Turning Towards, Not Away:  If You’re Not Doing This Then Your Relationship Could be in Trouble

So you’re engaged and set to be married in a year. Your aunt pulls you aside to say that she has the secret to a successful marriage. She goes on to say that the secret is even supported by scientific research. The question is, would you listen?  

The Research

It turns out your aunt has a secret worth sharing. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute co-directed a research study involving heterosexual newlywed couples with a follow-up after six years. These newlywed relationships – similar to the general population – turned out in very different ways. Some of the relationships were successful and the couples stayed married. Others saw their relationships dissolve into divorce.

What Gottman found was that couples who stayed married turned towards their partners. In fact, couples who stayed married for the full six years of the study actually turned towards their partner 86% of the time. The couples who divorced only turned towards their partner around one-third of the time. It’s easy to conclude therefore that turning towards one another is an important factor in relationship success.

Understanding Bids for Connection

In order to fully understand turning towards vs. away, it is important to understand bids for connection. A bid for connection is when one partner makes an effort to get closer to their partner. This could be as subtle as a smile or a look. Or, they may say, “You never will guess what happened today.” The other partner then has a simple choice:  they can either accept their partner’s bid for connection, or turn away from the bid, and in essence, their partner. It should be noted that even the healthiest couples are not going to be perfect and turn towards one another 100% of the time. However, it is important to recognize when these bids for connection take place and whenever possible, turn towards your partner.

Why Turning Towards Your Partner Matters

Every time that you turn towards your partner you are signaling to them that you are ready to listen, support, and connect with them. This means that they can be open and vulnerable with you.  These conversations, over time, build trust. Of course, we all know that trust is a fundamental building block of any successful relationship. Also, when your partner turns towards you, you get to return the favor when they make a bid for connection. Over time, as you both practice turning towards each other you strengthen the connective bonds of your relationship as well as the love you both share. The result is that you truly create a trusting “partnership” that is built to last.

Tips to Improve Turning Towards Your Partner

  • Pay attention to your partner’s bids for connection and recognize that they may not always be obvious.
  • Notice how often you make a bid for connection with your partner. If you don’t frequently make a bid try to determine what is getting in the way. Is there a conflict with your partner?
  • Pay attention to how often you turn towards vs. turn away. What makes it challenging to turn towards your partner?
  • When your partner turns towards you, pay attention to how that feels. Do you sometimes take it for granted that they are turning towards you?
  • If you are feeling stuck with making progress in feeling more connected with your partner consider going to couples counseling.

Research shows that turning towards one another is critical to the success of your relationship. Recognizing when your partner wants you to turn towards them (and is making a bid for connection) is important. Yet, if you and your partner have been struggling and feeling disconnected, then it may be difficult for both of you to recognize the bids. However, it is possible to recognize your partner’s bids for connection through open communication, attentive listening, and the assistance from couples counseling. Over time you both can create a relationship built on listening, caring, and mutual respect.

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