Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.
–J. K. Rowling
I am occasionally asked, “What is neglect in a relationship?” I immediately thought back to the first apartment I ever rented. My neighbors were an older couple who would fight unceasingly, day and night. As I laid quietly in my bed, I would hear them from the floor above me, screaming about all matter of things, e.g., what was the point of the relationship, did either of them matter, and other issues you’d never expect adults to say to the person with whom they had spent 20-plus years.
Whenever I saw the wife in the stairwell (it was a 5-floor walkup in New York), she would somehow cry and rant about how she hated her husband, how he didn’t love her, how she had wasted her life. Back then I was just a young man who really only wanted to date her daughter. So most of my advice revolved around her sending her daughter down to visit with me during the couple’s terrible fights. Of course, it never worked and she would return back to her apartment, only to get into another big argument the next night and repeat the same process of ranting; I never did get a date with the daughter (heavy sigh).
Seriously, although I didn’t like being on the receiving end of an adult woman ranting to me about her husband, it did open my eyes to the type of relationship I never want to be in, never want to even be near. I get it; some conflicts are inevitable in a relationship, and how they are handled could either make or break the relationship. Although there are other major issues that bring conflict into a relationship (e.g., jealousy or verbal abuse), what really gets ignored until it’s too late is neglect. It is a quiet behavioral pattern that sneaks up over the years and suddenly it is there, never to go away.
As humans, we can easily become self-absorbed, forgetting what our significant other wants from life, as we conduct our own personal search for meaning. We can unintentionally not see the signs of depression that someone may be experiencing because we’re trying to decide something important to us, like where to eat tonight. We ignore someone’s dream because we’re too focused on what they might buy us for our birthday. You get it? Reasons like this are likely why the Vulcans have always refused to introduce themselves to us.
But what is really interesting to discover—and actually critical to living a decent life—is that neglecting our spouse, family, or anyone we care about doesn’t just hurt them; it hurts us, too.
When you neglect someone, anyone,
it sends them a destructive message that you either take them for granted,
or that you don’t appreciate them.
This can lead to some really unpleasant fights, misunderstandings, arguments, and create barriers that make the relationship much less enjoyable. And sometimes these barriers become permanent, leading to a continued feeling of resentment towards our selfish partner.
And then factor in children. It’s essential to give your children the kind of attention they need for a healthy personality, so they don’t perpetuate this destructive cycle. It’s why you need to show signs of true affections to someone you’re dating, you know, like buying them a small piece of candy they love for no reason or maybe, just listening to them. Imagine how you enjoy being listened to. And children see you as role models. So you can see how continual fighting is sending them a dangerous message.
What is Neglect in a Relationship?
It is all too easy to fall into neglectful patterns when someone’s career becomes their primary focus. I’ve been in this scenario several times and know people who made the same mistake.
From Steven Jobs to Elon Musk, you find damaged relationships while building some of the biggest businesses in the world.
The average couple starts a relationship and they spend as much of their time together, while going through their daily routines as best they can. They eat together, work out together, watch movies, and visit local places, all together. That is why it can be so exciting to start a relationship; you’re doing the things you like with someone else.
However, once the relationship is established, it’s not uncommon for one of the partners to feel like the relationship is in a safe zone and they shift their focus to other areas, such as their career.
I used to think that it was important to only work on your career once you had a stable relationship. But what I came to understand is that your relationship eventually starts to unravel.
The more time you spend on your career or other hobbies,
the more your partner starts to feel like it’s a competition
between them and your interests or your work.
This competition worsens when either partner tries to deal with frustration, depression, and disappointment and desperately needs to talk to someone. However, if you haven’t developed the habit of giving your partner the quality time they need for emotional support, you damage the relationship and send it into dangerous waters.
How I can fix this problem?
These days, it’s common for couples to both have good paying jobs while raising children and spending lots of quality time with each other. You find that a crucial balance of time is required from both parties to make it possible.
To prevent a relationship from being a one-sided emotional support system, make it a habit to remain conscious of your behavior and learn to reduce time away from work or other interests that don’t benefit you and your partner’s relationship needs. I know careers are important to maintain and build, but it will feel unimaginably empty when you succeed in you work only to discover that you pushed everyone close to you out of your life.
All partners in a relationship have to learn how to dedicate time working on their careers while setting aside time for each other and personal goals. One way that can work is to spend the day working on your career while spending quality time together at night, or whenever it fits your schedules. Whenever you do it doesn’t matter. What is critical is to make this time a priority.
It can be difficult stepping away from your passions and goals because it feels like you’re placing your dreams on hold. You may feel strong resentment towards your partner for “making” you do this. Yet if you fail in this, you will damage your relationship—sometimes beyond repair.
Keep in mind, though, that the discipline you develop here builds a healthy mindset because not only are you working towards fulfilling your dreams, but your communication and relationship, too. A quote that stood out to me was spoken by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who said:
“Communication is the fuel that keeps the fire of your relationship burning;
without it, your relationship goes cold.”
Face it; when both partners have a powerful desire to reach their goals, both partners have to learn how to prioritize their assignments and devote their time and effort to making the relationship work.
Romantic relationships will always be harder to maintain than friendships because they require an equal level of devotion to make flow effectively and thrive. If this devotion isn’t achieved, you stand the chance of one partner always feeling undervalued and unappreciated. And we all know where that leads.
So the next time you encounter a situation of questioning or wondering if you are neglecting your relationship, focus on learning the process of making time for each other, whether you want to or not. And if you really feel like you don’t want to, then I need to address that in another blog. If you don’t make this time for your relationship, the risk is completely your own, and of course you are, without asking your partner, risking losing them as well. People can only take so much.
Remember; neglect is a form of abuse.
So, ask yourself, what are your intentions? What kind of relationship do you really want to have? Once you’ve determined your answers, go out and make it happen!