When you notice something, it is quite natural to mention it to the people around you. For instance, if you said, “That’s a nice car; I’d like to buy one of them someday,” you would look to the people around you to comment back and affirm your statement. We do this to develop relationships and strong bonds with people. But we don’t always receive this engaging response to our bid for others to turn toward us.
Imagine if, instead of encouraging you to pursue this dream of buying your “dream vehicle,” your friend said, “As if you’ll ever be able to afford that!” Automatically you shut down, feeling devalued and incapable of reaching this fleeting goal. You might make another attempt at connection and rebid saying, “You never know!” Yet you receive a similar negative response. The other person has chosen to respond to your bid for connection by turning against you.
Then there’s the third option. We all know how disheartening it is to make a comment and receive no reply and no recognition in response to it. When someone ‘turns away’ from our bid, they look away, appear uninterested, or may even bring up a completely irrelevant topic such as, “Can I borrow five bucks?” When people turn away from our bids, we are unable to build a relationship with them.
In a marriage relationship, we send out and respond to countless bids every day. A hand on the shoulder, a question about the day, an apology or witty banter are all ways people show their partner interest and, in essence, build an intimacy with them. Because of this, the way we respond to each other’s bids plays an important role in the day to day, and long term health of our relationships.
In his book “The Relationship Cure” John Gottman talks about the couples we see as “marital masters.” They are people who have a wonderful intimacy, who even in their arguments take the opportunity to hear each other, show one another respect and act mutually interested. These couples are able to weather the conflicts that arise in marriage because they respond to each other’s bids in a positive way; in other words, they ‘turn towards’ each other.
By looking at a study which observed the behaviour of sixty married couples over a weekend and then their relationship status a decade later, Gottman also looked at the consequences that come when we ‘turn against’ our partner, and the long term effects of ‘turning away’ from each other.
Couples who responded negatively in ‘turning against’ their partner’s bids were shown to stay married longer than couples where one party continuously ‘turned away’ and ignored their partner’s bids. Eventually though, many of these couples who responded in an unhealthy manner did divorce. In fact, Gottman goes so far as to say that the regular behaviour of ‘turning away’ through a dismissal of affection, attention or respect is “actually destructive,” and typically resulted in an early divorce among the couples observed.
How do you respond to your partner? Do you engage with their bid for connection and show an interest in them? By doing this, you are building on a solid and long lasting foundation. Perhaps it is easier to habitually respond to your partner in a negative way. You might be absolutely sure of your point of view and find it offensive when your partner questions you. By reacting in this manner and ‘turning against’ them, you are missing the opportunity to engage with your partner in a healthy way.
Or maybe you often take the third option and ‘turn away’ from your partner. You might be preoccupied with the stress of work and finances, perhaps you have lost that ‘spark’ or are uninterested in what they are saying. When we do this, we put a wall between ourselves and our partner. So if you find this occurring in your relationship, make a point to turn off the TV, look your partner in the eye and listen to them. Respond with patience and give them the connection they long for.
A relationship is cultivated every day through our responses to each other. Our bids for connection make our relationships unique and pave the way for intimacy in every season of marriage. To build a healthy marriage, look at how you respond to your partner. Do you turn towards them, turn against, or turn away from them? By taking steps to positively engage with our partner, we can establish a healthy and long lasting relationship.
This blog was put together using John M Gottman PhD’s and Joan DeClaire’s, ‘The Relationship Cure.’ Printed in 2001 by Crown Publishers, pg. 15-18.
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