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How to identify and deal with emotional neglect in marriage

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If you are a mom or a mom-to-be, chances are that you have spent quite a bit of time on mommy forums. You might have noticed that apart from questions directly related to being pregnant, giving birth and the postpartum period, the top concerns are usually to do with husbands or partners. Women are very frequently sharing their observations and concerns and asking for emotional support from other moms because they feel that they are getting no emotional support from their spouses. Essentially, many women feel that they are dealing with emotional neglect in marriage. 

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What is emotional neglect in a marriage? 

Emotional neglect in a marriage can be defined as failing to attend to your spouse’s emotional needs and desires. You may also choose to refer to it as emotional abandonment. Rostain and Ludwig in their book Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics define emotional neglect as “a relationship pattern in which an individual’s affectional needs are consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated, or unappreciated by a significant other.”

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What counts as emotional neglect in marriage? 

Here are six examples where you can spot the signs of emotional neglect in marriages:

  1. A woman is facing discrimination in the workplace and would like to be able to have the discussion with her spouse about switching jobs. However, she knows his only response will be to tell her to suck it up so she keeps her workplace troubles to herself. 
  2. A woman is crying about something and her husband does not attempt to hold her or offer her any other kind of comfort or reassuring words.
  3. A husband fails to notice that his wife is sad about the breakdown in her relationship with her best friend.
  4. A woman is crying about something and her husband expresses disappointment and disapproval of her tears. 
  5. A husband and wife have a massive argument one night with no resolve or compromise. They wake up the next morning after giving each other the silent treatment and carry on as normal. As though there had never been a disagreement of any kind.
  6. A wife is always unsure of what her husband’s reaction will be to her displays of affection as he seems to enjoy them sometimes but other times expresses irritation. She, therefore, alters her usual way of showing affection and becomes a  different person when she is around him.

That final example is the kind of a great way of identifying inconsistencies in a marriage. Inconsistency can sometimes lead to disillusionment and frustration on the part of one or both individuals in a marriage.

What does inconsistency mean in a relationship?

In a marriage, inconsistency creates a sense of instability. It can also lead to a lack of trust. If you rely on your spouse to do certain things in specific ways and you find that they  do not consistently stick to that routine, mistrust can be bred. 

In a marriage, it is important to be able to rely on your spouse no matter the situation. Creating a false sense of trust only to break it along the way by being inconsistent can make you feel like you are being experiencing emotional neglect in your relationship. It causes you to feel lonely. You never know what is coming next or what to expect from your spouse. It stops your marriage from growing and moving forward.

RELATED: Why you should not stay in your marriage for the sake of the kids

Where is your spouse’s emotional neglect coming from?

There is a reason for everything. For every kind of worrying behaviour from your spouse, it is worth taking some time to reflect and try to understand the possible root cause. 

Emotional neglect in marriage could arise from a form of abuse in your spouse’s childhood that they are yet to deal with. It could also come from feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. 

So how do you cope with emotional abandonment in your marriage?

READ: Childhood trauma in adults

What is childhood trauma

9 Ways to deal with an unsupportive husband

  1. Speak to him about how you feel and the inconsistencies that you have noticed.
  2. Consider if you have had any part to play in your husband’s emotional absence. If you, acknowledge it to him.
  3. Show empathy. Try to put yourself in his place and imagine how you would want to be treated if it were you who were found to be emotionally disconnected.
  4. Seek therapy. A professional therapist or counselor digging deeper into the disconnection in your marriage may be what you both need to heal and reconnect.
    Click to seek therapy online.
  5. Have a positive outlook about the future of your marriage but also remain realistic. Stay realistic about what the problems are and if they are improving
  6. Continue to encourage and support your spouse. Set a good example for them to learn from.
  7. Adjust your expectations of your spouse. If the emotional disconnection is coming from deep-seated issues, things are unlikely to change instantly.
  8. Try not to lose yourself in the battle to recieve emotional support. You need to continue to be present for your child(ren).
  9. Find and build your own support system or support community. This could be anyone from friends to relatives to strangers you meet in a mom group online. 
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RELATED: Dear Husband, It’s Not always Black and White in marriage

Can a marriage survive without emotional intimacy and support?

You can do anything you set your mind to do…but do you really want to? Why would you want to live a lifetime of emotional non-engagement? 

While you should not rely fully or completely on your spouse to fulfill every single one of your emotional needs, there are many ways in which your emotions will be tied up in each other because…well, you are married. 

Your marriage needs intimacy to survive. If you want to agree between each other that you are in a non-romantic partnership of some sort instead of the conventional concept of what a marriage should be, then sure. Your marriage may then be able to survive without emotional intimacy or emotional support.

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