Is My Partner Bored by Me?
Why do some partners seem uninterested in their significant other's stories?
Posted December 28, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Your partner is not bored by you, but they may be bored by the parts of your stories that they're paying attention to. I can't count the number of couples I've seen with this issue — one partner feeling that the other is uninterested in them, and the other feeling exhausted by conversations.
Some people (especially straight-leaning, cis-gendered men) tend to listen for information in stories, or the W's: who what, where, when. Interpreting this information requires the cortex, the most energy-inefficient part of the brain. This requires a tremendous amount of processing power and burns out the listener. Let's face it: The details of our everyday lives are typically less exciting than the media we consume, so the W's of the story are probably not very exciting in and of themselves.
What gives these stories color is the emotion in them.
Other people (often straight-leaning, cis-gendered women) tend to communicate emotion rather than information using their limbic system (the emotional processing center of the brain) as a "gatekeeper" to the rest of the brain. This is a more energy-efficient method of processing information: The limbic system is less complex and closer to the brainstem.
These communicators listen to stories for the reason of syncing up their emotional experience and offering support, a hugely valuable process in any close relationship. In our culture, we don't all learn how to do this (especially men) and so we end up with couples who devolve into conflict rather than connecting. One partner feels exhausted and the other unvalued.
These two questions can guide your listening if you're feeling bored or exhausted by your partner's stories:
- How did my partner feel during these events? Just try to identify what they were feeling. If you're unsure, ask. This may be challenging at first. It's simple, but not necessarily easy if you're out of practice with your own emotional experience. Time to exercise your limbic system.
- How can I support them? Think about ways you can validate the decisions they made or emotions they felt. If you disagree with their decisions you can talk about this later; bringing it up now is not going to be productive. They have to process their feelings before they can consider alternative viewpoints.
When couples gain this realization, they can begin to listen emotionally, which is so much easier. Listening emotionally increases energy rather than sapping it while increasing connection. It reduces stress for both partners and stokes the flames of intimacy.
It is important to remember that many partners (especially men) will be new to this and have to gain "emotional fitness," building the connections to and within their limbic system. This takes time and may require baby steps. Start practicing the two simple steps above and expect a slight learning curve.
Disclaimer: In this post, I talk about cis-gendered straight couples and speak in generalizations about gender based on the populations I predominantly treat. The contents of this post are in no way meant to suggest a certain way that gender should be expressed. Quite the opposite. The more we explore the range of our gender expression, the more awareness, compassion, and personal growth we can experience.
Facebook image: SeventyFour/Shutterstock
Chance, C., & Fiese, B. H. (1999). Gender-stereotyped lessons about emotion in family narratives. Narrative Inquiry, 9(2), 243-255.
Eggins, S., & Slade, D. (2005). Analysing casual conversation. Equinox Publishing Ltd..
Peterson, E., Wallenberg, R., & Källström, J. (2017). Gendered Storytelling: A normative evaluation of gender differences in terms of decoding a message or theme in storytelling.
Tannen, D. (Ed.). (1993). Gender and conversational interaction. Oxford University Press.