What's In This Article
Emotional abandonment in marriage is when one spouse “checks out” emotionally. If you are receiving emotional abandonment, you might feel rejected, undesired, or even ignored.
If you are the one that is emotionally checked out, you may not realize it, but you're suddenly less interested in your partner and may withdraw affection and emotional support.
Emotional abandonment feels like there is a disconnect in the relationship, as if there is no lack of love and effort that's being put into the marriage.
One undergoing emotional neglect in a marriage may experience irrational beliefs such as infidelity or develop behaviors such as depression or anxiety symptoms.
Are You Being Emotionally Neglected?
One of the worst feelings in the world is being with someone you love and adore but feeling utterly alone in the relationship. Emotional abandonment is a gradual loss of something, much like the loss of a loved one.
Unlike the passing of a loved one, emotional desertion is not grieved for; it's not noticeable until you find yourself parenting alone, watching tv alone, or just simply living alone – feeling as if your relationship is strictly a roommate basis situation.
Some signs of emotional neglect are:
- You or your partner stop talking or shut down during a conversation.
- You or your partner feel depressed and lonely.
- There is a lack of affection and emotional support.
- There is hesitation in moving forward in your marriage, such as buying a house or having kids.
- There's a significant decrease in intimacy.
- You're not best friends anymore.
- You're withdrawn from each other.
- There is a lack of trust and signs of apathy towards each other.
- You can't be yourself – One or both of you are walking on eggshells.
Read More: What Are The Hardest Years Of Marriage?
Causes of Emotional Abandonment
While there is no scientific cause or explanation for why people check out of their marriages emotionally, most experts believe the primary cause is a significant change in life. Changes can range from a problematic move to losing a job or promotion to developing a mental disability.
Change often results in a shift in lifestyle because perspective or mind state has altered to suit the change. Sometimes, your spouse (or you) may not even recognize emotional abandonment behaviors.
At first, you may not even notice it's happening until one day you're sitting by yourself feeling completely rejected and alone. Before this happens, communicate your needs and concerns with your partner to avoid unhealthy and unwanted patterns.
Other causes are as follows:
Every marriage undergoes struggles and challenging times, though emotional detachment may stem from an unresolved conflict that results in resentment.
Maybe you had an affair years ago, or your spouse crossed a significant boundary you never addressed. Or you continue to fight about the same thing repeatedly with no solution. All of which can cause resentment and emotional abandonment.
If you or your spouse has done something that has never been addressed and resolved, the conflict can quickly turn into unforgiveness. When there is no room or ability to forgive each other, behaviors of resentment look a lot like emotional neglect, such as confiding in someone else and being unwilling to show emotional support or affection.
Everyone has insecurities that weigh them down. Some people are diagnosed worriers (generalized anxiety disorder) that keep them from engaging in social interactions. Some thoughts your emotionally disconnected spouse might experience are:
- “If I talk about something serious, it might end badly, so I won't say anything.”
- “They want my attention, but I cannot provide it right now. So I'll do something else, so it looks like I am busy.”
- “I'm unsure how to show her/him love how I feel it, so I'll just continue what I am doing and hope things get better.”
- “I am uncomfortable putting myself in a vulnerable situation.”
- “I don't know what he/she wants from me, and I am too afraid to converse for fear of arguing.”
Most of the time, insecurities that result in emotional abandonment stem from the fear that something will go wrong or there won't be a solution that fits both needs. Other times, your spouse may not even realize something is wrong because their emotional threshold differs from yours.
Poor communication or the inability to resolve issues in a marriage is one of the most common reasons for divorce. In correlation to resentment, the lack of validation or an excess amount of blame and complaining leads to emotional abandonment behaviors.
Communication problems develop over time and are caused by the following:
- Lack of interest
- The continuous difference in perspective or beliefs
- Lack of trust or transparency
- Caught lying or withdrawing information
- Disagreement in opinion or decision making
- Lack of validation
- The difference in communication styles (passive aggressive vs. direct)
The goal of a healthy conversation is to listen and address your partner's needs and create solutions together, which takes compromise and sometimes sacrifice.
One cause of emotional abandonment behaviors stems from stress. Stress takes a toll on anyone's ability to focus and give time to another person. While some people lean towards others when stressed, others withdraw and process internally.
