Emotional abandonment in a relationship occurs when one or both of its members has stopped supporting the other emotionally, or when both stopped supporting each other.

It is different from emotional abuse, which involves active behavior against the other (such as verbal aggression) and physical abuse.

Emotional neglect is characterized rather by omissions.

For example, a parent emotionally neglects the child when he does not show a sufficient level of affection and attention, while providing the physical needs of the child (food, medical care, material goods).

Emotional neglect in the life of a couple

There is a vast scientific literature on the negative repercussions that emotional neglect experienced in childhood produces in adulthood (increasing the risk of depression and other mental disorders), but less has been written about the importance of receiving emotional care and support even in the phases of successive life.

The most important context in this sense is that of the couple’s relationship.

In fact, since the goal of parenting is to create the ideal conditions for sustenance and psychological health for children, in the same way a healthy couple relationship should aspire to create a stable framework of mutual understanding, intimacy and care. .

Emotional support involves a combination of physical, behavioral, and cognitive aspects.

Emotional forms of physical support include exchanges of affection such as hugs, kisses, physical and sexual contact.

Spending time together with your partner, helping in a difficult situation, calling her if you’ve been away for a long time, etc. These are forms of emotional behavioral support.

Instead, cognitive emotional support involves listening, being patient, encouraging, understanding, and having empathy.

The manifestations of emotional support are not the same in all couples because they depend on a combination of personal factors (personality, character, etc.) and context (culture, situation, etc.).

However, there is a threshold below which the attitude of one or the couple implies a clear negligence and emotional abandonment.

Signs of emotional abandonment

For example, the complete or partial lack of physical contact does not reach the minimum threshold of emotional support necessary for the well-being of the couple. The same applies to the continued refusal to spend time with the partner.

However, only when emotional abandonment takes the form of a stable habit or disposition towards the other, can it be appropriately called abandonment. A partner who occasionally refuses to have sex or is cold after a fight cannot be considered an emotionally neglectful partner.

Causes and possible solutions

The underlying causes of such an attitude can be diverse: it may depend on an excessive preoccupation with work or other problems related or not with the partner; it can be due to a narcissistic personality disorder or it can be caused by neuropsychological dysfunctions that impair the ability to express emotions (as on the autism spectrum).

For the purposes of our psychological well-being, it is essential to be able to identify an eventual predisposition of our partner to emotional abandonment, as well as to become aware of an equally eventual negligent attitude.

For this purpose, it is important to reflect on some factors, such as one-way or two-way emotional support within the partner, the duration of the attitude, the reasonableness of mutual expectations, and any specific modes of emotional abandonment (physical, behavioral, or cognitive). ).

Acquiring awareness of dysfunctional behavior is the first step in addressing the problem.

This is not a trivial matter, as a person can spend years in a dysfunctional relationship due to emotional neglect and not fully understand why they feel so unhappy.

In fact, although cases of psychological and physical abuse involve the implementation of offensive behavior, in cases of emotional abandonment there are only omissions.

The emotionally neglectful partner, after all, does nothing wrong. Despite this, emotional neglect can be very painful and seriously compromise the quality of life and the stability and duration of the couple.

Therefore, realizing that we are in such a relationship can be an important first step in resolving deep unhappiness.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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