Emotional Neglect in Marriage

Feed your goldfish.

Sounds simple enough. Feed that fish every day. Do it to keep the fish alive and healthy.

But where you focus on the long-term health of the relationship, your emotionally abusive husband is focused on short-term gratification. This entitlement leads to black-and-white thinking.

Is the fish alive? Is it dead?

Is it still giving me pleasure? Or not?

So, in the beginning, he’ll start off feeding the fish every day. It stays alive.

Then, he misses a day occasionally. It is still alive.

Then, life happens, and he feeds the fish less and less often. But look! It’s still alive!

 Black and white, remember? He has no concept of the health of the fish. The health or hunger of the fish doesn’t impact him… therefore it doesn’t exist. His fish is still there for him, swimming around, exactly like it is supposed to in his world. Still alive. See? His strategy is obviously working!

He takes the continued swimming as proof that the directions were wrong.  Obviously, the goldfish doesn’t need that much food to survive. He found an easier way. Still alive. Little effort. He scoffs and scorns the fish experts who try to tell him what to do with his own fish. How dare they try to control how he treats his fish? All those books on proper fish care (that his little goldfish keeps reading aloud to him at night, hoping he will finally see her) are a bunch of nonsense. He has this fish-keeping thing down perfectly, and likes the way it’s going.

So the infrequent feedings continue. He is oblivious to how desperately the fish gobbles up what food he does provide. No, maybe not oblivious. Watching how hungry she is for what he gives her makes him feel powerful. Every time he walks by the fishbowl, she darts back and forth, eagerly watching to see if food is coming today. He knows she appreciates what he has, and longs for it. For him. This feels good. This must be what love is.

The glimmer in the fish’s scales dims, and her swimming slows. He thinks she is selfish for not staying beautiful and vibrant for him.

She starts gasping for air at the surface. He thinks she is unreasonable and hysterical, causing drama.

Still alive. He must not be wrong.

Until one morning he wakes up to find the fish belly up. Dead. Nothing left.

And he wonders what on earth was wrong with that defective fish.