Feeling neglected in a relationship is undeniably one of the most disheartening experiences in the world. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that this sense of neglect in an intimate connection is more painful than heartbreak. When a relationship ends, at least there is an honest acknowledgment of having fallen out of love and a sense of finality.
On the other hand, feelings of emotional neglect make you experience this apparent lack of love and intimacy in your connection, day after day. It’s like going through that gut-wrenching pain of heartbreak over and over again, and then, bracing yourself to return to the same unfulfilling relationship.
When a woman feels neglected in a relationship, it may leave her convinced that it’s because she’s unworthy of love. Likewise, when a man feels neglected in a relationship, he may develop self-esteem issues. Clearly, feeling neglected in a relationship can have far-reaching consequences on your connection with your partner as well as your sense of self.
So, what can you do to address it? Here are some insights into signs of emotional neglect in a relationship and ways to deal with it, in consultation with clinical psychologist Adya Poojari (Masters in Clinical Psychology, PG Diploma in Rehabilitation Psychology).
What Does Neglect In A Relationship Look Like?
As romantic partners find a comfortable rhythm in their togetherness, it is not unusual for effort in a relationship to take a hit. The romantic gestures and displays of affections invariably slow down. However, in a healthy equation, these changes do not equal feeling neglected in a relationship. That’s because both partners learn to evolve with their changing dynamic and find newer ways to connect.
It’s when the changing dynamics translate into one partner taking the other for granted or both overlooking each other’s emotional needs that neglect sets into the relationship. So, how do you differentiate changing couples’ dynamics from feeling neglected in a relationship? Here are 5 signs of emotional neglect in a relationship to watch out for:
1. Lack of communication
According to Adya, lack of communication is one of the most telling signs of neglect in a relationship. And it’s not just inadequate communication about the big stuff but also the little things. You try talking to your partner about your day or share with them something interesting that happened at work, and they just don’t engage with you. It’s a classic form of neglect in a relationship
“When a partner refuses to engage in day-to-day banter with you, they are nipping away an important tool of building emotional intimacy in the relationship. Slowly but surely, you will have fewer and fewer things to share with each other, and this can naturally leave you feeling neglected in a relationship because you don’t feel heard, seen or acknowledged,” says Adya.
When a woman feels neglected in a relationship, more often than not it is because of this lack of communication. Her attempts to connect with her partner through conversation being shot down repeatedly can result in her feeling ignored and unloved.
Related Reading: Relationship Breakdown: 5 Reasons Why Relationships Fail
2. Cheating is among signs of emotional neglect in a relationship
If you’re looking for signs of emotional neglect in a relationship, infidelity is a no-brainer really. “When a partner willfully violates your trust and redirects the love and intimacy that is rightfully yours to another, they are displaying a complete disregard to your needs, expectations and well-being. That qualifies as neglecting a partner,” says Adya.
Curiously, cheating can not just be a sign but also the outcome of neglect in a relationship. For instance, when a man feels neglected in a relationship, he may seek to fulfill what’s lacking in his primary connection from another source. Emotional infidelity is a classic symptom of neglect in such cases.
3. Sex becomes purely physical
Lauren, a marketing professional in her 40s, says, “Our marriage has been going through somewhat of a rough patch. My husband is so engrossed in work and his passion for cycling that I’ve been feeling neglected in the relationship. One of the first casualties of the distance creeping between us has been our sex life.
“When a woman feels neglected in a relationship, she finds it hard to connect with her partner sexually as well. That’s what I have been experiencing too. I no longer feel aroused by my husband and sex has become a chore. We go through the motions but there is no passion or desire.
“My husband blames it on my hormones and age and refuses to acknowledge that I feel neglected and unimportant. That has only compounded our trouble, in the bedroom and outside.”
Adya agrees that this is among the common signs of emotional neglect in a relationship. “Sex gets reduced to just a way to address a primal need. When there is neglect in a relationship, partners can start looking at each other as a means of sexual gratification. Since you don’t feel valued or cared for, the sense of neglect only amplifies.”
Related Reading: The Dynamics And Importance Of Sex In A Relationship
4. Emotional needs are not met
Adya points out that feeling neglected in a relationship also results in a niggling feeling that your emotional needs are not being met. Say, you had a tough day at work, it’s only natural to seek comfort in your partner, share your worries with them and expect them to be your shoulder to lean on.
