Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse in a marriage is seldom spoken about. Most of the time, people do not even know what it amounts to. This is primarily because, unlike physical abuse, emotional neglect in a marriage is not visible, and therefore, harder to quantify. However, it can cause as much harm to your relationship and the psyche of the partner at the receiving end of the abuse. Identifying and working on signs of emotional neglect and abuse in a relationship is a must if you wish to lead a happy, satisfied married life.
Picture this: You are talking to your spouse about an incident that has impacted you deeply but you notice that they are not paying attention to a word you say. This is a classic sign to take note of, especially if this is a pattern that repeats more often than not. If every time you make an effort to share your thoughts and emotions with your partner, they appear to be emotionally unavailable, it means emotional neglect has enveloped your married life.
Instead of having a relationship based on care, emotional intimacy, and understanding, your relationship becomes devoid of a meaningful connection, it may be time to understand what emotional neglect in marriage looks like. We are here to help you identify the signs of emotional neglect in a marriage and help you deal with it, with the help of counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades
What Is Emotional Neglect In A Marriage?
Marriage is based on the promise of being there for each other and sharing one another’s life experiences. The success of the relationship between life partners is not only based on physical intimacy but also on a strong emotional connection. The latter often manifests itself as a gray area where most problems in a marriage usually begin.
When a woman starts feeling that her voice is not heard, she’s feeling emotionally neglected. Likewise, if a man withdraws from a connection and begins to withhold communication and intimacy, it could be an outcome of subtle but persistent emotional neglect. From there on, any marriage can unravel and hit the rock bottom quickly.
So when a partner gives little or no attention to the emotional needs of their significant other or fails to respond to their advances for emotional intimacy, it is a characteristic case of emotional neglect in a marriage. Emotional neglect also involves creating barriers between each other without any reasonable justification. Just because emotional abuse leaves behind no visible signs, many couples fail to acknowledge it as a problem. However, the impact of such relationship dynamics can be more deep-seated and prove to be a trigger for other problems in a marriage.
Mahira (name changed), a 33-year-old woman from Mumbai, recounts how her husbands’ emotional unavailability pushed her to cheat. “Vivek has been the quintessential Indian husband. He cared for me and our kids, provided for us but was a man of few words.
“I, on the other hand, am a person who wears her feelings on her sleeve. After wrapping up work for the day, when we met at home, I wanted to pour some wine and talk, he wanted to slouch on the sofa and watch TV. My questions were often met with monosyllabic responses and he had nothing to ask me ever.
“Slowly, distance started to creep in. Irritability and bickering took hold. As our marriage was going through a rough patch, I met this dynamic young man through work and we got along like a house of fire. Soon, we were texting and chatting almost through the day and late into the night. Vivek was just glad to have me off his back. I now depended on this outsider for all my emotional needs, and what started as emotional infidelity soon turned into a full-blown affair,” she says.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, the feelings of not being appreciated or being taken for granted are only natural. But before you let these get the better of your judgment, try to get to the bottom of the reasons why such emotional disconnect has seeped into your married life are:
- Prioritizing career: Your spouse’s career may have become a priority, and that may taken their focus off the relationship
- Stress: They might be dealing with a stressful situation either at work or home but fail to share it with you
- Past trauma: Some past trauma that you’re unaware of may be interfering with their ability to connect with you emotionally
- Childhood experiences: A lack of nurturing during their growing up years may have impacted their emotional growth
- Nagging: You may have developed a tendency to nag and complain all the time, and that’s pushing your spouse away
Related Reading: What Differentiates An Abusive Relationship From A Normal One
15 Signs Of Emotional Neglect By Husband
Emotional support in a marriage means that your spouse is there for you – physically (showing physical forms of intimacy), cognitively (showing empathy, patience and understanding), and behaviourally (showing love and care through actions). A complete vacuum of this support system can be scary and sad for anyone.
It is, therefore, important to know what constitutes emotional neglect to be able to do something about it. Here are 15 signs to look out for:
1. He seldom fights with you
I know what you’re thinking: what would be more ideal than a marriage with no fight. No conflicts, no need for conflict resolution – it’s a win-win! However, fights are a positive sign that both the partners are invested in the relationship. If one does something that the other doesn’t approve of, they react – sometimes angrily.
