Our relationship with our intimate partner or spouse is the most important relationship of our lives.
It is the centerpiece around which everything else in our lives revolves. Or at least it should be.
When things are going well with our beloved, life is generally good. Even when other parts of our lives are difficult or challenging, having the loving support and presence of your partner make these challenges easier to tolerate and overcome.
But when there is turmoil in the relationship, it infects not only the equanimity between you and your partner, but also it disrupts our peace of mind, our confidence in ourselves , and the stability of the relationship.
Relationship problems and conflicts arise for so many reasons, from finances to child-rearing. And often disagreements can boil over into full-blown, foot-stomping, voice-raising, door-slamming battles.
With time, perspective, and calm communication, most of these relationship conflicts can be resolved and the relationship repaired. Sometimes these conflicts can result in the strengthening of the relationship, as hurt feelings are aired, conflicts are unknotted, and the couple learns better relationship skills in the process.
However, there is one relationship problem that can be very difficult to overcome. In fact, it can spell the end of the relationship if it isn't acknowledged and addressed early and promptly.
What is this insidious problem?
When one or the other partner stops caring, goes belly-up, and no longer invests energy in resolving conflict or in even fighting for the future of the relationship, then it's often a signal the end is near. Apathy shows up as unconcern, indifference, lack of interest, lack of physicality, and lack of emotion.
Apathy doesn't just appear in a marriage randomly or in one big explosion. It creeps into a marriage or relationship like a snake on its belly, poisoning the joy and connection in the relationship. Apathy is subtle, and sometimes even the apathetic partner doesn't realize what's happening until they wake up one day and realize they have no more to give in the relationship.
Can your relationship survive these 4 warning signs?:
1. Taking a partner for granted
When one partner takes the other for granted, there is a clear lack of respect and consideration for the other person. Maybe your partner has stopped showing appreciation. Maybe they've come to just expect you to pull your weight without a “thank you” needed. If your partner doesn't acknowledge you verbally or with eye contact when you speak, this is another sign of being taken for granted and treated disrespectfully.
Sometimes people come view their spouses simply as the roles they play in the relationship — the housekeeper, the breadwinner, mother, father — rather than the unique individual they first fell in love with. Being taken for granted also manifests as a lack of interest and effort in keeping the relationship interesting and exciting, and neglecting to show small acts of love and kindness. Eventually the one taken for granted will also grow apathetic and disconnected, further damaging the relationship.
2. Spending less and less time together
Another symptom of infectious apathy shows up when the couple stops spending much time together. Where they once might have spent close evenings talking or watching TV or weekends having fun together, they now go their separate ways while in the same home. They isolate themselves on the computer or tending to children and don't make the effort to physically reconnect.
The less time they spend together, the harder it is to regain emotional intimacy. Often one partner or spouse might seek to find this intimacy through spending more time with children, friends, extended family, or even by having an affair.
3. Avoiding conflict
A sure sign that one or both partners have grown apathetic is a lack of conflict in areas that once caused difficulty. This often happens because you're afraid of rocking the boat. Perhaps conflict hasn't been resolved in healthy and safe ways in the past. You suppress your emotions such as sadness, anger, worry, and hurt because you want to avoid your partner's reaction or rejection.
Instead you put time and energy into other interests like work, kids, or hobbies to avoid the pain of the bottled up relationship issues. Keeping peace and conflict avoidance become more important than dealing with the relationship. But this form of apathy causes you to compromise your needs and values which in turn creates resentment.
4. Loss of physical and sexual contact
When emotional intimacy and quality time are diminished and resentments begin to set in, it isn't long before physical closeness and sexual intimacy disappears. Perhaps you are living more as strangers, always avoiding each other even though you are living in the same house. You stay out of each other's way in order to dodge any chance of a physical encounter.
If one partner is more apathetic than the other in this regard, it can impact self-confidence and passion in other areas of life. Feeling unloved and undesirable pushes the less apathetic partner into a corner of inner pain and loneliness.
If you notice any of these signs in your significant love relationship, right now is not soon enough to address the issues forthrightly and begin to turn the relationship around.
Although marriage or relationship counseling is usually necessary in situations of apathy, there are some actions you can take to begin the process of reconnecting and rebuilding your intimate connection with your loved one.
It doesn't matter which one of you is more apathetic and disconnected in the relationship — if one of you is apathetic, then you both have a big problem that needs attention. Since YOU are the person reading this post, take the bull by the horns and ask for a conversation with your spouse. Without blame or anger, acknowledge openly that apathy has negatively impacted the relationship and state your deep desire for reconnection (if that is the case). If you aren't sure about your feelings, then state your desire to figure out the best course of action.
State some of the specific ways apathy has harmed your connection, again without blame, but simply acknowledging what you perceive. And then state what your highest vision for a happy relationship looks like.
Allow your partner to respond, but also give him/her time and space to think about what you have said and digest the information. If your partner reacts with anger, sadness, or (God forbid) apathy, then ask to revisit the conversation in a day or two when they have processed their emotions.
When the time is right, ask your spouse or partner what he/she needs and wants from the relationship. Are you both on the same page? Do you long for the same things and feel there's a foundation of love and shared values? If so, brainstorm together some specific actions you can take to reconnect in emotional and physical intimacy.
Remember that a relationship that has sunk into apathy will have many knots to untangle and buried feelings to uncover and address. Most couples can't navigate this alone without the interactions devolving into further conflict and pain. Agree together to work through the more difficult issues with a marriage counselor, even as you strive to repair the relationship at home.
Apathy doesn't have to spell the end of your marriage or intimate relationship. You can rebuild confidence in yourself and the future you have with your loved one by deciding to learn relationship skills to foster connection, intimacy, and personal growth.
photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac]