The importance of giving attention in a relationship

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You might be here because you’ve been told you’re not giving enough attention to your significant other.

Perhaps the opposite is true for you? Maybe you’re here because you’re the one who feels that you’ve been deprived of attention.

But whatever your reasons are, all the gaslighting stops here – know that attention is an integral and crucial part of any relationship. Without it, a relationship cannot survive.

So here’s a guide on navigating the murky waters of understanding why “attention” matters and why you deserve it in a relationship.

It lets you be ‘present’ in all aspects

When I was single and openly meeting other guys, I dated a few who equated “giving attention” with their physical presence. We would hang out and go on dinners, but they would mindlessly scroll on their phones. They would only look up when asked or talked to, but no effort had gone into connecting with me.

 I have also dated my fair share of self-centered people. Yes, the ones who would endlessly talk about themselves and their day without so much as a question about how I’m doing or how I’m feeling in the first hour or so of our interaction.

A terribly isolating feeling, isn’t it? To feel alone in the presence of another.

In fact, the Family Institute at Northwestern University said that attention is the “most basic expression of love,” and some of us have learned this hard truth in the most painful way possible. Ignorance breeds indifference.

When your partner doesn’t give you enough attention, you can feel neglected and abandoned. These negative emotions can further turn into anger and resentment since the bond has broken down and communication gaps have widened.

It feels like being in bed with a total stranger. Cold, unappealing and distant.

And after a series of failed dates and reckless infatuations that ended badly because they had ignored this basic truth, I told myself that my next relationship would have clear expectations – starting with how much attention he would be willing to invest in us. 

Attention comes in many forms and can be expressed in many ways. It could be as simple as intently and lovingly staring into the eyes of somebody you care about or listening to someone for hours on end. But the bottom line is to be present – in all aspects.

“It’s human nature”

With presence comes understanding. 

To be understood is the most human thing to want in the world.

And to truly be understood, that requires attention and lots of it. Deep in our core, humans are attention-seekers. It is a fundamental aspect of our social character.

In order to feel secure and connected, we have evolved to crave interactions with others. It’s a source of approval and admiration, which can boost our self-esteem and the way we internalize our self-worth.

Although it’s important to remember that not just any interaction would do, the best ones are deep, nurturing and meaningful. Watch out for the bland and shallow forms of attention. 

Are they talking to you just for the sake of talking to you, or are they genuinely curious and invested in what you have to say and do?

 The former is fleeting and definitely less fulfilling than the latter.

Showing attention is showing ‘care’

So, you and your partner talk a lot, but do they care about what you have to say? 

Are they genuinely curious and invested?

Care is very much intertwined with attention; both entail showing a person that you value and appreciate their presence in your life.

How could you begin to plan ahead and share goals together if the relationship can’t fulfill this basic requirement?

One of the best feelings in this world is knowing that you are being seen and heard, especially by someone who holds a special place in your life.

Remembering the most specific details in a person’s story is a sure way to make a person feel appreciated and loved. It’s another way to tell someone, “Yes, you matter.”

Giving and receiving attention would foster trust and intimacy; both are necessary to build a strong foundation for any relationship.

Attention guarantees a relationship’s survival

Care is but one of many elements to a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Relationships need attention to survive because again, and this cannot be overemphasized enough: “Ignorance breeds indifference.”

When you ignore somebody, especially if it’s someone you’re in a relationship with, you become unaware of their feelings and their struggles.

With limited understanding, you would be clueless about navigating their issues and aspirations. And when that happens, you will not have empathy for one another, ultimately losing the connection.

What is ‘quality attention’?

Does any kind of interaction count? No.

It doesn’t matter if you spend every waking day with a person if the attention that you give isn’t sincere and heartfelt.

This might sound cliché, but it’s all about quality over quantity. Attention has to be done with intention.

You would be surprised at how incredible this habit can be in building trust, showing respect, and fostering a deep understanding between you and your partner.

