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Is Childhood Emotional Neglect Weighing on Your Relationship?

Millions of couples are walking the earth, held apart by a force that they cannot see.

“We never fight,” they proclaim proudly to friends. Or they fight to no avail, and end up sweeping their conflicts under the rug.

“I feel lonely,” each partner sometimes secretly realizes.

Something is missing, but they have no words to express it.

A relationship that’s weighed down by Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) has its own particular characteristics. Many afflicted couples are essentially in solid relationships, with mutual compatibility, love, and commitment. Yet something is just not right.

CEN couples might look around and question: What does that couple have that we don’t have? Others may seem happier or more connected in some intense and vital way.

If you (or your partner) grew up in a home that was blind to your feelings, you were deeply and profoundly affected by that experience. Your CEN is carried forward, into your adult life, and into your relationship.

How CEN Weighs On Your Relationship

  • Your child mind set up walls for protection, and you have brought those walls forward into your adult relationship. As a child, when you received the silent messages of CEN, you did what you could to adapt. Your child mind walled off your feelings, so that they would not burden or trouble your parents. But your emotions are needed now! They are the glue that will bind you to your partner, and the passion that will drive you together. Without full access to your emotions (your true self), your relationship will be deprived of the vitality and color that you and your partner both need.
  • You had no opportunity to learn some vital skills that are now essential in your relationship. When your parents under-responded to your emotions, they were failing you in one other very important way. If they did not notice enough when you were hurting, angry or afraid, then they did not teach you enough of the skills to manage and work with your emotions. These are important skills that you now need to talk about difficult and painful issues with your partner, and to feel confident and comfortable enough to do so.
  • Your feelings may be dampened by CEN, and you need them now more than ever, at their full strength. That CEN message that your feelings are useless, or worse yet, a problem, speaks to you now every day. The emotions that should be stimulating, guiding, and driving you have been tamped down. You may know that you love your partner, but wonder why you don’t feel it as much as you should. Your partner may say that she wishes she could feel closer to you, and you may find that puzzling or scary. Somehow, somewhere, you are both searching for what’s missing.

The Good News

The effects of CEN are powerful, yes. But they are also reversible. Imagine colorizing the video of your life, and also adding color to your partner’s life in the process. You are now in a position to take one giant step toward changing your relationship forever.

  • If you grew up with CEN: Ask your partner to read this article. Tell him that you’ve realized what went wrong, and why. Explain to him that you are going to do the work that’s needed, and ask him to help and support you in the process of healing. Then start learning how CEN has affected you, and the steps to heal.
  • If you think your partner has CEN: Ask your partner to read this article. Tell her that you love her. Explain that you believe you have found some answers, and ask her to learn everything she can about CEN. Let her know you believe in her, and tell her you want to talk about this more.
  • If you both grew up with CEN: Read this article together, then have a conversation about CEN. Talk about the effects you see in yourselves, and in each other. Always discuss CEN with compassion and understanding that neither of you chose to grow up this way. Make a decision to learn all you can about CEN, and to work through it together.
  • If you identify with much of this article, but you’re not sure if either of you has CEN: You are not alone. CEN can be invisible, and it’s effects are difficult to verbalize, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire to find out. It’s free.
Is Childhood Emotional Neglect Weighing on Your Relationship?

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2017). Is Childhood Emotional Neglect Weighing on Your Relationship?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Sep 2017
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