The success of relationships is tied to hundreds of tiny interactions that couples have every day.  These interactions consist of:

  • A bid for connection by one partner
    • Verbal: comment, question, request
    • Non-verbal: touch, gesture, facial expression
  • The other partner’s response:
    • turning toward
    • turning away
    • turning against.

  1. The difference between couples headed for divorce and those in lasting relationships:
  • Happy couples made as many as 100 bids for connection during a ten minute conversation, while couples headed for divorce made only 65
  • Husbands headed for divorce ignored 82% of their wives’ bids for connection, while husbands in good relationships ignored only 19%
  • Wives headed for divorce ignored 50% of their husbands’ bids for connection, while wives in good relationships ignored only 14%.

  1. To make more of these connections in your own relationship, you need to:
  • Recognize your partner’s bids for connection
  • Know which responses will reinforce your emotional connection
  • Know how your own behavior can create or destroy opportunities for connection.

  1. Recognising bids for connection:
  • Statements directly communicating emotional need
    • “I’m feeling sad.”
    • “I need to talk to you.”
  • Emotionally significant topics
    • “Tommy got into a fight at school.”
    • “My mom is back in the hospital.”
    • “I got the promotion!”
  • Opportunity to express interest
    • “I had lunch with Pat.”
    • “I like this cereal more than the other one.”
  • Simple request
    • “Could you pick up some toothpaste while you’re out?”
  • Touches and gestures
  • Facial expressions and body language

  1. Responding by reinforcing the connection
  • Reinforce connection by turning toward
    • Acknowledge (nod, smile, “uh-huh”)
    • Express sympathy or interest
    • Ask a follow up question
    • Ask about how they are feeling (“You look sad.”)
  • Turning away discourages attempts to connect
    • Preoccupied response or no response
    • Irrelevant response
    • Interruption
  • Turning against discourages attempts to connect
    • Angry, contemptuous, defensive, or critical response.

  1. Dealing with negative feelings that lead to failed bids and turning against
  • People who are overwhelmed with anger or other negative feelings tend to destroy opportunities for emotional connection
  • There are three ways to deal with your negative feelings:
  • Express them in an attack on your partner
    • “ You never do your share of the housework!”
  • Suppress your feelings in order to avoid conflict
  • Disclose your feelings without acting them out:
    • “I am upset because I’ve had to do all the housework three weeks in a row.”
  • Disclosing is difficult, but can help you resolve your feelings and is much more likely to lead to an emotional connection with your partner.

Further reading

John M. Gottman and Joan DeClaire, The Relationship Cure: 5 Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends and Lovers  (Crown Publishers, 2001).