If your partner thinks it is a problem and you don’t, then it’s a problem and something you need to take seriously. Read why here: Two Experiences in a Relationship
Attention Fatigue = Relationship Fatigue
Part of what our technology is bringing to our awareness is the cost of attention fatigue. Every day you and I have a finite amount of focused attention. The more our attention is spent outside of the relationship, the less we have for our relationship.
The two things that help us focus our attention are our values and our willpower. Your values, even the ones you are not aware of, influence how you spend your time when you have energy. Your willpower helps you live out your values by disciplining and focusing your attention on the things that matter.
“A little bit of attention and kindness can totally change a whole life, and a lack of that can do the same.” – Adrien Brody
Researchers have discovered that willpower helps us focus our attention, control our impulsive behaviors, delay gratification, and follow through on what we say we will do 1
What this means is if you spend your willpower preventing yourself from lashing out at your co-worker Ted who, yet again, broke the printer, or you barely slept last night because your child had a terrible nightmare and sought you out for comfort, your willpower will be depleted and as a result, you will have less energy to pay quality attention to your partner 2.
Another way to put this is if you have a stressful day or are under a lot of stress, such as fear of losing your job, you’re going to have less energy to be present with your partner.
The Romantic Cost of Busyness
Our lives are becoming busier and more stressful. Dual-income couples, especially those with children, are literally working four jobs. The first two are their own jobs, the third is raising the kids, and the fourth is managing the household. This often leaves little time for the emotional connection required to strengthen the relationship over time.
In one research study, dual-income couples only spent 10% of their time at home with each other and without their children. And guess what they did during that time?
“Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.” – Nadia Boulanger
Talked about chores.
The more stressed you are about things in your life, the less energy you will have to create positive moments of connection in your relationship.
This is especially apparent with parents. And Esther Perel proposes a solution:
“If you need a happy couple to have an intact family, then what does the couple need to do?
It really needs to redirect some of the energy away from family and children to themselves, and to do it without massive amounts of guilt, to do it because they actually know that the survival of the family will depend on their ability to redirect, what I call the erotic energy to the relationship.” – Ester Perel
Ester states, “At this moment, you have never seen a generation of parents that feels more guilty when it takes time for itself, can’t find babysitters because nobody is good enough, doesn’t leave the house, has taken 2 years before they ever had a night away.”
The Preoccupation Problem
On a simpler note, if your partner is preoccupied with another task, it makes it difficult for them to listen to you. If one of your kids is crying, the TV is on, or music is playing, it’s going to be difficult to hear from you.
“Couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.” – Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
After all, it’s hard for you to be heard when your partner is distracted.
“Lack of conversation, lack of attention and lack of understanding often lead to cheating or breakup.”
Solutions for the Lack of Attention to Your Relationship:
1. When communicating with your partner, make sure you have your partner’s full attention.
This means not assuming your partner is listening just because you’re talking. Instead, check-in: “Is this a good time to talk about…?” Especially if it is something that is meaningful to you or the relationship. If you as the listener are focused on something and your partner begins talking, you can pause and say, “I really want to hear what you’re saying and I’m focused/distracted by this. Can I finish this up really quick and then talk to you about this? I want to give you my full attention and I ‘m distracted right now.” FYI, if you make an agreement like this but don’t follow through, your significant other won’t trust your word. So follow through. Remember, both the speaker and listener have responsibilities in keeping the conversation clean and clear.