When Two Emotionally Neglected People Marry: Part 1

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN does not go away just because you grow up.

Being raised in a family that does not address your feelings (or, in other words, an emotionally neglectful family), launches you into your adult life without two things that you absolutely need for a healthy, happy, resilient marriage. The two missing things are full access to your feelings, plus the emotional skills to manage and express them.

It’s difficult enough when one member of a couple has CEN and the other does not. But when two CEN people marry, special challenges abound. Neither spouse has full access to their emotions and neither has the necessary emotion skills.

Meet Olive and Oscar. I told their story in my second bestselling book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children. Today, I am sharing a free vignette from the book that describes exactly how it feels to be in a double-CEN marriage.

Olive & Oscar

Olive and Oscar sit across the table from each other, quietly having their Sunday morning breakfast.

“Is there any more coffee?” Olive asks absentmindedly while reading the day’s news on her laptop. Irritated, Oscar stands up abruptly and walks over to the coffee-maker to check.

“Why does she always ask me? She’s so manipulative. She just doesn’t want to have to walk over to the coffee-maker herself,” he cranks inwardly. Returning to the table with the pot, Oscar fills Olive’s cup. Placing the empty carafe on the table with a slight bit of excessive force, Oscar sits back in his chair with a sigh and an angry glance at Olive’s still-bowed head.

Olive, sensing something amiss from the placement of the carafe and the sigh, quickly looks up. Seeing Oscar already absorbed in his newspaper, she looks back down at her laptop but has difficulty focusing on her reading.

“I wonder what’s going on with Oscar,” she muses. “He seems so irritable lately. I wonder if his work stress is coming back. It must be his job pressure getting to him again.”

After thinking it through, Olive makes a plan to avoid Oscar for the day in hopes that giving him some alone time will help his mood improve (with the added bonus that she won’t have to be around him). Olive makes a plan to ask him about work at dinnertime to see if he is indeed under stress.

Later that evening Olive returns from her errands and finds that Oscar has made dinner for both of them. Sitting down to eat, Oscar seems to be in a better mood.

After a brief exchange about Olive’s errands, she asks, “So how are things at work?”

Looking at Olive quizzically, Oscar answers, “Fine, why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Olive replied, relieved to hear him say it was fine. Do you want to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones while we eat?”

The TV goes on and they eat dinner in silence, each absorbed in the show.

What’s Really Going On in Olive and Oscar’s Marriage

The double CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) couple seems much like every other couple in many ways. And yet they are very, very different. This type of relationship is riddled with incorrect assumptions and false readings. And unfortunately, neither partner has the communication skills to check with the other to actually find out what he is thinking or feeling, or why she does what she does.

Since neither partner knows how to talk about the frustrations and conflicts that naturally arise (as they do in every relationship), very little gets addressed and worked out. This is a set-up for passive-aggressive retaliation that, over time, eats away at the warmth and caring in the marriage, outside of both partners’ awareness.

Small, indirect actions like carafe-slamming, avoidance, ignoring, and forgetting can become the primary means of coping and communicating in the relationship. None of them are effective.

The Danger of Emotional Distance: Misunderstanding

In the scenario above Oscar misinterprets Olive’s thoughtless absorption in her reading as “manipulative,” and Olive misinterprets Oscar’s irritation with her as the possible result of job stress. Instead of dealing with these issues directly at the moment, Olive chooses avoidance for the day. Her question to Oscar that evening at dinner is too simple and off-target to yield any useful information. She is left with a false sense of reassurance that Oscar’s mood magically improved and that nothing was really wrong in the first place.

So forward they go, into the coming weeks, months, and years, with Oscar viewing Olive as lazy and manipulative, and Olive on constant guard against a return of Oscar’s job stress. Drastically out of tune with one another, they live in separate worlds, growing ever distant from each other.

