This week I am delighted to share with you an excerpt from my new book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. This excerpt is from Chapter 5 of the book.
Chapter 5: How To Repair The Emotional Neglect in Your Relationship
If you were to take a poll of everyone you know by asking them this question: “What’s the most important ingredient for a successful long-term, committed relationship?” my guess is that the overwhelming majority of answers would involve love, companionship or chemistry.
Sure, all of those factors are important. But as I have seen in my many years as a couples therapist, one other factor is seldom acknowledged but even more important than those three.
Yes, skills! Why the exclamation points? Because I’m excited to tell you about skills. I have seen skills stoke love, build companionship and promote and maintain chemistry. I have seen relationships deepened and marriages saved by skills. And now the one very best and most amazing thing about skills. Drum roll, please…
SKILLS CAN BE LEARNED! It’s true. Unlike love, companionship or chemistry, you can learn them. “Why haven’t I learned them already?” may be your CEN way of blaming yourself right now, and I would like to offer you the very real answer. You didn’t grow up in a household that had enough of these skills, so you missed the Emotional Training Course that you were supposed to receive in childhood. It’s important to stop questioning and blaming yourself and turn your attention forward. It is not too late for you. And we are going to learn them.
But before we talk about the specific skills and how to build them, let me remind you of the requirements for a healthy relationship.
- Self-knowledge is how well you know yourself in every area and on every level.
- Emotional awareness involves your willingness and ability to notice your own feelings and those of your partner.
- Emotion skills involve being able to correctly read, understand, and respond to your own feelings and your partner’s feelings.
- Communication skills are your ability to convey your own emotions and emotional needs in a way that your partner can take in, as well as listen to and understand your partner’s messages to you.
Now let’s move forward to the exercises themselves. These skills are mix-and-match because you are probably already better at some of these than others, depending on the particular blind spots you and your partner have. Consider it a buffet of possibilities, and choose the ones that feel the most helpful. Keep in mind, though, that I’ve put them in order so that they build on each other, so generally, it’s best to begin with the earlier ones and move toward the later ones.
3 Exercises To Extinguish Emotional Neglect
Increase Your Self-Knowledge
The single best way to increase your self-knowledge is to learn how to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves keeping your mind present in the moment and being aware of what’s going on in your body. What are you doing right this moment? What are you feeling right now? Why are you doing this at this moment? Why are you feeling this right now?
Mindfulness does not come naturally to most of us, especially when we grew up with Emotional Neglect. Part of CEN is an excessive focus on the external world. What are other people doing right now? What are other people thinking? And why? This external awareness takes up most of your mental energy, and it takes you away from what really matters: you. The best way to learn how to be more mindful is to take a class on meditation. Taking a class together as a couple is a great way to learn and bond together. It can be done online or in-person. Listening to a DVD or mp3 of guided meditation offers the possibility of meditating on a theme that is particularly tailored to your own needs.
The “What My Partner Is Feeling” Exercise
Make a special effort to pay attention to what your partner is feeling throughout the day. This exercise pairs emotional awareness with partner-awareness. In the beginning, do not feel that you have to be right, as no one is ever guaranteed to be right about what someone else is feeling.
Warning: Take care with this exercise, as it can easily be misused, crossing the line to become mind reading. Mind reading is a dangerous and slippery slope that many couples fall into. Paying attention to what your partner is feeling is intended to be a way to make you more attentive to each other’s emotions. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for communication. Keep in mind that you are each responsible for putting your own feelings into words for the other.
Trying to imagine what your partner is feeling will increase your emotional attunement as a couple. The goal is to get better at reading your spouse’s body language and expressions so that you can respond better. And to get better, it helps to check your perceptions with your partner.
Respond to Your Partner’s Feelings
When you’re beginning to see progress in your self-awareness and noticing your partner’s feelings, it may be time to start trying to respond to his feelings in the moment that you’re observing them. This might involve responses like:
You look irritated.
Are you upset about what I just said?
Did that hurt your feelings?
You seem to be relaxed right now.
You didn’t seem to like that. I can see how stressed you are.
I know, that was sad, wasn’t it?
You look like you need a big bear hug right now. Can I give you one?
Pay attention to your partner’s responses. When you get it right you will achieve emotional attunement, which means that you’ll feel a moment of connection with your partner. When you get it wrong, you’ll get helpful feedback and corrected information that will help you hone your emotion skills. Responding more to your partner’s feelings will also get you and your partner more comfortable communicating on a more emotional level. This is an important building block for emotional intimacy.
To learn much, much more about how to abolish Emotional Neglect from your marriage, your parenting and your relationship with your own parents, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and invisible so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.