Relationship Skills Round-Up, part 1: Turn toward your partner

Over the next week, I’ll be sharing a collection of my favorite tools for strengthening a relationship – whether that relationship is with our partner, friends, co-workers, or kids.

Turning Toward bids for connection (based on John Gottman’s work)

When someone wants to make a connection, they make “bids for affection.” These can be questions, invitations, non-verbal gestures, glances, or touch – anything that asks you to connect. When someone bids for your attention, there are three main  ways that you might respond.

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turn Toward: Act in a responsive, interested, positive, and loving way. Reach out, touch them, look at them, smile. Say “I hear you”, “I want to connect with you,” “I’m interested in you.” Ask a question.

????????????

Turn Away: Act in a way that ignores them, or dismisses their bid. Look away, wander away. Don’t respond verbally, or respond in a way that has nothing to do with what they said.

Turn Against: Act in an angry way that rejects them and their bid. Walk away, glare at them, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs. Do the opposite of what they have asked you to do.

Examples:

A friend might bid “Want to go out to that new French restaurant Friday night?” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “A formal restaurant?? With a toddler?? In the evening?? Are you crazy?” Or you might ‘turn away’ by calling out to your child to be careful or asking if he wants a snack, then turning back to your friend and saying “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?” Or, you could ‘turn toward’ by saying “I would LOVE to go out with you. I’ve really missed all the long talks we used to have over meals. But what would work better for me is brunch before nap time… or a kid-friendly restaurant… or just meeting at my house.’

Your partner might bid “After we put her to bed, do you want to snuggle up on the couch and talk for a while?” You might ‘turn away’ by saying “The couch is covered in laundry I meant to put away during nap time. Oh, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to…” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “I am so exhausted. I just want to go to bed. If you’ve got time to kill, could you just fold the laundry for a change?” Or you could turn toward by saying “Yes, that would be great. I’ll warn you that I’m exhausted, and I may just fall asleep.. but I’d love to have a little time with you.” Or “I’d love to snuggle. I’m stressed out by the laundry though… could you help me put it away real quick and then I can focus on snuggle time with you?”

What leads to a successful relationship?

In successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one negative bid or incident of turning against or away. Learn more.

Young children are very clear and obvious in their bids for connection: they chatter non-stop, they cry, they hang on your legs, they climb on your lap when you’re trying to work. Most parents do a good job of ‘turning toward’ most of a child’s bids: we look at them, we smile, we echo their words back to them. Even if we say no, we often say it in a connecting way “oh, honey, I’d LOVE to read that book to you, but right now I need to finish washing the dishes.”

Unfortunately, we aren’t always this responsive to our partners! At the end of a long and tiring day of parenting and work, and feeling under-appreciated, we may feel like we only have a tiny bit of energy left to give in our day, and we save that up for our little ones, assuming our partners will “understand.” And they do. Generally. But eventually, all their bids are ignored (turn away) or rejected (turn against) that can really damage a relationship.

What can you do today to “bid” for affection – let your partner know you want to connect?

What can you do today to tune in to bids from your partner, and try to turn toward?

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Look here for Gottman’s suggestions on ways to connect, such as “Your partner sends you a text message about something, anything. Send them one back that lets them know how irresistible they are to you.

Or look here for Gottman’s suggestions for how to apply this idea in the work setting to build better relationships with co-workers, such as: “Turn away from your work and look at the person who’s talking to you.

Look here to see simple examples of the mundane ways this idea plays out in a relationship and learn why those little things matter: http://alwayspsyched.blogspot.com/2011/05/for-love-of-gottman-make-your.html: “Comical as it may sound, romance actually grows when a couple are in the supermarket and the wife says, “Are we out of bleach?” and the husband says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,” instead of shrugging apathetically.”.

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