September 2013: Attention
Funny how themes tend to show up in my practice now and then. Lately, it’s been the theme of attention as it relates to romantic relationships, couplehood, marriage.
It’s actually a theme that has me quite puzzled: women need attention to be satisfied in relationship. Now as a woman, it might be puzzling because females are socialized to value relationships; men to value money, prestige, sexual prowess. So it makes perfect sense to me that women need attention. We do, after all, give that to each other quite readily and easily—as well as the members of our families, and hopefully our partners.
Men, however, appear to be baffled by this need. Or how to meet it. Nothing they do ever seems good enough. Granted, these men are trying hard to make their wives happy. I give them credit for that. What I am missing is the disconnection about what their wives need in all that hard work—attention.
Women need to be attended to just as much as any other person of any age or gender on the planet. Is it because moms are so self-sacrificing that inadvertently the message is sent that women can take care of themselves, relationally speaking? Do parents not model reciprocated attentiveness? Just some questions that come to mind when I think about this vacuum created in our Western society. Begs the question, is it different in other cultures? Are males more attentive to females in intimate relationships elsewhere in the world?
Regardless, how do we address this significant shortcoming in our culture?
Maybe we need to begin by clarifying what we mean by “women need attention”—as in, take an interest in. When we were dating, we hung on each others every word, took notice of what was worn, what each other smelled like, where we went, what choices were made—in other words, paid close attention. We took an interest in our prospective mate. We wanted to know them, not just know the facts about them. We wanted to know what made them tick, how their inner world worked. How come that changes once a commitment is made and co-habitation begins?
Do we get lazy? Do roles change? Do we regress to childhood mentalities? Do our expectations change? How much is conscious? Are we “pre-programmed” by the dynamics of the families we grew up in? Is there hope to make a shift back to all-consuming attentiveness?
If we started to give undivided attention to our partner of either gender, what would change in the relationship? Would anything fall apart? Improve? What would happen to satisfaction levels? Does it require too much time? Energy? Effort? What gets in the way of paying attention to each other? Why do we stop, if we did it at all?
If you have any thoughts about women needing attention for relationships to be satisfying, feel free to post a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.