How The CEN Marriage Feels

Olive and Oscar sometimes feel more alone when they are together than they do when they are apart. They are divided by a chasm as wide as the ocean. They each sense that something important is wrong, but sadly, neither can consciously describe nor name it.

Fortunately for Olive and Oscar, they actually have loads of potential. They each have plenty of feelings; they are simply not aware of those feelings or able to use them in a healthy, relationship-enriching way. At the heart of their marriage are companionship, history, concern, and love. All that is really missing from their marriage is emotional awareness and skills, both of which can be learned.

There is a good chance that one day, one of them will “wake up” emotionally, and knock on the other’s wall.

Watch for Olive & Oscar Part 2 in a future article, and you will see that is exactly what happened.

What This Means For You

Emotionally neglected kids grow up to emotionally neglect themselves. Then, when they get married, it is natural (not the same thing as healthy) that they will emotionally neglect their spouses.

In so many vitally important ways, the Emotional Neglect that happens in a marriage is no one’s choice and no one’s fault. It is literally programmed into the emotionally neglected child.

Every day, in my office, I help couples understand what’s missing and why. Together, we relieve them from the blame and shame and set them on the path forward.

In a future post, Part 2, I will share the continuation of Olive and Oscar’s story from the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. You will see where the path of CEN recovery took them, which was right to my office for couple’s therapy. You will learn about my work with them, and how their efforts to heal their marriage sent ripple effects through their children and their parents.

To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, what makes it so unmemorable, and how to heal yourself, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

A version of this post was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Jonice

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Camille - August 20, 2021 Reply

Hi, thank you for an interesting article ! I would like to know what happens to the child of that kind of couple? If the child is sensitive ? Thanks

Linda - June 11, 2021 Reply

Your second book looks like it would be very relevant for my husband and myself. I have not read your first book. Would reading the second book first make sense, or would it be hard to understand without reading the first book? Thanks!

    Jonice - June 13, 2021 Reply

    Dear Linda, great question. If you already understand CEN, it’s cause and definition and effects, you can read Running On Empty No More first. But if you’d like to understand it better, read Running On Empty first.

Trisha - June 11, 2021 Reply

Jonice, I always enjoy you emails and your words of wisdom. Thank you! Your timing is impeccable!

    Jonice - June 13, 2021 Reply

    I’m so glad, Trisha! Thanks for sharing that.

Eliza - June 7, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice,
My husband and I have been reading your articles, e-mails, and hope to get your books soon. I was wondering what, if any, role CEN plays in marital affairs. Have you explored this topic? Has this topic been explored by others? Thank you for your response!

    Jonice - June 8, 2021 Reply

    Dear Eliza, I do see CEN as a factor in many affairs. I have written about this (check my second book, Running On Empty No More) and also talk about it in my Healing Emotional Neglect With Your Partner online program.

Kathryn - June 7, 2021 Reply

Thank you Jonice for the very important work you do. I am seeing this play out in so many relationships that surround me. My husband of 40 years has left me for someone else and I am convinced had we understood both of our emotionally neglected backgrounds this would have been avoided. It breaks my heart to see the ill effects. I for one hope to put a change into play by learning from your work as I delve into your book Running on empty. I plan on sharing this information with anyone who needs it. Once you identify yourself as CEN your eyes open and a weight lifts off you as you learn new ways to see yourself and realize how insidious this has been for so long, generations! Thank you again, Blessings, Kathryn

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Kathryn, I am so sorry your marriage broke up. And I’m proud of you for getting yourself on the healing track. Wishing you all the best!