You or your partner may be too busy or have conflicting work schedules that make it almost impossible to get some one-on-one time together.
Marriage is about wanting to share your individual life with another person. However, when your life becomes extremely stressful to barely keeping your head above water, it can be difficult to be emotionally available to anyone else.
Change in Feelings
A contributing factor to emotional abandonment behaviors is that your spouse may feel a change in their feelings towards you, such as falling out of love.
While this may hurt to acknowledge, the number one reason one will experience a change in feelings is how you've made them feel in the relationship (e.g., disrespected, unappreciated, or devalued).
Much of the same feelings you may be experiencing, your partner may be experiencing too, which results in a mutual feeling of emotional neglect based on individual perspectives of a partner's behaviors.
Different Levels of Emotional Availability
In correlation to stress and internal insecurities, emotional availability is different for everyone. Some people need affection and support multiple times a day to feel loved and wanted. Whereas others may just need a little dose here and there throughout the week.
If your emotional needs aren't compatible, it can feel like you're being emotionally abandoned.
On the other hand, some people can't relate to someone else's needs because of mental disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder, depression, trauma, and bipolar disorder. All of which show low signs of empathy and compassionate feelings.
Steps to Fix the Problem
Emotional abandonment doesn't feel good and can result in some severe implications internally and externally. Though emotional neglect is treatable, you'll need to identify the root cause and if you are responsible for some neglectful behaviors.
Staying silent or stonewalling each other will not resolve emotionally neglectful behaviors. Resolving the issue takes open, honest, and validating conversation where you're being honest with yourself and your partner.
Emotional abandonment may be a sensitive topic, so some tips for engaging in this conflict are:
- Be prepared for disagreement and arguing; avoid this by being gentle and using “I” statements.
- Take the initiative for what you're responsible for, such as “yes, I am responsible for xxx.”
- Listen to and validate your partner, e.g., “I understand you feel that way.”
- Try to avoid using the word “but.” Using the word but devalues your partner's feelings and redirects the conversation back to you, which will cause an emotional disconnect.
- While listening to your partner, create resolutions to avoid further disappointments, e.g., “I was unaware that I made you feel that way. From now on, I can try to xxx.”
- Break out of the ‘eye-for-an-eye' pattern and be the bigger person by controlling how you react and respond to your partner's feelings and beliefs.
Suggest Couples or Individual Therapy
While communication can be challenging to maneuver and create resolutions on your own, you may need some guidance from a professional to help smooth things over. If you feel your conversation and attempts to improve things have plummeted, carefully suggest you speak to a couples counselor.
If your partner refuses the request, you may want to take the first step and sign yourself up for individual therapy as an attempt to motivate your spouse and show them you are trying.
Create a Plan for Your Future
When you first marry, you usually share the same opinion and have similar goals for your future. A good idea may be to reminisce together about what your goals were and how they have changed now – or why they have changed.
Make time to sit down with yourself and address your personal goals. Once you've identified your own future, sit down with your partner and figure out if you're still on the same page.
Part of planning futures together is figuring out where you are now and where you want to be as a team and as an individual.
Readdress and Speak Each Other's Love Language
There are five love languages:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Physical touch
Have you spoken your partner's love language lately? All love languages require time, energy, and patience to master, but when you find your partners, it's essential to make it a priority. Make some time to share your love language and request that you work together to speak each other's language.
Emotional abandonment doesn't heal overnight, primarily when underlying causes such as resentment and mistrust have led to emotional unavailability. After the above steps, be patient with yourself and your partner.
Remember that it takes acknowledging patterns to change them when you have done something for so long. If your marriage falls off track or you're feeling alone, start again with step one and communicate.
Conclusion: Getting Back On Track
Humans are social creatures with essential needs crucial for overall well-being. As people, we need to feel loved, appreciated, comforted, validated, and supported. If our emotional needs aren't met, it can result in serious consequences.
Make sure you speak up about your concerns before your marriage feels broken due to emotional abandonment behaviors. While not everyone is excellent at communication, understand when your partner has difficulty communicating and acknowledge that you're not perfect.
The best way to resolve conflict is to work as a team to get better together so that you can walk side by side lovingly and happily for the rest of your life.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.