Three things that can nurture, support, and/or transform any relationship – three things most of us need a more of – are Attention, Affection, and Appreciation.
While always true in romantic relationships, the Three A’s can be helpful in any situation involving a fellow human being. In today’s fast-paced, chaotic, and ever-changing world, more Attention, Affection and Appreciation can make a huge difference in the quality of everyone’s life.
Attention is first and foremost the art of showing up. We can’t have a relationship with someone we never connect with.
Once connected, attention is then the art of listening well, listening often, and responding with the other’s perspective in mind, not just ours. We must remember that just because we are looking at the person who is speaking doesn’t mean we are hearing what they’re really saying.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. We listen with our ears, but we hear with our heart. Real attention, real hearing, involves putting yourself in the other person’s world: What is it like to be that person? What are they saying? What are they NOT saying? Can you read between the lines? What do they need? What are they feeling? What are they committed to? What’s really going on for them? How can you contribute to them in this moment, not from your head, but from your heart? Practice discovering the answers to these questions when you’re in conversation with someone else. This will help you develop your ability to pay close attention. You will know you’re doing well when they feel heard and understood.
Sometimes people are good at paying attention, but they just don’t do it often enough. For example, even if you’re the best listener on the planet, it’s not enough to sustain a fulfilling interpersonal relationship if you only do it once a year. If the person is important to you, you will want to make sure that you’re giving the right kind AND the right amount of attention.
Other aspects of attention include events that take place over time, such as remembering and honoring things that are important to the other person, and taking action based on what you know. Sharing aspects about yourself in ways that improve your intimacy and connection are also part of this important A.
The term affection usually brings up an image of physical tenderness, like a hug, a kiss or a caress. This is especially true in the context of romantic relationships. However, physical contact is essential to our personal well being, emotional well being, and our relationship well being, and today many people are touch-deprived — even those who are married! One simple cure is to give lots of hugs. Cuddle up when you can! I once heard another relationship expert recommend getting a minimum of 8 hugs a day. I call that getting your minimum dose of “Vitamin H”. Our bodies need contact to thrive. So do our souls. Whenever you can, go for the hug.
The good news is that physical contact is not the only way to show affection. We can’t hug everyone we come into contact with, especially at work. Simple acts of kindness, using a caring tone of voice, offering support rather than criticism, and providing help when appropriate are other ways to express caring for another. If you’re really committed to getting an “A” in this A, try coming up with new and clever ways to show non-physical affection.
Last but not least is appreciation. We know that children thrive and grow when praised; adults are really no different. We all want to experience being loved. Do you regularly tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them? Do you acknowledge what it is you love about them, what you think is great about them, what they do that positively impacts your life? Are you willing to be public with your gratitude and your praise? Appreciation is very important – one of the most important relationship activities there is. Do it often!
A Firm Foundation
There is prep work to do if you are going to be good at this. **You can’t give what you don’t have.** So, the secret to being good at the three A’s is to start with yourself first, and then be sure to include God/Spirit/Higher Power as another extremely important Primary Relationship. Give yourself and your Higher Power daily doses of Attention, Affection and Appreciation, and watch your life unfold!
Once your personal and spiritual three-A buckets are filled, then you can truly take care of the people in your life. I encourage you to do this with everyone to the degree that is appropriate, from parents to lovers to friends to co-workers to the cashier at the check-out counter. Any interaction you have with another human being is an opportunity to practice the generosity of the Three A’s.