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My Partner Puts Less Effort Into Our Relationship

A partner's apathy may indicate hidden insecurities.

Key points

  • A partner's sudden change in affection may be a defensive power play.
  • A partner who lacks empathy is a problem.
  • A partner who invalidates and minimizes a person's feelings may be emotionally abusive.
  • A narcissist may only feel secure in a relationship if he or she exploits a partner's insecurities.

A partner proclaims love but suddenly seems disinterested. Indifferent, he or she is less thoughtful and conscientious. The person involved with this partner panics at the thought of losing the love.

Due to the change in the partner’s temperament, a person may amp up his or her efforts in the relationship by prioritizing the partner’s feelings, needs, and desires. Yet, the emotional care is not reciprocated.

The person continues giving it her all, despite the partner’s ambivalent response, hoping it signals the partner to do the same, but the partner remains oblivious. Desperate, she expresses her distress, yet the partner fails to see her perspective and lacks empathy.

The beginning of a destructive relationship pattern

It seems logical that a person, if anxious about a partner’s investment, exit the relationship. However, this may go against every fiber in her body. It seems as if an invisible force keeps the person chained to the partner despite the constant worry about the relationship.

This intangible and insidious constraint may be explained by the detached partner’s unconscious need for power in the relationship. A deeply insecure partner often compensates with narcissism. He or she idealizes a mate at the outset of the relationship then devalues him or her in subtle ways to gain the upper hand.

As the relationship progresses, the unsympathetic partner gives less and takes more. The validation, affection, and attention offered initially then evaporates, causing a loved one to clamor for the original and cherished status. The person feels vulnerable because she senses an impending abandonment by a partner who was once deeply in love. In order to avoid emotional devastation, she grapples for the lost love and gratefully accepts any speck of kindness the partner doles out.

The inevitable "perfect storm"

This dynamic creates an emotional power differential in the relationship. The withholding partner is comfortable while the person who wears her heart on a sleeve and is desperate for empathy and suffers in its absence.

Adding insult to injury, a narcissistic partner often blames and shames the person for feeling insecure. Unwilling to consider the possibility that his or her treatment erodes a romantic companion’s self-confidence, he or she continually criticizes the “needy” behaviors.

The perfect storm ensues. One party is consumed with anxiety about not being good enough, and labors to avoid abandonment, as the other partner functions comfortably and is free from the fear of rejection because he or she is the one doing the rejecting.

Frequently, this manipulative and intangible dynamic is impossible to recognize. It may take a person months of enduring negative treatment before she realizes she is not the profoundly insecure party. By this time, however, a person may be distant from friends who attempted to shed light on the dynamic. Unwilling, at the time, to perceive the dysfunctional partner as a problem, the person withdrew from loved ones. Thus, the proposition of ending the relationship without a support network is daunting.

Moreover, a selfish partner often asks a person to make substantial personal sacrifices to regain his or her love. Risking everything to save the relationship, a person complies. Realizing the relationship is over requires the person to accept the reality of these losses. This may be a tough and painful pill to swallow.

The following example illustrates this dynamic.

The case of Ron and Dan

Ron and Dan are madly in love. Six weeks into the relationship, Ron is hurt and anxious that Dan failed to attend his performance. Dan also canceled brunch with Ron and his brother and seems far less attentive and affectionate. Ron is terrified he has somehow lost Dan’s endearment.

Ron attempts to bring back the love by surprising Dan with an expensive romantic getaway. He spends time doing thoughtful things for Dan like picking up his dry cleaning every week, stocking his favorite coffee, and taking his dog for walks when Dan is tired. Yet, Dan doesn’t appear appreciative of Ron’s efforts and grows inattentive. He acts annoyed when Ron texts and doesn’t pick up the phone when Ron calls.

Finally, Ron expresses his concern and hurt but is met with irritation. Dan states, “I love you, so stop acting so needy. We don’t have to be with each other all of the time. If you keep this needy stuff up, I’m going to get tired of it real quick.” Ron feels the decline in the relationship is due to his insecurity and is additionally anxious and hurt.

In this example, the dysfunctional dynamic is illustrated. Dan reels Ron in to drop him in subtle ways, providing himself with the upper hand and placing Ron in a devalued and vulnerable position in the relationship.

How to recover from this dynamic

Although leaving is difficult, it may be worth it. Recovering a narcissist’s love may be temporary because he or she is only secure in a relationship if exploiting insecurity in the other. Initially, he or she may idealize a person, but the drop from grace is inevitable. A person’s sense of self may take the hit.

A person may try reaching out to those people who truly see her or him. Talking to loved ones that recognize and appreciate a person’s heart is imperative. This may remind a person that he or she is cherished. Participating in activities that the person loves may also assist him or her in recovering self-recognition. Tai chi, martial arts, yoga, or other endeavors that facilitate a mind and body connection seem to awaken the essence of a person. Spending time with pets may further remind a person that he or she is loved.

A person who feels, ignored, dismissed, and emotionally abandoned in a romantic relationship may assume it is his or her fault. Yet, this may be what a troubled partner wants the person to believe. Feeling understood, respected, and known is the point of a close relationship. Without these gifts, a great deal of pain and loneliness may exist.

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