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3 Signs You May Be Emotionally Neglecting Your Partner

Meet Daniel and Simone

“I’m a poster boy for Childhood Emotional Neglect,” Daniel said in our first appointment.

A 53-year-old tax attorney, Daniel described an entire life of extreme independence (counter-dependence) and lack of feeling. Daniel said that he and his wife of 28 years had raised two children together and were quite compatible. They enjoyed going to the movies together, and talking about all the fun things they hoped to do when they retired in 12 years.

But Daniel also said that his wife, Simone seemed continually angry with him. Throughout their married years she had asked him for reassurance that he loved her because she said she couldn’t feel love from him. They had never learned how to handle conflict together, so many old frustrations and disappointments had been pushed underground by both of them.

Daniel’s wife had tried to talk with him many times about feeling lonely in their marriage. But between them, they had no answers. They had no idea what to do to solve this.

Three decades into their marriage, Daniel read “Running on Empty,” and saw himself in its pages. Finally, he had a sense of what he (and Simone) had been living with all these years.

But sadly, Simone had already informed Daniel that she had given up. She had stopped trying to talk to him, and stopped trying to feel love from him. Instead, she had built a life for herself outside the marriage, a support system of co-workers and family members who she went to for emotional connection and fulfillment. “We are roommates who occasionally have sex, and I accept that we will never be more than that,” she had told Daniel.

“Help me,” Daniel requested in our meeting. “I have to deal with this, for Simone and for myself. We can’t go through the rest of our lives this way. It’s time.”

If you are identifying with either Daniel or Simone right now, I want to assure you that you can heal yourself, and you can heal your relationship. There is lots of hope for you.

*Guilt Alert: An unfortunate side effect of taking ownership of this problem may be feeling guilty about how it has affected your partner. The guilt will not help you (in fact, it will get in your way). So remember that you did not choose the Emotional Neglect you grew up with, and you can’t fix something you don’t know about. Focus on the future, and rest assured that Emotional Neglect in a relationship can be fixed!

3 Signs You’re Emotionally Neglecting Your Partner

  1. Your partner seems insecure about how much or how well you love her, for no apparent reason.
  2. Sometimes you notice that you feel numb, when your partner seems very warm and connected.
  3. You are often baffled and repelled by your partner’s feelings.

If you are emotionally neglecting your partner, chances are high that you are just as baffled as your partner about what is wrong. Understanding the problem is a giant first step toward solving it.

Here is how it went with Daniel.

Daniel and Simone

Daniel and I met for individual therapy for approximately 20 sessions. He worked hard between meetings, paying attention to his feelings and trying to talk with Simone. Eventually, Daniel and I realized that Simone was so distant from him, and so tired of feeling rejected, that she was afraid to take interest in the work he was doing on his CEN. She did not trust that it would make any difference, and she didn’t want to get her hopes up, only to be likely disappointed.

So Daniel and I worked on strengthening him. He began to take more chances at work, talking with colleagues at times when he normally would have closed himself up in his office. He called his siblings and brought up memories from their childhood, and talked with them about the Emotional Neglect they had all grown up with.

When I felt Daniel was ready, I began encouraging him to try to reach out to Simone again. First he started talking to her more, and making an effort to listen carefully when she talked to him. He told her about things happening at work that he never would have thought to mention before. When he noticed Simone seemed upset, he started asking her what was wrong, and not giving up when she answered reflexively, “Nothing.”

And now the most important change of all: he started telling her when he was upset about something. At first, Simone reacted rather badly to this change. Unaccustomed to hearing much of anything substantive from him (especially anything negative), she balked. But Daniel did not give up. He continued to work on learning how to express himself to Simone and others, and gradually, bit by bit, Simone began to trust that this was real.

By the end of our work together, Daniel was a substantially different person. He was more confident, more open, more connected, and far more available to Simone. As a couple, they were talking about many more in-depth topics than the fun trips they would take when they retired.

If you find yourself in Daniel’s shoes, it’s vital that you not give up. Having empathy for your partner’s reason for anger and distancing will help you tolerate any initial negative reactions you may get. Perhaps your partner has been trying to reach you for months or years, and has grown tired and frustrated. Perhaps he even feels rejected by you.

So patience and persistence are your best friends in this process. Like Daniel, you may be required to endure some rejection yourself. Keep in mind that when you are trying to earn your partner’s emotional confidence and trust after rebuffing her for a long time, your persistence will feel loving to her. Knock, knock, and knock again.

No matter what, do not give up.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is often difficult to see, even in your own life. Yet Emotional Neglect in childhood sets you up to struggle with closeness, connection and emotional communication in your adult relationships. To find out if you grew up with CEN, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free

Photo by Oddernod

3 Signs You May Be Emotionally Neglecting Your Partner

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). 3 Signs You May Be Emotionally Neglecting Your Partner. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Oct 2017
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