Let's Get Responsive
How we respond to our partner can build emotional intimacy or erode it.
(Posted on January 31, 2017)
If you have a mate who is willing to share personal information about himself, whether it’s
positive or negative, he’s letting you in on his world. It doesn’t have to be a big reveal to
create intimacy. He might just tell you he ran into an acquaintance unexpectedly. Or it could be
heavier, such as the loss of a very close relative or friend, or a different kind of life-changing
event, such as a new career opportunity. It’s not the information that makes the difference, but
how you react to it. Your response gives him clues on how much support, love, caring, and
affection he can expect from you; it also predicts the success of a relationship.
Responding or not responding doesn’t mean saying something or saying nothing. There are
subtle cues of communication.
Let’s look at some examples:
He says: “I ran into Jane on the street.”
Responsive: “Wow. It’s been a long time. What’s she up to?”
Unresponsive: “Oh, that’s nice.”
He says: “The cab driver I had today was so rude. He was honking at other cars and yelling out
Responsive: “That behavior is completely uncalled for!”
Unresponsive: “Well, you should have just gotten out and walked the rest of the way.”
He says: “I’m so angry at the way I was treated by my boss.”Responsive: “It’s entirely understandable why you feel that way. Anyone would be upset if they
were treated that way.”
Unresponsive: “Don’t get angry about it—it’s just a waste of energy. I would just let it roll off
my back.” Remember, you also express support through your body language. For example:
- Maintains eye contact
- Reaches out to touch
- Eye roll
- Looking away or at something else
- Standing away or sitting back with arms crossed
I’ll wager that less-than-responsive moments are probably flitting through your mind right
now. Why would I assume that? Because everyone—and I mean everyone—has junctures when
they are not shining beacons of responsiveness. So if you’re cringing and mentally drubbing
yourself for being unresponsive and missing windows of connection, lighten up. It’s just not
possible to be completely responsive and receptive 100 percent of the time. You’re human,
right? Well, humans don’t always smile; sometimes they forget themselves and roll their eyes;
occasionally they sit back rather than lean in; and they blunder from time to time when it’s
their moment to be a reassuring, engaged partner or friend.
And that’s okay. We are all going to miss the responsiveness boat sometimes. There may even
be periods of time in life when we’ve been really unresponsive; those missed boats resembled
mega fleets. The gist is that no matter whether you’ve been just a little unresponsive or a whole
lot, every moment presents you with a new opening to do something different and make a new
So when you think about moments of responsiveness, try looking toward your present rather
than your past. Remind yourself that you are in today, in your own right now, and that this is
the only place where you have the power to do anything. If you miss a boat of opportunity to be responsive to your partner in one moment (and you inevitably will), rest assured that
another one will almost always come before long to give you another shot.
How can you start being more responsive in your relationship today? The good news is that you
have a cornucopia of avenues to choose from. Below are a few examples to think about. You
may choose to put all of these to use, or a just a couple of them. Depending on the situation,
some ways may feel more appropriate or useful than others. But no matter which of these
approaches catches your eye, I hope that you’ll give yourself the freedom (and the
patience—it’s all about practice) to play with responsiveness and find what resonates with you!
- Apologize when you catch yourself being unresponsive: “Todd, I’m so sorry. You were telling me about your day and I had my face buried in this damn smartphone. I got distracted by an email, and I didn’t mean to do that. It’s getting banished to my purse right now.”
- When you’re having a conversation with your partner, try to keep the focus on him rather than letting your eyes drift over to the television, your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, etc.
- Smile at him when you see him.
- Express empathy and attention when he shares difficult moments, stresses, or inconveniences: “Argh! You’re so right. Rush-hour traffic is such a drain! Is it always that bad, or are some days worse than others?”
- When he shares good news, no matter how big or small, show him with your words and gestures that it matters to you: “You got a hole in one today? That’s so awesome! Let’s have a glass of wine to celebrate!”
- When he shares something that irks you, resist the urge to lay out blatant displays of annoyance, such as rolling your eyes, sighing with exasperation, or mumbling an expression of frustration under your breath.
Reprinted with permission from IF WE’RE TOGETHER, WHY DO I FEEL SO ALONE? by Holly
Parker from New American Library, copyright 2017.