Are You Turning Towards Your Partner? By Maureen Werrbach, MA LCPC

Well known couples therapists and founders of the Gottman Method for couples therapy, John and Julie Gottman have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to what keeps couples together in a healthy relationship and what can break a relationship apart. In what they coined The Sound Relationship House, the foundation and inside of a healthy relationship rest on things like trust and commitment, fondness and admiration, turning towards and a positive perspective of your partner, as well as a healthy conflict style, and shared meaning.

Today I am focusing on the idea of turning towards instead of turning away from your partner. In Gottman’s research (in which he interviewed newlyweds and again after 6 years) he noticed one thing that stood out was that those who were still married after 6 year were turning towards one another 86% of the time, and those that divorced had turned towards only 33% of the time. What I gather from this piece of evidence is that the idea of turning towards instead of turning away plays a huge role on the health of your relationship and overall success of it.

So what is turning towards? How do you turn towards your partner and what does it look like when you turn away?

Everybody in a relationship makes bids for attention or affirmation or love. Some are small (smiles and touches) and some are big (asking for advice or help). Both people in a relationship ask bids throughout their relationship. Look at some examples:

What is said/done vs. What is meant:

“How was work today?” — Will you talk to me?
“Want to cuddle?” — Will you give me affection or love?
“A coworker yelled at me today.” — Will you give me advice/listen?
“A smile to you by partner…” — Will you give me attention?
“A touch on your arm by your partner…” — Will you give me affection?

Where the problem arises is when the partner making a bid attempt is not noticed or is shut down. We call this a “missed bid” and is considered turning away.

You may be thinking, “I don’t think I miss my partner’s bids for attention.” If you were to put cameras throughout your house, you would be able to see on a second to second basis your partner’s and your bids for one another’s attention, as well as opportunities missed to turn towards.

Think about times you pass one another in the hallway of your house without giving eye contact or smiling at one another. Missed opportunity to turn toward. Your partner says, “It looks crappy outside today.” You don’t respond (because maybe it seems obvious to you that it is or not something that needs to be responded to). Missed bid. You tell your partner that work was stressful and your partner says, “Sorry to hear that.” Wait, that is turning toward isn’t it? Yes, but it is what we call a passive or low energy turning toward. Your partner responds to you, only they miss the opportunity to ask why it was stressful (which is considered an attentive turning towards).

What about applying this in your relationship? Take a look at how you and your partner are making bids and turn towards. The first step is just paying attention to one another. Turning towards each other increases the positive perspective of your partner as well and promotes health within your relationship. Try it out, you may be surprised at the times your partner sends out bids that you miss! Its these small bids for attention that create a foundation of happiness and health in your relationship and increase feelings of connection and understanding.


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