To understand how to make your partner feel like a priority, you first have to think about how you know you’re a priority to your own partner.
When I gave a quick survey to my tribe, here are some of the answers I received:
- My partner taking my needs into consideration first
- Making an effort to spend “quality time” (whatever that means)
- Puts down the phone and gives me their full attention
- He does something to let me know he was listening
- When I mention I’m going to do something around the house, and he does it for me as a surprise
- The reminder that I’m beautiful inside and out
- Making time for adult conversation
- Support in achieving my goals
- Support in having time for my own life (friends, weekends away, time away from the family)
- To feel heard
- Being greeted at the door – taking my things and asking about my day
- Feeling like I’m more important than their work, other friends, activities, or the kids
All of these scenarios boil down to time and full attention. When we make time for others, they feel important. The secret is that you don’t need to make a lot of time, but it needs to be Connecting Time.
But what’s Connecting Time? Connecting Time has two components (and neither has to do with the length of time you spend). Connecting Time means:
- That your partner has your full attention
- Your goal is one of listening and connection
For example, it does NOT take a lot of time to greet your partner when they come home from work, errands or whatever. When they walk in the door, stop what you’re doing and physically go greet them. Make eye contact and say something like “I’m so glad you’re home!” Maybe help them with whatever they’re carrying, ask if you can get them anything or just have a quick makeout session. It doesn’t take long, but this Connecting Time carries so much weight!
Another member of my tribe commented that her husband brings coffee to her bedside every morning and then goes and starts the morning routine with their two young children. This gives her a few minutes to wake up, relax and enjoy her coffee. Again, a small gesture with big impact and he’s not even spending actual time with her.
Connecting Time will make your partner feel like a priority. But, you’ve got to remember that Connecting Time is different for everyone. What makes one person feel like they’re a priority isn’t what another wants. Different people want different things.
You can’t decide your partner needs; they need to tell you what it is. Too often we do things that we like, and then wonder why our partner isn’t more grateful!
I’ve created this simple two-step process for making sure you’re creating Connecting Time, so your partner feels like a priority.
Step One: Ask them!
I know it seems obvious, but most people don’t actually ask their partners what they need or want. As I just said, most of us know what we like in a relationship and then end up doing those things for our partner thinking they’ll be happy with that too.
Or, your partner has asked for something previously or made a comment and you think: “Eureka! This is what they want!” only to find out that you misunderstood or misinterpreted their response.
It’s also important to note that people’s wants and needs change over time. If we got together when we were both in college but now we’ve got “real” jobs, a mortgage and 2.5 kids, we’re going to want different things than our mostly carefree college alter egos! What worked at an earlier stage of your relationship might not work now!
Step Two: Listen to them!
After you ask, you need to really listen to their response. What are they telling you is important to them?
Most of us think we’re listening and we’re not.
Let me give you a quick example of a couple I was working with who we’ll call Courtney and Bill for the sake of anonymity. Courtney was complaining that she didn’t feel like a priority. So, in session I had Bill ask Courtney what she needed to feel like a priority and she said, “I want you to spend more time with me.”
Bill then argued: “But I spend tons of time with you! We watch our shows almost every night together, you just came on that business trip with me, and we go out on some kind of date every weekend!”
This likely sounds familiar to many of you listening right now. Bill did the right thing by asking, but then he didn’t listen!
Avoid Bill’s mistake: do NOT argue that your partner is wrong when they ask for what they want. If they’re saying it, then that’s how it feels to them. If you don’t agree, your job is to figure out why it feels that way to them (but, of course, without asking interrogating “why” questions).
I interrupted Bill’s rebuttal and showed him what I wanted him to do instead. I asked Courtney some clarifying questions:
“Courtney, when’s the last time you felt like you were spending quality time with Bill?” When she gave me an example, I then asked, “What specifically about that time made you feel connected?”
This is where the meat is folks! Because, it’s never about the amount of time you spend, but the quality of that time. It feels like “quality time” when it’s Connecting Time! As a matter of fact, once you spend more Connecting Time with your partner, you’ll find that they actually make less demands of your time, not more.
It turns out that these hours at night “watching their shows” actually felt very disconnecting to Courtney. She wanted to talk and Bill was tired and just wanted to “zone out.” Sitting on the couch next to each other was nice, but it didn’t feel connecting to Courtney.
Going along on the business trip was OK but, once again, Bill was distracted with work and Courtney felt like she was being “added on after everything else was done.” Date nights were good, but they often went to the movies or saw a show. Again, these weren’t times they were really talking.
What Courtney really wanted was Bill’s full attention and for him to engage her in conversations about her life, thoughts and feelings.
You always need to ask clarifying questions because otherwise it’s your interpretation of what you think your partner means. It might seem obvious to you, but don’t be sucked in! It’s not! Find out specifically what your partner wants to feel like a priority. What specific actions would you be taking, what would you be saying, how would you be behaving?
If your partner says, “I want to feel heard,” you might ask: “Can you give me an example of when you’ve felt heard before with me? What did I say or do that let you know I was hearing you?”
If your partner says, “I want you to think of me first,” you might ask: “Can you give me a few pointers on how you know I’m thinking of you first?”
I, myself, have done things for my partner that I thought were great and showed how much I loved and appreciated him, only to find out that he didn’t think that at all! The things I was doing were things that I thought were important, but he didn’t care about!
Almost any response will need clarifying questions because you might think you already do nice things for your partner (and don’t make the mistake of arguing and listing all the nice things you do). Again, what your partner wants or considers “nice things” is likely not what you consider “nice things.” If they’re asking you to do them, it’s not because they forgot all the things you’ve done before. They’re asking because they didn’t think of what you did as “nice.” It didn’t fit their definition for whatever reason.
In my experience, the breakdown is usually because you’re not giving your partner your full attention when you do something. So, you might spend time with them watching a show but you’re on your phone or answering emails on your laptop the whole time.
You need to put your phone down, close your laptop, step away from the stove, stop folding laundry, and turn off the TV. Stop whatever you’re doing fully!
Talk is cheap. It’s not uncommon for people to say that their partner is their priority but not to back that up in meaningful ways. You’ve got to ask those questions and then take consistent action to show them they’re #1 in your life.