If you don’t initiate…
Waiting for your partner to initiate is a common difficulty for couples. Lack of initiation creates doubt in the relationship – do you truly desire me? We all yearn to be shown that we matter, and taking turns initiating balances this need. There are several reasons why lack of initiation is a challenge for both men and women in a relationship.
The first is a type of love knot – if I have to ask you for it, then it loses its value. This doesn’t necessarily need to be true, but for someone who needs to know that they have worth to you, not initiating never puts into actions and words your caring and desire for them. That is to say, if you do not actively seek to engage with them, how can they believe that you value them?
Another variant of this is, if I always initiate, then how do I know that you really want me? It quickly becomes dis-enheartening when a partner does not show up with ideas and actions to show they love you. This might look like a lack of rituals of connection (a genuine kiss and hug upon departure and returning), of spending quality or romantic time together (including arranging the child care) or even initiating lovemaking.
Let`s face it. Initiating means risking rejection. Therefore, it is important to notice when your partner tries to reach for you to make a connection. Gottman calls this 'bids for attention' and noticing and responding is the foundation of a healthy, attached or tuned-in relationship. If you don`t respond appropriately (and we all miss these cues sometimes) your partner may feel rejected, and eventually give up trying.
Sometimes people don`t initiate for fear of being wrong. For instance, if you are not certain the person will be interested or will criticize your idea, you hesitate to suggest something new or different. For example, some women are hesitant to initiate sex because they have been taught that it is a man`s job, will reflect badly on their femininity, or will be labelled in stigmatizing ways. Or men don`t initiate a household chore for fear of doing it wrong in the eyes of their partner.
Another challenge is when one partner presents an idea and the other's response is “I don`t care”. The unspoken thought “because I am willing to do whatever you want to do (as you are important to me)” is never heard by the initiating partner, instead what they hear is “I don’t care about you”. Since our partners are not mind-readers, give them the context for your statement so they can know that they matter and that you are willing to do anything that makes them happy.
Another often unconscious side of not initiating, is that if it doesn’t work out, you can’t be blamed because it wasn’t your idea. This is hard on your partner, because they always feel guilt and responsibility if things didn’t work out. Which makes it even less likely they will continue to propose ideas.
Sometimes when our partner initiates an idea, it just isn’t the right time or you don’t want to do what is suggested. If you ignore or deny your partner’s bids for your attention they will feel rejected. Once again, it is important to share why not and find out how important the suggestion is to your partner. I teach all couples the scaling question: 0 to 10 how important is this to you? If it is an eight out of ten, then try to show up. If it is a two out of ten, there may be room to compromise.
If you turn down a partner’s initiating suggestion, make sure you make a counter-offer – a better time or a more preferred activity. That way you meet them halfway and show that it is not them you are rejecting, just other factors.
Initiation is an important aspect of the dance of relationships. Do your fair share.