“I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

"First Encounter" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“First Encounter” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Arguing to get a person’s attention

It’s natural to want emotional contact with your partner or friend. If you find it difficult to get his attention, you might start feeling ignored. To break through his indifference, you might say something meant to get his attention. The easiest way to get someone’s attention is provoking him by saying something surprising or antagonistic.

If you say, “Hey, I just wanted to talk,” your partner will probably nonchalantly say, “I’m busy right now.” But if you say, “We haven’t done anything fun together in three years!” or “My old boyfriend invited me to have a drink,” you are more than likely to get your partner’s attention. The problem is this might not be the best way to get his attention.

Arguing does serve a purpose. Conflict is a painful way to balance two human drives—the desires for emotional contact and autonomy. Arguing compels someone to respond emotionally while promoting self assertion. Yet arguing is not the most satisfying or effective form of human discourse.

Balancing autonomy and connection

If you find yourself frequently wanting another person’s attention, here are some things to consider. There should be a balance between quality time spent together and the pursuit of separate activities, whether work, passions, friends or other interests. The ideal balance is different for every couple, and for each individual within a relationship. A balance is something that has to be negotiated between the partners, negotiated in an open, frank, and reasonable way. Sometimes two individuals have such difference needs that there can be no balance that makes both partners happy. In general, however, a loving relationship thrives when the individuals have separate thoughts, emotions, and interests, and there is a consistent effort to enjoy each others’ company on a regular basis.

So ask yourself whether you are being too needy. Make sure that you are not simply wanting an unreasonable amount of attention, in which case you should perhaps find some other activities to fill some of your time.

How to talk to your partner

If the two of you are truly spending very little time together, it may be time to have a reasonable talk with your partner and find a way for the relationship to be nurtured. It’s important that you are calm and emotionally separate when you speak. When you are emotionally separate from another person, you don’t need to become angry to get that person’s attention. You don’t need dramatic expressions of self-assertion to express your desire to spend more time together. You can do so with some gravity but without becoming manipulative, hostile or needy.

First you can tell your partner that it’s important for you to talk about your needs in the relationship and ask when he has 10 minutes to do so. Don’t engage in guilt trips, manipulate or whine. Show no resentment. Confidence and a positive attitude can be irresistible and show that you have the self-respect to engage on a mature level. Be confident, uplifting and matter of fact. Demonstrate that you support his passions, but emphasize that the relationship is important to you and that there is a necessity for balance and for nourishing that relationship. Ask if he is willing to spend more enjoyable time together on a regular basis. Then ask him what he’s willing to do to keep the relationship strong. If he cannot find the time, then you will know where you and the relationship stand.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Mind reading: ‘You just don’t like spending time with me!’”

Read “Spending Time Together as a Couple.”

Read “Pursuing passions or partnership? ‘You should spend time with me instead of going fishing!’”

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5 thoughts on ““I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

  1. Elizabeth

    Thank you for your insight. I have a counseling appointment set up to try and work through some of my issues with being anxious and maybe codependent. I do also think his lack of experience in adult relationships also played a big role in making communication difficult. This was the first relationship after my divorce and I went into it with a very cautious mindset and was somewhat distant in the beginning (more so than he was), so I probably attracted what I was putting out there – someone distant and noncommittal. One time when we didn’t plan ahead and we both ended up busy on opposing days, we weren’t going to see each other for a whole week, and he told me that it didn’t bother him at all, so waiting for him to get anxious doesn’t seem to have mattered! I miss him like crazy and can’t help but think he’s the right guy at maybe the wrong time (or that he made a hasty decision after an argument) but I know the best thing for me to do right now even if I did want him to come back is to not contact him. If he misses me, maybe he’ll reach out, and if not, he’s not worth it. Hopefully I can better manage my anxiety and insecurity in the future.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Well, I don’t know if he’s the right guy, but I certainly agree with your last couple of statements. And you will be able to manage your anxiety and insecurity better in the future. That’s how we all learn. When you see that something doesn’t work but causes more pain (being too available, pursuing), then you learn to resist that behavior. Better yet, when you start resisting the impulse to pursue, while still enjoying a fulfilling life and being warm, there is generally more desire.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes in the next few months.

