Ask Adam: What If My Boyfriend Ignores Me?
Advice on men, sex, and love.
My boyfriend surfs the web while we watch TV together, never comes up with a plan for the weekend, and spends way too much time thinking about work.
Otherwise he’s a good guy and I’m lucky to have him. But I’m afraid if I bring these issues up I’ll push him away or hurt him. How can I get him to pay me more attention?
Annoyed in Akron
Dear Annoyed in Akron,
Here are the six most dangerous words to describe a gay relationship: “We don’t talk about our relationship.”
Many couples can spend years — even decades — talking about a wide range of topics like politics, entertainment, or their friends — but can’t talk about their relationship. These are the distressed couples I often see in my couples counseling practice. The strategy of “we don’t talk about it” eventually leads to big relationship trouble.
Men rarely receive any training, modeling, or support for talking about their relationships. You can see it on TV: even the Real Housewives can spend an entire season talking about their relationships with each other. Yet how often do you see a bunch of guys doing the same? I’ve never seen Superman or Batman talk about their relationships.
Here’s a truth: All boyfriends are annoying. Even the most functional, loving couples will find each other annoying at least once per week. Over a 20-year period that’s more than 1,000 annoying things your partner will do. If you don’t talk about them, the annoying things will get more and more annoying. Then you will start to feel that your partner doesn’t “get” you, doesn’t care enough to listen to you, and maybe doesn’t even love you anymore. It’s not sustainable.
For many of us, talking about the relationship is scary. What if I bring up that thing and he just gets defensive? Then I’ll just feel more lost and alone.
So how can you begin to get more comfortable with this essential relationship skill? Here are some ideas:
#1: ACKNOWLEDGE THAT TALKING IS REALLY IMPORTANT
How do individuals resolve conflict? How do nations resolve conflict? Either they talk about the conflict or they resort to violence. Talking is the only effective relationship repair strategy known to humans. Once you are convinced that there is no better way to get closer to your boyfriend, you’ll have more motivation to take the risk of talking. Like most people, you have a need for attention. You honor that need when you talk about it with the man you love.
#2: BE THE MAN YOU WANT HIM TO BE
Newcomers to relationship “processing” understandably want the other guy to do the heavy lifting of revealing vulnerable feelings first. They’ll try asking a question, hoping to get him to open up. Unless your partner is already good at processing, this strategy may fail. The best way to inspire change in him is to model the new behavior. Start small. Pick something that is not too threatening to reveal. If you find that goes well, you’ll have greater confidence to approach the big stuff.
#3: DO NOT TALK ABOUT HIM
I recommend you start by sharing your feelings. For example, say, “I’ve noticed I’ve been feeling lonely lately.” A statement like that is all about you, what you experience. It doesn’t sound like a criticism of him. Yes, ultimately the feeling stems from a dynamic that you two have created together. But by starting with your vulnerable experience you are more likely to inspire his curiosity and empathy.
He’ll be vigilantly listening for a criticism of him. When he finds it he’ll shut down. So don’t give it to him. If you have to, present it like it’s your problem. “I’ve been working on trying to let you know what I’m feeling, and I’ve noticed how really hard it is for me to do that.” That’s a lot easier for your boyfriend to hear than “You don’t pay attention to me.”
Talking about how we “dance” together in a relationship feels dangerous and causes butterflies in most people’s stomachs. In reality, not talking is much more risky for your relationships.
Read last month's column here.