You’re visiting your spouse’s family. They’re working on a house project with their sibling while you’re inside taking care of your baby. Not only do you already feel awkward but you’re hurt that your partner doesn’t check on you or try to include you.
You’re attending your spouse’s work party. They’re outgoing, but you’re shy and self-conscious. They’ve become the life of the party, while you’re standing in the corner devising your escape plan.
Maybe you’ve experienced this kind of ditching. Or maybe you’ve done the ditching yourself.
Relationship expert and licensed psychologist Susan Orenstein, Ph.D, shared these examples of people neglecting their partners at different gatherings.
This is a common concern Orenstein hears from her clients. Some clients have said they feel deserted because hours go by without their partner asking if they need anything. Other clients have divulged feeling jealous when they see their partner being playful or chatty with others. They feel left out or invisible when they see their partners talking and laughing without them.
According to Orenstein, who practices in Cary, N.C., this neglect can make people feel like their partners don’t have their back and don’t protect them. They may feel betrayed, which can lead to big fights, she said. Couples might even stop going out together, she added.
Healthy, secure couples take care of each other both in private and in public, she said. For instance, they relieve each other from boring guests or awkward situations, are playful and affectionate, and share inside jokes.
Below, Orenstein shared other ways you can take care of each other at social gatherings:
- Plan ahead of time when you’d like to leave.
- Come up with signs and signals that communicate you need your partner to “rescue” you from an awkward situation or you’d like to leave altogether. This might be anything from winks to unusual smiles to hand signals, Orenstein said. “You and your partner can have fun devising strategies ahead of time, like a game plan.”
- Find ways to connect at the event. This might mean showing your partner affection with a hug or a gentle squeeze, she said. “[E]ye contact and warm smiles are crucial.” She also suggested partners ask each other “How’s it going?” or “Can I bring you something?” Such sincere gestures help partners feel noticed, cared for and loved, she said.
- Pay attention to your partner. Both of you have probably become proficient in reading each other. That is, you know how your partner looks when they’re bored, lonely or upset, Orenstein said. You know your partner’s likes, dislikes and vulnerabilities, so you can proactively check in on them when they’re with people or in a setting they might be sensitive to, she said.
It’s also important to consider if there are bigger problems in your relationship. Examples include ongoing conflict, substance abuse or infidelity, Orenstein said. Or your relationship may not be secure. Some partners don’t operate as a couple. “They don’t have each other first and foremost on their radar screen, and therefore they can behave in insensitive and selfish, ‘me-first’ ways.”
If there are bigger problems in your relationship, Orenstein suggested consulting an experienced couples therapist.
“Good relationships are like good teams,” she said. Couples work together, help each other, check in on each other and make sure their partner is comfortable, she said.
Ultimately, “you’re a couple; you chose each other and you need to be emotionally supportive in private and public.”