What is Emotional Neglect Within a Romantic Relationship?
Emotional neglect is when an individual’s emotional needs are consistently ignored or inadequately met by important people in their lives. Emotional neglect can occur in various forms, including failing to provide emotional support, failing to acknowledge or respond to an individual’s emotional expressions or needs, failing to validate their feelings, and failing to engage in healthy emotional regulation or communication. Emotional neglect can have significant negative effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being, including decreased self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
How can Couples Counseling help with Emotional Neglect in the Relationship?
Couples counseling can be beneficial in addressing emotional neglect in several ways.
1. Identify patterns of emotional neglect: The first step in addressing a problem is to recognize it as a problem. Sometimes negative patterns get adopted within a relationship because one or both partners lacks skills, never learned different within their own families, or just don’t understand the needs of their partner. A trained couples therapist can help identify patterns of emotional neglect in the relationship and increase understanding and empathy between you and your partner. By exploring past experiences and current communication patterns, the therapist can help both partners recognize where the problem areas are and develop a plan for responding more supportively to each other.
2. Improve communication: Emotional neglect often occurs when there is a breakdown in communication. Often times a partner may feel neglected because their partner just doesn’t know how to respond better. Couples counseling can help improve communication skills by teaching effective communication techniques such as active listening, validation of feelings, expressing emotions effectively, and recognizing bids for connection.
3. Address underlying issues: Sometimes there are deeper issues in the relationship that need to be talked about and understood in order to move forward. Couples counseling can help identify these underlying issues, such as unresolved conflicts, and work through them to create a healthier and more supportive relationship.
4. Addressing the impact of trauma: Relational trauma can affect both partners in different ways. Couples counseling can help both partners understand how the trauma has impacted them individually and how it has affected the relationship. Even issues related to family of origin can creep in and get in the way of healthy connection if they are not dealt with.
5. Foster emotional intimacy: Emotional neglect can result in a lack of closeness and connection in the relationship. Couples counseling can help both partners learn how to foster emotional intimacy by expressing vulnerability, sharing experiences, and building trust. Sometimes the impairment within the relationship can grow into wounds between you that may need to be healed and forgiven as well. Emotional neglect can often result in a breakdown of trust in the relationship. A couples counselor can help you both work through those feelings so you can build a better relationship with a fresh start.
6. Develop healthy coping strategies: Couples counseling can help both partners develop healthy coping strategies for dealing with emotional neglect. This may include developing self-care routines, setting boundaries, and learning to communicate their emotional needs effectively. Sometimes it can be helpful to have an outside perspective to figure out reasonable expectations and requests, as well as find other healthy outlets to meet those needs if our partner is unable.
7. Recognizing toxic patterns: Unfortunately, sometimes emotional neglect happens in a more toxic or intentional way. When this occurs in a relationship, a skilled couples counselor can name unhealthy patterns and bring awareness as well as help partners to stand up for themselves and set boundaries if needed. We all bring some baggage into our relationships, but its important to recognize when a partner’s baggage deserves compassion and grace and when their behavior becomes emotionally abusive and needs to be addressed.
Couples counseling can be a valuable tool in addressing helping you to feel connected and supported in your relationship. It provides a safe space for both partners to express their emotions and work towards creating a more supportive and emotionally fulfilling relationship. If you find yourself feeling lonely or neglected in your relationship, you may want to reach out and see how couples counseling might help you.
April 2023, Jenny Beall, Counselor, Threads of Hope Counseling