By: Cristina Trette
Dr. John Gottman, author of "What Makes Love Last" has observed thousands of couples in his infamous "Love Lab". Gottman discovered that the happiest couples consistently turn toward each other through out their time together. This is true in a physical way as well as in an emotional way.
If this concept was as simple as it sounds, then all we would have to do is start turning towards our partners. The truth is, turning away is typically unconscious. I spent some time playing around with this concept and have come up with a four step plan to shift things around.
1. Examine the way you and your partner reach out to each other
Gottman suggests that on a daily basis, you and your partner will make numerous bids for support, attention, and connection. Some examples of bids could include your husband asking you to help him fill out paperwork, wanting to tell you how a phone call went with a client, or telling you a joke. Bids can be seemingly minor or unimportant. But the need behind the bids (for support, connection, and attention) is very meaningful and highly important. For example, one woman explained that while experiencing some conflict with her boyfriend, he offered her some yogurt. Unfortunately, the woman did not notice at the time that yogurt offering was a bid to re-connect. The woman dismissed him and remained stuck in conflict. She sees now that if she had accepted his bid, this could have been a moment for the couple to re-connect, turn down the intensity, and move into meaningful conversation.
2. Pay attention to bids
Bids can easily go unnoticed! Busy parents in particular are consumed with careers, household duties, and children. It is common to overlook all of the small ways that partners reach out for connection. If you do not notice most of your partners bids, then you can see how your partner may end up feeling unsupported, not heard, not seen, not valued, etc. So, start today by noticing all the ways, big and small, your husband makes a bid for your support, attention, and connection. Gottman found that the happiest couples are the ones that are highly attuned to each other, and one way to be attuned, is to notice bids.
3. Turn towards
Hopefully you are already beginning to see the many ways in which your husband or partner reaches out to you for connection. Some bids are subtle, others are obvious. The next time he makes a bid, all you have to do is respond with interest and care. This is what is known as turning towards him. You do not need to comply with a request, drop everything, or even get into a discussion. Rather, you show him that you are there, that you see him, that you care about him, and that he matters to you. At the minimum you can stop what you are doing for a moment, make eye contact, and smile. If you have time and availability you can offer deeper support, connection, and conversation. Some great ways to turn towards him are by offering humor, laughter, physical touch, and nurturing.
3. Catch yourself when you have turned away
Maybe you are busy with the kids. Perhaps you are stressed with work or caught up in your own problems of the day. Whatever the reason, there will be times that you don't notice a bid for connection. Or, maybe you notice it, but you are unavailable for some reason. This will happen! Perhaps your partner reached out and you ignored him, withdrew, or said something to shut down communication. On the more extreme end, and more difficult to repair, turning away can includes criticism and contempt (which is a topic for another blog post). Be encouraged to know that once you have noticed that you just turned away, all you have to do is turn towards him again. If for some reason you genuinely need space, then I recommend that you be lovingly direct and explain this to him. For example, tell him that you need some time to yourself but that you will be be back later. Being clear and direct, while expressing what you need and want, even if it means wanting some space, is a wonderful way to turn towards him.
4. Filling up your joint emotional back account
Couples quickly see how easy it is to create more joy and connection with the simple shift in increasing awareness around bid and responses. When responding to bids with interest, you will be filling up your "joint emotional bank account". So if he asks you what you ate for lunch, respond with warmth. If you have time, go ahead and ask him about his day too. Even when busy pausing for a brief moment to connect is possible. If you make a habit of consistently responding to the small bids with care then you will create a foundation of connection and support for your relationship to thrive on. Being there for each other in all the small ways will make it far more likely that you will be there for each other when something significant happens, and the need for genuine support is big.
I would love to hear how this works for you! If you try this out and get great results, I would like to hear about it in the comments box below!
Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT is a busy mother and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her passion is centered on helping couples and parents create thriving relationships, families, and wellbeing.
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