Do I Matter to You?


When your mate talks about something that you find boring, what do you do? Do you keep doing what you are doing? Interrupt with something you find more interesting? Wait for him/her to take a breathe & then chime in? Or do you make eye contact & actually listen?

In studying couple communication, Dr. John Gottman & his team of researchers observed that partners continually make “bids” for one another’s attention, closeness, and reassurance.

do i matter to you?

These bids were made through comments, questions, glances, and/or gestures.

The couples seemed to be asking, on a regular basis:

Are you there?
Do I matter to you?

Sometimes they got the responses they wanted.

If they didn’t, they tried again.

You’ve watched it happen, right?

It’s most obvious with children.

A few moms are relaxing at the park while their toddlers are playing in the sandbox. One particular mom is engrossed in conversation with her friends, and her 3-year-old tries to get her attention.

If he’s unsuccessful, he doesn’t give up.

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again!

He’ll keep calling her; and if she doesn’t respond, he’ll get closer to her … and louder! He may even resort to attacking her to get her to pay attention to his needs.

Couples communicate like that, too.

If a hello or a smile gets no response, partners intensify their bids.

Like the toddler, they may get louder, even attacking or criticizing.

However, strategies like criticism will naturally elicit a negative response (defensiveness) and launch a negative pattern of interactions that could escalate into a full-blown argument.

Not exactly what you were hoping for, right?

A Word (or Two) About Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a common method of asking for attention without seeming to really need anything. Your needs for attention (and your vulnerability) are hidden behind a screen of purported humor.

Sarcasm is also a very effective way of shooting yourself in the foot. It sends a mixed message. In reality, you’re asking for attention. But the message your partner gets is that he or she is dumb, clumsy, or lacks value — not a great way to get the positive attention you’re really looking for.

When a man’s partner doesn’t respond to or even recognize? his bids for attention, he may simply give up trying.

QUESTION: So what can you do with this information? Get involved in your own research by observing your own behavior.

  • How many times and in what ways did you ask for your partner’s attention today?
  • Did you get the response you wanted?
  • How can you increase the effectiveness of your bids?

DrDebiSmith

Dr. Debi is passionate about helping Christian couples & single adults learn more effective ways to apply Biblical principles & the findings of psychological research to everyday life. She is an author & former *professor, as well as a California Licensed Psychologist (21711) & a Texas Licensed Psychologist with Provisional Status (38600). At this time, she is not accepting new patients so she can devote more time to writing & creating educational programs for couples. * Dr. Debi has taught psychology courses at MidAmerica Nazarene University, Azusa Pacific University, & Biola University.

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