One evening my boyfriend came over, and stopped at Chipotle on his way to bring me some dinner. He texted me to see what I wanted. My brief responses of “chicken taco” and “you know what I want” apparently didn’t help him too much, because he didn’t get my order right. I wondered, “How could he not know that I prefer corn over flour tortillas, and that I love sour cream with my Mexican food?!? We’ve been dating for almost 8 months!” When I asked him, he then threw down the gauntlet – “What do I like at Chipotle?” Without missing a beat I recited his usual order and he replied by putting his hands up in the air and saying, “Ok ok, you proved your point.”
I wasn’t upset with him that he didn’t know my order because, well…it’s something I’m highly aware of because of what I do for a living. As a relationship therapist, I work with my clients on the importance of increasing attentiveness to their partner and being attuned to what’s going on in their world. It’s what happy couples do since it increases feelings of closeness and security and it feels good knowing that your partner “gets you.”
And it goes beyond knowing your partner’s favorite foods. What are your partner’s current stressors? What do they worry about most? Who do they admire most? What are they sensitive about? How has their childhood and past relationships influenced who they are today? The more you know about your partner and vice versa, the deeper your friendship will get. A strong friendship is a necessary component to a lasting relationship – it’s a buffer against disconnection that plagues couples and is a leading cause of divorce.
The good news for you is that you don’t have to be a relationship therapist to turn this into a positive habit as well. Through practice it’s become second nature for me to file information that my boyfriend shares with me that I’ll use later to brighten his day, or show him how much he means to me. It’s not “work” for me, it’s a habit. Maintaining feelings of connection doesn’t happen automatically because you love each other. It takes effort and a conscious awareness of your partner and their world and then following through with actions, whether it’s planning a surprise, just listening or being present in the moment.
You can also strengthen your connection with your partner by sharing your opinion and being open. Sometimes people want to appease their partner or “go with the flow,” or don’t want to bring up hurtful past experiences, but you miss out on prime opportunities for your partner to learn more about you and use this information to strengthen your bond. For example, if you’re sensitive to feeling excluded because of a childhood experience and your partner is aware of this, they can make that extra effort to have you feel like you belong at parties or events by including you in conversations, introducing you to people and telling you how much it means to them that you came with them. These are small acts that can make a big difference.
The daily stuff matters, too. When your partner asks, “What’s wrong?” don’t say, “I’m fine” when you’re not. Again, you’re preventing the opportunity for your partner to know what’s going on in your life. Although my boyfriend didn’t know my Chipotle order to a T, he is very attuned to my emotional states. He can always tell when something bothers me or if I’m feeling “off,” and asks about it so that he knows what’s going on. It shows me that he not only pays attention, but that he cares about my well-being, so I make sure to open up to him. Talking to him about stressful things and having his support and understanding increases feelings of trust and safety for me. Talk with your partner about what it does for you.
The more details you know about each other, from the silly to the serious, the more likely you’ll make your relationship last.
And the next time my boyfriend brought over Chipotle, he didn’t forget the sour cream.