Feeling neglected or lonely in a relationship can be a painful – and is often a sign that something isn’t right. It can be a matter of perception, rather than a list of behaviours, according to Relate counsellor Rachel Davies.
First off, you may have noticed that you aren’t spending as much time together – and that work, friends, hobbies and other family members seem to take up your partner’s time. Rachel says:
“Maybe you feel invisible, that intimacy has gone, or that your conversations have become about the day-to-day logistics of your lives, rather than anything more meaningful. Perhaps you have forgotten the last time you had fun, surprised each other or made each other laugh.”
Whilst every situation is different, feeling like you aren’t important, or are no longer connected with someone, is hard. Here are five things that can help…
1. Be honest with yourself about your own expectations
The fact that you’ve identified that you’re not feeling great about how things areis an important first step, says Rachel, “But ask yourself if it’s really the relationship that’s making you feel flat or something else.”
It’s all too easy to look to our partners to be everything to us. And if we put all our expectations into our relationship, it’s not at all surprising that we’re not always getting all of these needs met and that some part of us can feel neglected, explains Rachel.
“Our expectations of our relationships are probably much greater than in previous generations: we want a best friend, soul mate, the best lover, someone we can really talk to, compatibility living together, similar world views, someone to cheer us up and to stimulate our brains – a tall order for any of us mere mortals!”
So, make sure you’re getting some of your needs met by other people or parts of your life, such as friends, family, work and other interests. If you do this, you’ll put less pressure on your partner to be everything.
2. Be honest with your partner
The second stage, says Rachel, is to be completely honest with your partner.
“It’s very common for people to expect their partners to read their mind and to just ‘know’ what someone wants or needs at any particular point. Then if what you wanted doesn’t happen, or isn’t done correctly, and the need isn’t fulfilled, you can feel really let down.”
So, start making an effort to clearly communicate your needs to your partnerand do it in a way that they can respond positively back to you, rather than going on the defensive – for instance, say, ‘I love it when we have a date night’, which is likely to be better received than, Why haven’t we had a date night in at least three weeks’!
3. Have a solution-focused mindset
If you’re going to be more honest in communicating, it’s worth being clear about what you do want, advises Rachel.
“Try to have a ‘solution-focused mindset’. So, instead of thinking about how neglected you feel, think about what being appreciated and fulfilled would look like. And ask yourself, what do you want more of from your partner and what do you two need to do differently? Both partners in a couple contribute to the ‘norms’ in any relationship, so it’s worth asking yourself what you can do to change your way of being together, rather than looking at them to do all the changing. This can be really empowering. You can make a difference to your relationship by your own actions.”
4. Think about what your partner is thinking or feeling
Sometimes it really helps to turn the tables and think, ‘does my partner feel neglected?’ or ‘how do I appreciate them?’. It may well be the case that you’ve both taken the eye off the ball, says Rachel. Again, this puts you back in control as you can change what you do.
5. It’s okay to seek additional support
Rachel says it can also be useful to ask yourself how long you’ve been feeling like this.
“What was going on in your relationship when things started to change? Sometimes other stressors can have an impact, especially if they haven’t been resolved – for example, depression or anxiety or bereavement.”
If you think that something like this has impacted on your relationship, one or both of you may find it useful to get some additional support. “No-one should feel trapped in a relationship that is making them unhappy,” says Rachel.
“If your partner is putting you down all the time, being very critical and is deliberately hurtful – you may benefit from seeking support to help you decide if things can be turned around or if you are better parting.”