Attention — 08 January 2006
How to refine your attention skills

Being attentive to your partner is essential to the success of your relationship. When mates receive the right attention from each other they feel valued, connected and happy. Though some types of attention are universally pleasing, others are very specific to the individual. Receiving attention that is not the needed one is disappointing and may even be viewed as a discount rather than a gift.

Some examples of universally welcomed attention may be: appreciation for a job well done, being viewed as a good person, being liked, being told that one is attractive, appealing and wonderful. Yet, even these kudos may at times be viewed with skepticism by some partners.

It is crucial to understand your mate’s needs, values, interests, preferences and self- view. When a positive comment is made about something the receiver does not value about himself or in general, that verbal attention is likely to be dismissed. For example, if someone gets accolades for being generous with his time, services, or contributions while he feels that he is only doing his civil duty, that kindness may fall on deaf ears. Or, if a woman does not cherish her looks, being complimented for her appearance may be interpreted by her as evidence only of the sexual desires of the compliment giver.

Giving the right attention requires knowing the person well. Since attention comes in many forms, the best ones are the ones that matter to the receiver. For example, if your mate wants to spend more time with you, every available moment that you devote to being together will be cherished. However, if your partner is feeling very stretched, overworked and exhausted, providing her with time to herself may be the greatest sign of loving attention.

Attention can be given in many ways among them are: eye contact, verbal appreciations, listening, being present, considerate acts, shared activities, intellectual exchanges, affectionate touch, sexual pleasing, relief of responsibility, emotional support, acts of courtship, care giving, celebrating your mate’s essence daily and on special occasions, being positive and joyous about the relationship, helping the partner feel that s/he is the primary person in your life. All these require time, interest and intentional behaviors.

Getting to know another person involves careful listening, observations, asking questions, remembering and storing the answers, and acting accordingly. This five-step system is an ongoing process as most people change with time as do their needs and preferences. What may have mattered greatly in the past may still be so or it may have changed. For example, a partner who was very anxious to go out often before the children arrived may be now much more interested in a quiet evening at home. A spouse suggesting an outing may be rebuffed for being insensitive to her partner’s newer need.

Keeping track of your mate’s ever evolving preferences and needs for attention can only be successful with your ever-present vigilance and curiosity. This in and of itself is a clear measure of attention that is likely to be appreciated.

Most people feel flattered by the interest in them. It helps them feel valued, important, interesting and worthy. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and unknowingly reveal a great deal about themselves. Regardless of the content of the conversation, attentive listening provides many clues as to the character and preference of the speaker. The mere interest of the listener feels affirming.

To hone your attentive skills, you may choose to:

• Affirm to yourself the primacy of your partner in your life and your desire to be attentive to him or her.
• Listen, observe and ask questions to understand what types of attention your partner prefers.
• Set your mind to provide some attention daily, it strengthens your love connection.
• Ask your mate directly what s/he needs from you and what matters most at this time. Repeat the question periodically.
• Accept your mate’s needs as they are and attempt to provide as much attention as you can.

• Refrain from judgments about your mate’s preferences – they are valid and likely to be different than yours.
• Share your desires for attention. If they are not heeded, a discussion may need to follow.

There is nothing wrong or right about how people want to receive attention to feel valued. Showing interest in your partner and willingness to accommodate him or her is the first and finest type of attention, which is likely to be well received and reciprocated.

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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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