There’s no single definition that describes a “healthy” relationship. So much of tethering your life to another person means making the rules up as you go along. Regardless, though, you do have to establish a basic level of respect and empathy. And that’s where the A.R.E. formula for relationships—which values attentiveness, responsiveness, and engagement—comes in.
According to Mariah McQueen, LMFT, you can discern whether or not your pairing will stand the test of time by asking yourself “A.R.E. you there for me?” In a recent TikTok video, she shares that you can use the acronym to analyze whether your S.O. shows up for you in a way that’s attentive, responsive, and engaged in your interactions with them.
And although it may sound overly simplistic on first thought, professional matchmaker and relationship expert Susan Trombetti agrees that the method is sound—especially for the longevity of relationships. “All relationships need both partners to be engaged, attentive to the other’s needs, and responsive to their needs to make it work,” says Trombetti. “This is true at the beginning of a relationship, and very true to keep it going throughout years and decades of a partnership. This is what people mean when they say they work at their relationship.”
“All relationships need both partners to be engaged, attentive to the other’s needs, and responsive to their needs to make it work.” —Susan Trombetti, relationship expert
So what do these characteristics look like in everyday quarantine life? Attentiveness can be as simple as answering your long-distance partner’s “I miss you!” text messages or sincerely smooching between Zoom meetings. Responsiveness, meanwhile, is “being there for your partner when they want to be with you. This sounds easy, but the reality is that it’s hard to be an empathetic listener after a hard day,” says Trombetti. That’s where engagement comes in: It involves reacting to what they communicate with you in a way that shows you listen and care. Tick off those three boxes and you have yourself a relationship built on mutual respect.
Without a doubt, there will be stages of any relationship where your A.R.E. needs aren’t being met. Maybe you feel like they’re phubbing (or phone snubbing) you when you’re trying to collaboratively plan a trip for non-pandemic times; or maybe they just keep asking you where things are in the kitchen, and it’s coming off as their being inattentive to your work focus. No matter the circumstance, Trombetti says you need to address your frustrations—and fast.
“Communication is always key. Be direct, honest, and non-accusatory. Just state your needs clearly. Meaning, be clear on what steps you want your partner to take, and offer solutions,” she says. If it’s a phone issue, designate a time of the evening when any product with a camera is banished. And if they ask you where the spatula is for the 90th time… kindly ask them to memorize the layout of the kitchen, so you’re not constantly feeling like a sous-chef.
While you’re in the A.R.E. frame of mind, make sure to flip the script to figure out if you show up with the same three qualities you demand in a partner. Otherwise, you’re just the jerk who wants attentiveness, responsiveness, and engagement without giving it in return—and, hey, that’s not a good look.
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