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Neglecting our relationships is something I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of at some point in our lives. We only have so much time and capacity to manage our relationships, and our careers, keep our houses tidy, work on our hobbies, and our health. Our hierarchy of needs is always in flux.
Strong relationships, however, should be able to withstand these periods where you might have to dedicate your time to other areas. Yet, relationships need time and attention, like kindling to keep a fire going.
According to relationship expert Staci Bartley on her podcast “Love Shack”, if you don’t have time for a relationship, you’re not going to have one. Relationships are like a house. If we don’t maintain it, and keep it tidy, it’ll continue to break down without that maintenance, and this breakdown can manifest as neglect, growing apart from your partner, and eventually separation.
So what steps do we take to start fixing our relationship? And how might we end up starting to neglect our partners in the first place?
Neglect vs Avoidance
What’s important to outline is that while neglect and avoidance have similarities, context matters. Neglect is a failure to attend to our partner’s emotional needs in a relationship. What fuels neglect can be invisible. It can be a passive, slow emotional drift, or a deliberate act of spite.
Avoidance is often seen as a coping mechanism displayed from an avoidant attachment relationship type. People with an avoidant attachment type also referred to as anxious-avoidant, are fiercely independent and don’t have the same capacity to be physically or emotionally intimate as others.
In short, avoidance is a coping mechanism as a result of emotional trauma, whereas neglect is a breakdown of communication and intimacy with a partner. This can be slow, and thankfully repaired in a relationship through open communication and effort to try and meet the needs of your partner, and ask your partner to meet yours.
Why might we start neglecting our relationship?
Neglect can start from anything. If you’re the neglectful party, and you’re not sure why, something to ask yourself is if your neglect is a form of avoidance. What are you attempting to avoid with your partner?
We can sometimes withdraw from our relationships to avoid that argument, or maybe an argument that we had made us see a different side of our partner and we’re processing that. Sometimes we withdraw because we’re about to enter a new phase of life and partnership with them that makes the relationship more serious.
Neglect can also introduce conflict into our relationship, which in turn, can create more avoidance with our partner. Conflict increases in relationships when our emotional safety and emotional needs feel eroded and can only be resolved through communication and actively working on meeting those emotional needs.
This isn’t to say avoidance is a bad coping mechanism. Sometimes we don’t have the answer at the moment and need time to cool off and meditate on issues to find what’s triggering any anxiety, reluctance or negative feelings that might fuel an argument. It becomes problematic when we stay avoidant for too long, which can lead to neglecting our partner’s emotional needs.
What does neglect look like?
According to Psychology Today, you might be emotionally neglectful if you’re not giving the emotional support your partner the emotional support they need. .
While neglect can take shape both physically and emotionally, many relationship experts would say that physical neglect falls under emotional neglect as well, as we need emotional intimacy and connection to be physical with our partners.
Emotional neglect can take shape in different ways. According to marriage associate and family therapist Sarah O’Leary in a conversation with Bride.com, neglect can be seen as:
- Feeling alone in your relationship
- Preferring to spend time alone instead of with your partner
- Your partner shutting down when you talk
- Not engaging in social activities as a couple
- Procrastinating on long-term decisions such as moving in together or having kids
- Lack of physical intimacy
She further said “Emotional neglect is when someone’s attachment and/or emotional needs are disregarded. Unsurprisingly, it pushes couples apart; you can’t feel emotionally safe or secure in a relationship with emotional neglect. It can also really negatively affect your own personal well-being—both mentally and physically.”
How to start rebuilding it
If you’ve noticed that you might be neglecting your partner, it’s important that you start doing something about it today. It’s easy for us to keep kicking the can down the road and to avoid difficult conversations, but the longer we wait, the more we disrespect our partners and ourselves.
This doesn’t mean you need to go all out and plan extravagant dates, a holiday, or spontaneously move in together. Sudden moves like that don’t resolve the pain points that led you to neglect a partner, and you might eventually end up in a similar position later.
It’s okay to start small and try something doable to not extend yourself too much. Check in with one another by blocking time out in a day to communicate and talk about simple things like how your day was, anything exciting you did, or any struggles or negative feelings you might be experiencing. Your partner should be your go-to person for these kinds of conversations, and while they might be hard, sharing and working through them can build a stronger relationship.
What if my partner is pulling away and won’t come back?
When we start to have issues in our relationship, the first instinct is to pull away and ask for space to “figure things out”.
You can’t make your partner come back to you if they’re distancing themselves from you, but it needs to be voiced and made aware to start working on it. Ensuring a safe and comfortable environment for your partner is vital to let them feel okay to be vulnerable with you. You also have to be ready to make some concessions and to make space for them.
Relationships are built on finding compromise and communicating with each other. By considering why we might be acting neglectful, and interrogating those feelings, we should be able to understand this avoidance we’re going through. But if you love your partner, you need to also continue to keep making the effort for them however you can. Communicate, schedule small date days, find hobbies and activities you can share to slowly rebuild that trust and intimacy again.
Where can I find help?
If you realise that you’re being neglectful towards your partner, and you want to fix it, a good place to start is to acknowledge that emotional distance to your partner.
If you notice your partner neglecting your needs, it’s important to have that confrontation as well. Try to find a compromise on how you can both have your emotional needs met while facilitating each individual’s other responsibilities.
Therapy is always a great place to start, whether that’s by going alone to work on being an avoidant attachment type, struggling to communicate your emotional needs or intimacy, or having issues with compromising in relationships.
Couples therapy is also a great venue to host those kinds of conversations and allow both parties to feel valid and comfortable voicing their thoughts.
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