So, you’re feeling a bit neglected by your partner. This isn’t unusual to experience, especially for parents, because — spoiler alert — kids change a lot about your life, including your relationship. Chances are, you planned for, or at least expected, the change. But there are still times when you need a little more from your significant other. And that can be hard to admit.
To have needs may go against the ingrained idea that you should always be the one who solves problems, not creates them. But expressing your needs is not being needy. In fact it’s part of being in a relationship where you ask for stuff and where the other person gives you what you might be missing, and vice versa.
Still, vulnerability is difficult — especially because your partner is also busy and has needs of their own. And maybe you never had to ask for attention before because attention was always given to you before kids, and you don’t have those muscles. Dropping hints, you think, might be better, but such passive behavior likely isn’t going to work.
The initial challenge, then, is working up the guts to say how you feel, and the first step is to acknowledge that what you’re feeling is not nothing. “You’re lonely for good reason,” says Ellyn Bader, psychologist and co-founder/CEO of The Couples Institute. “You were the center of attention before the kids came along.”
The next step is thinking about what happens when you stay silent. Short answer: Nothing good. You become resentful. You start looking for attention elsewhere or you fold further inward. Neither road leads to places you want to go.
So you have ample motivation, but telling your partner your feelings is still tricky. There are plenty of ways to broach the topic. Some are good, a lot are bad and only serve to make things worse. Here are some options for the former.
1. “What’s been different?”
Before you say anything to your partner, first ask this to yourself. Something is off, but it helps to figure out exactly what. It could be getting slammed at work for either one of you, an upcoming family visit, or that you haven’t had a babysitter since pre-pandemic. When you consider your partner’s perspective, you naturally pause, become more reflective and come into the conversation with both empathy and details. That’s necessary. “When you can name it, you can address something,” Epstein says.
2. “I have something to talk about. Can we find a good time?”
There really never is a great time when you have young kids, but issues often get raised at night, which really is the worst time. You’re both tapped out, and your partner particularly since it’s been another day of constant requests that turn into demands.
By saying the above, you’re requesting time and giving a heads-up to an important conversation so your partner can go in prepared. A natural question could be, “What’s this about?” Don’t answer it, unless you want to have a train wreck exchange right then and there. Instead, say, “It’s nothing bad and it’s nothing you did wrong. I just want to talk about something.” Or, if it fits, say, “You know how you always want me to be more open? That’s what this is about but I want to find the best time for us.”
3. “I noticed that we haven’t been together as much. Have you?”
It’s an observation, not an attack or an implication that your spouse is coming up short in some way. You can pepper in any pattern you discovered with, “It seems like when your family comes, things get focused on that? You think that’s true?,” tagging it with, “Can we try to find time for us?” You’re leading with curiosity, which tamps down any bite, giving more chances that your partner will share and want to find a solution, Epstein says.
4. “I know it might sound like extra pressure. That’s not my intent.”
Whatever you say before or after, you want to get these lines. Any implication that you’re being left out will feel like extra pressure. You’re sounding like another mouth to feed, so show your understanding by adding in, “I know you’re exhausted and depleted.” But also know that requests for attention can go through a filter and be heard like wanting sex and that might not be anywhere on your partner’s wish list. Be sure to stress that it’s about finding time together, and, “Help her get it that you’re caring about the relationship,” Bader says.
5. “Hey I’ve been feeling a bit neglected lately.”
There’s nothing wrong with the direct approach to take out guesswork if that’s your dynamic. The key elements are tone and volume – calm and loving for both – which keep things away from bluntness. It can also help to throw in, “Things have been feeling off here.”
With any of the above, you can mix and match. You just want to remember that you’re never laying everything at your partner’s feet, and whatever words you choose, a good last line is, “I miss you.” That sentiment says that your intent is reconnecting, and when it’s heard, as Epstein says, “It’s easier for them to say, ‘I miss you too.’”
However you choose to approach the situation, do so knowing that your feelings are valid and should be expressed. But also note that the time and place you express them are important, as is the tone you use. Chances are, your partner is stressed and exhausted and, hell, maybe feeling neglected themself. Once you begin the conversation, it’s important to listen to their concerns as well and talk about what can be done, and talk some more. In the talking, you’ll likely start to feel a little better. That’s a great place to start.