There’s a lot of things a strong relationship is able to overcome and power through;
- the death of a loved one,
- financial crisis,
- hefty compromises,
- trouble in the bedroom… and so on.
Yet, there is something that can be the death of a relationship that goes seemingly undetected until it’s all too late — indifference.
I asked my ex-partner, “Where are you going?”
“To the quiz with my work friends”
“Oh, I didn’t realize”
“It’s Tuesday, I go every Tuesday”
He slipped into his coat and shot out the door as he did every Tuesday for the past year.
- I wondered why I never received an invitation to join.
- I wondered why he kept going even after I had expressed how lonely I’d been feeling.
- I wondered if he wondered any of these things at all.
Throughout this previous relationship, it wasn’t so obvious what the problem was.
Signs of fading love
As you live day-to-day and things become automatic and dare I say, dull, it’s easy to roll with the punches. It’s easy to not question the state of things.
Indifference sneaks up on you like someone slowly gaining weight. At first, it’s a pound or two a week, heck, no one will notice that! But after a year of busting the seams of all your favorite sweatpants, you realize that you’re three-stone heavier and unrecognizable.
Sometimes we fight so hard to avoid confrontation, to avoid tension, and to live in ignorant bliss, that we aren’t able to see the silent sneak attack of indifference overwhelm our relationships.
Yet, indifference could well be worse than feelings of bitterness, resentment, or hatred in a relationship. Any of these emotions may have given my past relationship reason to fight, a reason to keep going, and here’s why…
Stronger love = Stronger conflict
If one loves someone deeply and sometimes hates that person, the feeling of love may still be dominant in the context of betrayal — Frontiers in Psychology
Let me ask you this, have you ever had times where your partner has had you seething toward them? And at that moment you might scream, “You know, I really fucking hate you sometimes!”
Alright, we all have moments where we might be a tad melodramatic but the age-old love/hate conundrum is so prevalent and widely understood because it really rings true. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Both brim with passion, desire, intense emotions, and feelings toward another person… it makes complete sense that someone we feel so much love toward can also fuel moments of hatred.
The study in Frontiers of Psychology, referenced above, is one that holds great intrigue. Suggesting that, in a nutshell, deeper hatred for a person follows the betrayal of deep love. And whilst that may seem a bit of a dampener, I find it uplifting.
In a functioning relationship, we feel fleeting moments of hate because we’ve been hurt by someone who we greatly care for. In a healthy relationship, we feel resentment or bitterness because we care.
I might be a tad delusional here but isn’t this a sign that there’s some real love floating around there somewhere?
A lack of confrontation is a problem
My partner and I never argued. We never disagreed on anything and we avoided confrontation at all cost. This person was who I considered my first love (of course, now I feel as though I actually know how love is supposed to feel… but work with me here).
I believed I had found ‘the one’ and felt as though I should be as open and receptive as possible to keep this happy little relationship blipping away came with a cost… indifference.
My sister used to say to me, “ You know what the problem with you two is? You never argue”
My sister used to have raging arguments with her partner and call me often to tell me that she ‘fucking hated him’. And while I sat, smugly, claiming to have a confrontation-free relationship it didn’t occur to me that that was the exact problem. I never questioned what this lack of confrontation suggested…
Conflict shows signs of caring, indifference implies a lack of
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel
If you turned around to your husband or wife and told them, “Honey, I have a confession. I popped round to the neighbor to borrow a bag of sugar and found myself overcome with lust. We had a quick romp in the shed and have organised ourselves a romantic date at The Ivy next week”
Imagine you explained this to your partner and they said, “Alright, can you get milk on the way back?”
Or what if you explained, “Darling, I need to tell you that lately, i’ve been feeling terribly lonely. I miss you when you go away for work and feel as though you spend more time down the pub with friends when you are back”
And in complete indifference, your partner said, “That’s a shame, maybe you should call a friend” *Off they trot down the pub*
Or how about, “Honey, I just won my first gold Olympic medal and been approached by loads of brands wanting to sponsor me in the future!”
