“Is indifference a sign of relationship anxiety? My partner and I haven’t seen each other in two weeks and I feel nothing. I’ve shut down. I don’t care if we split up. My partner even cheated on me and I felt nothing. I don’t seem to care about him/her at all anymore. Doesn’t this mean that I’m not with the right person? Is this normal? ”
Normal? Yes. Talked about? No. Used as evidence by our culture that it’s time to break up? Absolutely. It’s at this point in a relationship that, when you poll friends and family, they will unanimously say, “Hit the road. You’ve clearly fallen out of love.” Oh, the good-ol’ “fallen out of love” excuse for jumping ship on a good, loving, secure relationship. Once you use that card, you don’t have to convince anybody why you’re walking away.
Yet, once we get passed the “I must not want this because I don’t get the horrible feeling in my belly when we talk about breaking up” fear-line, we can explore what may really be contributing to the shut down and loss of ability to feel anything for your partner (or for life in general). The essential piece to understand is that, just like your partner isn’t responsible for making you feel alive and filling your well of Self, so he/she isn’t responsible for your numbness, indifference, or lack of aliveness. Inherent in the statements about indifference is the refusal to take responsibility for your emotional well-being, your fullness, and your vitality. Relationship anxiety, in it various projections, almost always points to this unwillingness to take full responsibility for one’s experience.
What’s embedded in indifference, numbness, and lack of feeling for your partner?
Fear is the fastest way to shut down the heart. Fear, by definition, causes us to contract and constrict, both physically and emotionally. The challenge with relationship anxiety is that we don’t always identify indifference and numbness as forms of fear. When we widen our definition of fear to include anything that closes down the heart and creates a lackluster state, we can see what a powerful effect fear and anxiety (a cousin of fear) can have in an intimate relationship.
2. Attachment Wound.
If you’ve been hurt by your partner and haven’t expressed it and resolved it, you may start to shut down. This doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong relationship; relationships, if they’re intimate and real, will invariably cause hurt at some point. What it does mean is that it’s time to work toward learning how to communicate in a way that both expresses your needs and feelings and invites your partner to respond. When hurt, many people will use withdrawal as a coping mechanism. While it may have saved your life as a child if you were exposed to a painful environment, withdrawing as an adult in an intimate relationship will only lead to more and more distance, both within yourself and with your partner.
3. History of Shutting Down.
If you’re shutting down in your intimate relationship, you likely have a history of shutting down when life reaches a breaking point. As I mentioned above, many children learn to shut down as a way to handle the overwhelming pain and loneliness they experienced as a child. It’s a brilliant survival mechanism for a child, but it doesn’t work as an adult. You may have also witnessed one or both of your parents using withdrawal as a defense mechanism and, as such, learned to model that behavior. Life can be overwhelming at times, and if we never learned emotional fluency as kids, we will follow in the footsteps of what we saw role-modeled. If you’re with a loving partner, this could be a time to learn something different.
While medication can be helpful to take the edge off anxiety or give a lift to depression, it can also create numbness and indifference. While this isn’t true for everyone, medication tends to flatten out the spectrum of our emotional experience so that we’re living in a narrow realm.
One of the root causes of depression (and I don’t want to oversimplify as depression is a multi-pronged challenge with many roots) is squashing down our pain. Similar to being on medication, when someone is depressed, they’re living in a safe, yet narrow, realm, where the pain of life is tempered and, consequently, so is the joy. As the film “Inside Out” so brilliantly expressed, joy and pain live in the same chamber of the heart, so if you refuse to feel pain (Sadness in the film), you kick joy out of your heart as well. We are not fully alive if we don’t have an active and consistent relationship to our grief. And I don’t mean falling into the pit of intrusive pain. I mean a full-bodied, alive, and compassionate relationship to the sadness of life that is an inherent part of being human.
Hormones can wreak havoc on our ability to see through clear eyes and feel with an open heart. While hormones are somewhat out of our control, we can work toward more balance by attending to our physical bodies, including a focus on healthy nutrition (dark, leafy greens have been proven to balance hormones), regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Just as we need emotional/spiritual mentors to guide us through life, we also need holistic doctors, like skilled naturopaths and acupuncturists, to help bring more balance to our physical bodies. This is what it means to address anxiety, depression, and numbness with a holistic mindset.
If you’re ready to break free from the shackles of your own fear, learn how to tend to your pain with compassion, and create a healthy relationship with your physical body so that you can excavate the buried roots of your own aliveness and share this aliveness with your partner, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course. It will guide you through each layer of the healing process, which extends far beyond the scope of your relationship, so that you can learn what it means not only to feel alive but to truly thrive.