However, if your partner is dismissive of these needs and labels any expectation of support as a manifestation of you being clingy or needy, then you may start feeling uncared for, unloved, and thus neglected by the one person who is supposed to be your panacea.
Gradually, this can eat into the bond you share with them, driving you two apart. You may find that you stop yourself from sharing your true thoughts and feelings with them, and instead turn to a third person – a friend, sibling, coworker – for solace during trying times.
5. A one-sided relationship is a sign of neglect
How can you feel neglected in a relationship? Adya explains, “A one-sided relationship is amongst the most telling signs of emotional neglect in a relationship. For example, if you ask them about their life, they’ll tell you all about it and you hear them out with excitement. But when you share something that you care about, they don’t reciprocate.
“You need to change constantly and fit certain criteria no matter the cost to your mental or physical well-being. As a result, you end up feeling that you’re the only one putting in the effort to keep the relationship afloat whereas your partner has all but given up.
“They won’t value the things that are important to you, be it special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays, your love languages or the promises you made to each other.”
9 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself When Feeling Neglected In A Relationship
The tricky thing about feeling neglected in a relationship is that it can be hard to point out exactly what’s amiss in your relationship. You may be living with that constant feeling that your relationship doesn’t feel like a fulfilling, wholesome partnership. But if asked why, you may find yourself talking in abstract terms like ‘it doesn’t feel right’ or ‘I feel a sense of emptiness’ or ‘I feel like a single person even though I’m in a relationship’.
All this while, the constant feeling of neglect can eat away your self-esteem, self-worth, and may even leave you riddled with insecurities and anxious feelings. First and foremost, you need emotional literacy to identify how exactly you’re being made to feel in your relationship.
Then comes learning how to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship. Here are 9 ways you can start making small changes to effectively deal with feeling neglected in a relationship:
Related Reading: 12 Warning Signs Your Partner Is Losing Interest In The Relationship
1. Set boundaries to deal with neglect in a relationship
When can you feel neglected in a relationship the most? The answer to this question will also offer you insights into what you can do to deal with it effectively. Take a moment to introspect if you have set healthy boundaries in your relationship. Do you say ‘no’ like you mean it? Do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you REALLY want to say ‘no’? Do you let your partner always get their way for the sake of keeping peace and harmony in the relationship?
If so, then, therein lies your answer to how to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship – by not allowing anyone – including your significant other – to walk all over you. “If you’re neglected in a relationship, you need to have boundaries and try to know yourself. Trace back to a time when you were comfortable in your skin and then assess how you got to the point you’re at. And try to learn from the experience,” advises Adya.
2. Take stock of your relationship expectations
Charmaine was in a stable relationship with a man who doted on her. Yet, something seemed to be rocking their relationship boat. The more he tried to be there for Charmaine, the more she expected from him. This led to constant bickering and arguments, with Charmaine constantly claiming that he didn’t care for her.
“How can you feel neglected in a relationship where your partner is there for you at every step of the way?” Charmaine’s elder sister asked her, as she complained for the umpteenth time that she felt invalidated in her relationship. As hard as it was for Charmaine to hear it, the truth was her unrealistic expectations were at the root of this feeling of inadequacy.
Charmaine’s isn’t a unique case. The busy, isolated, digitally-driven lives of the current generation have raised the stakes of relationship expectations considerably. We want our partners to be passionate romantics, our best friends, soulmates, someone to hold intellectually stimulating conversations with, the person who lights up our every dull moment.
This can be a tall order for anyone to match. So, sometimes, the answer to how to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship may lie in managing your expectations realistically.
3. Develop communication competence if you’re feeling neglected in a relationship
Adya advises, “If you’re feeling neglected in a relationship, it is important to develop communication competence that allows you to state your emotional state, needs and expectation to your partner in clear and unambiguous terms.”
Some of the key elements of communication competence are self-disclosure, empathy, assertiveness, expressiveness, supportiveness, and immediacy. If you decode each of these elements, it simply boils down to expressing exactly how you feel assertively but without placing blame or hurling accusations.
Your partner may be completely unaware that their actions are making you feel neglected or overlooked. This can change only when you initiate honest and clear communication. Doing so becomes even more crucial if you’re feeling neglected in a long-distance relationship where words are all you have to convey your state of mind and understand your partner’s.
