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When Your Partner Misses Your Cues and 5 Ways to Handle It


Missed Cues and 5 Ways to Handle It

I was having a day—exhausted from no sleep, overwhelmed with work, out of shape recovering from an injury, hangry, stressed out... the works.  My mood didn’t improve when my new professional photos arrived. I forwarded the proofs to my husband, texting “I really don’t like the way these came out.”

Evidently, he agreed, replying, “Yeah, I would take ‘em again.”

I appreciated the honesty, but it was not exactly the response I was looking for in my fragile state. I wanted to be reassured that it was just the pictures, and not that I had become hideously unattractive without realizing it.

Later, when I got home, I tried again: “I really hate those pictures.”

Engrossed in a game on his phone, he didn’t look up.

“I look fat, old, and ugly.”

Complete silence until…

“Hey, could you take some of your shoes upstairs? There are a ton down here.”

Was he kidding? I share how bad I’m feeling about myself, and he wants me to pick up around the house???

“I guess you didn’t hear what I said, that I must be fat, old and ugly,” I yelled as I stomped toward the stairs, arms filled with shoes.

“What?” He was looking up from his phone now, and seemed surprised. “No, I didn’t hear you say that.”

“Well I DID and your response was pick up your shoes!”  

The moment for him to reassure me had passed. I was angry, disappointed, and poised to spiral into a pointless argument. “I’m going to the gym” I snapped.  

When I returned, he was cooking dinner.  He kissed me hello and asked “Hey, how are you feeling?”

Inevitably, partners will miss each other’s cues. But, when you’re feeling vulnerable and need some emotional TLC, the missed cue can be seriously misinterpreted. So, how you react to a missed cue is important.

Here are 5 steps to help you navigate the next one:

  • Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
  • Re-state your need—calmly and more directly
  • Have compassion—for yourself and for your partner
  • Tend to yourself—engage in self-care 
  • Reconnect

Following these steps should bring you to a place where you can get past the hurt of the missed cue, get the support you need and reconnect.

1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt

Hold onto the belief that your partner loves you, thinks highly of you, and that you are important to him or her. Ask yourself why your partner is not responding in the way you had expected.  From that vantage point, how would you interpret the missed cue?

2. Re-state your need calmly and directly

“I don’t think you see how upset I am. I would really love ____” [fill in the blank here—"a hug,” “your attention,” “a listening ear”].  

Even with the best communication skills, your partner will not be able to meet your needs all the time. He or she also may be tired, overwhelmed, distracted by other problems or unsure how to meet your need.  A calm re-stating of your need increases the chance he or she can try to meet the need or at least hear that you have one.

3. Have compassion

It’s critical to have compassion for yourself, especially when your needs are not met by your significant other!  Try thoughts like, of course I’m upset, I wish my partner could be there for me right now, or of course this is hard, my work day was brutal, and so on. It’s also helpful to have compassion for your partner. Remind yourself, I know he/she loves me and there is a reason for this reaction. Think of times your partner has been there for you, and recall when you heard exactly what you are longing to hear now.

4. Remember self-care

Self-care is always important but particularly so when you are feeling hurt by a perceived lack of caring from your partner. Choose the ones that work for you—yoga, meditation, a work-out at the gym, watching a favorite TV show, listening to music, calling a friend for a laugh (not a gripe session), journaling, reading, cooking, going outside for a walk, playing with your pet, taking a hot shower, reading a blog, watching youtube animal videos that make you smile—the options are endless but you must give yourself some TLC! Tending to self-care can help dissolve the distance the missed cue has created between you and your partner.

5. Reconnect

Keep in mind: reconnection doesn't have to mean addressing the unmet need but rather how do we get back to feeling close. Try doing something together—cooking, working out, reading, cuddling on the couch while you watch a movie, sex, whatever works for both of you. (You don’t have to rehash the missed cue in the moment. You can share what you needed and how you tended to it and be curious about what was going with your partner at another time).  

Ultimately, this experience should help you improve your communication skills as a couple. The critical take-away is this: don’t allow these inevitable misses to hurt your bond or deter you from turning to your partner in the future. Instead, be better prepared to navigate them.


Dr. Rebekah Montgomery is a Boston based clinical psychologist and writer.  For more of her work join her newsletter, read her blog or follow her on Instagram.