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Engagement amplification

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Love is about always growing closer. Part 8 in the “Love is...” series

What is engagement amplification? It’s something that, if it goes away, then that sucks for your relationship. Hang in there: you’ll see.

I’m bi-petual. I like dogs and cats equally. They’re very different animals, but equal in wonderfulness, if not in the ways they’re wonderful.

But you’d have to be a nut not to accept that there’s a certain mystery to cats. What in the world in going on in their enigmatic little minds? In fact, I am totally fascinated by the whole field of animal cognition. We know that animals think in the sense that they process information and come to conclusions. But how they think, especially cats...well, you can ask them but they won’t tell you.

One question that cat lovers and people who study cats have wondered about is the degree to which cats are tuned into their humans. They seem to be way more self-involved than dogs, but is that true?

Well, now comes a paper published in the journal Animal Cognition showing that “cats’ social communication with humans is affected by the person’s availability for visual interaction.”

In other words, they look at our eyes, they respond to our gaze, and the more we interact with them, the more they interact with us. If you want your cat to interact with you, interact with your cat. That’s engagement amplification! A process, where the more you engage with each other the more you feel engaged by the other. Just think about that for a moment, and you’ll learn a lot.

And that’s exactly where love between humans comes in.

Everything you and I do with another human falls into three categories.

  • Non-engagement. This is stuff like what you might say to a store clerk or when you ask someone at the table to pass the salt. There’s an interaction, but no one is engaged in it.

  • Dis-engagement. This is where forcefully or subtly you are pushing someone away. “Oh, jeez, sorry, I can’t talk now” can be a perfectly polite way of dis-engaging. So can not answering someone’s email. Or just not responding when someone talks to you. Or changing the subject.

  • Engagement. This is where you get more involved, more personal, closer to a person. An impersonal exchange with a stranger can shift very quickly if you say, “Oh, where did you get that necklace? And what does that pendant symbolize? I love it!” Now if you end up talking about your exes with each other, you’ve gotten involved in a process of engagement. If you meet for coffee, the process goes further. Engagement amplification.

Now here’s where all this becomes problematic when it comes to love in relationships. Add time to the equation and what you have is this. More and more of your interactions are non-engagement types. They’re practical, problem-solving interactions. Do we need a plumber for the whatchmacallit or can you fix it? Do you like this movie or should we bail on it? So what’s it gonna be: pizza or Thai food tonight?

There’s nothing wrong with stuff like this, except that it’s dead weight. It’s a whole lot of nothing. It’s roommate talk.

Now add in the dis-engagement interactions. People who observe couples notice there are more of these than you might think. One partner comes home. The other says, “How was your day?” in a not-terribly-curious fashion. More non-engagement than anything else.

The first partner says, “You know. Same old same old...” Definite dis-engagement.

“Okay,” and the other goes back to her phone, confirming the dis-engagement.

So there’s a lot of dis-engagement in that very ordinary back and forth.

Or this: “How do you feel about turning 40?”

“Whatever. It’s just a number.”

“...uh, okay.”

An attempt at engagement followed by a dis-engagement, followed by a confirming disengagement.

Now in case you’re interested—and I know you are—a dis-engagement almost always carries more emotional weight that an attempt at engagement. If we get into bed and I say, “Do you want to snuggle?” and you say, “No, I’m too tired,” the rejection is heavier than the offer, even though it’s perfectly reasonable to be too tired to snuggle.

The point is that every stone of dis-engagement is a weight on the chest of love.

But the flip side is where the magic happens. When every attempt at engagement is met with another attempt at engagement, engagement piling on top of engagement, connection on top of connection—engagement amplification—then love is kept simmering in the pot.

Or to go back to the cat quote, “If you want your cat to interact with you, interact with your cat.” It’s really the same thing here, except that since you’re both people with minds and hearts, and with neither of you having a mind and heart stuck on just cat food, your mutual engagement can take you to the moon and beyond.

And, bottom line, what do we mean by engagement? Interest. Curiosity. Caring. Desire for involvement. That’s all you need to know. Make it mutual, keep it going, and your engagement amplification will keep you in love forever.

If you want your human to interact with you, interact with your human.

I have to say, one of the best ways to promote engagement amplification is to eliminate the power dynamics in your relationship and to get better at getting your needs met. That’s what Why Couples Fight is all about. Check it out!


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