What To Do When You’re Experiencing Emotional Abandonment in Marriage


    6 Min Read


    Feeling emotionally abandoned in your marriage is extremely painful. It’s also more often experienced by wives rather than husbands.

    Sadly, this fact only compounds the hurt a woman feels since the person she hopes will understand and care doesn’t even ‘get it.’


    Despite the lack of recognition by many men, emotional abandonment in marriage is experienced by both husbands and wives. Each gender typically experiences it differently, however.

    What response do you think you’d get from most guys if you asked them,

    “Do you feel emotionally abandoned in your marriage?”

    My bet would be mostly,

    "I don’t know.”

    Some wouldn’t even understand what they were being asked.

    Now, if you asked those same guys,

    “Do you feel sexually abandoned in your marriage?”

    I believe many would say,


    Or, at least have an opinion and likely have some kind of complaint about their sex life.

    The truth is that men need emotional connections just like women do, but most of us just don’t realize it. Nor do most us recognize that sex is one of the ways we experience that emotional connection.


    Defining Emotional Abandonment

    Emotional abandonment is something we feel. It’s not a ‘thing’ we do, like sex is.

    The tricky part about emotional abandonment is that it’s hard to quantify.

    “We haven’t had sex in 2 months.”

    That’s a measurable thing.

    “I feel emotionally abandoned by you."

    That’s much harder to measure.

    But here are some of the ways people often feel emotionally abandoned in their marriage.


    No emotional care.

    Their partner shows no interest in them or how they’re doing. Their partner doesn’t ask how they’re day went or show interest by sincerely listening, asking a follow-up question, or checking back later. For example, when a person goes to the doctor and their partner never asks how it went. I hear something similar to this regularly in marriage counseling.

    No emotional connection.

    They don’t feel they’re a part of their partner’s life. For example, their partner makes no effort to share his or her thoughts or feelings with them, so there's distance and they feel and disconnected from their partner.

    When this becomes a consistent pattern over time it can move from emotional abandonment in the marriage to emotional neglect.

    Part of being human is the desire for relationships with others, and with relationships comes the formation of emotional connections. The one of the deepest and most significant ways this occurs is by falling in love with someone, but it also happens through family and friendship connections too.

    Here’s a description from a woman who’s not married but is feeling abandoned in her relationship:

    I'm in love with my best friend. Me and him are musicians together in a duo. We have been very close for over 3 years. We didn't take it to the next level until last April. We became intimate while remaining friends and duo partners. About 2 months in he started pulling back and he didn't talk about it. I was left guessing and felt emotionally abandoned. He finally told me that he doesn't know how to be himself around me if we are more than friends. I'm still so in love with him and he just told me 2 weeks ago that he's seeing someone. I don't know how to let go of him. He said he loves me but is not ‘in love’ with me. I know he's being honest but I truly don't know how to unfeel what I've felt for so long. My ended marriage of 20 years back in 2012 didn't hurt as bad as this does. I can't keep crying in agony of how devastated I am. Yes, I don't want to be with someone who doesn't feel the same but, I don't know how to get over him and stay friends. Please help me, my heart is so deeply sad.” -Trisha

    How Common Is Emotional Abandonment in Marriage?

    Emotional abandonment in marriages is extremely common. I see it every day in my couples counseling practice.

    Here’s just one example.

    Yesterday, I met with a couple struggling with the effects from the husband's habit of texting other women. His wife, understandably, feels emotionally abandoned in her marriage.

    Not only has her husband formed emotional connections with other women and prioritized those relationships over the one with her, but this couple has also been drifting apart for years, and part of this is due to a lack of emotional connection between them.

    • She’ll ask him a question and get “I don’t know" for an answer.

    They’ve just become two people who live in a house together and share responsibility for parenting two teenage kids. Their marriage has become more like a business relationship than anything else.


    Sadly, this is extremely common, especially in longer-term marriages. In fact, most couples will end up here without trying, unless they’re intentional about doing things that prevent it.

    For this couple they both admit they’ve been drifting apart for a quite a while and have known it, but have done nothing about it.

    Now that he’s had an emotional affair, they’re finally getting help.

    As I mentioned at the beginning, women are the ones who usually recognize that they feel emotionally abandoned in their marriage. Men often know something’s off, but can’t put their finger on it or don’t say anything about it.

    Unfortunately, ignoring emotional neglect is a huge mistake as we’re much more vulnerable to forming an emotional bond with someone else as this guy did.

    The Causes Of Emotional Abandonment

    Emotional abandonment in a marriage isn’t always intentional. But what’s usually missing in these cases is the effort to try to stay connected emotionally.

    What can contribute to unintended emotional abandonment?

    All of these common things can result in relationship neglect.

    The unfortunate thing is that emotional abandonment is also a form of emotional abuse, whether it’s intentional or not.

    Married 22 years. Feel emotionally abandoned. Sex once last year & once so far this year & has been initiated by me! Conversation is forced, he has a lack of interest in my day, is irritated when I ask about his day at work. He spends a ridiculous amount of time on social media. I've tried talking to him & the conversation always ends up with yelling or a lecture from him. I'm so exhausted with trying. Feel so lonely and hurt. Too many years to give up. I don't know what to do.” -Emotionally Abandoned

    EA’s husband is getting some of his emotional needs met through social media, but neglecting hers completely.


    When we form a romantic or intimate relationship with someone there’s an implied commitment to care about them. This includes caring about them emotionally - not just physically.

    Unfortunately, this can be challenging for men in particular.

    • First, because emotions are uncomfortable and many men don’t know how to deal with them other than to ignore them (another reason emotional abandonment happens).

    • Second, the default response for most men is to do something physical and externally focused (sex, kiss, make sure the bills are paid, buy flowers, etc.), not emotional and internally focused (“You look sad, are you feeling okay?”).

    It’s not just men who emotionally abandon their partner though.

    I was counseling a woman this week whose husband moved out 2 years ago. In addition to his having an affair, and possibly midlife crisis too, she acknowledged that she’s come to realize that she had neglected him emotionally, not just sexually, for many years, which is the usual complaint of men.

    Her reasons? A lot of what I listed above.

    • Parenting 3 adopted special needs kids

    • Working

    • Running their farm


    Sadly, emotional abandonment can also be intentional. Arising from a desire for,

    Regardless of the cause, emotional abandonment in a marriage is toxic and destructive, often leading to even bigger problems.

    What Should You Do When You’re Feeling Emotionally Abandoned

    Here are 4 important steps to take if you think you’re being emotional abandoned or neglected.

    1. Recognize it. It’s a hard and painful thing to acknowledge, but it won’t change if you don’t.

    2. Don’t ignore it. This is the easiest and most common response as you can see from the stories above, but it’s also a big mistake.

    3. Say something about it. You need to tell your partner about your concern. Yes, this may result in denial or conflict, but you must do it any way.

    4. Do something about it. Fixing this isn’t usually easy, but it is doable. So, get some help from an experienced counselor.

    Where do you need to start?


    What To Take Away

    I‘d recommend you take away the following 4 points from this article:

    • It may be surprising, but emotional abandonment in marriage is common.

    • Women and men can experience and describe it differently.

    • There are several causes and many don’t mean bad or negative things about your partner or marriage.

    • Recognize, Ignore, Say, and Do – which one do you need to focus on?

    When you’re feeling emotionally abandoned in a marriage or relationship don’t dismiss it. It may be temporary and for understandable reasons, but it still should be verbalized and addressed.

    Is emotional abandonment happening in your marriage? Please share with other readers what that’s been like for you.


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