If you notice that your spouse is okay with everything you do and does not challenge you in any way, it is a sign that he is emotionally absent from the relationship and not catering to your needs as well. It’s not just constant fights and bickering that can make you feel isolated in a relationship.
If a man refuses to engage in conversations around issues that may be important, that’s also when a woman feels neglected in a relationship. “If you want to talk about something or bring up an issue that has been bothering you, and your husband snaps and uses retorts like ‘‘Everything is okay’, ‘You are overthinking’, ‘You are imagining things’, then it’s one of the signs of emotional neglect in a marriage,” says Kavita.
2. He prefers his own company
He does not seem to be thrilled at the prospect of spending time with you and always finds excuses to be on his own. If he spends his time the way he likes and that leaves you feeling abandoned and lonely in a marriage, you’re experiencing emotional abuse.
If he is always making plans with his golf buddies, going out for a drink with the guys, and has too many office events to attend, then he likes to be on his own. Over time, this will cause distance to creep into your marriage, and you will drift apart from one another. This is one of the common effects of emotional neglect in marriage.
3. You have no meaningful conversations
Communication is the bedrock of a successful marriage. A couple is expected to share every detail of their life with each other. This requires strong, meaningful communication between the two partners. If you and your spouse hardly ever talk about the important things in life and most of your conversations are limited to the essentials such as kids, finances, family, groceries and errands, you should take it as a warning sign.
Sharing your hopes, dreams, fears, plans and goals with each other is important for fostering intimacy as well as making sure you are on the same page about the present and the future. However, emotional neglect in marriage chips away at this element, making you more out of touch with your spouse and vice versa.
Related Reading: When married to an emotionally distant spouse
4. Your husband fails to show physical intimacy
A lack of emotional connection between spouses eventually paves the way for diminishing physical intimacy. When he not only shows no signs of physical attraction toward you but also avoids your advances, he has checked out of the marriage emotionally. In a marriage physical intimacy wanes over time but if he is not initiating any kind of intimacy then it is a sign he has lost interest in the marriage. You end up feeling all the more emotionally empty in a relationship.
“One of the common effects of emotional neglect in marriage is that you don’t have sexual intercourse often. Your spouse is not interested in initiating sex and when you do, your advances are shot down. Your spouse may also shame you with statements like ‘You’re overly sexed’ ‘Don’t you have anything else to do?’ ‘Is it all you can think about?’
“He would want you to be comfortable with the current frequency of sexual intimacy in the marriage, even if it is once in 6 months or a year. At the same time, if there is no communication about what you want or don’t want during sex, then your partner is shutting you out. See it as a red flag of emotional neglect in marriage,” says Kavita.
5. He is closest to his colleagues or friends
While it is absolutely normal – necessary even – to have your own social circle and life after marriage, a spouse must take precedence over friends and colleagues. If his colleagues and friends are the sources of support whenever life throws a curveball and you’re not even aware of the issues he is grappling with, he is surely neglecting his relationship with you.
If you learn about important occurrences in his life from other people or are the last one to find out about any major life decisions he may have taken, then you’re not wrong in thinking, “My husband neglects me emotionally.”
6. You are not yourself around him
Walking around the house in your underwear… Heck, walking around the house naked… Brushing your teeth in front of each other… Taking a leak in front of your spouse. The average married couple does one or all of these seemingly appalling things. It’s just a sign that you’re comfortable being yourself around your husband. If that’s not true in your case even though you’ve been married a long time, it speaks of a serious case of emotional neglect.
It may be time for you to seriously explore ways to prevent emotional neglect in marriage from escalating any more than it already has. However, making any headway on the front requires your spouse to be willing to work on the marriage and be invested in making it work. So, the first step toward steering your marriage away from this emotional void is to try to reach out to your husband and make him see why you need to take corrective measures before it’s too late.
7. You fail to understand his needs and wants
Since he is emotionally absent from the relationship, you remain unaware of his needs, wants, likes and dislikes. You haven’t got a clue about what he wants from the relationship and you. You feel totally lonely in the marriage and it’s as if another person does not exist in it. You feel like you are living with a stranger in the same house.
Even though you may go about and beyond to please him or keep him happy, it almost never works. “My husband neglects me emotionally,” this realization can become harder and harder to shake off if despite your best efforts you always fall short in meeting his expectations.