    Eliza - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Wow, Katherine! I just posted a question about whether there is a connection between CEN and affairs. My husband of 33 years (product of CEN) had an affair because he was “seeking love and validation”. I can’t help but think there is a correlation.
    I’m sorry you are going through this. It hurts so much, doesn’t it? {{{hugs}}}

Beth - June 7, 2021 Reply

My husband and I both suffer from CEN, and I have been in counseling for years to get in touch with my emotions as well as to heal from childhood abuse. I have found, though, that as I get more in touch with my feelings, my husband has become emotionally more volatile and accuses me of being inflexible.
Now that I am no longer constantly giving in to him whims out of fear of his anger, he cannot control what happens in the relationship the way he used to do. We have been in EFT counseling for a couple of years, but it has not helped because he has such a hard time identifying his own feelings, and he is really not interested in doing it. He needs to spend time on his own in therapy; our sessions are monopolized by the therapist trying to help him stop rationalizing everything and start feeling instead.
There have been so many misunderstandings over the years, and we cannot possibly address them while we are currently dealing with new problems. His mother is extremely narcissistic, and his inability to set any boundaries with her has brought us to the breaking point. After 25 years of marriage, we are now separating.
Is there anything that can be done when one partner is unwilling to spend the time to get in touch with his emotions? It’s like there is this hole in him that he wants me to fill, and I cannot do it without compromising my own feelings and needs.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Beth, aside from inviting your husband to read about CEN, I recommend that you focus on strengthening and validating yourself so that you can make decisions that are best for yourself. Please take care. You deserve happiness.

Tracy - June 6, 2021 Reply

Dear Jonice

Thank you for your incredible writings and teachings. I am marrying the love of my life next week. We met 9 years ago and after reading your book running on Empty several years ago, we finally had so many answers. Our relationship was so tumultuous with multiple breakups and once we understood the effects of CEN, it all made sense. We both had been impacted by severe emotional trauma, and neglect and we continued to trigger each other’s deepest abandonment, betrayal and rejection wounds.
We both had many symptoms of BPD from the trauma which made it so hard to fill connected. After years of healing and doing the hard work, we finally were both able to settle down emotionally and our lives are full of peace and happiness and true deep love.
It has been the hardest and most painful journey for both of us and we knew we loved each other so couldn’t understand why there was so much pain and separation until reading your book. I just want to tell you how much we appreciate you for putting that information out there and know so many people suffer from “the silent killer”.
To anyone reading this still suffering, don’t give up. There is hope and you can heal from this and have an amazing and beautiful relationship. We are a living testament. If your partner is pushing your buttons, don’t get rid of the button pusher, you need to get rid of the buttons by doing the work and facing your childhood wounds. History will repeat itself. 🙂
Thanks again Jonice!
Much love and light to those on this journey!

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Tracy, I really like your sentence, “If your partner is pushing your buttons, don’t get rid of the button pusher, you need to get rid of the buttons by doing the work and facing your childhood wounds. History will repeat itself.” I’m so glad you were able to do this work as a couple! thanks so much for sharing.

Gary - June 6, 2021 Reply

This was my marriage to the mother of my children. Marianne Williamson used to come to our church every now and then, and she had a phrase that summarizes it pretty well.
“Two emotional invalids joined at the hip. “
The truth hurts. And we’ve been divorced for 20 years.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Gary, I don’t much like that phrase as it is demeaning. There is hope for every emotionally harmed or neglected person. I hope you have moved forward from your divorce and continued to grow emotionally.

Cheryl - June 6, 2021 Reply

For the first time, I may find the courage to read your second book. Running on Empty changed my life. I’ve avoided the second book because I fear my husband and family won’t be receptive and I’ll be left out in the cold again. Oscar and Olive though may have much to teach me just for me and maybe that is enough.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    The healing of a family begins with one member. It’s so important that you do this, Cheryl.

Mars - June 6, 2021 Reply

Dr. Webb: Thank you for connecting the dots with your clients to uncover and expose the destruction of a rich human life by CEN. My wish is that you and others try to reach young people in a way that will assist them to identify that they’ve been failed by their core “care”givers as to give them a chance to correct course while in their twenties.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    I am working on it, Mars! Thanks for your comment.