It also doesn’t have to be overcomplicated or difficult! It might be something you’ve already been doing with your partner, like having uninterrupted conversations, listening actively, expressing genuine interest and appreciation, and taking the time to do things together.

Love and attention intertwined

Now, what do these all have to do with your relationship?

“We’ve only been away for a few minutes, but I miss you already.”

“I can’t wait to see you and spend the whole day together.”

“I could listen to you talk all day.”

Do those sound familiar? At the beginning of any relationship, all couples go through the “honeymoon phase,” a cocoon where seemingly only two people exist.  

Attention is one of the many things we expect to give to and receive from our partners because this is how we get to know them – who they are, what they like, and what makes them tick.

Unfortunately, no relationship is perfect and eventually, the honeymoon phase ends. So, what do you do then?

According to the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, love is an art.

In his book, “The Art of Loving,” he suggests four basic elements of true love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

Fromm also believes love is an activity that requires effort, time and focus. 

In other words: attention.

But as far as our priorities go, plenty of other things require our attention. Our lives do not revolve around one person, nor should they ever!

However, some people can get lost in their tasks and responsibilities and forget to hold themselves accountable to the relationship.

Depriving your partner of attention can be the start of losing the connection

“I should have bought you flowers,

And held your hand.

Should have gave you all my hours,

When I had the chance.

Take you to every party,

‘Cause all you wanted to do was dance.

Now my baby’s dancing,

But she’s dancing with another man.”

And when you forget to hold yourself accountable to your partner, the relationship would eventually end.

Whenever I hear about a break-up these days, one song comes to mind, and it’s all thanks to TikTok. Bruno Mars’ song, “When I Was Your Man,” talks about a man’s woes and wishful thinking over letting his woman go.

And if you look closely, all of his regrets could have easily been solved if only he had given enough attention.

When you don’t give it enough, you lose communication. You become insensitive and unaware of what’s happening to your relationship. You become so occupied with other things that you leave your partner feeling unimportant. 

This can open doors for other people and things to potentially destroy what you have.

We all know, and sometimes all too well, that familiarity and routine settle in when the honeymoon phase fizzles out. This is what usually happens in long-term relationships.

Sometimes, we take certain things for granted when everything gets too familiar. All of the late-night talks become routines. Date nights have become just like any other night, and in worse cases, they can feel like a chore.

I have been with my boyfriend for almost four years, and this has always been a struggle for us. Our relationship got tested when one fateful night, my boyfriend decided to hang out with his friends even after a hectic week.

We had already made plans a few days before, and I was looking forward to spending time with him after a stressful and busy period, but he forgot and chose to go out with the guys instead.

When he got home, I told him I was happy that he enjoyed his day out, but I was honest and said I couldn’t help but feel sad that I missed him while he was away. I told him about how I was disappointed that he didn’t remember.

“How could you forget?” I asked, with tears on my face.

“I should’ve paid more attention, sorry,” he replied.

But what else is there to do when the damage has been done?

And thus, began a hard and long journey of reflecting on his priorities.

“Am I important to you?” I asked.

“Of course!” he said, with a stern tone in his voice.

“Okay then, show me.” 

If you’ve also felt like you’re hopelessly stuck with your partner about sorting out life and its responsibilities, leaving both of you frustrated, I suggest you try going over Jeanette Brown’s “Life Journal.”

The exercise aims to help you identify your top five core values, which are important because these describe the principles that can motivate and guide you throughout life and ultimately, your relationships.

What are the things that require your attention and energy?

What are the things that you can put off for a while?

Who are the people that you should invest time and effort in?

With the proper guidance, it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated to answer these questions

It can get uncomfortable at first, but it would be worth it. 

And hopefully, once you’ve identified what matters to you, this journey will lead to more vibrant and enduring relationships down the road.

Can a relationship coach help you too?

If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.

I know this from personal experience…

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