Engineer Edition: Improving Personal Relationship Skills
January 18, 2019 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I am a male introverted, quiet, engineer type who would like to to improve sharing my feelings, being less reserved, and giving words of affection & physical touch with my partner. What are some cute tips that my partner can do to support me in this, or that I can do to improve?

When I am with a female partner the following are not second nature to me and I would like to improve them:

* Sharing my feelings more and offering empathy, especially without always being prompted
* Taking the lead on things, being less reserved and more decisive. Perhaps showing a bit more masculine energy (for a lack of a better phrase).
* Giving words of affirmation and affection
* Giving physical touch

What are some tips and tricks that my partner can do to help me improve, assuming both of us are willing? Yes I know the burden is on me to do the work without making it my partner's responsibility to remind me. However, assume that my partner is willing to help, and I am willing to improve.

For example, having a shared code word that my partner says to signal to me to share more about my feelings, or to offer empathy her right now.

Or if you were like me, what were some effective techniques that helped you with any of the above?
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Less Spock, more Kirk."

"Initiating intimacy protocol in 3..2..1.."

You can look at it as a process improvement endeavor. Or a game for yourself. Test the hypothesis that your partner will respond favorably to daily work of this kind.

You can set calendar reminders on your device to trigger you to share a deeper emotion, a hope/dream, a compliment, or to go towards your partner and hug them.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:47 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]

#1 tip of improving yourself is that your first question shouldn't be, how can someone else be made responsible for this?

Just focus on being present in each moment and continually asking yourself, how can I help here? What can I offer? Is this situation one where everyone is noodling and a decision needs to be made, I can help by offering a solution. Is this a situation one where my partner seems sad and I don't know why, I can offer a simple hug and a listening ear. Is this a situation where I'm feeling a sense of love and affection for my partner, I can help her know that by expressing my feelings to her either physically or with words. Is this a situation where I am dealing with a lot of negative feelings that I'm overwhelmed by, I can help by partner by letting her know what's going on with me. Etc.
posted by bleep at 7:57 AM on January 18 [30 favorites]

You asked what she should do before asking what YOU should do, twice in one question!
My number one cute tip is that you should notice she is asking you to be more considerate and take that upon yourself instead of trying to already make it her job omg.

Notice when she does something unusual (or usual but awesome) and compliment or thank her, with a detail. And then you do something equally nice for her in the next day or so.

You made dinner. This beef is delicious. Thank you!
And then realize you should make HER food too. Bring her coffee and a croissant in bed later that week.

It looks so clean and bright in here. Thank you for cleaning!
And then you do the dishes and take out the trash after dinner.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:16 AM on January 18 [16 favorites]

What are some tips and tricks that my partner can do to help me improve

If you genuinely want to improve, do not make this your partner’s problem at all. It doesn’t matter that she’s willing to “help”, this is something you are trying to do so it is on you. You can be a better partner by not expecting your partner to do any emotional labor for you.

The other thing you can do is just..... do things that need to be done. Like vacuuming, dusting, taking out the trash, cooking dinner, mopping the kitchen floor. I am 100% certain your partner does all of these things without being asked because she just sees that they need to be done and she does them. So, if you see a full trash can, don’t just let it sit there. Don’t put these things off until later because then you’ll forget.

Pay attention to how much time she spends on domestic chores. Thank her for every single thing she does that you could’ve done in her place. Schedule time to just do chores or run errands that she normally does. For example, plan to spend 2 hours after work every day doing some kind of chore or errand. Do not expect your partner to remind you to do these things or to tell you what needs to be done.

And maybe go back and read the metafilter post on emotional labor.
posted by a strong female character at 8:58 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]

Nah man this is going to go way better if it's on you. If you need to develop a mental checklist (or a physical checklist!) for questions to ask her, things to inquire about, and things to share with her on the daily, then you need to develop and implement that. Don't make her use code words, I beg of you. Just make a practical list of actions you can take, and then take them. If it's hard to remember, set an alarm on your phone to prompt you to read them over at various times. Things such as, but not limited to:

Compare my partner's behavior and affect today to the day before: is there a change? If so, gently inquire if there's something on her mind.
Look around the living space: are my things in places they shouldn't be? If so, put them away.
Did something happen today at work that is notable for being particularly good, bad, frustrating or worrisome? If so, share these events and the feelings they brought up.

The things that I offload the burden of remembering onto my various calendars are things that I don't remember ever without consulting the calendar first. That's the entire point--I've outsourced that part of my brain to technology, for better or worse. If you offload the task of personal growth onto someone else, you will never internalize it. So, thank her for her offer to help you, and then commit to doing this all yourself.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:09 AM on January 18 [10 favorites]

Also, as far as cute tricks go, I heard this one once and maybe it'll appeal to your engineer mind: instead of thinking as a partnership as 50-50, think of it as 60-40, where both partners do their best to feel like they're give 60% as much as they can. That way when both partners are trying to go the extra mile for each other, that overlap makes the relationship stronger & both partners feel secure & supported by each other.
posted by bleep at 9:36 AM on January 18 [8 favorites]

To share your warm feelings, you first have to be conscious of them. Do you feel that you are, often? Do you, with some frequency, look around and know that you are lucky to be in the same room with your wonderful partner? A lot of men are simply not. If that applies to you, I would consider trying some form of mindfulness exercise.

