How to Respect Your Partner’s Time in a Relationship

Imagine this scene:

You’re at the office, working on a project. It’s important, or complicated, or nearly overdue, or just plain interesting to you, so you’re giving it your full attention.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a co-worker walks in, sits down, and starts talking to you about something totally unrelated and, honestly, not interesting or important to you just then. How would you feel?

Or this scene:

Your boss comes to you and asks for a status update on all your projects…right that moment. No warning, no prep time, no thought to you being in the middle of something else, or needing time to get your thoughts together and your ducks lined up.

Nope, it’s an immediate demand for performance. What goes through your head?

Or this:

You’re on the phone telling a friend something cool, and you realize partway through that they’re not listening at all. What’s that like?

Know what all three of these scenarios have in common?

No one ‘knocked on the door’.

‘Knocking on the door’ means asking for someone’s permission, time, or attention before starting to talk.

Think of it like knocking on the door of a co-worker’s office, or even their cubicle wall, and asking “Hey, you got a minute?” before walking in and starting to talk. Or your boss asking for a meeting time to get an update on your projects. Or your friend telling you they’re distracted and need to call you back.


Requesting Someone’s Time

Requesting someone’s time and attention is a crucial and often overlooked boundary for relationships, and one that’s become even more important with COVID-19.

Now that we’re living in such close proximity, and work/home boundaries are non-existent for most of us, it’s important to create some invisible boundaries to help us keep our mental and relational well-being.

It can be tempting to think that your partner is 100% available when they’re home, and that they’re always ready and willing to talk about anything at any time.

I mean, they’re just sitting there, mindlessly flipping through at magazine, or washing dishes, or channel surfing. And if all you want to do is chit-chat, that’s probably just fine.

But what if you want to talk about something real…not necessarily bad or hard, but significant? Then, my friend, knock on the door. Say something like, “Hey, there’s something I want to run by you. Is this a good time?”

Or, “I’m going to need about 20 minutes of your time today to go over schedules and logistics. When’s good?” Each conversation will go so much better when you have the other person’s buy-in to even having it to begin with.

And there’s another, more subtle, but equally important form of door-knocking:


Asking permission to disagree.

Now, I expect this one may ruffle a few feathers, but just hear me out. Let’s say you feel pretty strongly about something, or you’ve got a plan together, or you’ve just had the best idea for something, and you’re passionately telling your partner about it.

You’re building your case, laying out your thoughts and ideas, and they’re listening carefully. You wrap it up, feeling pretty good about what you said, and that’s when it starts: the hole-poking, nit-picking, criticism.

The “yes, but’s”, the “have you thought of’s”, the “I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here”. And WHOOSH…there goes the wind right out of your sails. Almost before you stopped talking, you’re now defending yourself.

Imagine the same scenario, but this time when you wrap it up, your partner says something like this, with sincerity: “That’s pretty interesting. Are you open to hearing another perspective?”

Or “I see how you got there. Can I give you a few thoughts of my own?” Or “May I point out a couple of concerns I have with your idea?”

Instead of flattening you, this respectful way of disagreeing allows for an expansion of the conversation. You’re being asked to engage in a discussion, not being forced to defend yourself.

You then have the option to hear what your partner has to say, go point-counterpoint if you want to, and have a productive conversation about something important to you both.

Because you both were invited into the discussion, you both have a stake in it going well, which is so very different than either being barged in on or feeling attacked.