Right now, today, all across the world, thousands upon thousands of couples are struggling with a problem that they cannot name.
It’s a silent monster that stands between them, quietly and invisibly holding them apart. Believe it or not, the monster is not the fault of either partner. No one chose it and no one wants it. It actually stems from the childhood experiences of one or both of the spouses.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when your parents fail to notice, validate, and respond to your feelings enough as they raise you.
Children who grow up this way, with their feelings too often ignored, learn some powerful lessons that stay with them for their entire adult life. They learn that their feelings are unimportant, useless, irrelevant, or a burden. They learn how to push them all down and away.
While this may help them adapt to the demands of their childhood home, it leaves them devoid of the richest resource they will need for their marriage: full access to their own emotions. It also leaves them with a lack of understanding of how emotions work in general, which is vital information in any long-term, committed relationship.
Truth be told, there’s nothing quite like finding yourself married to someone with CEN. It’s hard to believe your own perception that something is wrong in the relationship. You know that something is missing, but you’re not sure what it is. You may like and love your spouse, but you feel distant from him. You want, more than anything, to feel something that you can’t quite name. You may appear to be happily married, and in many ways, you are. And yet you feel lost at sea.
But rest assured, there is good news! Once you name the silent monster “Childhood Emotional Neglect” and acknowledge that it is at work in your relationship, you are already on the road to healing.
How do you make this happen? Step Number 2 is to talk with your partner about CEN. Our first step is to get you strong, confident, and ready to tackle this.
**Enjoy this free excerpt from the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.**
Before You Talk with Your Partner
Whether or not you have already tried to talk with your partner about problems in the relationship, it can feel especially scary or risky to bring up the CEN topic, not knowing how your partner will react, or whether you will be successful.
If you grew up emotionally neglected yourself, every fiber of your being might be trying to hold you back from taking action. Your gut might be screaming, “Don’t stir up trouble!” or “Don’t hurt her!”
If your spouse grew up with CEN, you’ve probably long been receiving the same message from her, either directly or indirectly.
Emotional Neglect makes everyone feel like it’s wrong to talk about difficult or painful or emotional things. Emotional Neglect makes you afraid to speak your truth out of fear that it might hurt the other person. I have seen many, many CEN people balk at talking with their partners about their frustrations in their relationship, proclaiming “I don’t want to be mean.”
Please know that nothing can be further from the truth. Not only is being honest with your partner your responsibility, it’s also the most loving thing you can do for him. When you bring up CEN to your partner, it’s the opposite of rejection. Instead, it’s an invitation to come closer. It’s vital that you make sure to relentlessly hold onto this fact, and know that you are performing a loving act by speaking your truth in a compassionate way and challenging your spouse.
4 Guidelines for Bringing Up CEN With Your Partner
▪ Know that you are taking a positive, loving step by speaking your truth in a compassionate way. Even if your spouse responds defensively, feels criticized, or gets angry, do not waiver on this basic knowledge, as it will sustain you.
▪ Manage your expectations. It’s important not to expect instant results from one conversation about CEN. Think of your first conversation as planting seeds that we hope will take root and grow into something. You will likely need to have multiple conversations over time. A true understanding of CEN usually takes place at different levels, one level at a time. Patience on your part will be a key ingredient to success.
▪ Be aware of any anger or blame that you might feel at your spouse and make sure it does not enter into the conversation. If you convey even a trace of anger or blame to your partner for her CEN, this will make it much harder for her to accept or absorb your message or give you the response you need.
▪ Learn as much as you can about CEN before bringing it up to your partner. This will allow you to talk about it knowledgeably and answer any questions she might have. If you’ve grown up with some amount of CEN yourself, do as much work on your own CEN as possible before you talk with your partner. Visit EmotionalNeglect.com to learn much more (link below).
▪ Ask your partner to take the Emotional Neglect Test. Most people who have CEN have no idea that they are living with it. I developed a brief test to help identify CEN. You can take it free at EmotionalNeglect.com
Childhood Emotional Neglect now stands between you. It stops you from saying what you need to say and it blocks you from the warmth and connection that you are meant to share. It prevents you from understanding each other. It caused misunderstanding, distance and hurt. Perhaps it has fostered anger and blame between you.
There is nothing like putting a name to what is wrong. Few things are as powerful as pointing to the elephant in the room, calling it out, and addressing it together.
Fortunately, the cause of the problems is also the cure. Because once you realize you have Childhood Emotional Neglect, you can heal it. You can heal yourself and heal your marriage. Then, what may have been painful to name and discuss becomes your solution and your way to warmth, understanding, and closeness.
Related Article | 5 ways healing your emotional neglect makes you a better parent
This article by Jonice Webb PhD was originally published on PsychCentral.com