When you’re in a healthy relationship, it should bring out the best in you. While you can never rely on another person to meet all of your needs, it’s reasonable to expect your partner to be present and attentive. They should be there to support you, as well as provide regular affection and encouragement. When that’s not happening, it could leave you feeling emotionally deprived in your relationship.
What is emotional deprivation?
Generally speaking, when you’re emotionally deprived, you feel like your intrinsic need for support, love, and understanding isn’t being met. When this is missing, it can impact not only your relationship by damaging bonds and creating distance between you, but it can also damage your sense of self-worth.
“Emotional deprivation is a state of being in which an individual lacks the emotional support, understanding, and care that they need from others,” Brooklyn-based clinical psychologist David Tzall, Psy.D., tells Bolde. “This can be caused by a variety of factors, including a lack of close relationships, a lack of emotional intimacy in existing relationships, or a lack of positive reinforcement and validation from others. Emotional deprivation can have serious consequences for an individual’s mental and physical health.”
How does it manifest in romantic partnerships?
Being emotionally deprived in a relationship can manifest in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:
- Feeling alone even when you’re together
- Lacking support in times of need
- Believing your partner doesn’t care about you and doesn’t want to be with you anymore
- Feeling unlovable
- Living separate lives that don’t take the other person into consideration
- Experiencing depression and anxiety about the state of your relationship
- Feeling disconnected from your partner and like you no longer know them
- Wondering if you’d be better off on your own than in your relationship
However, it’s important to note that it’s not just the person being deprived who suffers, says Anna Hindell, LCSW-R. “Because the context is relational, there is a dynamic between the couple that has resulted in one or both people withholding feelings and gestures that bring people close together,” she explains. “The result is that both parties feel more alone and distant from one another.”
Signs you’re being emotionally deprived in your relationship
- Your partner doesn’t pay attention when you’re speaking. Whenever you try to talk to them about something, they’re constantly tuned out. They don’t put their phone down or look up from their laptop long enough to actually hear what you’re saying. Even when they do appear to be giving you their full attention, they get a vacant look in their eyes and you can tell their mind is somewhere else.
- They make you feel guilty for needing reassurance or affection. Anyone would feel emotionally deprived in this situation. Being guilt-tripped for needing your partner to be there for you and show you they actually want to be with you is emotionally abusive. If they don’t care about you enough to do these things naturally, why are they even with you?
- They accuse you of being needy or clingy when you voice how you’re feeling. While there are some people who are genuinely needy or too reliant on their partners, that’s not the case when you’re just looking for a basic level of engagement. Instead, this is a way of projecting their own behavior and absolving themself of responsibility.
- They immediately fall asleep or get up/walk away after sex. Sex is an integral part of all romantic relationships, but it’s about what happens before and after that makes it special. After the deed is done, does your partner roll over or leave the bed? Do they refuse to cuddle you or act cold? This is emotional deprivation and it’s not okay.
- You withhold sex because you don’t feel emotionally connected. On the flip side, you may decide not to sleep with them anymore because you no longer feel connected. Sex without emotion isn’t something many people enjoy, so it makes sense that you would pull away in this regard if your needs aren’t being met.
- You find yourself putting distance between you. When your needs aren’t being met long-term, self-defense mechanisms tend to kick in. You don’t want to be any more hurt than you already are, so you may try to put a wall up to protect yourself from further upset. Or, you might do the complete opposite. “Some people react and distance themselves even more from their partner when they feel their partner is withholding, an attempt to defend against getting hurt. Others tend to move toward their partner in an attempt to connect,” Hindell says.
What to do when you realize this is happening
When you become aware that you are being emotionally deprived, it’s important that you don’t simply let it slide or hope that things get better on their own. Without action, they won’t. Your feelings of loneliness and isolation will only get worse and your relationship will likely end. If you don’t want that to happen, you can try these steps.
- Have a frank and honest conversation with your partner. When you realize that you’re feeling emotionally deprived, the most important thing you can do is talk to your partner about it. If they’re invested in the relationship and care about you, they will want to remedy this. “If you are in a committed relationship, approaching the conversation from a stance of curiosity, trust, and desire to be close will be most successful,” Hindell advises. “You want to inquire what your part may be in the dynamic. It is really important to stay curious and not to go into defensive mode here, which will push your partner away.”
- Practice self-care. It’s important to look after your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While you can’t control another person’s behavior, you can try to control your reactions to it. Bolster your sense of self-love and work on forming an iron-clad sense of self-worth so that you feel strong enough to walk away if things don’t change.
- Focus on relationships outside of your romantic one. Sometimes when we get into a relationship, we let our connections with family members and friends fall by the wayside. This can increase feelings of loneliness when you’re feeling emotionally deprived with your romantic partner. Shift your focus back to these platonic relationships. Nurture and spend time with people who know you best and who care about your well-being. This can be a major help.
- Suggest seeing a professional. There are times when the issues in a relationship are too big for you to manage and solve on your own. In that case, attending couples therapy can be a big help, Hindell says. “If your partner isn’t open to talking, suggesting speaking to a couples therapist is a good idea. A professional can help facilitate vulnerable and open dialogue about what is going on in the relationship. If both people are committed and want to work it out, help from a therapist is invaluable!”