Is Your Partner Emotionally Neglectful?

nikki's blog Nov 01, 2019

It can be so painful being with someone who seems to have a wall up, and just won’t let you in.

Often there’s one partner in a relationship who tends to propel it forward emotionally, and this is usually the person who contacts me when things get difficult.

Sometimes they tell me the painful story of being with someone they just can’t seem to reach emotionally.

Larry is one such client of mine and I listen as he describes a deep, deep loneliness and a longing to connect with his wife, whom he loves so greatly that it makes him ache at the very core of his being.

My heart goes out to Larry, he’s in a role I know well, having played it in so many of my own relationships.

After bearing witness to his pain, I turn to Darlene, to get her take on the whole thing. She flashes a gorgeous smile, rolls her eyes dramatically and says to Larry “Oh come on Darling it’s really not that bad!” She turns to me and says “You know, Larry is just so emotionally needy”. Larry sighs deeply, his whole body deflates.

When you marry someone who was emotionally neglected as a child, they in turn neglect emotions, both their own and very probably yours too.

As emotions are the glue that connects us, the energy that propels us forward and the fuel that keeps the fires of passion burning, unless this emotional neglect is acknowledge and worked through, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship is dead on the vine.

Not everything is bad in these relationships, and not every partner reacts like Darlene. Some talk a lot, some shut down and some just get up and leave. These are, however, all survival strategies, sub-consciously designed to sabotage their partner’s bids for connection, and boy do they work!

Darlene just can’t understand Larry. Because her feelings were never responded to by her caregivers, when she was a child, she has learnt to push them away, so she doesn’t have to feel the pain of neglect.

Sadly though, you can’t chose to only block out the negative emotions, and while she can’t relate to Larry’s feelings, there’s a sense of vitality and aliveness that’s missing from her life -  she’s not happy either.

She is more comfortable with their marriage however, because you can’t miss something you’ve never had- sustained, emotional intimacy.

Desperately and distractedly trying to find the answer in other things and people, Darlene doesn’t realize the antidote to her numbness is right under her nose.

“ The wound is where the light shines in.” - Rumi

As Rumi so eloquently puts it, the wound really is where the light shines in, and all Darlene needs to do to heal, is to focus on the very thing she’s trying her best to avoid- intimacy with Larry.

It’s a beautiful thing when you’re willing to move from a position in the relationship of either self-service, or quid-pro-quo, into a place where you put the relationship first, because it truly has the capacity to be soooooooo much greater than the sum of it’s parts!

When you recognize and surrender to this, you become a servant to the relationship and wow- that’s when the magic happens!

I know because over the past 20+ years I’ve helped many couples do it, and it’s exactly how I turned my against-all-odds, marriage number three, into a relationship more remarkable than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. OK maybe not my wildest, because I do believe that I Psych K’d and Feng Shui’d this relationship into existence, but that’s a story for another time!

Anyway the point I want to make here is that all it really takes is for Larry to become so unhappy, that the discomfort of the relationship is greater than the discomfort caused by confronting Darlene.

If he’s willing to lovingly (not demandingly) demonstrate to her what intimacy looks like to him, and to gently and consistently challenge her, while making it safe for her to test the water, their relationship’s potential for growth is limitless.

The important thing to remember is that these emotionally neglectful strategies aren’t chosen deliberately, they were imprinted in childhood. But, if recognized and owned, the good news is, they can be changed.

In a nutshell these are the steps towards healing if emotional neglect is present in your marriage:

*     Firstly ask your partner if they can relate to this article, show it to them and see if resonates with them.

*     Secondly recognize no one is to blame. Focusing on the solution and not the problem will ensure the partner in Darlene’s position, doesn’t get derailed by shame.

*     Have more open-hearted conversations with each other about your childhoods, and share the challenges you each encountered.

*     Be prepared to fully understand and then re-write your stories, like I talked about in one of my previous blogs, so you can stand on them, not in them, and see the wood for the trees.

*     Make an effort every day to share two or three feelings (not thoughts), you’ve had during the day with each other. Make sure many of them have to do with your partner. Partners- just bear witness, no advice or fixing should be given, just acceptance (and remember you don’t need to agree).

*     Get some help to create the safety and develop the skills needed to create a relationship where true intimacy, as scary and as exciting as it is, can flourish.

I don’t know yet if Larry and Darlene are going to make it. But, if she can be brave, authentic and receptive and he can be brave, authentic and loving, I have a good feeling they will.

Next week we’re going to have a deeper look at authenticity and how becoming authentic really is the key to a happier life.

Until next time, be good to yourself, and remember to keep it real.

With light and love

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*Please note that all identifiable information has been changed to preserve anonymity.*