s) render unsustainable the emotional support system needed to maintain a viable civil partnership (i.e., a relationship that helps build one's life experiences, mutual understanding, intimacy, and caring? split)?
  5. Are your expectations regarding emotional supportreasonable-that is, what most people would generally expect from a working civil partnership?

If your answer to each of the five questions above is yes, then you have reason to believe that you are in an emotionally neglected relationship. This is obviously not a calculus to calculate if your significant other is emotionally neglectful. Given the value-laden and relative nature of the concept, this is not feasible. Still, the level of emotional support in a civil partnership can fall short of what one might reasonably expect in such a relationship. In such cases it makes sense to speak of emotional neglect; in such cases, the goal is a civil partnership that is to be mutually encouragedLuckthe partner, can be seriously (if not irreparably) compromised.

This post has been about identifying emotional neglect, not the complexities of how to deal with it. In the latter, much depends on the etiology of the emotional neglect. For example, in some cases a partner may be aworkaholicand consequently neglect his relationship; some may haveneural-mental impairments such asautisticspectrum disorder affecting the ability to express emotions; others can benarcissistic; while others are preoccupied or obsessed with issues outside of the relationship. In some cases, treating neglect may best be done through couples counseling; for others (e.g., autism), conventional methods of couples counseling may be ineffective.

In any case, identifying the emotional neglect is always the first step in addressing it. This is no small thing, because you can spend many years in a dysfunctional, unhappy relationship due to emotional neglect and not know exactly why you are so unhappy. In fact, in abusive relationships, it can be a lot easier to identify the offending behavior because the actions are typically overt. In contrast, as noted, emotional neglect involves omissions. For example, the spouse will not verbally attack, harass, or engage in other forms of aggressive, emotionally harmful activity. After all, the emotionally neglectful partner “does nothing wrong”; So it's harder to see what's so wrong with the relationship.

Nonetheless, like emotional abuse, emotional neglect can be quite damaging and destroy the quality of a relationship. Being aware that you are in an emotionally neglected relationship can be an important first step in addressing this ever-present and insidious cause of deep unhappiness.

Facebook-Bild: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

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