Which Way Do You Turn?

Posted by on Nov 15, 2015 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Which Way Do You Turn?

Responding productively to your partner’s attempts to connect with you.

“Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that Masters of relationships turn toward their spouses approximately 20 times more than couples in distress. In a newlywed study, newlyweds who were still married six years after their wedding had turned toward each other 86% of the time; while those who were divorced within six years, only turned toward each other 33% of the time.”

-Zach Brittle, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Gottman Therapist, and blog author for The Gottman Relationship Blog

Relationships are made up of a series of daily interactions.

Many of these interactions may seem trivial, but they are actually very important to the health and future of our relationships. Our everyday contact, conversation, and  nonverbal communication are really attempts to connect emotionally and establish intimacy with our partners.

John Gottman, a renowned psychologist, relationship therapist, and researcher, identified the following nine ways in which we “bid” for emotional connection with those we care about most:

  1. Bids for Attention: “Come see what I did while you were gone today!”
  2. Bids for Interest: “Did you just see what that man at the next table did?”
  3. Bids for Enthusiastic Engagement: “Why don’t we go out, just the two of us, this weekend?”
  4. Bids for Extended Conversation: “What did your mom say when you talked to her earlier today? How did her visit with her sister go?”
  5. Bids for Humor: “Listen to what happened at lunch today it was hilarious!”
  6. Bids for Play: Teasing or repeating your partner.
  7. Bids for Physical Contact: Reaching for your partner’s hand or a hug.
  8. Bids for Emotional Support: “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this visit with my family.”
  9. Bids for Self-Disclosure: “What happened at work today?”

As we recognize them, there are three primary ways we generally respond to our partners’ bids for emotional connection and intimacy with us:

  • The first response is called “turning toward.” When we turn toward our partners, we acknowledge and respond appropriately to their bids. For example, we might provide encouragement, smile, nod, ask questions, or offer a hug. These behaviors indicate that we’re listening and responsive.
  • The second type of response to our partners is called “turning away.” In this case, we literally turn away or ignore bids for intimacy. We might turn away by directly refusing to answer questions or walking off. Indirectly, we might choosing to ignore our partners’ phone calls or texts.
  • Finally, we might respond to intimacy bids by “turning against” our partners. This is when we respond in an irritable, hostile, or negative manner. We may become angry or short with  our partners when they make a request. We may pull away when they seek an embrace or try to make physical contact. Or we may respond in a generally critical way to whatever they say or do.

Not surprisingly, couples who respond to bids for intimacy by turning toward each other fare better than those who turn away, or turn against one another. While it isn’t possible to turn toward our partners every single time they bid for intimacy, the goal is to to stick with it, and continually make an honest effort.

Remember that 100 percent accuracy isn’t really the goal… or a reasonable expectation.

Sometimes we turn away, or turn against, our partners because we’re busy.

Sometimes we’re overworked or simply too tired. We’re only human.

Just try to keep in mind that the key to satisfying emotional connection is consistency — not perfection.

The greater the number of positive everyday moments and interactions shared by you and your partner, the stronger your relationship.

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