March 24, 2023

We all harbor secrets. Some are big and bad; some are small and trivial. Researchers have parsed which truths to tell and which not to.
Verified by Psychology Today
Posted August 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
Few things in life are more emotionally demanding than being in a relationship, yet it doesn’t seem like it should be particularly hard. Perhaps it’s because they’re so common and they almost always start out happy, tricking you into thinking that level of happiness is the standard by which to judge relationships.
But the fact that relationships are commonplace hides the fact that most long-term couples are no strangers to fighting to keep what they have. And research shows us that brain chemicals enhance the beginning phase of all relationships (Gonzaga et al., 2006), but those chemicals cannot be maintained long-term. Eventually, they fade, leaving us vulnerable and needing to fend for ourselves and the relationship.
Then, add yet another challenge to those natural hurdles that all relationships face. Legions of otherwise healthy, worthy people have not yet developed the emotional skills necessary to fight for their relationship or tolerate emotional vulnerability. Most of them come by this deficit honestly simply by being born into an emotionally absent family. In other words, it’s not their fault at all.
It’s not their fault that they were emotionally neglected instead of emotionally enriched during their childhoods. So, it’s not their fault that they didn’t get to witness emotional vulnerability among their family members, see productive arguments in action, or learn how to identify, manage, and express their feelings to another person.
It’s also not their fault that, from growing up in an emotionally neglectful family, they learned some harmful “lessons” about their own feelings and emotional needs that will set them up to believe that much of what makes a relationship healthy and fulfilling is simply wrong.
They grow up believing the wrong things about themselves and their relationships. They grow up unequipped and unprepared for what lies ahead. And many of them have no idea of any of it.
Healthy relationships are challenging relationships, virtually always. If you learned from your family that showing hurt feelings, discussing conflict, or expressing positive feelings is bad, shameful, or signs of weakness, then you are literally set up to do the opposite of what’s required to keep your relationship healthy and rewarding.
In the special case of couples who both grew up in an emotionally neglectful family, the level of double discomfort makes it even more challenging. If they aren’t able to see the forces at play, they can end up in a kind of unconscious contract to not challenge, not share, and not talk. No one says it; they both just know it. Their silence speaks out louder than words.
But all those old, wrong messages of childhood emotional neglect can be turned around, and it starts here: Knowing they are wrong and why you have been following them all these years, understanding it’s not your fault. Actively overriding those impulses to avoid, stop, stay quiet, or hold back. And pushing yourself to face problems, take action, and speak up instead. These efforts will go a long way toward making the elements of a healthy relationship stop feeling wrong and, instead, begin to feel absolutely necessary and right. As they are.
© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.
To determine whether you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You’ll find the link in my Bio.
Don, Brian P., Eller, Jami, Simpson, Jeffry A., Fredrickson, Barbara L., Algoe, Sara B., Rholes, W. Steven, & Mickelson, Kristin D. New parental positivity: The role of positive emotions in promoting relational adjustment during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 123(1), Jul 2022, 84-106.
Gonzaga, Gian C., Turner, Rebecca A., Keltner, Dacher, Campos, Belinda, & Altemus, Margaret. Romantic love and sexual desire in close relationships. Emotion, Vol 6(2), May 2006, 163-179.
Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
Get the help you need from a therapist near you–a FREE service from Psychology Today.
Psychology Today © 2022 Sussex Publishers, LLC
We all harbor secrets. Some are big and bad; some are small and trivial. Researchers have parsed which truths to tell and which not to.


Leave a Reply