Turning toward

The famous marriage researchers, John and Julie Gottman, have researched several aspects of healthy and unhealthy marriages. One of their assertions concerns building a strong marital foundation by responding to the everyday, not terribly deep, comments made by their spouse. These comments are an attempt at a connection and this desire for connection is made with what the Gottmans call a “bid.”

A bid occurs when I say, “I hate watching the news. It’s too depressing.” My bid has been heard and acknowledged if Bob responds sincerely with, “I hear you.” With those three words, he is engaging in “turning toward” and a connection has been completed. By contrast, my comment could be ignored, which obviously won’t create a connection and would probably feel as though Bob doesn’t care about how I feel (or simply isn’t listening to me). Worse yet, if I make my bid and Bob hatefully tells me I’m disturbing him (which he would never do, by the way), I would most likely feel invalidated and incredibly wounded.

It’s those everyday, sometimes trivial comments that are made and responded to with positivity and validation that create connection and increase intimacy. While seemingly small, they contribute to a solid foundation. As the Gottmans put it, “Even if a hurricane assaulted a marriage, these moments… [keep] it from toppling into the sea.”

When your spouse makes even the smallest bid, are you responding? How are you responding?

(Lessons from the Love Lab – The Science of Couples Therapy, by Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman. Psychotherapy Networker, November/December 2015)

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About Lori Mitton

Lori Mitton is a licensed clinical psychotherapist (MA, LLP) specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is co-founder of Permanent Passionate Partnership.