Emotional neglect in a marriage can be seen as anything the affected partner says that it is. It works in the same fashion as, to quote Dr Frank Pittman in his first book, Private Lies, (infidelity is anything the affected partner says that it is).
In fact, in a marriage, problems exist only if one of the partners says it is so.
I see many angry women and to a lesser degree, some angry men, over the issue of feeling ignored in the marriage.
There are many reasons for emotional distancing which is seen as neglect.
Men tend to be raised to earn a living, compete, and keep the nearest woman happy. For the man, « happy » means well supported and ignorant of any shortcomings the man may have. To keep this illusion going, the man often thinks he must maintain emotional distance to protect his shortcomings from being discovered.
The more shame a man feels, the more distance he must keep to hide his imperfections. His wife, if she is like many women, gets lonely in the emotional vacuum created by a man who fears discovery of his clay feet. Her loneliness may lead to infidelity if she is so inclined.
Minimally, she will voice her discontent. Her discontent evolves to criticism and is heard that way rather than as request. The criticism leads to more emotional distance.
Some men are more terrified of female emotion than others. The more fear of causing discord/anger the man is, the more withdrawn or superficial he becomes.
Male fear of females is directly related to how emotionally volatile or unhappy their mother was. Some men are so afraid of female emotion, though they may marry, they remain remote for a lifetime.
Such behavior has several repercussions. It may lead to female infidelity it may create an over close relationship between the wife and any children, or it may create a partner in the wife who becomes involved in career or pastimes outside the marriage.
In the second instance, over closeness with children makes the family out of balance. It leaves mother getting emotional support from children rather than partner and leaves the father/husband out of the family. This may be comfortable for him but makes a form of fatherlessness for his children who are apt to repeat the process in their families.
In the case of an emotionally distant wife, this is more likely to be anger related.
What matters is that when too much distance exists in the marriage emotionally, the partner who is uncomfortable MUST announce a problem and the distant spouse must acknowledge the problem and take steps to close the gap. This is much easier said than done.
The female anger must be dealt with. Sometimes the male shame is so intense the male may never deal with it.
In any case, an experienced couples therapist ( often not easy to find) needs to be found with the hopes of uncovering the shame and calming the situation while helping the couple to have meaningful conversations. These are, over time, conversations of some depth about how each thinks and experiences the world rather than game scores and what to do with the kids. It is important to remember, the relationship is carried in the conversation. No conversation, no relationship!