My husband admitted to me recently that I was not being attentive enough to him and his needs. I love my husband dearly — he’s the most important person in my life — so I really reflected on what he was telling me. I went through stages of emotions as I processed his words: sadness that I’d let him down, anger that he didn’t recognize the stress I was under and give me a break, regret that he’d not said something sooner.
After he explained to me the issue and how it was making him feel, and we really drilled down on the specifics, we realized it was, at the root, a Love Language issue. I had not been showing him love in the way that he most needs to receive love. I’d been showing it in the ways that come naturally to me, and the ways that I want and need to receive love. But he was needing more attention from me. More tiny displays of attention that show him that I care.
I’ve always been a little aloof. I tend to stay in my head and sometimes I forget to reach out and let others in. I forget to pay attention to others and I assume if someone needs attention from me, they’ll ask for it. And when my husband told me this was hurting him, it confused me so much because when he asks me for attention, I’m happy to give it to him. But he needed me to offer it up and reach out to connect with him without him asking. He wanted me to show that I care. He wanted me to get out of my own head and connect with him.
Until he brought it to my attention that this was hurting him, I never really thought about how this type of behavior could have a negative impact on those around me.
As I began to work through this, I made a daily conscious effort to find ways to do the little things that make him feel loved. I started to pay more attention to him. I put my phone down and look at him when we’re talking. I really look at him and notice what clothes he’s wearing, notice if he’s tired or irritable or tense, and then ask him how he’s feeling. I listen to him talk about his hobbies and interests, and then ask questions so that I can genuinely learn more. I’ve tried to pull out of my own world so that I can enter into his. And I found that is both the key and the most challenging part for me. Being willing to completely disengage from myself and my own thoughts and feelings in order to meet someone else where they are. Paying close enough attention to someone so that you know what is important to them and you can anticipate their needs. It requires patience and humility and focus and curiosity, and most of all love.
I thought about how difficult it is for me to do this with my children sometimes too.
To really stop what I am doing and ignore my own plans and to-do list, and really enter into their lives. Not just on the surface, but to actually pay close enough attention to their words and their gestures and their moods to really understand what is going on with them. To engage with whatever is important to them, no matter how frivolous or silly it may seem.
It is hard. It is inconvenient. It is inefficient. But it is the absolute key to parenthood.
It’s the key to life and love and relationships. And without the willingness to enter, really intimately enter, into the lives of the people we love, we are hurting them. Whether we realize it or not, whether our intentions are pure or not, we’re hurting them.
Since my husband brought all of this to my attention, I have made it my highest priority in life to pay attention to my people: my husband, my son and my daughter. They are my most important responsibility and my first priority. If I am not paying attention to them — entering into their lives and taking part in the things that are important to them, looking out for them in every way possible, anticipating their needs and working to fulfill them — then nothing else I do really matters.