Jayne - June 6, 2021 Reply

Both my husband and I are from different cultures. We both are the middle child of five. All of our brothers and sisters were messed up. Drugs, Alcohol, and physical abuse were part of both of our lives. Our children moved out and don’t speak to us. Now we are home together we don’t speak to each other because it’s such hard work like treading on ice. We tried counselling once but when asked why he was there my husband said he came because I asked and that he didn’t have a problem it was me! the therapist said well if she’s got a problem then you have too, he didn’t like that and wouldn’t go back. So we are friendless and childless, parentless and without our weird brothers and sisters (thank God!)
After thirty two years of marriage we still argue every day. It’s more noticeable now the children are gone that it is us because my husband would never include himself in parenting unless he disagreed with my consequences which created very angry and confused children. Of course he was always the good guy.
Now we’re on an even level because we are by ourselves. But the days are very very miserable. Thanks for your expert. opinion and I look forward to reading your books.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jayne, you and your husband deserve better than this. And if you start to change, your children may warm up to you as well. Please do not give up on yourself or your family. There are many answers for you to help you heal and move forward.

Maria - June 6, 2021 Reply

I just felt a lifesaver thrown to me. Im so sad and in despair. I feel isolated. In my case i feel like my husband act like olive and that l feel like oscar eaxctly. Ive also thought that maybe asperger had something to do with it because it runs in his family… but then i heard her mother was absent emotionally for years due to one of her sibblings health and had a very dominant father. My father was very covertly dominant and sad to say , very absent emotionaly too.. I learnt to late in life the concepts of codependancy, borderline personality and how enabler my mother was to all his controlling tactics. I always thought my problems where with her, (although she is very manipulative)but truth is she was just acting him out. And then today im in this void thinking i married my father, and hating me for not beinhg able to break the cycle. My chidren worry me a lot. Is is just like some people described above. The one thing i do different is i never lie to them. But then that has aroused anger in my husband who blames me for all the disfunctioning . The cycle ot retaliation begins and never ends… and my daughter just like i did, thinks his father is perfection. I feel trapped. I cant breake this cycle. I wasnt even able to identify this as void . At least now i know this is it, but cant escape it. Ive been to so much therapy, but still. And then this really resonates. I know i still need help.

    Jonice - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Dear Maria, now that you know what’s wrong, you can change this! I recommend you read Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships, then see if you can get your husband to read it. If your husband will not do the healing work with you, you can at least start to work on yourself. It will have a healing effect on your children when they see you changing!

Formerly Unloved, Now Loved - August 4, 2020 Reply

The Olive and Oscar story perfectly describes the history of both me and my husband as products of CEN. Our relationship became so dead and unfulfilling over 40 years. I could never understand why and always misinterpreted our relationship. When I had cancer (without his emotional support) and then afterward my teenager had intense emotional problems, I began to realize I could not live like that anymore and tried for a year to approach him. But then he died and I was left hanging with all these feelings repressed, undiscovered and unsaid. Since then, I have been a recovering dysfunctional for almost 3 years and through extensive self reflection and study of personality disorders gradually came to understand my feelings and true inner self. Watching your videos and reading your emails has really clarified things even more. My mother and sister are also products of CEN and don’t know it. We NEVER talk about how we feel emotionally. My poor kids grew up with it too (we passed it on unknowingly). But now I am a new person. And your information helps me to continue to refine my understanding and to help me improve my relationship with my grown up children and help them address their emotional issues, and become more aware. Thank you so much for your insight!

    Jonice - August 4, 2020 Reply

    Dear Loved, this time in your life is a true gift. You are getting the chance to discover yourself and express the real you, and that will have a wonderful effect on your children. None of this is your fault! And you are doing great things. Keep it up!

      Formerly Unloved, now Loved - August 5, 2020 Reply

      Thank you so much !!!! I want to share your information with so many others!!! May God bless you in all you do!

