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In a marriage or partnership, when one partner physically leaves the other, this may be termed abandonment, but emotional abandonment is slightly different. Partners remain together but one of them withdraws from the other emotionally. One partner is suddenly emotionally unavailable to the other partner, creating confusion and sadness because this person is physically there, but doesn’t show interest or give support to his partner. The partnership falls apart and there is no sense of closeness when emotional abandonment occurs. Such a situation might be remedied with couples counseling, but only if the abandoning partner is interested in restoring closeness and committed to healing the relationship.
Before continuing to discuss emotional abandonment in the marriage or partner relationship, it’s worth noting that there are other forms of emotional abandonment that are even more severe and damaging. For example, parents can be emotionally unavailable to their children on a regular basis, or for the entire length of the child’s life. This creates profound damage to the child, who will usually grow up with very little sense of self or self-esteem. Such abandonment may be partially counteracted if the other parent is involved and interested in the child. Even then, growing up with the knowledge that a mother or father has no interest in the child generally creates significant psychological issues and generates continual emotional pain.
In adult relationships, emotional abandonment can be just as painful. The purpose of forming a partnership is to create an environment where two people are interested in each other, supportive of each other, and generally “there” for each other. When one partner backs out of this environment and seems suddenly uninterested and unsupportive, that person is emotionally abandoning his or her partner. For the person who is being abandoned, this can feel exceptionally painful. When the partnership relationship is dysfunctional and one spouse is no longer important to the other, feelings of sadness, anger, and a general sense of abandon often arise.
The abandoned spouse may feel as though he or she is at fault for the lack of closeness and relationship, and sometimes poor relations between spouses can lead one to abandon the other. In other situations, emotional abandonment has nothing to do with the partner. Psychological issues of one spouse could lead to inability to maintain closeness, or issues like substance abuse can destroy a partnership. Even stress or worry about work or finances can cause a person to withdraw and be unable to be supportive of a partner.
When emotional abandonment occurs, couples should seek counseling. If the abandoning partner refuses to go, the other partner is advised to obtain individual therapy. Evaluating the choices available to the emotionally abandoned partner is still important, and sometimes the partner who is not connecting emotionally changes his or her mind about getting counseling. Not all marriages or partnerships are rescued through therapy, and sometimes the partner who is disconnected refuses to look at ways in which emotional reconnection could occur.
It's also important that both partners recognize the signs of emotional abuse in relationships, and are prepared to set clear boundaries, including leaving the relationship if necessary. While emotional abandonment is awful in and of itself, when coupled with verbal or emotional abuse, the situation worsens dramatically and may become dangerous.
This is especially true if there are children involved, as witnessing emotional, verbal, or physical abuse throughout childhood can lead to serious emotional difficulties later in life.