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    I’ve bee reading your website after my boyfriend of six months ended our relationship because he felt too constrained and guilty (his words) about how he spent his free time. You mention the balance between separateness and togetherness and checking yourself to make sure you’re not being too needy and what is unnecessary attention. How do you know what is too needy (and needing to lower expectations about togetherness and staying in touch) vs. having different points of view on the spectrum (and therefore just not being right for each other)? At the six month point we were seeing each other twice per week – once during the week for dinner and then once on the weekend usually overnight – per his request because he liked that balance of being together vs. time to himself. I was managing with that amount of in-person contact, but requested knowing the exact days in advance, like at the beginning of the week, so that I knew what to expect and wouldn’t get all anxious wondering when I’d see him next (just like you mention in the pursuer/distancer article!) but the times in-between seeing each other got so hard. He would go radio silent for entire evenings, say he was “busy” and not share anything more, and then when I’d ask what he was up to, just to stay connected w/ his interests and show interest in his life, he would say I was “prying”. Now I’m not sure if I am being too clingy and needy in relationships, or if I just need to meet someone who has similar expectations as myself. Is it too much to ask for daily “check-ins” (which sounds bad but more like, letting someone know how your day was, if you have plans that will prevent you from answering texts or communicating, etc.) and hanging out more than twice a week after six months? I’m having trouble understanding what’s normal. This is my first time dating as an adult – I married my high school sweetheart who ended up leaving me for someone at his work, and this new boyfriend had never had an in-person relationship before (all online relationships with people he met on forums and games), much less lived with someone or had a long term relationship with someone, so our very different backgrounds might also have caused the tension.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thanks for your comment and questions.

      “How do you know what is too needy (and needing to lower expectations about togetherness and staying in touch) vs. having different points of view on the spectrum (and therefore just not being right for each other)?”

      I think it’s good to keep a balance, and yes, people have different individual balance points. You just don’t want one person always being the one who calls and wants to get together. So if that’s you, you would back off until it’s somewhat even, reciprocal, and balanced. If the balance point ends up being unsatisfactory for you, then the person is probably not right for you.

      ” I was managing with that amount of in-person contact, but requested knowing the exact days in advance, like at the beginning of the week, so that I knew what to expect and wouldn’t get all anxious wondering when I’d see him next (just like you mention in the pursuer/distancer article!)”

      In such a situation, if he doesn’t easily plan ahead and you feel like you’re being kept in the lurch, I would not get anxious. Instead I would make other plans all the time–I know it’s hard when you like someone. But eventually he would discover through your actions, not your anxious questioning, that you are not available when he doesn’t plan ahead. He then becomes equally anxious wondering when he’ll see you next. You have given him all the power to determine when he’s see you because you anxiously wait to accommodate his last-minute desires and scheduling. It’s definitely time to stop that.

      “Now I’m not sure if I am being too clingy and needy in relationships, or if I just need to meet someone who has similar expectations as myself. Is it too much to ask for daily “check-ins” (which sounds bad but more like, letting someone know how your day was, if you have plans that will prevent you from answering texts or communicating, etc.) and hanging out more than twice a week after six months? ”

      Yes, both are true. You were too needy, clingy and available. But I really don’t like the fact that he said you are “prying.” I suspect he’s not available for a monogomous relationship or an truly intimate relationship.

      I think that you do have higher expectations than this boyfriend does and that he is either a bit of a player or just not a super guy for a long-term relationship. A great guy who is feeling overwhelmed by your pursuit would stop sleeping with you, rather than continue to date and sleep with you at his convenience while being unavailable to check in with you every day.

      I would chalk this up to a good experience. You can be a little less available and don’t move forward when there is not adequate continued reciprocity, interest and respect. I think you do need to hold back from reaching out too much when you meet the next guy, despite any excitement and desire you will have for him.

      “This is my first time dating as an adult – I married my high school sweetheart who ended up leaving me for someone at his work.”

      I think your instincts are good in that you’ve only dated him for six months and are questioning his lack of interest. Be glad that you haven’t let it drag on for years. Yes, contact only twice a week, words like “prying,” and not checking in all indicate that it is time for you to move on and do better. And next time, avoid getting in patterns where the other person knows that you are always available for him.

      “this new boyfriend had never had an in-person relationship before (all online relationships with people he met on forums and games), much less lived with someone or had a long term relationship with someone”

      That explains something as well, and it should be a red flag for you. Someone who has had mostly online relationships is probably afraid of intimacy, and likes the quick fix of novelty that exists in the superficiality of online relationships.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply

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