Mirela - July 29, 2020 Reply

My parents are exactly like the two in the vignette. I am 43 and when I go visiting them, I leave with the feeling of void. I feel cheated as they insist on me visiting them, but when we are together, there is no way we can have a meaningful conversation. It`s so frustrating, as if they are not available, as if they are ghosts.

    Jonice - July 29, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mirela, this sounds like Emotional Neglect, and it is indeed very hurtful for all involved. I encourage you to learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect to see if this is what you grew up with and how it may be affecting you now. Visit my website emotionalneglect.com to learn all that and more.

    Christine - June 6, 2021 Reply

    Wow.. that sounds exactly like me. I feel the same way every time. Even when I’m not there.
    How do you deal with this? Do you limit contact?

Ina - July 28, 2020 Reply

Oh my gosh, just like Deborah mentioned in the comments, the vignette format, with your interpretations of what’s really going on in this relationship, was perfect! I actually read it to my husband and he listened (and heard) it because of the way it was written. We were both totally able to see ourselves in the scenario and my husband wanted to know when the next part was coming out!

This morning my husband asked me what time I’d be home from work and I told him 6:30 pm. He said something like, you’ve been getting home later lately. I told him that I thought he liked it when I got home later as it gave him time alone and he said that I was making assumptions like Olive…that he likes it when I come home and we can spend time together. What?!!

Thank you SO MUCH for this article. It has already brought about a change for my husband and I. We were able to laugh together about how we are Olive and Oscar and how we are so like them. Seeing it happening in another couple make it so we could actual “see” it!

    Jonice - July 28, 2020 Reply

    Dear Ina, it’s wonderful that the vignette and commentary format was so digestible for you and your husband. That’s helpful feedback! I will post Part 2 soon! You can read Olive and Oscar’s whole story, including how they overcame all of the distance between them and changed their communication style in the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. If you can get hold of a copy of that book you can read through it together and do the worksheets together. All the best to you both!

    Addie - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Ina,
    Your comment actually made tears well up into my eyes… how beautiful!!! Congratulations on you and your husband breaking down stumbling blocks together and in a respectful manner, I’m just in awe of the beauty. Just because something, or a relationship with someone, might seem broken, just a little bit of truth and love can fix it, thanks for sharing! This gives me so much hope!

Cath - July 27, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice
Both me and my husband were emotionally neglected as children. I have poured my emotions into him and the children in our marriage and received nothing back (and looked for nothing)!!!. I understand at last Why I’ve put up with so much. I have woken up thanks to Awareness of CEN.

    Jonice - July 27, 2020 Reply

    Dear Cath, I’m so glad you’re aware of CEN now. There’s so much you and your husband can do to heal! Stay tuned because the story of Olive and Oscar will show what the path to healing looks like.

    Cheryl - June 6, 2021 Reply

    Thank you for your comment; we are so similar. Someone once said to me she wondered what made me have such a high threshold for neglect. Now I understand, and you’ve let me know, and this forum created by Dr. Webb, I’m not alone.

Jonice - July 26, 2020 Reply

Dear Cheryl, I’m so happy that you found so much help and answers in my books. Keep up the good work!

Kenn - July 26, 2020 Reply

Hello Jonice.
That scenario of Oscar and Olive fits my last relationship to a T .
You must have looked over my shoulder or changed their names .
If only I had known this sooner !
What a fool I have been I let this end my relationship even though I knew how in love I felt we were as a couple .
I initially blamed her and after many weeks of counseling I saw my part in this disaster .
Your work is so revealing to me I have always felt something was wrong with me but never understood what !
I know I am a great guy. With loads of love to give ,I’m a people pleaser trying to get
Love and care o have never had and I know it was from CEN .
It’s so revealing you work is so important I hope others can get it and save them selves the disaster I have gone though ending the relationship I loved so much.
Kenn

    Jonice - July 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kenn, you are no fool at all. CEN is so invisible and yet so powerful. Now that you are aware, you can move forward and do your next relationship differently.

