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