Indifference doesn’t always happen on its own. Sometimes it has to be discovered and, when useful, illuminated.
As far as disturbing or bothersome sensations are concerned (tightness in the throat, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, weak knees, etc.), sometimes indifference is a beneficial attitude to take. Insofar as one can recognize what the sensations are about and the message they are sending, action makes sense. Beyond that, nothing needs to be done. Focusing on the sensations while wondering why they are there and wondering what they mean usually serves to intensify them. In other words, contrary to popular belief, indifference can be useful.
Take Travis. He was feeling the jittery stomach and clammy hands while he was walking in the mall with his friends. There was no recognizable cause for these feelings, and because he didn’t understand them, he worried about them, thereby making them even stronger and more severe. Typical of anxiety, the more he worried about them, the stronger they became.
He came to me saying “I wish I didn’t have this anxiety! I hate it!” So I worked with him. Once he learned to become indifferent to those sensations, the anxiety left completely. It has been two years, he told me recently when I bumped into him at a bookstore, and no recurrence of the anxiety. He has felt mild sensations similar to previously, but they have been small blips in his day, short-lived, minor and insignificant.
Once you get it, you get it. The work I did with him “clicked” his mind into place, quite literally. He finally felt the peace and comfort he had been longing for. And once this happened, the feelings of nervousness went away. “It’s impossible to feel calm and nervous at the same time,” he told me with a laugh.
Indifference in relationships is different, however. In relationships indifference can be deadly. The importance of movement and connection in relationships cannot be understated. Relationships, by definition, are dynamic; they are always in a constant flow, or dance, moving to the music of each partner’s emotions.
“Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low.” Henry Ward Beecher
Many couples come for therapy when they at a standstill, when either both or one of them refuses to engage with the other in any way, maintaining that he or she is “done” and no longer interested in the relationship. This presents a particular problem for both of them, because the other partner is oftentimes either at a loss as to what to do or tries extremely hard to get the partner’s attention. Either way, the end result is that the two of them are not communicating in any meaningful way.
As in any relationship, both of the partners long to be heard and understood. As one client said to her partner, “I want to feel connected again. I want to feel love from you and to feel that the love I return is accepted.” The feeling of connection, what is known as a secure attachment, is universal throughout life, but the ways in which we express this need are sometimes not greeted by our partner as we would like them to be.
Effective couple therapy, which focuses on the emotions and the communication which stems from these emotions, helps partners to deepen their understanding of each other, while at the same time learning more about themselves.