Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Are You Feeling Neglected in Your Relationship?

Three things animals can teach you about changing course.

Once you are in the hum of a relationship and things are going smoothly, it can be easy to lose track of spending quality time together. The end result? Someone in the relationship can start feeling neglected. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how to stay connected. This post will cover what you can do to take charge if you're the one feeling neglected.

By Stefan Thiesen CC BY 3.0
Source: By Stefan Thiesen CC BY 3.0

Feeling neglected in a relationship can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it is because there has been a major step forward in the relationship and with it comes a corresponding shift in focus. Perhaps you and your partner bought a new house and your partner is more focused on taking care of the new nest. Or maybe you’ve just had a child and it’s all about raising the kids.

This happens in African penguins too. There is a lot of courtship involved early on. They bow, preen, and call to each other constantly. All of this helps the birds get to know each other and all that braying (talking) means they can also find each other on the busy nesting grounds. Once a pair has decided on each other they build the nest together and get down to the business of raising the chicks. Once chicks are on the scene there can be a little less talking, a little less bowing, and a little less preening.

Like us, these penguins are (mostly) monogamous but they understand something that many human partners seem to forget: there are potential consequences to neglecting a relationship. So what can you do about it?

First, if you’re the one feeling cast aside, speak up! Your partner may not be aware that you're feeling this way. Like us and penguins, wandering albatrosses do a lot of yapping, or sky calling, in the early stages of a relationship. Once they are settled in, however, they still communicate with each other to relay what their needs are. Both males and females share foraging and feeding responsibilities, and, like the penguins, they rely heavily on one another. When one comes back after foraging at sea (working), they do a lot of yammering. Scientists suspect that they are filling each other in on how they are doing so that the other partner can adjust how long he or she will be out to sea (working). Your partner can’t adjust if you don’t communicate.

Cockatiels also mate for life and they are all about each other. They have lots of together time and physical contact. They sit close to each other and they take their beaks and run them through their partner’s feathers. They have plenty of intimacy outside of the breeding season, and if they are incompatible on this, they may split up. If you’re a cockatiel and your partner is more like an eagle that spends six months of the year alone, your relationship may not survive.

By Bernard DUPONT CC BY-SA 2.0
Source: By Bernard DUPONT CC BY-SA 2.0

Hopefully, you did your due diligence, and you and your partner are not mismatched on expectations and the lack of together time is temporary. If so, you can fill some of that space by socializing or developing a hobby. Black vultures are monogamous but they also live rich social lives by spending time with their families in a communal social network. Spending some time on your own or with common friends, even without your partner, can help put less pressure on the relationship.

Lastly, offer possible solutions to your partner rather than simply squawking your displeasure. Perhaps it's taking dancing lessons, cooking lessons, or other activities that foster cooperation and bonding. Maybe it's as simple as 15-20 minutes at the beginning or end of the day to talk (giving or receiving a massage doesn’t hurt either!). If you have extra time, you could suggest offloading a chore they typically do during a particularly busy time, thereby freeing up some time for the two of you to spend together.

If kids are gobbling up all your focus, trade with friends or hire a babysitter and take some time for the two of you. Many other species find ways to get us-time even when they’ve got children. Warthogs help each other by babysitting piglets, langurs do it by getting a “teenage” female to babysit, red-cockaded woodpeckers have an older sibling chip in… you get the picture.

The thing to remember is that the only time other animals stop putting effort into their relationship is when it’s ending. If you have done all you can and your partner is not changing their ways or adjusting, then it may be time to face a difficult choice. A relationship is comprised of two people, and if one individual isn’t doing their part, then it is not going to stand the test of time.

Facebook image: YuriyZhuravov/Shutterstock

More from Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today