And the response was, “Cool”
We recoil from feelings of hate or jealousy, they make us feel guilty. They make us feel as though we’ve failed or unable to be a bigger person. They can make us feel ashamed that we could feel such ugly emotions toward someone we love. Yet, healthy amounts of these feelings stem from deep love.
When you experience responses like the ones above you only stop to wonder, “Do you care at all?”
Yearning for some passion
Toward the end of my relationship, I actually felt more in tune with my ex-partner than I had for the two years before. Once things began to break down and we had no choice to communicate openly and honestly, suddenly there was some understanding.
For the first time in five years, we had cried together, yelled at each other, told the other our problems, and expressed how we’d been making each other feel. It ignited a small flame of passion that existed when we first met that had been distinguished by indifference.
I’m not sitting here trying to tell everyone to find the hate, find the resentment, find the jealousy!
These aren’t positive emotions. But finding the strength to address these ugly emotions as they pop up can help you avoid the trap of indifference. Towards the end, I felt ashamed to think that I would have gladly welcomed a shouting match if it meant that I could have got something out of him. Because to express this kind of intense emotions would have shown me that he cared about us… that these things mattered to him.
…conflict in close relationships is only detrimental when people do not feel their thoughts, feelings, and point of view are understood by their relationship partners — Pub.Med
Expressing feelings of jealousy or hate is normal and healthy, bottling them up is dangerous, and ignoring their lack of presence can have you finding yourself in a relationship with someone who only feels disinterest.
Being met with a cold, stone facade of ‘couldn’t care less’ is, in my opinion, more painful.
How to recognize indifference?
After five years of being met with nothing, I can spot indifference from a mile off. Consider it my new spidey-sense. Below is a list of things to look out for that could be easy to overlook or let slide but may be strong signifiers that your partner is indifferent to your relationship (and something needs to be done about it!):
- Your successes aren’t celebrated — Your partner shows little enthusiasm or interest in the things you’ve achieved, the moments that bring you joy, and milestones in your life.
- Their successes aren’t shared — They don’t think to tell you when they have achieved a goal or found some form of success. Or, they share it with you but have no desire to celebrate with you.
- They don’t care if you socialize with them or not — They are happy going for drinks and meals with friends without you regularly. They don’t think to invite you and have no interest in mingling or socializing with your friends either.
- General lack of interest — In everything you do. Conversations seem difficult and as though they aren’t really present. They aren’t curious about what’s going on with you both externally or internally.
- Things that might be hurtful aren’t met with confrontation — As with the example above, things that would normally be met with upset or rage from someone who is supposed to love you is overlooked and means very little to them.
- Absence of conflict — While this isn’t true of all conflict, confrontation and arguments are often born from caring. When we feel hurt we can only feel this way because we care. When we feel upset we can only feel this way because we love. If we don’t care and we don’t love then we have no desire to make a fuss about anything.
Free yourself from indifference
The opposite of love my friend, is indifference — Roy H. Williams
An indifferent relationship can easily be disguised as a happy one if we focus our energy on the seemingly positive, “We never argue.” But what if this is because there is a general lack of passion? What if nothing feels strained but nothing feels exciting either.
It isn’t uncommon for a long-lasting relationship to become a functional relationship; working on autopilot and moving through the motions with little effort because everything is a little too comfortable. Yet, if you’re one part of a partnership that is making the effort and you’re met with general disinterest and care, the feeling is heartbreaking.
It feels lonely, empty, and disjointed. Yet, all of the effort and energy you put into trying to fix it means little because you get nothing in return…
This can be fixed by confronting your partner. You deserve to know whether they care for you. You deserve to know if you’re wasting your time. And, you deserve to be with someone who cares for you enough to express when you’ve really pissed them off. You deserve to know if you’re effort will be worthwhile.
But time spent with a partner who is seemingly indifferent is the time taken away from someone who could really care for you.
Fight for your relationship but be ready to let it go when all passion is lost.
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