Emotional Neglect in Relationship: Impact on Relationship


Neglect in relationships conjures up thoughts of physical or financial abandonment that may come to mind. However, it is often disregarded, and yet a very destructive form known as emotional neglect. One partner fails to consistently provide the other with emotional support, attention, affection, and intimacy.

This insidious issue can fester unnoticed for years, slowly disintegrating the bedrock of the relationship – the emotional connection. Many don’t even realize they are emotionally neglecting their partner or being neglected themselves until significant damage has been done. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the signs and effects of emotional neglect and take proactive steps to address it before it destroys the relationship.

48% of people in relationships report feeling emotionally neglected by their partnerGottman Institute Study, 2019
Emotional neglect is the #1 reason cited for divorce petitions in the U.S.American Psychological Association, 2022
In relationships with emotional neglect, partners are 60% more likely to develop depression or anxiety disorders.Journal of Family Psychology, 2021
Couples counseling has up to a 75% success rate in resolving emotional neglect issuesAmerican Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 2020
Only 31% of people report being completely satisfied with the level of emotional intimacy in their relationshipGeneral Social Survey, 2018

Signs of Emotional Neglect

Signs of Emotional Neglect
  • Lack of quality time and emotional presence when you’re together
  • Consistently dismissing, minimizing, or invalidating your partner’s feelings
  • Rarely complimenting your partner or expressing admiration for them
  • Rarely initiating affection like hugs, cuddles, gentle touch, or romantic gestures
  • Consistently prioritizing work, hobbies, friends, or solo activities over your partner’s emotional needs.
  • Poor communication skills – inability to really listen and understand your partner
  • Poor conflict resolution skills – fights go unresolved or turn destructive
  • Emotional distancing – your partner feels like they can’t get close to you or connect

Effects of Emotional Neglect Left unchecked, emotional neglect can have a profoundly negative impact on both partners and the overall health of the relationship. Relationships thrive on emotional attunement, intimacy, and feeling truly understood by your partner. When those elements are missing, the entire relationship dynamic begins to deteriorate:

For the Neglected Partner

  • Crippling feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and isolation – even with their partner physically present
  • Loss of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence issues
  • Depression, anxiety, stress, emotional exhaustion and burnout
  • Lingering resentment that festers into emotional detachment from the relationship over time
  • Lost sense of self and individual identity apart from the relationship
  • Increased vulnerability to seeking emotional validation or connection through emotional affairs or inappropriate friendships

For the Neglectful Partner

  • Stunted emotional intelligence and difficulty being vulnerable
  • Inability to create, sustain, and nurture emotionally intimate relationships long-term
  • Increased selfishness, lack of empathy, and difficulty considering partner’s perspective
  • The potential of projecting the partner’s own unmet childhood needs onto their partner

For the Relationship Itself

For the Relationship Itself
  • The steady loss of intimacy, affection, passion, and excitement in the relationship
  • Increased conflicts, communication breakdowns, and unresolved resentments
  • Draining overall emotional investment, making the relationship feel hollow
  • Feelings of failure, distrust, anger, and betrayal – creating a toxic environment
  • Loss of emotional and physical closeness, often leading to codependency or infidelity
  • Inability to progress relationally or achieve deeper bonding
  • Eventual separation or divorce if issues aren’t addressed

With such devastatingly high stakes, emotional neglect must be taken seriously and confronted directly through decisive action. Here are proven steps any couple can take:

Step 1) Increase Self-Awareness About Emotional Neglect Patterns

Increase Self-Awareness About Emotional Neglect Patterns

The first step is to increase self-awareness about emotional neglect – both for your own behaviors and your partner’s relayed experience. For yourself, reflect on the signs listed earlier. Do you notice yourself consistently dismissing or minimizing your partner’s emotional needs and vulnerability? Are you constantly prioritizing other areas of life above quality time with your partner?

For your partner, observe closely. Does your partner seem emotionally detached or shut down, even when you’re physically together? Do they seem starved for affection, appreciation or quality time with you? Has the passion, intimacy, and connection steadily declined over time?

This self-awareness is crucial because emotional neglect is often blind to the perpetrator. We can inadvertently neglect our partner’s needs while remaining oblivious to the damage it’s causing.

Step 2) Initiate Open, Vulnerable and Blame-Free Communication

Initiate Open, Vulnerable and Blame-Free Communication

Once you’ve identified emotional neglect patterns, it’s time for open, honest, and blame-free communication with your partner. The key is approaching this as a cooperative endeavor, not an attack or blaming session. You are two people committed to understanding each other’s perspectives, experiences, and needs.

