The best relationships can deliver huge thrills just from sitting together and talking about nothing. Communication is the foundation of a great romance, the key to figuring the other person out and making sure you're both getting what you need. But lately, this seems harder than ever.
Here is the scenario I encounter over and over again in my ADHD couples counseling:
You and your boyfriend are spending time together and strike up a conversation. Maybe it's just chit-chat, or maybe it's something important about planning or money. Maybe it's flirty, and you're both starting to feel more connected to each other than you have in a while...
And then the phone chimes.
Your second cousin just uploaded a new post to Facebook about his upcoming 5K. HR sent a new department-wide email about tidiness in the break room. That celebrity you have an alert for just tweeted about her new movie. While you've got the phone up, you might as well check the weather and the news headlines.
What were we talking about, again?
And then the game is on in the background, and your boyfriend can't quite take his eyes off the TV. The conversation starts and stalls, and you're not always sure if he's reacting to what you're saying or to the action on the field...
Enough of this!
When is the last time you and your loved one were in a room together, alone, without any devices or interruptions?
When I begin working with a couple, one of the first things I challenge them to do is to commit to a period of undivided attention every week. No phones, tablets or computers of any kind: they are put on silent and left in another room. No television, radio or other type of media that can act as a distraction. Have a sitter take care of the kids and, if necessary, the pets. It's just the two of you, for real.
My specialty is ADHD, and creating an arrangement like this is essential for sustaining an ADHD relationship. The ADHD brain type is hooked on stimulation, and any new distraction can pull on it like a magnet. Simply talking to one on one can be difficult. It's not a rejection of the person in front of them so much as an attraction to the new thing, the beep, buzz, flashing screen, etc. Still, little moments of inconsiderate distractedness can add up to create major friction in a relationship.
The flood of technology into our lives over the past few years has made this distractedness problem suddenly an issue for everyone, not just my ADHD clients. There are plenty of couples I know without the ADHD brain type in the mix who would have just as much trouble ignoring their smartphones as any of my clients. That's why every couple needs to explore the idea of undivided attention.
Start with baby steps. 15 minutes of private time a week can work wonders for a relationship. Just chatting, catching up, reminding each other of what's so interesting and attractive about the other person. It can be so easy to get bogged down in the routine that we stop thinking about our partner beyond the to-do list. This precious time will help you see each other as well-rounded people again, and you'll rediscover what brought you together in the first place. Trust me, it can change your whole relationship!
I hope by reading this you're so excited that you're already planning out your first session of undivided attention with your significant other. I need to make it clear, however, that this challenge might be harder than it sounds! Don't underestimate it. You might not realize how distraction-addicted you really are. Simply staring at each other, with no buffer, can suddenly feel intimidating. Don't worry, it just takes some getting used to. That's why I recommend starting small, with just a 15 minute commitment.
This quality time together is like a shot of honesty and joy into the relationship. There is something very nourishing about being listened to by someone you care about. It is very affirming to reconnect with each other in this sincere, uninterrupted way. You'll begin to notice that when tensions or conflicts do arise, you two handle them better. You cut each other more slack and collaborate more, to find a good compromise. You both will feel more enjoyment from the relationship and more confidence in it, too.
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