Attention — 05 October 2004
How to give your partner the needed attention

A common complaint of couples coming for counseling is that one or both are not given first priority in their relationship. This situation causes great pain to the shunned mate and a loss of intimacy to both partners. Resolving this issue helps create a happier, more loving union.

The most common reason given for the less than attentive behavior is being overly busy with life’s demands. It is easy to take a partner for granted as all other aspects of life clamor for our attention. The job, the children, the bills, the house, the errands, the in-laws, and other people and tasks drain our energies and block us from paying attention to our most cherished partner. As a temporary state, being distracted may be acceptable. However, when it becomes a long-term pattern, it damages the love connection between the spouses.

Another reason for neglecting to affirm the partner’s top status is lack of awareness. Some mates say that they do feel that the partner is the most important person in their lives, but are unaware that their behavior delivers the opposite message. They also assume that since the relationship is stable and entrenched in commitment and love, it does not require ongoing efforts to reassure the partner of his given status. They often find the partner’s sense of being excluded as surprising.

Other partners assume that the children deserve to become the primary focus of both of them. They view the partner’s dismay about lack of sufficient attention as a capricious and even selfish demand. To preserve their own esteem as devoted and good parents, these mates may dismiss their partners request for more attention as excessive neediness.

All these and other reasons given as justifications for ignoring a spouse only exacerbate the hurts felt by the abandoned mate.

The partner who sees himself being relegated to a seventh place in the mate’s priority list, may feel more and more diminished, insignificant and emotionally wounded. At times, the pained partner may speak of his or her lowly status directly, with humor and/or sarcasm. “I come after the kids, the job, the girlfriends, her parents, her tennis, the dog and the gerbil”. The loss of attention and recognition may ultimately damage the partner’s sense of self-esteem, lovability and worth.

We all need to matter to others to thrive. The most important person from whom we seek validation of our importance is our mate. When we feel valued by our lover our self-esteem is supported, our energy is invigorated and we are empowered to conduct our lives more effectively. When we lack the sense of importance and primacy to our mates, we wilt.

Understanding the importance of valuing our partner is only the first step. We need to engage in behaviors that document our appreciation and love.

Many couples tell me that they believe their partners love them, but they don’t feel it. So how can you help your mate feel loved?

First, you need to recognize that your partner is the most important person to you and deserves to be considered first and foremost. You and your partner are the nuclear unit that expanded to include children, jobs, family, friends, and more. You start as two and will ultimately end as two when the children leave home to begin their independent lives. Unless you keep the partner as your top priority you are risking the durability of your relationship.

To manifest your lover’s primacy in your life, all you have to do is pay attention to him or her. What does attention mean?

  • Attention means making eye contact in conversations about daily topics as well as deep ones.
  • Attention means listening well with sensitivity and caring.
  • Attention means responding when your partner speaks.
  • Attention means greeting your partner at the door with a welcoming hug and parting with a loving word.
  • Attention means sharing humor and laughter.
  • Attention means knowing what your partner needs and wants and trying to give it the highest priority. (Ahead of your own needs).
  • Attention means asking – not telling your partner what she feels, thinks, wants or needs to do.
  • Attention means consulting your mate about your life and valuing his input.
  • Attention means taking time to be together on a date night weekly, while other demands are postponed.
  • Attention means keeping the courtship alive: giving cards, small gifts, making calls, and initiating romantic gestures.
  • Attention means inviting your mate to vacation with you.
  • Attention means praising your lover for everything possible regarding her body, thoughts, feelings and actions on a daily basis.
  • Attention means planning and sharing fun activities.
  • Attention means remembering and honoring what is important to him, even if it insignificant to you.
  • Attention means sensing when he is not feeling well physically or emotionally and providing help and support.
  • Attention means remembering her birthday, holidays and special momentous timed in her life with recognition of words and gifts.
  • Attention means being there to help, even when you are tired and weary.
  • Attention means inconveniencing yourself to unburden or please your partner.
  • Attention means telling other people how special your mate is.
  • Attention means being positive and supportive of her.
  • Attention means being there physically and emotionally to improve his life.
  • Attention means expressing physical affection often.
  • Attention means being a sensitive lover.
  • Attention means being kind and loving in all interactions with and about your mate.

If this list seems too long, feel free to pick and choose those items that appeal to you. Even if you do only a few of these attentive behaviors, it is likely that your partner will feel valued and cherished by you and that your relationship will thrive.

October 10, 2004

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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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