A couple in their mid-30s, Heather and Shane, sit down on the couch in my office. Heather leans over on the arm and gives me brief glances before looking back at the floor. Shane sits straight up and looks directly at me. He tells me he can’t understand what has gone wrong with his wife or their relationship. He says that they have always been happy together but lately Heather has been saying that she is depressed and she is full of complaints toward him. He insists that nothing has changed at all with him, and that Heather is complaining about things that never bothered her before or even about things she used to like. Heather has a hard time explaining what the vexation is, but one comment she makes catches my attention.
“You just don’t treat me like I’m special to you anymore,” she murmurs.
Feeling like we are special to someone is a vital ingredient to any truly happy relationship. However, in our busy and competitive lives, our responsibilities, routines, and preoccupations take our attention away from what is most dear to us. If we don’t want these relationships to become drab and routine, we need to tune in and be present with our loved ones in order to let them know they are precious to us.
Making the Most of Time Together
Making the matter even more pressing is the fact that we spend so little uninterrupted time with our family members. Researchers estimate that parents spend less than one hour per day interacting with their children in play or educational activities. Meanwhile, children average around seven hours per day looking at screens. Spouses spend about two hours per day with each other but almost half of that is spent watching TV or doing housework.
The question becomes, how can we make the most of the little time we have together?
Attunement is to be both deeply aware of someone and to be in harmony with their presence. We might think we are doing things with someone, but if our minds are somewhere else or our heart isn’t in it, the time we spend won’t nourish the relationship.
Being attuned is like the state we are in when we are first falling in love. We see them, we notice them. Or when we are spending time with a child we are fond of. We smile at them, we laugh with them, we protect them. To make sure you are really present and tuned in while you are spending time with someone, follow these steps:
1. Let the other person know that this is your special time with them. Schedule the time together if necessary or go out somewhere that will help you focus your attention.
2. Put away distractions. If there is something else on your mind write it down to save it for later. Put away your phone or turn off other distracting devices in your environment.
3. Make frequent eye contact and smile. While you are doing this, notice their presence and tune into it. Look for the deepest part you can find, all the way to their soul.
4. Bring to mind the positive feelings you have toward the person. Call forth your fond memories and the reason why the person is precious to you. Tell them that they matter to you and why. This is not the time to talk about business or logistical matters or talk about the things that irritate you about them. However, once the attuned connection is firmly established, it will make it much easier to talk about such matters.
5. Set aside regular time for attunement. Make there are certain times in the day or week when the person knows they can count on your full attention and follow-through.
6. Make use of small spaces of time. When you are passing by each other during the day, try to make eye contact and smile. Comings and goings are important times and opportunities to connect. Create a special greeting you give the person when you first see them in the morning or when they come home.
7. Give the person something to remind them of your presence throughout the day. Give the person a picture or a letter, some memorabilia from an event together or another object that will remind them of you. Tell them you are giving it to them so they can remember that you always matter to them. Take something of theirs and tell them you keep it close to remind yourself of how important they are.
After hearing Heather’s muted but desperate plea for closeness I helped her put together and distill her feelings of loss and loneliness toward Shane. It wasn’t that Shane had changed. It was that, over time, their lives had become more and more busy and separate. There was less focused attention between them. They had slowly lost each other right in the midst of each other’s presence. But they found each other again by tuning in.
Is there someone important in your life who is slowly slipping away from you? See if you can reverse the trend by actively finding time to be together without distraction and being fully attuned to their presence.
Michael Courter is a therapist and counselor who believes in the power of personal growth, repairing relationships, and following your dreams. His website is CourterCounsel.com
Do you have questions about relationships or personal growth that you would like Michael to address? Send them to mc@CourterCounsel.com