Liane - July 26, 2020 Reply

This resonated so well with me. As a woman in her 30s with a parent whom I strongly suspect is on the autism spectrum (Aspergers), the dynamic you described above parallels the frustrating and exhausting communication I have with her. I believe this reflects differences in theory of mind, her tediousness with details (like missing the forest while getting hung up on a tree’s height or color) and difficult executive function (buying light bulbs has become a month-long battle of dissatisfaction.) I really try to be helpful, and listen to my emotions but they are constantly misinterpreted and dismissed – I wish she would first ask why I feel a certain way rather than just jump into an assumption. When I kindly explain to her, she tells me I’m wrong (she believes her views are the right ones most of the time) and I’m missing a piece of crucial information. It’s exhausting and the effect, when I drive home, is one of guilt, frustration, and overall gloom, and takes me a couple hours to a couple days to recover. And I am truly trying to stay positive. She also chides me for things that I like and want to share with her – that’s another thing is I can’t just sit with her and enjoy things. I only feel validated from her maybe 5% of the time. I really try to find validation within. I try to have outlets to express myself. I read your first book and that really hit the nail. Please contact me if you think you could use some insight into the adult parent asperger relations and communications, as there is not much research or anecdotes on these types of situations. I need to find more folks in my shoes and like myself; we could all support one another. Thank you for your time. Anyone else who can relate, please chime in. 🙂

    Jonice - July 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Liane, when it comes to CEN, the cause is far less important than the effects. I encourage you to focus on yourself and how this affects you and also how you can protect yourself from the pain and emotional harm this is causing you.

      Liane - August 1, 2020 Reply

      Thank you, that is some good perspective.

    Barry - August 9, 2020 Reply

    I can totally identify with what you are feeling. My mother / family are not autistic, but I experience the same dynamic in my family. I struggle to do exactly what Dr Webb asks – to find ways to protect myself from the emotional destruction this behaviour causes. I honestly dont know what the answer is apart from limiting contact with them. I have concluded I cant ask direct questions like “why did you say this / do this” as I don’t see them as capable of being honest with me, its like playing a life long game of wackamole with them, with the finger of blame, accountability, and / or responsibility for everything, including their behaviour that has been harmful or destructive to me, being pointed directly at me. I remember having an argument with my mother about some of her incredibly poor choices related to my care and her response was to angrily claim she was the victim, not me. No amount of logic, reasoning or calm discussion can be productive when people are so adamant in maintaining black is white, up is down, and left is right. Its like they think that I’m responsible for their bad decisions, failures, and problems they’ve had in life. It is absolutely exhausting, not to mention bs crazy. The only reason I think they have for being involved with me is to emotionally feed off me in some way, almost like they get some twisted need of their own met by projecting all their enmity onto me. My biggest sin as I see it with these people I think has been being too kind to them and way too tolerant with this kind of behaviour. At the end of the day, the biggest question for me that goes unanswered is: are these people acting maliciously and fully intend to cause me harm, are they just clueless / profoundly unconscious people lacking knowledge, or is it some combination of the two? I just cant frame the problem any other way.

    Cathryn - June 6, 2021 Reply

    Liane, I just saw your comment. What you describe is so eerily familiar to me. My mother and your experience with her align so we’ll with mine that your words could be mine. Kudos to you for your insight, even in the midst of such crushing disappointment. I wish you healing.

