Attention — 13 June 2010
Being attentive to your partner is easy and beneficial

Receiving attention validates our worth and bolsters our esteem. From birth on, all humans need some appreciative contact from another to survive and thrive. Those who do not receive sufficient attention in their relationships often wilt, while those who benefit from appropriate attention are happy, vital beings who are able to reciprocate with love and caring.

The dictionary definition of attention is, “The act of attending or heeding; an act of civility or courtesy.” In “Cognitive Psychology and its implications,” John Anderson uses a psychological definition. He states, “Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things.” This focus on another person’s needs to the exclusion of all other stimuli is a crucial element of attention giving. This enables your beloved to feel seen, valued and treasured.

Our culture is aware of the importance of recognizing individual accomplishments and personal achievements. Various ceremonies exist for honoring people with special recognition for their achievements or milestones, such as: graduations, awards, promotions, titles, trophies, degrees, merit badges, scholarships, appointments for higher positions, as well as personal recognition of one’s uniqueness marked by anniversaries and birthday celebrations.

All of the above help the recipients of these distinctive acknowledgements feel recognized, valued and honored. Yet, the most consistent and ongoing affirmation of one’s uniqueness and preciousness comes from the ongoing attention and validation he/she receives from the mate.

Your opinion of your partner is the most valued view of all. No one else’s attention and validation surpasses yours. Your mate seeks your approval about achievements, support during low times, encouragement when s/he loses hope and admiration and awe for just being him/herself. Though this may be a challenging menu, it is easier to do when you set your mind to be present, curious, interested and focused on your beloved, forgoing all else during those precious minutes.

Shelly Gable, Ph.D., a then UCLA psychology researcher reported, “Two studies found that close relationships in which one’s partner typically responds to capitalization (when good things happen) attempts enthusiastically were associated with higher relationship well-being (e.g., intimacy, daily marital satisfaction.”

Dr. Gable also found that men reported greater relationship satisfaction when their partners affirmed their positive experiences, while women needed support for both positive and negative experiences. Both genders confirmed that hearing affirming statements like: “I knew you could do it. I am happy for you! Tell me everything that happened,” helped deepen their intimacy.

Irving Sigel and Gene Brody in “Methods of family research,” cite study findings that state, “Receiving affirmation within the marital dyad was related to lower levels of depressive symptomatology, higher levels of self-esteem, and increased feelings of mastery.”
Receiving attention is health promoting and strengthens relationship resiliency.
How to be attentive to your mate:

• Make close eye contact. Study your partner’s face, eyes, gestures and body movements.
• Pay close attention to your spouse’s words, even if the subject does not captivate you.
• Match the partner’s emotions. Respond with sadness to disappointments and with joy about successes.
• Lessen your self-concerns while paying close attention to your partner’s discourse.
• Become versed about your mate’s areas of interests, so you can stay engaged and ask appropriate questions.
• Affirm your beloved’s accomplishments in areas that matters to him/her, such as: being a good provider, loving the children, being financially generous, being kind and pleasing, being competent, appealing and wise.
• Listen and act upon the wish behind the words. If she appreciates romantic vacations – schedule them. If he likes surprises – plan exciting ones.
• Offer unsolicited words of praise and joy. “I adore you,” “You look handsome,” “Your ideas are so creative.”
• Use phrases that bolster your beloved’s esteem and help him/her feel respected, valued and cherished.
• Focus on pleasing your beloved. Reciprocal loving attention strengthens you individually and fortifies your union.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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