by Alisa Goodwin Snell
Communication is key to healthy romantic relationships. However, many couples unknowingly push each other away.
I’ve spent over two decades educating singles and couples on how to create secure attachments. There are many theories on the subject, but I have found the simplest and clearest way to understand attachment behavior is the concept of “invitations and push aways.”
The idea of invitations and push aways was an attachment technique taught by Dr. James Harper, a marriage and family therapy professor at Brigham Young University. The examples below represent my own interpretation.
Test: Do I push my partner away or offer invitations?
To assess whether your behaviors and words are pushing your significant other away or inviting him or her in, review the questions below. Choose an answer that best describes your behaviors toward the person you’re in a relationship with.
1. When my partner calls or texts me…
a) I ignore the call or text. After all, my partner can figure things out without me.
b) I respond a few hours later. My partner knows I’m busy and he or she can wait.
c) I respond with a brief message or emoji.
d) I respond as soon as I can and show interest in what my partner wants to talk about.
e) I express excitement to hear from my partner and show interest in his or her day. I express an interest in getting together soon.
2. When my partner invites me to talk or spend time together…
a) I usually express how busy I am and postpone our time together.
b) I reluctantly make time but act passive or distracted when with my partner (answering my phone, sending texts, or playing on my phone).
c) I express an interest in talking or doing something but don’t suggest a day, time, or activity.
d) I respond with enthusiasm and help plan the details. I put my phone away and treat my partner like a priority.
e) I not only respond to the invitation, but I make sure we spend quality time together every week. My words and actions show my partner is a priority.
3. When I am in need, struggling, stressed, or upset…
a) I suffer in silence and feel lonely, sad, or hopeless.
b) I find a way to take care of the problem on my own rather than wait for my partner’s help (so he or she can’t disappoint or reject me).
c) I share what’s going on, but I act as if I have everything taken care of and don’t need help.
d) I tell my partner what is going on, but don’t ask for help. When my partner does help, I accept and show appreciation.
e) I let my partner know how to help and support me. I make him or her feel needed and trusted. I appreciate that I can depend and rely on my partner.
4. When my partner or I feel sad or offended…
a) I withdraw, assume the worst, and emotionally distance myself.
b) I don’t hold back. I tell my partner exactly how I feel, how he or she is wrong, and why I am right.
c) I ignore the problem and just act warm or respectful, hoping the issue will go away.
d) I speak up and express a desire to talk through the issue. I accept my partner’s touch and comfort and reciprocate.
e) I show faith and trust in the strength of our relationship and express interest in resolving the problem. We then come up with a clear plan for handling the issues better next time. Afterward, I focus on the positive.
5. Relative to marital intimacy and affection…
a) I use sarcasm, drop hints, express frustration, or angrily withdraw, hoping my spouse will take action.
b) I expect my spouse to initiate. I do not express my needs for closeness. I withdraw quickly if my hints or simple affection do not get an immediate positive response.
c) I express an interest in being physically close, but I don’t initiate anything.
d) I respond enthusiastically when my partner wants affection. My behavior shows that I love being with him or her.
e) I don’t withhold my affection. When my spouse can’t reciprocate at that moment, I trust that he or she will respond later.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “a” and “b” answers, then your words and actions may be sending the message that your partner is not a priority. He or she may assume that you are angry, selfish, or indifferent about the relationship and may respond to this by asking for more time, nagging, or withdrawing as well. Nevertheless, until you both learn to give and receive invitations for closeness, your relationship will remain unhealthy.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “c” answers, then you’re sending stalemate messages. You may be acting somewhat warm and engaging, but you are not taking any real risks. Stalemates confuse partners and send mixed messages that feel more like push aways. The more deeply you sacrifice, invest, and risk, the more likely it is you will feel a passionate connection. Give it a try.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “d” answers, then you are sending clear messages that you value your partner. However, it is the “e” answers that truly send clear invitations for closeness. Invitations are easier to give after you ask yourself how you would like to be closer to your spouse or how you want a certain conversation to go. The more you understand and communicate positive messages that invite closeness, the more you will see you partner respond. Everyone wants to succeed in relationships. Most of us just need help knowing how.
Alisa Goodwin Snell spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist and is now a dating and relationship coach. She’s an author and public speaker and has been featured on more than 100 TV and radio programs nationwide.