“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” — Simone Weil
This morning, I was busy French pressing coffee for my husband and me. Everything was going great; I was happily humming along, looking forward to starting my day. My lovely husband came up behind me and bear hugged me gently.
Now, I’ll admit that I don’t usually take this well when I’m in the middle of something. If I’m cooking (which I’m particularly serious about), I’ve been known to push him away and say something along the lines of “I’m cooking! Back!” This is not sensitive or caring. It’s more of a “get-off-me-I’m-working” reaction that I’ve been working on.
To my husband’s credit, he usually responds fine and continues about his business seemingly undeterred from future affection. I apologize later, and he doesn’t seem to take offense. After an interaction like this, I often feel embarrassed and ashamed of how I’ve responded to his attempts at closeness. I worry that if I keep pushing him away, eventually he’ll just stay away for good. The very idea itself makes me feel sad and repentant.
Today, however, when he came over and hugged me from behind, I had enough good sense not to push him away. In fact, I took the opportunity for some bonding time with him, which made my morning. I actually had to have the conscious thought that I should stop the urge to push him away and instead be receptive. Instead of getting caught up in what I was doing, I stopped myself and let him foster closeness between us.
Today, I was receptive.
Today, I let myself get swept up in the moment instead of worrying about the coffee getting cold, or burning dinner, or the myriad of other little nagging things that seem more important in the sweet little moments like this. My priorities are woefully out of whack if I think that preventing my coffee from getting cold is more important than connecting with someone who isn’t afraid to come over to me for the 4,345 time when I’m in the middle of something, even though he knows he’s likely to get the cold shoulder.
What if one day he gives up? I’ll admit, I probably would have given up already if I were him. It’s embarrassing to admit that my skin isn’t nearly as thick as his has been when it comes to affection. In fact, so often, haven’t I shown through my actions that a deeper connection was not my priority? That admission stings. If I’m really honest, in the past, a lack of mindfulness about how I handle affection has led me to prioritize tons of things above my relationships. I have allowed things of little importance to often take priority over connecting with the people who I love most.
Since I’ve been struggling to change this reluctance to connect on someone else’s terms, here are four things that I’ve learned help to bring someone closer in the moment.
Notice the ways, both small and large, in which others try to create connections with you. If we wait for them to approach us perfectly or in the exact moments we’re thinking about it, we miss so much.
Being aware is important, but so is being receptive to a connection. If we acknowledge and then open ourselves to connecting with others, it’s clearly going to foster more connection than if we are aware but not receptive (like my cooking example above).
Being receptive involves staying aware of the greater good in our most important relationships, namely saying “yes” to more love, more connection, and more closeness from others. It’s not turning down the hug or pushing someone away in the moment. It’s apologizing if we fail at these things.
Appreciation is key to positively reinforcing someone’s attempts to get closer to us. If I allow myself to be selfish or distracted and fail to positively acknowledge my partner’s attempts to connect with me, I’m not only pushing him away in that moment, but I’m effectively blocking future connection.
If I don’t nurture the connections that matter the most to me, I won’t have connections with the people I love. That is the inevitable, preventable, awful consequence of failing to provide positive reinforcement.
This is about recognizing the little things, with heartfelt thank you’s and big hugs. It’s having an eye toward acknowledging people’s efforts, and providing them with a positive experience when they interact with me.
Rather than saving up our affection and positive attention for when we’re really feeling it (or say, date night), maybe it’s better to make a practice of reciprocating our partner’s affections even when we’re tired, distracted, or not quite interested.
Giving them the gift of our attention is such a strong tool for nurturing them and the relationship that it shouldn’t be saved for the exact, right moment when we feel like sharing our affections. Maybe it’s more effective to resolve to share and connect with the people we care about whenever they reach out to us.
How often do we push our partners away and refuse to connect without quite seeing it that way? How often do we reject their advances, when if we thought about it, we actually desire more closeness? How long do we have before we push the other person away forever, only to wonder later what went wrong?
Of course, I never consciously intend to make my partner feel rejected, but how often do I reject him anyway, bumbling through our life together? How often could I be nicer, or less stressed, or more receptive? How often do the people in our lives who are most important to us suffer because we are too busy, or too clueless to notice?
No matter what the reason is, what if we’re sacrificing the everyday events that have lasting potential to bring us closer? I can do big things that are meant to connect with my partner. For example, I can suggest and plan out weekly date nights, but if I’m downright cold and repellant in the tender, everyday moments that are his idea, pretty soon, I will drive away the very connection that I truly long for.
It won’t matter if we try to formally “plan” times to be affectionate or if I make sure to approach him often on my own terms. What if we’re doing this not just with our intimate partners, but also with the rest of the important people in our lives? What if we’re providing negative reinforcement when, if we were more conscious of it, we would actually want to allow more closeness? It’s so common to take the closest relationships in our lives for granted. That’s why it’s so vitally important to take the time to nurture the little connections that we have with each other, every day. In this way, love is a practice, just like connection takes practice.
It’s the small things, once again, that truly matter with someone we love. It’s taking the time to listen to them when we’re tired and would rather do something else. It’s not shutting them down when they show us little acts of affection. It’s receptivity and openness to connection, as well as getting our priorities straight.
And… try not to push your spouse away when they’re happily giving you a bear hug.