Week 7: Turning Toward One Another

Do you ever clear your throat from across the room expecting your spouse to look up?  Do you ever stomp around the house or make any other outward show of anger and frustration?  On the other hand, maybe you just tap your spouse on the shoulder or call out their name from across the room (or across the house)?  All of these examples are ways that we “bid” for the attention of others (Gottman, 1999).  Some are more loud or obvious (yelling or criticizing), yet some are not; there are many times I start talking to my husband without doing anything to get his attention first, or I may just sit with frustration or a pout on my face and wait for him to ask me what is wrong (not very effective I might add).   All of us make many bids for attention throughout each day, and our partner is doing the same.  The important question is, what are you doing about it?

When we stop what we are doing to put our focus on our spouse in response to a bid for attention, we are “turning toward” our spouse.  When we ignore the bid for attention, we are turning away from our spouse.  Dr. Gottman tells us that consistently turning toward our spouse is what increases the sizzle and romance in a relationship, not the theatrics that we see in movies.  Happy couples turn toward each other 86% of the time; couples that eventually divorce turn toward each other 33% of the time (1999).   These facts shared by Gottman seem important . . . even if you do big things like chocolates and roses or vacation cruises; it will not affect the romance in your marriage as much as the simple and daily moments when you respond to your partner’s bids for attention.

Throughout this week, I have been watching for bids of attention within my own marriage.  My favorite one that I discovered, used by both of us often throughout the day that works consistently, I will call the “hey” moment.  This simple word can have hundreds of meanings between us; it all depends on how and when we say it.  It could be saying,

  • “Wow it is has been a long day and I missed you,” usually said when we get home after a workday.
  • “I am here for you,” said when one of us is sad, upset, etc.
  • “Hey, I’m still here,” used while sitting on the couch working on separate things for long periods.
  • “You look good” used . . . well . . . all the time.

Typical “turn toward” responses are a hug, a responding “hey”, eye contact, or an extra twinkle in the eye.  Many times these small bids and responses lead to more significant moments of love mapping (see last week’s post) or other kinds of bonding—I can’t be any more specific here or I will embarrass my husband.

I encourage you to keep track of your spouse’s bids for attention for several days.  Be sure to notate how you responded to them; did you turn toward your spouse? How?  Did you turn away from your spouse?  This is the first part of an exercise suggested by Gottman.  The second part is to keep track of your own bids for your spouse’s attention for several days.  The important part here is to watch how many times they turn toward you in response then thank them for it.  Gottman reminds us that it is important to focus on the positive things in order to improve our marriage, so the times your partner did not turn toward you are less important for now (1999).  By focusing on the times your spouse turned toward you and then thanking them for it will put you on track to improve the “sizzle” in your marriage.

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