How do we cultivate apathy in our relationships?

How do we cultivate apathy in our relationships?

Not that we want to. But I believe when understand how we do something, we also better understand how we might avoid doing something.

Elie Wiesel (Ellie Vizel) famously said, “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.”

Indifference. Apathy. Lack of care, enthusiasm, or interest.

Probably not something we want a lot of in our relationships, yet it’s easy to grow, and it springs up in so many places when we’re not looking.

All it needs is a foothold.

And frankly, as flawed humans, we create footholds aplenty through inattention, insecurity, intractability…

Apathy in a relationship.

When a relationship turns, it can go one of two ways:

Into hate.

Into apathy.

Sometimes, it takes a detour into hate on the way to apathy. After all, hate is still caring strongly, just not positively, and that kind of care is exhausting.


That kind of care is exhausting.

That means love itself, which is an intense care, can be exhausting—especially if we’re not filled up with that same kind of energy in return.

And let me be clear, we don’t all have the exact same levels of energy available to us for love.

(Which is a whole ‘nother topic…but suffice to say that just like some people excel at sports, and others at braining, some people might have more energy for love or less, and that can lead to imbalances in relationships.)

SO, what happens when we get exhausted?

We lose love, and slip towards apathy.

Of course, it’s not just our relationships that drain us (although I’ll talk about that in a moment). It’s life’s stresses:

  • Work
  • Kids
  • Money
  • Travel
  • Moving
  • Life changes

And like I mentioned earlier, when we are not getting filled up, we might just get…tired.

Tired, and unable to make love. Tired and unable to make romance. Tired and unable to communicate. Tired, and unable to care.

And so we slip into apathy.

Let’s talk about relationships.

Because while they are in many ways very simple, they are rarely very easy.

And one of the ways they are not easy is in balancing wants and needs. But you know why that’s not easy? Because it’s not really possible.

Unless you and your partner are perfectly suited, the balance of wants and needs isn’t gonna happen.

Just like the two of you (you may have more relationships, I do, but I’m talking about a single relationship between two people right now) probably don’t weigh exactly the same amount when you step on a scale, it’s unlikely that your wants and needs from a relationship are going to match in perfect give-and take.

Because if they did, you would never have any challenges or conflict at all.

Instead, we all have a lot of challenges in relationships.

And that’s not bad.

However, it can be tiring. And that exhaustion can lead the way to apathy.

Let’s look at an example.

Have you ever been in an argument with your significant other (or anyone, really), and while it started out calm (maybe), it got passionate as tempers flared, and frustrations got high, then…you hit the wall.

The exhaustion set in.

You didn’t give AF anymore.

You just…couldn’t.

You might have been willing to say or do or agree to anything to just make it stop and get a break from all the passion. The caring.

THAT is apathy.

And how did that happen?

You let yourself be drained without being filled up.

Yes, you let yourself. It’s not their fault, no matter what kind of asshole they are pretending to be right now.

(I’m assuming they are not an asshole, but are playing the part of one, because you are continuing the relationship with them. Otherwise, there are potentially bigger issues like abuse that are outside the scope of this single writing.)

It is your responsibility to manage your personal boundaries and be there for YOU.

And what are personal boundaries?

  1. They mark where you end and others begin.
  2. They safeguard your personal energy.

If anyone is draining your personal energy faster than you can fill it up, it’s time to assert your boundaries and do something about it.

Because they can’t KNOW.

They have no idea what it’s like to be you right now.

And you have no idea what it’s like to be them.

No matter how well you know each other.

And trying to care and fight and argue too long and too hard about something you don’t understand without taking a break, without pause, and without filling up…

…leads to apathy.

The ultimate in apathy

When I finally left my husband, I did not cry. I did not yell. I did not have any passion left.

I was merely relieved.

I had let myself be drained over the 15 years we were together until there was nothing left for me to feel for him. Nothing left for me to give or to grieve.

I had it all wrung out of me by allowing our relationship to continue FAR past it’s natural ending point by years. Maybe by over a decade.

I can tell you this, though:

As emptied as I was by him, I was able to be filled almost shockingly fast by other parts of life. I was wide open. I was parched earth soaking up every drop of energy that came my way.

(Which, honestly, is it’s own sort of danger, because just like food, it helps to be careful what energy you take in and rely on…)

I tell you this because no matter where you are in your life and relationships, if/when you feel apathy, you CAN be filled up.

You can.

What if apathy is beginning to creep in?

Maybe it’s starting to show up here and there in your relationship. Maybe you’re starting to feel patches of IDGAF. Maybe you see them creeping in, but you’re not ready to give up, really.

What then?

There is only one good option, in my opinion.

Look for ways to restructure the relationship so that you are filled up—not just enough, but with more than you need to merely subsist.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I like to define a successful relationship as “one in which both partners feel like they get far more out of the relationship than they give.”

So, if you agree, restructure your relationship towards that.

  • That may mean learning to communicate better, so there are fewer and less-intense fights.
  • That may mean finding ways to spend intentional time together.
  • That may mean finding time to spend apart from each other (and letting “missing you” fill you up).
  • That may mean asking your partner how you can fill them up and help them lead their best life.
  • That may mean moving off the relationship escalator, and taking the pressure off your relationship.
  • That may mean creating a conflict protocol (I’ve written about that before) to end arguments before they spiral.
  • That may mean collaborating with your partner on ideas for fun ways to connect (like you used to?).

Whatever that looks like to you will be unique to the relationship you have, and will probably have multiple moving parts.

And you may find that even the attempt at restructuring drains you. Or that your partner is less invested in change than you are. And if you do, well, you probably have your answer.

And you can then move on before apathy fully sets in.

What if you are just tired?

Well, as Dr.Liz said in the clip I shared yesterday:

“Your presence is your choice.
You are the boss of your body, your heart, your time, your mind.
You are the boss.
You are the only one who gets to choose it.”

They were talking about ending a relationship WAY before apathy. Even before too much of the anger and hate and frustration and resentment.

But we don’t all have that luxury right now, and this moment, do we? And we won’t always make the choices that lead us to the kindest results, and we have to deal with where we find ourselves.

So, you have a choice. A simple one, but not an easy one.

End the relationship that is draining you.
Restructure the relationship so that you are filled up—not just enough, but with more than you need to merely subsist.

And not only is the choice not an easy one to make, but then once you’ve made it, the steps are not easy to take (and often not simple, either).

Which is really fucked up.

Because you’re already tired. You’re already exhausted. You’re tapped out.

And the idea of figuring out life right now probably sounds about as good as eating a plate of barf in the New Jersey Dump on a hot July day.

I know.

Because I’ve been there.

And I put it off until there WAS NO OTHER CHOICE.

And you can, too.

Or, you can find a way to find the energy to take better care of you than I did of me.

And maybe all it takes is knowing exactly where you are and how you got there.

What are your thoughts?

Have you experienced apathy in your relationships? How did it feel? Can you pinpoint the situations where it started to creep in, or when you first noticed it?

Have you successfully overcome apathy? What did you do? How did it happen? Was it simple? Or easy?

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