How People With a Lack of Affective Responsibility Behave

People who lack affective responsibility ignore their impact on others. If you're in a relationship with one of these individuals, it can be extremely damaging. In this article, we help you identify their behaviors.
How People With a Lack of Affective Responsibility Behave
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 16 April, 2024

In recent years, more visibility has been given to concepts such as assertiveness, emotional intelligence, and affective responsibility. These are essential ingredients in any healthy relationship. In fact, when they’re not present, constant conflicts, dissatisfaction, and even abusive relationships can arise. However, how do you know if those with whom you associate are applying these principles or not? In this article, we explain the main behaviors of people without affective responsibility so you can decide for yourself.

Although it may seem obvious, in this type of relationship, a series of confusing mechanisms take place. For example, an individual who lacks affective responsibility might use gaslighting or other types of emotional manipulation. That’s because they want to make you believe that your requests are exaggerated, that you’re never satisfied with anything, or that everything is your fault.

Somehow, you come to believe their claims. In effect, you’re silencing the inner voice that’s telling you that the way you’re being treated is wrong. Therefore, you must pay attention to the following behaviors. They’re the warning signs of a lack of affective responsibility.

Woman worried about couple's argument
People with a lack of affective responsibility tend to approach relationships in a selfish manner.

Affective responsibility

Affective responsibility is the ability to take charge of how your actions affect those with whom you relate. By establishing an affective bond, you obtain a series of benefits. For example, love, company, support, intimacy, etc. You also acquire a series of responsibilities toward the other person.

This means understanding that feelings are at stake. When you enter into a relationship with someone, you agree to take care of their emotions. This doesn’t mean being responsible for their happiness or being forced to stay with someone you no longer love. However, it does require honesty, communication, and empathy.

Those who lack affective responsibility approach their relationships from a selfish and emotionally immature perspective. They forget about reciprocity and mutual care and tend to act according to their own current desires and needs. Naturally, this can cause great damage to the other party, who feels belittled, invalidated, and confused.

How people who lack affective responsibility behave

Do you suspect that your relationship with someone important to you is unfair or unbalanced? Do you feel ignored, uncared for, and disrespected by them? If so, pay attention to the following signs. These behaviors will help you understand if they’re acting with a lack of affective responsibility.

They act at their own convenience

Being in a relationship doesn’t mean that you have to put aside your own needs, interests, and preferences. On the contrary, it’s essential that you maintain your identity. However, you need to know how to combine this with what your partner needs and feels and to find a balance.

If your partner only does things that are convenient to them and acts according to what they want without taking you into account, they’re being affectively irresponsible. The fact that they won’t talk about it or evade any negotiations, and that they often act selfishly should set the alarm bells ringing.

They invalidate your emotions

You must be able to express how you feel in any relationship without the other person minimizing or ridiculing you. But, a partner who lacks affective responsibility will systematically invalidate you. They’ll belittle your emotions, call you crazy, and accuse you of exaggerating or ignoring them.

Moreover, they won’t be willing to listen to your complaints, requests, or needs and even less make any changes to contribute to your well-being. On the contrary, they’ll blame you and will never admit that they may have some degree of responsibility.

They break promises and commitments

The breach of trust is also one of the behaviors of a partner with a lack of affective responsibility. In effect, their actions are incongruous with their words. For instance, they say something and act in a totally opposite way, causing you to feel really confused.

In addition, they make agreements or promises that they then systematically break. This generates feelings of great uncertainty, anguish, and distrust in you.

They lie or hide information

Honesty is the best policy, but not always the most comfortable. Consequently, people who lack affective responsibility tend to lie to obtain a benefit or avoid trouble.

For example, they might deceive you about important matters (such as having other partners at the same time) or more mundane aspects, like the reason for canceling a date. Whatever the case may be, they do it to satisfy their own desires and they don’t worry about how it might affect you.

Moreover, they might lie about their feelings. For instance, they may exaggerate or delude you when they aren’t really committed to your relationship or aren’t feeling what they claim to be feeling.

They disappear or are silent

They may often disappear and cut off communication and contact with you without giving any explanation. Sometimes, this silence might last for a few days and they come back when they feel like it. Other times, they disappear forever, leaving you drowning in a sea of confusion, guilt, and doubt.

This is because they don’t know how to communicate or express what they’re feeling or need therefore, they take the easy way out by ghosting you. Furthermore, they may use silence as a form of punishment and manipulation to gain power in their relationship.

They avoid awkward conversations

If you try to have an open and honest conversation about your relationship with them, chances are they’ll refuse to cooperate. Indeed, they tend to avoid any situations that involve being vulnerable, accepting their own mistakes, or talking about uncomfortable topics. It’s worth remembering that their only aim is to obtain benefits for themselves from your relationship. Therefore, they’re unwilling to accept any of the natural drawbacks.

They don’t respect your boundaries

They’re also incapable of respecting boundaries. Indeed, no matter how many times you might express that a certain behavior of theirs bothers or hurts you, their empathy is conspicuous by its absence.

In fact, they’ll continue to repeat this behavior with no respect for your boundaries. In the same way, they’re unable to assertively set their own boundaries.

Couple arguing in the street
Those who lack affective responsibility don’t take into account the needs of others, nor do they know how to respect their boundaries.

A lack of affective responsibility equals an unbalanced relationship

In short, people who exhibit these behaviors create unbalanced relationships. That’s because they seek and accept care, but don’t offer it in return. Indeed, their lack of communication, consideration, and honesty makes your relationship confusing, unstable, and harmful to you. In fact, it can seriously damage your self-esteem and make you suffer.

Therefore, if you recognize these behaviors in any of your relationships, it’s important that you don’t minimize them. In fact, you must take action. After all, you have the right to be respected and treated with sincerity and empathy. On the other hand, if you lack affective responsibility yourself, try and analyze the reasons for your behavior. Perhaps you need to work on your assertiveness and emotional intelligence. A professional may be useful in helping you in this regard.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Nicholson, S. B., & Lutz, D. J. (2017). The importance of cognitive dissonance in understanding and treating victims of intimate partner violence. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma26(5), 475-492.
  • Sarkis, S. M. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free. Hachette UK.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.