Ostracism in a Relationship, How to Recognize it

Emotional indifference in a relationship is called ostracism. This masked form of abuse occurs when one partner frequently ignores the needs, requests, or desires of the other. In fact, they respond with silence and are completely unresponsive.
Ostracism in a Relationship, How to Recognize it

Last update: 11 May, 2021

A form of psychological abuse in relationships could be easily classified as ostracism. Along the same lines, in ancient Greece, punishment for those considered dangerous was exile and isolation. This was a harsh sentence for the person because, without the protection and consideration of others, they didn’t survive.

Unfortunately, ostracism sometimes happens in a relationship. It usually occurs in couples where the fundamental pillar of communication is conspicuous by its absence. Normally, it’s one partner who ostracizes the other. This indifference includes behaviors such as brushing them aside, not paying any attention to their communicative or emotional needs, or even completely ignoring them for a considerable length of time.

Proper communication requires three basic elements. A sender, a receiver, and a message. In emotionally cold relationships, there’s a message and a sender but no receiver. Because the ostracizing partner doesn’t want to communicate with their partner, won’t listen to them, and completely avoids them. They might do this by refusing to pick up the phone or leaving the house.

“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”

-J. K. Rowling-

A couple arguing.

Signs of ostracism in a relationship

People in a relationship who suspect they’re being ostracized should look out for the following behavior in their partner.

Ignoring their partner

  • They refuse to have a conversation on any subject that’s remotely controversial. However, it’s normal and even healthy for couples to argue. The key lies in how they handle these arguments. When there’s ostracism in the relationship, what happens is that one partner wants to talk to resolve the conflict but the other doesn’t. In fact, the partner who wants to communicate may be left talking to themselves and might as well be talking to the wall as the other one ignores them. It’s easy to imagine what this kind of behavior does to their self-esteem when it occurs repeatedly over time.
  • They ignore questions or answer in monosyllables. Monosyllabic answers are very common. It tends to shut the other partner up, which is basically what the ostracizing partner wants. However, it creates a bad feeling between the couple that doesn’t get resolved and hence builds up over time.

Avoiding their partner

  • They avoid all kinds of physical and visual contact. The other partner feels both unloved and rejected. They may even feel that they disgust their partner. This directly impacts their self-esteem. In fact, they might end up feeling that they just don’t deserve any love or affection and that they’re unattractive and undesirable.
  • They don’t go to any social events with their partner. While it’s true that partners in a relationship usually want to retain their individuality, they also need to be there to support each other at times. Therefore, if one partner never goes to any social events or appointments with the other, they don’t take the other’s needs into account.

Showing no love or support

  • They don’t offer unconditional support. Couples are meant to give love and support to each other as well as receive it. If one partner doesn’t care about the other’s plans, hopes, and dreams, isn’t by their side, and doesn’t encourage them in any way, they aren’t supporting them unconditionally.
  • They show no affection. At the end of the day, the couple should love each other. This love should be the pillar on which everything else is built. While they might argue, there’s always affection there, and their goal should be to ultimately reach an agreement that benefits them both.
A sad woman.

Ostracism: how does the victim feel?

As we mentioned above, ostracism appears in a couple via different types of behaviors. Sometimes, they can go unnoticed, as it isn’t a direct physical or psychological abuse. There are no verbal insults or humiliations. However, it’s an unfortunate fact that ostracism can actually do more damage than a more direct form of aggression.

Sometimes, victims fool themselves into not leaving the relationship by excusing their partner’s behavior as being simply a passing phase. Or they might think that’s just the way their partner is and it’s their duty to be a bit more flexible and tolerate them. Or even that “it’s not that bad”. Furthermore, people around them might endorse those ideas and tell them that their partner’s just like everyone else. After all, everyone has faults. In other words, they simply have to put up with it.

However, deep down, the victim continually suffers on a daily basis, as they don’t know when their partner will ignore them. In fact, they might find themselves in a permanent state of intense anxiety. In all these situations, there are unspoken messages and unfinished business.

Furthermore, it’s quite common for the victim to feel afraid. They can’t express themselves or communicate because experience tells them that, if they do, they’ll be responded to with indifference. Consequently, they’ll simply end up feeling more pain and sadness.

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