4. Put yourself first
Feeling neglected in a relationship can also stem from a tendency to sacrifice too much of yourself. Typically, when a woman feels neglected in a relationship, “I’ve done so much for him and this family, given up my ambitions and passions, and he still doesn’t appreciate me for it,” is one of the common retorts.
Likewise, when a man feels neglected in a relationship, you may hear sentiments to the effect: “I’ve been working myself to the bone to give us the best possible life and all I ask in return is a little support, and she cannot even offer that.”
In both cases, the sense of neglect stems from giving up on your dreams, hopes and ambitions for the sake of the relationship and not seeing that effort reciprocated in the way you’d like. How to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship in such situations?
Adya recommends, “Maintain a commitment to yourself as an individual that you matter. You are the book, and the people in your life are the pages or experiences mentioned in that book.”
Related Reading: 13 Things To Do When Your Husband Ignores You
5. Understand what you need to stop feeling neglected in a relationship
Matt, a counseling psychologist, was acutely aware that a feeling of neglect was creeping into his relationship with his boyfriend, Russell. He felt unheard and misunderstood all the time, and Russell tried to wriggle out of any accountability for it by claiming that the real issue was that Matt was constantly psychoanalyzing him and their relationship.
During a conversation with a senior colleague, Matt understood just what he needed to do to break this deadlock. “I knew that we had a problem, and Russell’s refusal to acknowledge that fact only made it worse. So, I decided to shift the focus from the problem to exploring solutions. I changed the discourse from ‘I’m feeling this way’ to ‘what can WE do to stop feeling this way, and it helped,” he says.
If you’re feeling neglected in a relationship, a similar approach toward conflict resolution can be beneficial. Remember that both partners play a role in defining relationship norms. So, if the status quo isn’t working for you, it’s time to change things up – but together, as a team.
6. Feeling neglected in a relationship? Be flexible
“Feeling neglected in a relationship unarguably calls for some introspection. Something is certainly amiss in a partnership if one partner or both feel unseen, unheard or unappreciated. In taking that journey of self-exploration to understand exactly what’s triggering this feeling, it’s imperative to be flexible.
“When you’re trying to figure yourself out, you cannot start by having a set framework within which to look for answers. Accept that you don’t know it all – be it about yourself or your relationship – and be open to new experiences to find the answers. Don’t be bound to ideas and roles imposed by society and characteristics you ought to fulfill,” says Adya.
7. Engage in the right coping techniques
“The answer to how to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship can be found in the right coping techniques or methods like adaptation, acceptance, and exploration, to deal with this sense that’s seizing upon you,” recommends Adya.
Adaptation means learning to evolve with the changing dynamic of your relationship. Acceptance means embracing that your relationship with your partner will continue to change as you go through different stages of life and not resisting that change. And exploration means continually looking for new ways of redefining your connection or finding new equations within your relationship.
8. Don’t be afraid of painful feelings
One of the reasons why so many of us struggle with dealing with difficult emotions is that we’re conditioned to bottle up, ignore or push away anything that causes us pain or makes us uncomfortable. However, the tricky thing about emotions is that the more you push them away, the stronger they resurface.
“If you’re feeling neglected in a relationship, try to learn from it and give a positive meaning to this experience instead of closing it off because it is painful. The self-awareness and the ability to sit with difficult emotions can help you a lot in moving on and learning, and finally, taking a step toward a healthy life,” Adya says.
Related Reading: 7 Strategies To Stop Fighting In A Relationship
9. Seek support from a trained professional
Figuring out how to deal with feeling neglected in a relationship isn’t always easy. After all, relationships are not always linear and they don’t exist in a vacuum. From external stresses to changing feelings toward a partner and the presence of a third wheel in a relationship, there are so many factors that could leave you feeling neglected in a relationship.
Sometimes, more than one of these factors could be at play and possibly inter-linked. For instance, an attempt to blow off steam after a stressful day at work may have led your partner to sleep with a coworker, and now the stress and the affair may be making them inconsiderate of your needs.
Or a loss could have left your partner depressed, and hence, unable to connect with you emotionally. Making sense of such complex situations can be hard when you’re already in an emotionally fragile state. That’s when working with an experienced counselor can help you work through your emotions, assess your situation pragmatically, and gain perspective on what needs to be done to deal with this feeling of neglect.
Feeling neglected in a relationship can make you feel trapped in an unhappy connection. No one deserves that. Seeking professional help from Bonobology counselors or a licensed therapist can also help you better analyze your situation and find the right way to deal with it.