Related Reading: 9 Proven Benefits Of Counselling – Don’t Suffer In Silence
8. You depend on yourself for solving issues
As partners sharing a life, you should both work toward solving issues together. But with an emotionally uninvolved husband, you will soon realize that you’ve got to handle all issues big and small on your own. If you deal with stressful situations single-handedly all the time, the emotional neglect in your marriage is undeniable. You feel emotionally empty in the marriage.
“One of the telling signs of emotional neglect in a marriage is that you are the one carrying out all responsibilities. For example, if you have children, then you have the hands-on parent. From looking after their education and extracurricular activities to grooming them and imparting them with values, it falls upon you to meet the myriad parenting responsibilities.
“The same may be in the case when it comes to household chores, paying the bills or social obligations. In an emotionally neglectful marriage, you end up doing most of the physical and emotional labor and your spouse becomes a passive partner,” says Kavita.
9. You feel lonely and alone all the time
Even though you share the same house and the same room with your husband, you still feel perpetually lonely and alone. This is because your relationship with him lacks an emotional connection, which causes an emptiness to build and that can lead to not being happy in a marriage. You are unable to accept the spousal neglect in the marriage and you are perpetually grappling with your emotions.
“When a woman feels neglected in a relationship, she may slip into the state of being married but single. You can’t count on your partner to talk to, do things with, pamper you, shower love on you, make you feel wanted. Though you’re married, you don’t have the companionship that comes from it. There is no one supporting you, encouraging you or having your back,” says Kavita.
10. You get attracted to other guys
The loneliness and the feeling of being caught in a run-of-the-mill existence can get the better out and cause you to seek emotional fulfillment outside your marriage, which fuels an emotional and physical attraction toward other men. This account of a successful woman who is unabashedly attracted to another man will seem relatable to anyone who is or has felt emotionally abandoned in a relationship.
“Being attracted to other people is one of the most common effects of emotional neglect in marriage. If you are looking at other men, getting attracted to them or are open to their advances, taking risks in sexual behavior or emotional connections, pouring your heart out to someone else, looking for someone to listen to you and then getting emotionally attached to them, leading to a full-blown affair, then definitely you are in an emotional neglectful marriage.
“Had you been getting the attention and intimacy in its different forms from your marriage, you wouldn’t be attracted to anyone else. Emotional neglect in marriage is always about needs that are met versus the ones that are unmet,” says Kavita.
11. Your husband becomes overly critical
Even though he finds it hard to appreciate anything you do, it’s his daily routine to criticize you. Every time he picks on you in public or the privacy of your home, he scars you emotionally without even releasing the damage he is wreaking on his partner and his marriage. No matter what you do, you cannot seem to make him happy and he keeps bringing you down with his criticism. To the point it becomes intolerable.
“No matter what you do, he whiplashes you, finds faults with you. You feel the need to walk on eggshells around him, constantly second-guessing and rethinking your actions. Keeping your partner pleased and out of your hair becomes the single biggest focus. However, no matter how hard you try, you always fall short. He finds reasons to criticize you for anything and everything, from your looks to your personality, your career choices, cooking skills and so no,” explains Kavita.
Related Reading: 10 Signs You Married The Wrong Person
12. He gets annoyed easily
It is only natural you’d try to gain your husband’s attention when he seems distant and emotionally unavailable, especially if this is the norm in your life. But if this only annoys and pushes him further away from you, it is apparent that he is neglecting you. He gets angry easily. In such moments, you may find yourself wondering whether being married guarantees love and romance in one’s life?
“Another of the warning signs of emotional neglect in a marriage is your spouse’s constant annoyance with you. Even if you do whatever he wants or expects you to do and go out of your way to please him, he still doesn’t appreciate you. All your actions, no matter how big or small, thoughtful or instinctive, irritate your partner, resulting in him being annoyed and angry with you. As a result, he may get aggressive and throw a temper tantrum or he may become totally withdrawn and silent,” says Kavita.
13. He gives you the silent treatment
Your attempts to establish any kind of emotional intimacy cause your husband to recede into his shell and push you away furthermore by giving you the silent treatment. This is an absolute sign he is neglecting his wife. This behavior is not just emotional neglect but a clear sign of mental and emotional abuse that can be heartbreakingly painful for you.
“The silent treatment is one of the common effects of emotional neglect in marriage. Whenever your husband is displeased, annoyed or irritated with something you have said or done (which happens more often than not), he may shut down completely and not talk to you for days.
