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Signs of Emotional Neglect in Your Relationship

Hannah Hopper, LCPC​

Emotional neglect is typically something we think about in association with childhood, but it can also take place in a committed relationship. It’s the absence of enough emotional awareness and response and can be a painful experience at any point in life. Because emotional neglect is invisible, a couple may be experiencing pain in their relationship for many years without fully understanding what’s causing it. In a relationship with emotional neglect, both partners are hurt by what’s absent in the relationship. 

What’s Missing?

Emotional neglect in an adult relationship can be boiled down to the word “lonely.” It’s having a partner, but feeling so disconnected from them even if you’re in the same room or trying to enjoy an activity together. You may physically see them, but the deeper emotional bond is missing, so it’s hard to feel their presence. It might even feel like there is a wall separating the two of you, and you each go around living your lives in the same home, but with this emotional barrier between you. A healthy relationship is one with both people sensing their own emotional needs for connection, reaching out to their partner, and being able to provide and receive emotional warmth. This kind of bond is what helps us to feel seen in intimate relationships. 

Signs of Emotional Neglect 

  1. As a couple, you try to avoid bringing up difficult or potentially painful things in an attempt to not upset each other. This leads to avoiding deeper conversations and may leave both people feeling lonely. 
  2. Your conversations are mostly focused on facts, events from the past, and the logistics of your family life. 
  3. You and your partner often misread each other’s feelings and actions and assume negative intentions from the other person. 
  4. If you seek comfort from your partner, you don’t receive the understanding you were looking for and feel less connected afterward. 
  5. It can be hard to find things to talk about together. 
  6. Arguments don’t lead to understanding, they lead to more hurt and mistrust. 
  7. Emotions like love, warmth, or emotional bonding feel awkward and uncomfortable with your partner, and may only happen during sex. 
  8. It feels like you’re both operating independently in the world, rather than a team taking on life together.
  9. When you have exciting news or a problem comes up, your partner isn’t the first person you want to share this with. 
  10. You feel misunderstood and lonely in the relationship. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

If some of these things from the list above describe the dynamic with your partner, it may be that you’re experiencing emotional neglect in your relationship. Rather than thinking about emotional connection as something that’s present or absent, think of it as a movement towards or away from your partner. Begin to notice how you can reach out for a connection with your partner, such as sharing a moment when you’re happy, sad, or angry. Be on the lookout for times when they might be reaching out to you for emotional support too, and take the risk of showing up for them. Emotional connection is an action; a process of giving and taking that you and your partner can participate in. 

If you’re ready to take another step towards building emotional attunement in your relationship, and would like to schedule a counseling session with Symmetry Counseling, you can browse our therapist bios to find someone that’s the right fit for you. We have intake specialists to find a therapist in Chicago who specializes in what you’re wanting to work through. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling (312) 578-9990 to get matched with someone. 


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