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Child Development

6 Signs That a Relationship Lacks Emotional Integrity

2. Hiding mistakes or weaknesses from each other.

Key points

  • People can have a high level of personal integrity, yet still lack emotional integrity.
  • Emotional integrity is not a personality trait, rather, it is something that can be cultivated.
  • There are ways to restore and increase emotional integrity in a relationship.
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Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole; incorruptibility; soundness. What, then, is emotional integrity? It's all of those things, specifically applied to your own inner emotional life. It’s knowing what you feel and why, and being able and willing to face it and share it, even if it’s painful.

When you own your feelings and represent them to another person in a true and honest way, your actions and demeanor on the outside will match your true feelings on the inside. You will be understandable and predictable in your relationship.

If the common use of the word integrity means being honest with others, then emotional integrity involves being honest with the deepest, most personal part of yourself: your own feelings. It means being willing to face uncomfortable truths inside yourself so that you don’t allow them to harm your partner.

Surprisingly, many people of high personal integrity actually struggle in this regard. It’s possible to be a bastion of honesty in general, yet not be fully able to face and own your own feelings. A 2021 study by Landa and English, et al., found that people’s authenticity about their own emotions — how well their appearance and actions reflect what they are truly feeling inside — varies as they go about their everyday lives. This may be because we humans have a natural tendency to avoid painful emotions, difficult conflicts, and hurtful memories. This is especially true if you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family.

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect means growing up in a family that under-responds to the emotions and emotional needs of the children. As a child, your emotions may be ignored, treated as unimportant, or actively discouraged.

In any of these situations, you can not only learn to discount your own feelings, but you also may not learn enough about how to identify, name, or express your feelings—all skills that are needed to be a person of consistent emotional integrity.

An Emotional Integrity Crisis

Violet and Andrew have been married for eight years. They have two young children and another on the way. As their family grows, Andrew feels their apartment is cramped, loud, and constricting. He desperately wants to invest in buying their first house. Each time Andrew brings this idea up to Violet, she says, “Yes, that’s a good idea.” But then when Andrew shows her a listing he wants to see, she acts the opposite way: “I don’t think we can afford this, let’s wait a few more months,” she’ll say. As this happens time and again, Andrew becomes more frustrated and upset.

What Violet does not tell Andrew is something she does not tell herself either. She is not lying to him with her answers, because she is unaware of her true feelings and their origins.

But in giving Andrew these vague, open-ended, affirmative answers, she is not being honest either, because she is not being honest with herself.

The real truth is painful, and she does not want to go there.

Violet’s Emotional Truth

Violet was raised by parents who were determined to live in a high-end neighborhood that was actually beyond their means. They both worked long hours at stressful jobs trying to afford it.

As a child, Violet’s material needs were well met. But she saw how stressed her parents were as they provided for her. She learned early on to never show disappointment when her parents were too stressed or exhausted to be emotionally present, validate her feelings, or emotionally support her.

She learned the lessons of childhood emotional neglect all too well. Today, she is unaware of her deep fear of repeating her parents' mistakes, taking on financial burdens that could take her away from her own kids. Her intentions are good and she is a caring, loving mother. But, in this instance, she is not showing emotional integrity. When she answers Andrew with vague reassurances and puts him off, she is avoiding facing her true feelings about her parents’ emotional absence and how it’s affected her.

At some point, this standoff will have to come to a crisis point. Violet will need to choose between protecting herself from her childhood pain or facing it and presenting her truth to Andrew so that he can be aware of what they are up against together.

6 Signs of a Lack of Emotional Integrity in Your Relationship

You and/or your partner...

  1. Claim you are not angry or hurt when you actually are, often saying nothing is wrong when something clearly is.
  2. Try to hide your mistakes or weaknesses from each other.
  3. Find the other unpredictable.
  4. Avoid sharing things that could be hurtful to the other.
  5. Are often unaware of your feelings in general.
  6. Find yourself hiding your true feelings about something from your partner.

What to Do

Painful feelings are temporary. They only go away when they are faced and dealt with. Avoiding your emotional truth gives it more power over you and your partner.

If you grew up with emotional neglect, learn all you can about how it has affected you. The emotional skills you missed learning back then can be learned now. Becoming more aware of your own feelings and learning how and when to share them will increase the emotional integrity of your relationship.

No one can be perfect at this. As shown by Landa’s research, everyone’s emotional integrity is vulnerable and will often be tested.

As we try, we will falter and fail. So, the true definition of emotional integrity: To try.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

Facebook image: beton studio/Shutterstock


To determine whether you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You'll find the link in my bio.

Landa, I., & English, T. (2021). Variability in state authenticity predicts daily affect and emotion regulation. Emotion. Advance online publication.

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