Everyone is right about you needing to do your own work on the communication and cooperation side, but in terms of physical affection, I actually think you do need to consult your partner. Sometimes you just want a hug, and sometimes you're so stressed out that even loving physical contact is just a contribution to an overload. Also, people have varied tastes in how they like to be touched. If my boyfriend came up behind me quietly and put his hands on my shoulders to massage them, for instance, I would jump a mile. But that doesn't bother everyone. You will additionally want to make sure that your attempts at physical affection aren't read by her as demands for sexual contact at a time she may not be in the mood for it. So I think those things are things you should ask her about. What kinds of touch does she find loving and comforting? Can you do this in a way that doesn't feel to her like a bid for sexual intimacy she may not be up for? I don't think it's too weird for her to have a cue word for "I could really use a hug" and an anti-cue word for "please don't touch me right now."
posted by praemunire at 9:49 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]

Try You Just Don't Understand by D. Tannen as a starting point regarding communication styles.
posted by zaixfeep at 9:56 AM on January 18

With regards to showing empathy, this isn't necessarily a male/female thing. I'm a female, quiet, introverted engineer. I love solving problems. I have had to learn that in many cases, my partner is not asking me to solve a problem when she starts talking to me about something. I am so the guy in the "It's Not About The Nail" video.

I have learned to (sometimes) remember to ask my partner "What do you want from me right now? " when she starts talking about something. I have learned to listen without trying to jump in with my opinion/answer/thought. Thinking about a time when I felt the way she seems to be feeling and talking about that when it's my turn helps show empathy to her. Hope this helps. I feel like I have spent my life trying to learn personal relationship skills.
posted by elmay at 10:34 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]

Check out the extensive archives at's an advice column, but even if the specifics aren't applicable to you, there's a great deal of general wisdom there about how to articulate your needs (to yourself and to others) and how to build and sustain an equitable, caring partnership.

You might think, too, about the notion of "love languages." This has taken on a life of its own in pop culture, but the idea that might be useful to you is that there are lots of different ways to express affection. It may be that as you work on the verbal/physical elements that don't come as naturally to you, you can start with the ways you do show affection and build from there.
posted by dapati at 11:34 AM on January 18

Make a list of things you can do to meet this goal and set a goal to do a certain number of things off the list per day. Keep track of what goes well and what is awkward. Increase target as you build the habit.

Set up recurring events to help meet this goal. Weekly date night. Home-from-work or dinnertime ritual. Maybe keep a daily journal so you have emotions you want to share, if that's not something that you currently pay attention to. Journal about things your partner does for you and what you do for your partner.

I am also an introverted, analytical type, and that can help you fake it until you make it here. Over time, it will probably become more habitual. Your partner may be weirded out if you explain that you're project managing this, focus on just doing the things and not explaining your Big Plan to Fix Things.
posted by momus_window at 11:50 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

I am going to assume that you are already aware that this is mostly your problem and you are working on that .
Other posters seemed to have ignored the part where you said, "Yes I know the burden is on me to do the work without making it my partner's responsibility to remind me. . Anyway, I will try to address the questions that you actually asked: how can my partner support me?

My suggestion is that you work on developing some clear plans for yourself on what you want to change and specific, operational plan for what you want to try to do address it. Bring your engineering brain to work on the problem. (See the book Journal of Best Practices for one man's experience with this). Then have a regular time for you and your partner to talk. You let her know what you think is going on and what you are trying. She can give you feedback - have you defined the problem correctly? are the results having the intended effect? In the course of this conversation, it may become obvious that there are specific things she can do to help - this should come up in an organic way from the conversation and will depend on the specifics of what you are working on and how the two of you work as a couple.
posted by metahawk at 12:00 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Have you read the book The Five Love Languages? If so, I'm going to guess that touch and words of affirmation are your partner's ways of receiving love. If not, read it!

I'd set yourself reminders on your phone for times when you are usually around your partner. Or put a sticky note on your dresser. "Say something nice to partner." Etc. I bet you won't always needs these reminders, but it might help cultivate a habit.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:59 PM on January 18

I'm naturally more emotionally reticent than my partner, and especially less touchy-feely. But it's an important part of his love language.

What I've done to help myself with this habit is, when I have an idle moment or notice I haven't interacted with my partner in a bit ("where is he?"), I think "what could I be doing right now to be kind to him?" Maybe that means I offer to bring him a cup of tea, or just go walk over to him or text to say "hey, love you!" Or give him an unsolicited hug. The trick is having an option, when you have a break in whatever you're doing, to go and make a connection with your loved one. Making it not her job to remind you is what makes that particular thing meaningful.
posted by Lady Li at 11:33 PM on January 20

For being decisive, if you're being reticent with your opinions to be polite, that could be an area where your partner could help by telling you directly that she just wants a decision. But it depends on exactly what you both mean by that? If your energy isn't naturally very domineering I don't see that as something so likely to change long term, but specific behaviors can be changed.
posted by Lady Li at 11:34 PM on January 20

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