I am no one special. Just a common man with common thoughts. And I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect, I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who’s ever lived. I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and for me, that has always been enough.
– Duke (James Garner), The Notebook (2004)
Duke got it. Success is as simple as real, lasting connection with another person. This is true for both women and men. We’re all hardwired to crave relationship.
Our connections with other people give life its greatest purpose.
But sometimes men lose sight of this basic truth. By nature, men tend to focus on goals and achievements, and it’s easy for non-relationship goals to take center stage.
That’s fine when it happens for a short while. It can even be good since it allows for razor-sharp focus. The problem occurs when a man forgets to bring his attention back to his relationship with you once a mission has been accomplished.
Let me explain why this happens to men. Imagine what life was like for humans thousands of years ago. Men were typically hunters. The man would leave his family and go out into the wild to find food.
Why? Because he loved his family and wanted to provide for them. Relationship was his ultimate goal. By hunting, he was providing for his family. When he succeeded, he felt joy because of what it meant for his family.
But the thrill of the hunt, developing new skills, and seeking prestige among fellow hunters can cause a gradual shift in attention. Seeking success in hunting can gradually remove his focus from his partner or family.
The same thing happens to modern man. The rat race is fierce. It takes intense focus to climb the corporate ladder, stay out of debt, win the approval of friends and family.
When a man invests himself in his job to the degree that he forgets the rest of his life, we call him a “workaholic.” Like a prehistoric hunter, his job can steal his focus.
Sadly, guys don’t even need jobs for this effect to play out.
Young men in college can become distracted while building the perfect physique, or trying to become popular. Even the quest for the ultimate bro-adventure can become an obsession.
While this is happening, he may pay lip service to the woman in his life, saying she’s the most important thing. But in reality, she’s only getting the left-over scraps of his attention.
His passion is pointed somewhere else. She may even be reduced to just another “accomplishment.”
Of course, eventually those non-relationship accomplishments reveal themselves to be empty. If he’s lucky, he sees that quickly. For some unfortunate men, it takes years.
Why am I telling you this?
Because it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter this dynamic at some point with a man you love. He may not lose sight of you completely, but you will experience at least mild effects of this phenomenon. If you understand it, you can learn to see past the surface level symptoms to what is really happening.
That kind of insight will benefit you in two ways.
First, you’ll have compassion. This is a natural thing that all men deal with. When you understand and accept that, it’s much easier to be sympathetic toward him instead of hurt or angry.
Second, you’ll be in a position to help pull his attention back toward what really matters. He knows the truth, but he may have forgotten it. You can gently remind him what real success is.
Real success in life comes from our connection with others. Our relationships are what make all the other goals worthwhile.
To remind him of this, don’t nag him or point out his failure. Instead, help him remember that the greatest joys in life come from relationships.
Share some of that joy with him. Create positive experiences, while also letting him know you appreciate his focus and hard work.
Build him up while lovingly calling his attention back to you. In doing so, you’ll help make him an even greater success in the way that matters most.