The myth of good communication in emotionally neglectful relationships
Loving relationships have great influence on our wellbeing. They affect us even when we are not mindful of their impact. Adult children of emotionally neglectful parents are especially likely not to notice when their emotions, needs and wants are not being met by significant others. As a result of that lack of awareness, they might approach their relationship problems without truly knowing what they are. Because “good communication” has been widely promoted as the factor in well-functioning relationships, it is what most people think of when assessing their own.
While good communication is often present as a variable in healthy relationships, it is not, solely, what makes them work. There are other factors that contribute to their success, such as love, sexual attraction, intimacy (which is not only physical but also emotional), respect for each other’s autonomy, amongst others. In functional relationships, there is a conscious effort and willingness to see, feel and listen to the other. Emotional awareness is not only present at an individual level, but it also guides an individual’s understanding of their partner’s needs.
I hear you, but I still won’t validate your needs
Conscious efforts to improve a relationship via better communication tend not to be productive in emotionally neglectful relationships when the neglect piece is not identified and addressed. One can learn how to express themselves perfectly, how to use feeling words and link them to behaviours and thoughts to help raise the other’s awareness (“When you _____(behaviour), I feel _____ (feeling) and think _____ (thought)”) and still not feel seen, heard or felt. If there is no real intention or effort to connect emotionally and validate the other’s needs – in practice – good communication, by itself, fails to deliver its promised benefits.
If you are going through a tough time in your relationship, consider emotional neglect as a probable factor. Reflect over the type of connection you have with yourself, and how much importance you give to your own feelings, wants and needs. Do the same to your partner’s feelings, wants and needs. Learn how to express yourself, if you feel you do not know how to do so and take time to understand your partner. Above all, notice what happens when communication goes well – if positive changes happen as a result. If the same problems keep arising, over and over, and your needs (or your partner’s) remain unmet, it is time to address emotional neglect with greater care and attention.