    Lynne - June 7, 2021 Reply

    Hello, Liane, your story sounds very similar to mine. My mother wants me around all the time, but it feels like I will never be good enough to please her because she is constantly questioning and criticizing me and will not admit it. I am in my late 40s and my mother is in her late 70s. I choose to spend some of my time with her since she is in poor health and may not be around much longer, but I also limit that time to what I am comfortable with. Otherwise, I get dragged down in my mother’s anxiety and go home no longer able to be there emotionally for my own family. My mother definitely experienced CEN. One might interpret her behavior as that of a covert narcissist who gaslights me, rejecting my reality and insisting on her own any time I assert myself. Labeling her in my mind helps me to separate which behaviors I have control over and which ones hurt me while not really being about me. On the whole, I think it would be more accurate to say she has an extreme form of codependency due to her own childhood trauma and neglect. She may well be on the autism spectrum. I know for sure my brother and I both are. For me, that translates to often missing nonverbal cues and other family members assuming I am sending out nonverbal cues and reacting to them, when I really do not understand or use nonverbal cues much at all. I am highly highly verbal. I will come right out and ask for clarification, and will explain what I am feeling and want or need in detail, in an effort to make up for disconnects with the nonverbal communication. I hope my story helps you.

    Stephen - June 8, 2021 Reply

    Wow, I thought I wrote your comment Liane, and Barry I strongly resonate with your experience as well. Weird to say, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone. I try to explain my Dad’s personality or this phenomenon to people but they don’t get it. The dynamic of Oscar and Olive is very similar to me and my Dad. I’ve always felt that he thinks I’m secretly against him. He takes everything very personally but can never say what is bothering him, he frequently has extreme anger outbursts, like a kids tantrum, he will slam doors, throw silverware, curse and scream and stomp his feet (and he’s 70). We never talk about anything personal, and actually I try to hide things that are important to myself because he will mock them (I grey rock him for my own preservation). If I ever try to have a serious conversation with him he will shut down and act like a child, ignoring me, interrupting, mocking, criticizing, and just make the experience miserable, and in a few days he will conveniently ‘forget’ it. So there is no change.
    The constant criticism drives everyone in his life away, but yet he refuses to do anything for himself, or have any hobbies or interests, he just watches TV for 5-10 hours a day and then pontificates like he is the smartest person in the world, and points out everything ‘wrong’ with ‘crazy’ people. There is a huge hole in his life he desperately wants others to fill and gets mad when they don’t. I moved out years ago and the house was pretty nice, I came back to visit and the house was almost in disrepair and he was hoarding. He has the HIGHEST standard for others that no one can live up to, but he has the LOWEST standard for himself and can’t be bothered to do anything.
    I don’t think we have ever really seen eye to eye on anything. It is frustrating to no end, to go back and forth and try to spell things out and NEVER have any understanding on the other side. I can tell him flat out I don’t like it when he does a specific thing, and he can’t understand it, and will repeat the behavior over and over. He can’t just take something at face value. My sister would have to scream at him (at 10 yrs), and sometime kick and bite to make him leave her alone; weekly! But he just thinks it’s funny that she wants to be a person…
    Like Barry said, sometimes I think it is intentional and misery loves company. Maybe he has some sort of antagonistic/sadistic personality disorder? It doesn’t even matter what I say he says “NO” immediately without even hearing me, or he will smash bugs in front of me because he knows that I like to save them and think they are interesting. He looks at me with really weird intense unblinking eye contact and I KNOW in my heart he doesn’t SEE me or understand me. I believe he may be on the spectrum as well, (buying pants takes a month and he’ll return them and complain ad nauseam). He is obsessed with home appliances and how they work but yet can’t seem to get them to work… Like, we’ve talked about lint going down the drain, how to use the garbage disposal (after I installed a new one), how to close and lock the windows, how to lock the doors, etc. for hundreds of hours. I tell him over and over I KNOW how to use this stuff, I’ve been doing basically all the house chores and fixing everything since I was 12. Every day is like a sad ground hog day…

Deborah - July 26, 2020 Reply

This is a good article! I particularly enjoy the vignette format, with your interpretations of what’s really going on in this relationship. This is very helpful stuff, so thank you!

    Jonice - July 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Deborah, I do think Olive and Oscar are a good example of the confusion that so many couples’ experience. Thanks for your comment!

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