Do you feel invisible in your relationship?

Within relationships, it's not uncommon for one or both parties to feel invisible or overlooked by the other. When our efforts go unrecognised, and the million things we do are not even noticed (never mind appreciated), it can leave us feeling unseen, unheard, and lonely.


Rather than speaking up for ourselves, and asking for what we need or want, we typically complain. To request something takes vulnerability, we are opening ourselves to be told no, so instead we complain, and that way we can't get hurt. Unfortunately, complaining never gets us what we want and, in the long run, it can exacerbate the problem and resentment builds, which can leave us feeling angry.

The worst thing about this is it can lead to us shutting out our partner completely, the goodwill between us disappears as we stop asking about their day, and stop wanting to engage with them, which can then be mirrored by them. This only compounds the feeling of being alone, when the loneliness creeps in. Being vulnerable with our partners feels too scary - it could leave us exposed. So we protect ourselves, which can lead us to disconnect emotionally.

In any interaction with your partner, you have three options: you either turn towards them, turn away from them, or turn against them. Often, the turn away can cause the most problems and can lead to anger and disconnect.

This turning away is termed 'stonewalling', where one person refuses to communicate with the other and withdraws from the conversation. Shutting down during conflict is also referred to as the 'silent treatment' it can be particularly hurtful, frustrating, and harmful to the relationship. However, this is often not intentional they are not trying to ignore or hurt the other person but rather the feelings surrounding the situation are just too overwhelming for them to handle.

This turning away or stonewalling can trigger all sorts of feelings in the other person, they too may shut down, and have a "What's the point?" attitude. Or they may become angry and try to pursue the other in an attempt to reconnect but this seldom works; it can lead to them becoming more entrenched in their position. This continued lack of connection can create a build-up of painful feelings.

To be able to re-establish the connection and communicate what we want and need from the other person, we have to be willing to turn towards our partner. But this takes vulnerability.

Most of us understand that if we aggressively approach our partner with a long list of complaints or grievances will not illicit a good response, nor will it get us what we need. Conversely saying nothing and keeping everything to ourselves can add to our rage, both of these tactics result in a disconnect.

How to process your feelings

We know that communication needs to happen but, before it does, how can we feel calmer and clearer in ourselves? The following three steps can help.

1. Self-reflection

Being able to recognise and acknowledge that you understand where your pain is coming from (what is making you feel unseen) is paramount. We need to get curious about ourselves. Is there something in our behaviour that may contribute to the way that we are feeling? What is it in particular that triggers our turning away? Is it the avoidance of conflict, avoidance of anger, avoidance of pain?

Certain behaviours might be based on your history, but please understand this is not about pointing the finger at yourself and finding blaming but reflecting with curiosity on your side of the equation. A big part of self-reflection is being able to figure out:

  • What is me?
  • What is them?
  • What are we creating together?

2. Self-soothe

When you are upset or stressed, it is important to know positive ways that you can cope on your own. Self-soothing is an important skill important for our individual growth. Finding a way to self-soothe can help you feel at ease when you are dealing with overwhelming feelings and emotions.

If you are unable to self-soothe then it is particularly hard to be able to return to your partner and say, “It bothered me when you did this, and it hurt my feelings.”

3. Reflect on the other person's experience

Understanding and acknowledging that the other person will have a different perspective and experience from yours is extremely important. Although you might feel overwhelmed, they may feel shut out. What is going on for them?

Again, curiosity is key - what's going on in the other person's life? Could they be having a stressful time at work? Is there something in their history that you turning away triggers? Do they feel, unseen, unheard and misunderstood, or punished even from your behaviour? This is not to excuse certain behaviours but it is a way of understanding. It is also worth considering that they may be unaware of your perspective.

The important thing to note is that just one person changing their stance (by turning towards rather than away) can change the dynamic between a couple. Often, one person is more reluctant to seek help than the other, so even if your partner won't go with you, then relationship counselling for yourself can be beneficial and change the way you turn, which can help you both reconnect.

If you're struggling to reconnect with your partner and would like to explore this further, then please feel free to reach out to me. Together, we can work to understand the unique dynamic of your relationship and identify any changes that could support you both in moving forward. By developing the skills and resources you need to navigate your situation more effectively. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wilmslow SK9 & Alderley Edge SK9
Written by Tracey Wetnall, MBACP Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Wilmslow SK9 & Alderley Edge SK9

Tracey is a psychotherapist and registered member of the BACP, she is based in Wilmslow, Cheshire for face to face counselling but also works with clients across the UK via a safe secure video link. Tracey has a passion for helping individuals and couples live more relationally.

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