You Are Response-Able
You are response-able for getting your attachment needs met as well as meeting your partner’s attachment needs. Being response-able in your relationship means being open and responsive, both emotionally and physically, to your partner’s bids for emotional connection. It is your choice how you are going to respond. You can turn towards, or turn away/against. You are also response-able to ask for what you need in a way that invites your partner to meet that need.
Being Response-Able to Your Partner
There are four obstacles to noticing your partner’s bids for connection.
1) Mindlessness –
Couples often miss bids out of mindlessness, not malice. Just being aware of how subtle these bids are and how vital they are to creating a passionate and healthy relationship can make a big difference in how partners emotionally connect.
2) Bid wrapped in a negative emotion –
Bids can be positive, and as you’ve seen with protest behavior, bids can be negative as well. Negative bids often cause us to react negatively and miss the hidden plea for connection.
For example, Stephanie says to her husband, James, “it would never occur to you to load the dishwasher, would it?” As a result, James misses her bid “please load the dishwasher.” He only hears criticism. So it makes sense when he responds defensively by saying, “like you ever fill up the gas tank in the car?” His response is only escalating the argument.
What if James responded by saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll do it.” and then loaded the dishwasher? He’d probably score major brownie points and earn a guilty smile from his wife, who would realize that her harsh comment was uncalled for.
Before you reply defensively to your partner, pause for a moment and search for a bid underneath your partner’s difficult words. Then focus on the bid, not the delivery. You can say, “I want to respond positively to what you said, so can you please let me know what you need from me? I want to know.” That phrase is a powerful way to demonstrate you are responsive and response-able to your partner’s needs.
If bids laced with criticism are a habit in your relationship and negativity is blocking the bids, work on softening how you start your conversations.
3) Missing the bid in protest behavior –
When my partner back in college called me 34 times in one night, I dismissed her bid for connection and the opportunity to hear what she really needed: the emotional security that I was there for her.
If I were to experience this again, I would slow down and ask my partner what her fear is. This would uncover her attachment need so I could soothe her and work with her to provide her the reassurance she needed to trust that I wasn’t going to abandon her.
When your partner protests, don’t call them crazy. Don’t call them a selfish asshole for withdrawing, but instead ask what is going underneath their behavior to uncover their hidden need.
4) Tech Neglect –
Because of the fact that many of us are available via email during non-work hours and constantly check social media, many of us have developed a sort of addiction in being distracted. Our intimate relationships suffer because we are deprived of being aware and available to respond to each other. For couples that really struggle with this, I’ve found creating a designated “no-tech, all-connection time” really helps turn things around.
Helping Your Partner Be Response-Able to Your Needs
How you express your needs determines how your partner may meet your needs.
1. Anxious Lover
If you are an anxious lover who has trouble expressing your needs, working to be direct and openly express yourself will not be easy, but it’s necessary to create the relationship you want. As Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication says, “if we don’t value our needs, others may not either.”
To achieve lasting love you have to tune into your deepest needs and longings and be able to honestly communicate them with your partner in a non-attacking and non-demanding way. Anxious lovers often make demands of their partners or use ultimatums to control them. This kind of behavior gives our partner two options: to rebel or surrender.
As a result, the relationship fills with resentment rather than your partner willingly meeting your needs. Learning how to express yourself in a healthy and honest way is vital to changing the toxic dynamics in your relationship
Our attachment needs and fears are hidden agendas that dictate our behavior but rarely are they truly acknowledged. By intentionally acknowledging our needs, we can actively shape the love in our relationship that we so badly need.
2. Avoidant Lover
If you are an avoidant lover, opening up and being responsive to a needy partner feels like you are being consumed in a tsunami. One of the powerful shifts you can do as a romantic partner is to recognize the primal code of attachment your partner needs instead of dismissing it. Avoidant lovers tend to have a belief that independence is the key to a healthy relationship. This is false. Interdependency is.
By giving your partner reassurance and taking your space, you can soothe your partner’s insecurity and actually find yourself wanting to spend more time with them.
This happened to Leila. When she would come home from work, all she wanted was space, but her partner kept nagging her to talk. She would push him away, and as a result, his neediness got worse.
I proposed that she say, “it’s good to see you and I’m super excited to hear about your day. Can we talk in thirty minutes? I just need some time to decompress by myself so I can be available and present with you.” After saying this her partner, Tyler, responded in a shocked fashion; “Umm.. of course, babe. That sounds amazing!”
So Leila went upstairs and in about 10 minutes she noticed a yearning to connect with Tyler. So she went back downstairs, and they started talking.
Avoidants tend to fall in love with anxious lovers who desperately need reassurance, and by giving them reassurance that you love them and want to connect, the fewer demands or pressure they’ll put on you to do so. That’ll give you the freedom you desperately desire in your relationship.
Additionally, emotionally distant partners will tell me, “I do all kinds of things to show I care. I fix the house, make a good salary, and solve our problems. Why is it she only complains that we don’t cuddle or talk about things?” Probably because her complaint is telling you to want she really needs to feel loved by you. How we experience or desire love is not always how our partners experience or feel loved.