Do you ever get snappy with your partner? Or ignore them altogether when they speak to you? How we respond to our partners in the smallest, everyday moments has a big impact over the long term.
A Small Habit With A Big Impact
Picture the scene: your partner asks – in a direct or indirect way – for your attention.
They might speak to you, ask you a question, reach out to touch you, hold out something for you to take, or even just look at you.
Maybe they ring you, or send you a text.
We call it attention; what we mean is connection.
It’s probably obvious that responding to these bids for connection is good for your relationship and will make you feel connected.
As Sharon Weil tells us,
“In order to be effective, be responsive. In order to be responsive, listen.”
When you call your partner’s name, you want them to say “yes?”.
When you look at them, you like it when they smile.
When you ask them a question, you want them to answer.
What might not be so obvious is what the research has found: that these little moments matter much more over time than big gestures, like gifts, holidays, or date nights.
Responding to your partner when they want your attention is easy.
Being responsive like this doesn’t always mean doing what they want.
It just means not ignoring them, and coming from a generally positive place.
It’s a small habit which has a big impact.
It doesn’t take much time or energy, and it builds a culture of positivity in your relationship.
Remember to look for opportunities to be responsive to your partner even – or especially! – when you’re not getting on well.
The sense of connection it brings will help you to turn things around.
What Happens When We Miss Those Bids For Connection
Obviously, we’re not going to catch every word, look, or touch that comes our way.
We usually let our partner’s bids for connection go unanswered when we’re doing something on autopilot, deep in thought, or otherwise preoccupied and not paying attention to what’s going on around us.
These days, it mostly happens when we’re on our phones.
Missing each other like this isn’t intended to be mean, but it does hurt.
Think of how your kids behave when they can’t get your attention.
They can make some pretty desperate attempts to get us to respond to them, to alleviate their feelings of rejection or abandonment.
Your partner probably doesn’t jump up and down, whine and pull on your clothes! But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel similarly when you ignore them, even when it’s not deliberate.
Think about how invisible you feel when they stare into their phone when you’re speaking to them.
You might relate to how Anna Jae puts it,
“You’re ignoring me so loud that it’s deafening.”
Guess what? This is not good for our relationships!
In fact, research has found that when it happens a lot it creates a sense of disconnection which can be as damaging as arguing a lot or having an affair.
If you do one thing to improve your relationship, start with this: be more responsive.
Make more effort to notice when your partner wants your attention. And see it as an opportunity to connect with them.
It will build trust and emotional closeness.
And this is what leads to physical closeness, by the way. So put down your phone for a better sex life!
And one last tip: move your phone charger out of the bedroom so you’re not distracted by it during those precious times when it’s just you and your partner, alone together.
Do You Get Snappy With Your Partner?
What’s worse than ignoring your partner when they want your attention? Turning against them.
When your partner calls your name, do you ever find yourself getting snappy with your partner, like irritably replying “what!!”?
We all get grumpy sometimes. But when someone is irritable with us, it’s hard not to take it personally.
Even if your partner looks your way and you deliberately look away, it can be really damaging. This is because eye contact is a very powerful signifier that we are acceptable and accepted.
Little moments like these hurt.
They create distance between couples, and increase conflict.
If you find yourself responding to your partner in a negative way: stop, take responsibility, and ask yourself what is going on with you, or between the two of you.
You’ll probably want to apologise first.
Then take a breath, notice how you’re feeling, and think about what you need.
When we feel irritable, it’s a sign that something is up.
It might be that your boundaries have been crossed, or your expectations have not been met.
You might need to set a limit or renegotiate your expectations.
Share what’s going on with you with your partner, speaking from your own experience, and being as tangible as possible with your needs.
“When … happens, I feel … because I need … Would you be willing to…?”
We have to take responsibility for the attitude we bring to our partners.
As Steven Magee puts it,
“Kisses, not hisses.”
Getting Snappy With Your Partner Can Be A Sign Of Deeper Issues
If you and your partner haven’t been getting on well lately, check out my online courses Love In Lockdown. It will teach you how to:
- Recognise when there’s no point arguing about something any more – and know what to do next
- Deal with feelings like anxiety and overwhelm, so that they don’t get in the way of you being the parents and partners you want to be
- Understand how your different approaches to coping with stress might cause problems in your relationship, and what each of you can do to avoid it
- Feel genuine acceptance of your partner’s more “interesting” habits
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