Use “I” statements to share how you feel, without judgment. “I’ve felt like we’ve become more emotionally distant over the past year. I miss the connection and intimacy we used to have. What has your experience been?” Then, listen without interruption or defensiveness.

Ask clarifying questions to better understand your partner’s perspective and emotional reality. “When was the last time you truly felt cared for, understood, and prioritized by me?” “What emotional needs do you feel haven’t been met in our relationship?”

The goal is to cultivate an environment of empathy, vulnerability, and emotional safety so the root issues can be openly explored.

Step 3) Relearn and Nurture Emotional Attunement

Relearn and Nurture Emotional Attunement

Emotional attunement is the ability to stay present emotionally attuned to your partner’s inner emotional experience. It’s a skill that often becomes rusty if neglected for too long in a relationship.

To rekindle emotional attunement:

  • Practice active listening without judgment, making your partner feel heard
  • Ask clarifying questions to grasp their subjective experience better
  • Make eye contact and minimize distractions when connecting
  • Offer emotional validation (“I can understand why you’d feel disappointed”)
  • Be present, not preoccupied by phones or other distractions

Emotional attunement is like an exercise for your empathy and intimacy muscles. The more you prioritize it, the more your bond will strengthen.

Step 4) Reinvest in Quality Time and New Experiences Together

Reinvest in Quality Time and New Experiences Together

You cannot have genuine emotional intimacy without quality time and shared experiences together. In the chaos of careers, social lives, and life admin, intentionally reprioritizing quality couple time is crucial.

This could include:

  • Planning a weekly “unplugged” date night to reconnect
  • Finding new activities or hobbies to experience together
  • Making new memories by going on weekend getaways
  • Reminiscing on positive relationship milestones and the depth you used to feel
  • Engaging in physical, non-sexual affection like cuddling, hand-holding, massage

New shared experiences activate the brain’s reward system, bonding you through novelty. Affection and physical touch release oxytocin and other bonding hormones. Quality time prompts you to be emotionally present and invested.

Step 5) Rebuild Emotional Trust and Safety

Rebuild Emotional Trust and Safety

Emotional neglect inevitably damages trust over time as partners begin to question each other’s emotional investment and feel betrayed. To rebuild that critical foundation:

  • Be consistent in words and actions, keeping promises (even small ones)
  • If you make a mistake, own it fully with accountability and repair attempts
  • Express daily appreciation for your partner through words and actions
  • Be radically transparent, allowing your partner full emotional access
  • Prioritize your partner’s needs without resentment or selfishness
  • Create a culture of direct but compassionate truth-telling

Emotional trust is rebuilt over time through repeated experiences of feeling emotionally safe, secure, and prioritized by your partner. It’s the bedrock for deeper bonding.

Step 6) Bring in an Objective Third Party When Needed

For many couples who have allowed emotional neglect to fester over the years, uprooting those ingrained patterns requires guidance from an objective third party. Don’t be afraid to enlist help through:

A counselor can help identify unhealthy emotional neglect cycles, develop new skills for vulnerability and attunement, heal old wounds contributing to emotional unavailability, and foster a spirit of teamwork in the relationship.

Emotional neglect is often unintentional, born out of unhealthy family patterns, previous trauma, coping mechanisms to avoid vulnerability, and losing sight of your partner’s needs due to stress or busyness. But that doesn’t impact your partner and the relationship any less.

Emotional safety, validation, understanding, and connection are basic human needs we all crave. When they go chronically unmet in an intimate relationship, it inflicts deep emotional wounds over time. Feelings of rejection, abandonment, resentment, loss of self-worth, depression, and anxiety become commonplace.


The good news is that emotional neglect doesn’t have to be a permanent state or relationship death sentence. Reviving the emotional intimacy you once had is extremely possible with self-awareness, accountability, commitment to new skills, and a support system.

The alternative, allowing the emotional neglect to persist, becomes a slow life of emotional starvation, loneliness in the relationship, disconnection, resentment, and bitterness. At its worst, it causes irreparable emotional damage that destroys the relationship altogether through divorce or affairs.

Don’t resign yourself to that tragic fate. Take action today to prioritize building emotional attunement, understanding, and consistent connection with your partner. Work together daily to meet each other’s emotional needs through vulnerability and investment. Your relationship will flourish with the emotional richness, intimacy, and fulfillment you deserve.

2 thoughts on “Emotional Neglect in Relationship: Impact on Relationship”

Leave a Comment