Emotional neglect in childhood is often invisible and the vast majority of people who suffer from it are completely unaware of it. This means that countless relationships bear the burden of this invisible force. How do you know if childhood emotional neglect is affecting your relationship?
Emotionally connected couples discuss their feelings and emotional needs relatively easily. But emotionally neglected people don’t. When you suffer from emotional neglect in childhood, stick to ‘safe’ topics.
If you or your partner have already dealt with emotional neglect in childhood, then you already know that your relationship has been affected by it. When one of the partners is out of touch with his or her emotions (meaning he or she lacks emotional awareness and skills), there is no way the relationship will not be
Even if you know that childhood emotional neglect affects your relationship, it’s important to know its specific effects. And if you suspect that your partner is suffering from it, it can be useful to know some signs to watch out for. These are the signs I often notice when a couple comes to therapy for the first time. But they usually manifest themselves in different ways over time anyway, or they manifest at one point or another. As you read through the signs, consider whether they apply to you, your partner, or both of you.
One of the signs you can recognize is conflict avoidance. This means that you are not willing to clash or argue. This is the most classic, but also the most damaging feature. Arguing is very healthy in a relationship.
Conflict avoidance can seriously undermine a relationship. Not only are you and your partner incapable of solving problems if you avoid them, but on top of that, the anger, frustration, and pain of unresolved issues linger beneath the surface, fester and grow, creating the warmth and love that undermine what the two of you should be enjoying together. Conflict avoidance can be recognized by several points:
• You try not to talk about painful issues or things that make you angry.
• You feel so uncomfortable during a collision or altercation that you brush problems under the rug instead of talking about them.
• Naming negative feelings feels like unnecessarily pulling the lid off Pandora’s box.
• You or your partner keep the other person silent when you are unhappy or angry.
Feeling lonely or empty in your relationship
A second sign that you can recognize in your relationship is that you feel lonely or empty. Having a long-term, committed relationship should prevent loneliness. And indeed: when a relationship is good, there is comfort in knowing that someone else is always behind you.
But it is very possible that you feel intensely lonely, even in company. And when emotional intimacy in your relationship is not fully developed, it can lead to emptiness and loneliness that is much more painful than if you were actually alone. There are two points where you can recognize this sign:
• Even when you are with your partner, you sometimes feel very much alone.
• You don’t feel that you and your partner are a team, or that you work together as a team.
Conversations are mainly about superficial topics
Emotionally connected couples discuss their feelings and emotional needs relatively easily. But emotionally neglected people don’t. When you suffer from emotional neglect in childhood, stick to ‘safe’ topics. Current events, or the question of who will pick up or drop off the children, for example. You can make plans together. Talk about the kids. Talk about what’s happening, but not about what you’re feeling.
You rarely discuss anything that involves depth of emotion. And if you do, it may feel uncomfortable or difficult, and you have little to say. A willingness to open up, explore issues, and exchange feelings are essential to the health of a relationship. These are the signs you can recognize:
• Talking about a subject that involves emotions is a huge struggle for either or both of you. When you can’t get around it and talk about something emotional, that’s a big challenge.
• It’s hard to find something to talk about. In general, conversations can feel stiff or uncomfortable, especially when it “should” be quite different.
• One of you (or both of you) has a limited emotional vocabulary.
There is no emotional intimacy
Few couples know the term “emotional intimacy,” what it means and how to cultivate it. Yet emotional intimacy is the glue that holds a relationship together and the spice mixture that keeps it exciting. It is essential but also difficult to know if you have it or not. It is also the biggest challenge in a relationship for all people who grew up with emotional neglect. Because how do you know if your relationship does not have enough of this important ingredient? The signs below may indicate childhood emotional neglect in a relationship:
- You find it uncomfortable to show emotion in each other’s company. When you are sad, angry, tense or upset, or feel touched, lost, vulnerable, or overwhelmed, you try to hide it from your partner.
- You are often surprised by how poorly your partner seems to understand or know you.
• One of you (or both) often misunderstands what he is feeling or misinterprets.
• One partner claims that he or she is perfectly happy, even if the other express deep dissatisfaction with the relationship.
• It feels like something important is missing, even though you like and love your partner. Not letting you know how you feel in any of the ways described above leads to an absence of exactly what makes a relationship rich and meaningful.
• You live very separate lives, although you love and like each other.
Lack of passion
If you’ve been together for a long time, I know what you’re thinking: what couple that’s been together for ages still has a passion for each other? My answer? A lot of couples! Passion naturally changes over the years. But in an emotionally connected relationship, it doesn’t go away. It softens and becomes more complex over time. Passion changes from the desperate urge to be together and have sex all the time at the beginning of the relationship, to a sense of calm knowing your partner is nearby.
You like to be physically close to each other and have a deep understanding of each other’s sexual needs and have a motivation to please each other sexually. You also feel passion most intensely during and after conflict. Conflict arouses intense feelings, a form of passion. And when you work your way through it together, it fosters a sense of trust and belonging, which is also passion.
Here are some signs that can help you discover if the passion is lacking in your relationship:
• You argue very little in your relationship.
• There is a lack of physical affection, casually or in everyday life.
• Insufficient sex and/or insufficient sex drive.
• A lack of the need or desire to see each other.