I love going to restaurants by myself and having a drink or a bite at the bar — yes, all alone. I find it emboldening and relaxing, and while I sip my drink, I try my very hardest to keep my phone in my bag and either read a book or people-watch. One thing I always notice with couples on dates is that one person usually has their phone out on the table. Maybe it’s face-down, maybe it’s face-up, but it’s out and it’s distracting. Life is busy and it can be really tough to focus on one thing at a time and tune all the other noise out. But how can you tell if you are too distracted around your boyfriend or girlfriend on a regular basis?
Since the world is full of distractions and realistically you can’t give your partner 100 percent of your attention all the time, maybe there’s a sweet spot between being present and being in your head. I spoke to Dr. Grant Hilary Brenner, co-founder of Neighborhood Psychiatry, about how distraction could affect your relationship and how to find balance as a couple. Brenner says, "If there is noticeable distraction, it’s worth setting aside time to talk through it. It also depends on the individual’s baseline tendency to be distracted. Everyone can be distracted, and it can fluctuate depending on factors like how well they slept, the last time they ate, and whether there are other important thoughts on their mind, or distractions in the environment."
It’s completely normal to be distracted from time to time, but being consistently distracted might negatively affect your relationship. Brenner suggests you ask yourself, "Are you preoccupied with problems outside of the relationship, for example family, financial or work issues, and checking out rather than checking in with your partner?" Here are three common indicators that can tell you if you’re too distracted around your boyfriend or girlfriend.
You’re Always On Your Phone
While our phones are a constant presence in our lives, they can be massively distracting. Brenner says, "Signs of distraction around one’s partner can come up in behaviors, familiar ones like checking the phone, watching TV, putting headphones on and tuning out." If your partner is trying to connect with you and you find yourself on your phone more than is necessary, playing games or refreshing Twitter, you’re overly distracted.
You’re Lost In Thought
After a busy day, it can be nice to unwind and let your mind wander, but when you’re with your partner, this could negatively affect your relationship. If your partner is trying to have a conversation and you’re mindlessly nodding along with whatever they say, Brenner says, "Thinking about a lot of different things other than what your partner is saying or you are doing together — and pretending you are paying attention, could indicate you’re too distracted."
You’re Preoccupied With Work
It’s completely normal to be distracted by important things going on in your life, like work or family issues. Brenner says you could easily be preoccupied with "justifiable distractions such as doing or thinking about something compelling, such as professional or other important activities." He also adds that these justifiable distractions, however important they are, "may nevertheless be a useful way to avoid dealing with something in the relationship."
So, How Do You Stay Present?
If you’re often distracted when you’re around your partner, that might indicate there’s something going on in your relationship you need to address. Brenner says, "Is there unresolved conflict, are you scared of your partner, are you feeling guilty or ashamed of something?" But if you are often distracted while you’re spending time with your boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t jump to conclusions! Brenner says, "Take the time to give careful consideration to the possible causes, and try not to avoid recognizing if there are emotional or relationship-related distractions."
Brenner also mentions that distraction can also be due to a different cause, such as ADHD, "which has been known to cause relationship problems because our partners think we aren’t interested in them." If you or your partner has ADHD, there are many couples’ therapists who specialize in this area.
Regardless, as a couple there are many ways to learn to be more present. Brenner suggests you begin by setting achievable goals and says, "Ask your partner to help by gently reminding you if you drift away, rather than ignoring it or feeling and acting offended." Establishing clear communication about this could also alleviate tension around the issue. Brenner continues, "Before you spend time together, remind yourselves that this is a protected time together, take inventory of what other things are on your mind, note how you are feeling about being together, and start by listening closely, taking turns speaking, and maintaining an appropriate level of engagement — eye contact, physical touch, and so on."
Lastly, Brenner says that if you find yourself drifting away, you can gently bring yourself back. Brenner says, "You can even practice this is a form of mindful meditation — you might call it mindful relatedness." Oh, and just like I do when I’m sitting at the bar by myself — put your phone away!
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