“You may be eating your meals at the same table, sleeping in the same bed, traveling in a car together, but he refuses to interact with you. Any attempts to communicate will either be met by silence or monosyllabic responses. You live in the same house without any interaction or communication. If this is a predictable pattern, then silent treatment amounts to one of the signs of emotional neglect in a marriage,” says Kavita.
14. He hardly takes care of himself and his appearance
Your marriage and your relationship may not be the only ones taking a hit from this emotional neglect. In some extreme cases, the emotional withdrawal may start manifesting in his personality too as he stops putting in any effort to care for himself or his appearance.
In such cases, there is a more serious underlying problem such as anxiety, fear, depression, or trauma at play. You must do your best to get to the root of it and help your partner through this challenging phase. In such a situation, you not only have to prevent emotional neglect in marriage from taking a toll on your bond but also on your spouse’s health and mental well-being.
15. You are no longer his priority in life
During the heyday of your married life, you may have been the center of his universe but your importance in his life has steadily declined. This is one of the classic behavioral traits of an abuser in a relationship, and if you’ve experienced it firsthand you’d know how damaging its consequences can be.
He has become as reclusive now as he was obsessed with you in the early years of the marriage and this is really hard to accept. He may even dismiss your concerns about the changing nature of your equation as an outcome of the neglected wife syndrome, however, you know as well as he does that this is not a figment of your imagination.
5 Tips To Cope With Emotional Neglect
Acknowledging and lamenting “my husband is emotionally not supportive” or “my husband neglects me emotionally” is not going to resolve your situation. You have to take matters into your own hand and find ways to cope with this emotional neglect if you want to stay in the marriage despite a dwindling connection with your spouse. Here are 5 tips to deal with the emotional neglect that may help you save your marriage from falling apart completely.
1. Work through the problems productively
Pick an appropriate time to talk to your husband about the issues that have cropped up in your married life due to his emotional neglect. Try to be loving and understanding in your demeanor and keep an open mind toward his side of the story. You both need to come together and cooperate to find a lasting solution to this problem and prevent emotional neglect in marriage from deteriorating.
2. Don’t play the victim card
Your husband’s actions have caused you immense hurt and emotional damage. Even so, for the sake of restoring harmony in the relationship, try not to play the victim card during your conversations. This will only make your husband more guarded and defensive in his approach, which is the exact opposite of what you intend to achieve.
Besides, facilitating honest, open conversations may help you discover some error in your ways that may be triggering his emotionally absent state of mind. Focus on resolving the issues plaguing your connection without placing blame or hurling accusations.
3. Rekindle the love
Spend time together, attend social gatherings as a couple, plan date nights to recreate the good times you two have spent with each other, and make your husband fall in love with you again. Chances are he really loves you but because of certain issues in his life, he just drifted apart. If that’s the case, a little initiative from your end may help counter the effects of emotional neglect in your marriage.
4. Approach a therapist
Whenever a marriage hits a rough patch, it may be difficult for the spouses to resolve a conflict on their own because egos come into play and you may not be able to take an empathetic view of your partner’s perspectives. In case of such a deadlock, seeking help from a therapist or a marriage counselor is always advisable. There’s no shame or stigma in it. In fact, it’s a sign that you’re both willing to work on your marriage through relationship counseling.
5. Be patient
If you still love your husband and can’t bear the thought of losing him, being patient as you go through a process of healing and restoring your relationship is your best bet. Eventually, your husband will find his way to your heart and soul again. As long as the core of your marriage is strong and he too is fundamentally invested in the relationship, you can find a way to bounce back and heal from emotional neglect in marriage.
Emotional neglect can happen in a marriage but it all depends on how you deal with it. If the signs of spousal neglect are there in your marriage then you should take the right steps to fix it.
If your spouse spends most of his time on his own, never makes plans with you, hardly shows you care and concern and you feel lonely in the relationship it can be emotional neglect.
When a spouse hardly communicates with you and all his joy, sorrow and issues are shared with his buddies and colleagues, then this can be an example of spousal neglect.
A marriage cannot survive without emotional intimacy. People can survive a sexless marriage without cheating but not without a mental connection and communication, it’s hard for a marriage to survive.
Yes, emotional neglect can be grounds for divorce because it’s hard to survive in a relationship where no mental connection is there. Marriage is about companionship, if that does not exist there is no point in going on.