Thursday, September 06, 2007

Important Targets of Our Attention in Romantic Adult Loving Relationships

In my last Post entitled “What We Pay Attention To – A Delicate Balance for Living a Happy Life,” I suggested that in order to live a healthy and happy life it is important to know what to pay attention to (as well as how much time you attend to specific things and people). I also reminded my readers that in my pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom: You Gotta Love ’Em, I share many stories about my interactions and conversations with my mom and dad, concluding with a “pearl of wisdom” they gave to me. One pearl not in that book (but will be in its next edition) is about the time my dad said to me, “Life’s easy… if you know what to pay attention to.” I also repeatedly have noticed that this what-we-pay-attention-to issue is equally important if you are in a romantic adult loving relationship.

Currently, I am writing a new self-help book, tentatively titled Your Adult Loving Relationships with a terrific colleague, Dr. Bill Lambos; we indeed will be addressing this important aspect of adult loving relationships. In my 1997 self-help book, Adult Loving Relationships, I talk about how this issue was critical to a couple with whom I had worked, Kelly and Vicky. Below is a selected portion of that part of that book:

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I had been working with Kelly for about two months when he asked if he could invite his girlfriend, Vicky, to a session. Basically, he felt that with the therapy sessions we had had, he was prepared and ready “to get on with his life.” Nonetheless, he did feel that it would be helpful if he and Vicky could have an opportunity to straighten some things out. At our next session, our last session, Vicky came with him. After we talked for awhile and I had an opportunity to get to appreciate the nature of their relationship, I looked at Kelly and said, “I have the feeling, Kelly, that you spend a fair amount of time attending to and taking care of yourself, and you spend a fair amount of time also taking care of and attending to your relationship with Vicky. But what I hear Vicky saying, however, is that sometimes she feels that you do not pay enough attention to her.”

“Yes, sure does seem that way,” Kelly replied.

I then turned to Vicky and said, “Vicky, you seem to pay a lot of attention to Kelly and to your relationship with Kelly, but I have the feeling that you sometimes don’t pay enough attention to yourself.”

She looked at me and said, “But I love him and I want our relationship to work.”

At that moment, Kelly snapped his head to look at her and quickly said, “I know that Vicky, I know you love me and I know that you want our relationship to work. However, you haven’t taken classes at the university for two semesters now, you hardly go to the gym anymore, and there are a lot of other things that you used to do for yourself that you have quit doing. I’m concerned about that, Vicky, and I think you miss doing some of those things too.”

Vicky nodded and with a saddened voice said, “Yes, that’s true.”

What I am suggesting here is that when two individuals are involved in an adult loving relationship, it is important that both of them pay attention to three things: (1) Themselves; (2) Each Other; and, (3) Their Relationship. Anything short of both people’s attending to all three eventually leads to relationship difficulties. In the case of Kelly and Vicky, for example, Vicky was starting to feel neglected by Kelly, and Kelly was beginning to lose his appreciation and respect for Vicky because, as he said, “She was becoming less than the woman who I originally fell in love with.”

Fortunately for the two of them, nonetheless, they were able to make some adjustments in what each of them were attending to in their relationship, and in his Christmas card to me, Kelly wrote a little note in which he concluded, “...while Vicky’s at the gym, I thought I’d write out some cards... things couldn’t be better!”

In your adult loving relationship, it might be helpful for you and your loved one to always try to continue to be attentive to three things – yourselves, each other, and your relationship.

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And for those of you who have read my contemporary romance novels, you know that this issue surfaced for Sheila and Troy (in My Sweetpea: Seven Years and Seven Days) and for Marcia and Jack (in Fear of Feeling Loved).

Question: Have you ever encountered difficulties in a romantic adult loving relationship because you and/or your partner weren’t paying the “right amount of attention” to yourselves, each other and your relationship?



Anonymous said...

I had a tough time with my husband when we had our first child. We used to go out together a lot and away on vacations. Now it's tougher to do that since we are up late feeding our daughter, changing diapers, and working. Things are a little better now because we have found ways to enjoy the new kinds of time we spend with each other. We actually spend more time together now than we did prior to kids. It's just a different type of time we spend.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Anonymous,
Thanks for stopping by and offering your experience with this issue. Having children does indeed change our lifestyles and what we value (especially in terms of how we spend out time). For example, my son is now experiencing what I experienced when he and his sisters were little -- with two children of his own, on Saturdays he prefers to spend time playing ball on the front lawn with his children instead of playing golf with his buddies-- not because he has to but because he wants to.
It sounds like you and your husband are now not only finding ways to spend more time together but more "quality time" together. Good for you! Life's a wonderful thing if we live it in life's terms.
Thanks again for your Comment,