Dr. John Gottman, the famed relationship and marriage therapist and researcher, conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. Many of the couples had remained together. Many had divorced. The couples who stayed married were much better at one thing, turning toward each other, instead of turning away. At the six-year follow-up, couples who had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Couples who had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. The secret is turning towards.
What does it mean to “turn toward?”
This is when we lean into our significant others (or spouses) for support, fun, care, or help.
That’s the first aspect of “turning.” The second part to understand is a concept called bidding.
A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids (requests) may show up in simple ways like a smile or outstretched arms, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. In general, women make more bids than men, but in the healthiest relationships, both partners are comfortable making all kinds of bids. Bids are verbal and non-verbal, and can be deconstructed down to a deeper meaning, or subtext.
|How do I look?||I want you to notice me and my efforts.|
|Let’s put the kids to bed.||I’d like to spend time with you while we’re doing this task–and after.|
|I talked to my sister today.||I’m processing our conversation and I want to tell you about it.|
|Did I tell you the one about…?||Let’s laugh together.|
|Want to cuddle?||I’d like to have physical contact with you.|
|Will you play smash ball with me?||I want to do something active together.|
|I had a terrible lunch meeting today.||I’d like your help in de-stressing.|
This topic of bidding has been on my mind for years, but I held back writing about it. Last night, in the early digits of the morning, I had an epiphany about one particular aspect of bidding and relationships. Personally speaking, I’ve had a few different relationships in the past four years. They’ve all had equal numbers of merits and disadvantages. I can speak kindly about my exes–and still not want to reunite (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual). In each relationship, different amounts and types of bidding occurred.
I’ve looked at my own bids (wishes) for connection, and the bids of past boyfriends. One boyfriend stated he had “no needs.” He expressed that he was capable, independent and didn’t need me to do things for him or with him. I wondered why we were involved. He said, “because I like having you around.” This was hard to navigate. The same person also stated that our relationship wasn’t his priority. I felt sucker punched and started turning away. Less than six months later, we broke up.
I think of life as a double helix (pictured). We have parallel (or perpendicular) experiences and then find special moments to connect. Those are our “bids.” We seek connection through physical touch and sex, verbal affirmations, doing helpful things for each other, giving gifts, and spending time together. These moments when we can connect are our bids for greater intimacy.
In some of my relationships, probably like some of yours, the bids for connection were not met with open arms. I felt a mixture of frustration and defeat and that’s when I turned away. Then, after the breakups, I decided to be open to something better and someone who would give and accept bids warmly.
Over these last years, my copious amounts of personal and intellectual reading on the topic of “good relationships,” has paid off for my clients (and myself). I’ve been coaching couples and individuals on ways to turn toward each other. One go-to, low-bar way to get closer is to set your phones on airplane mode and place it across the room and simply be with each other without electronic stimulation (no tv or computers either). When you feel the greatest distance, this is when we have to try to get closer by paying attention to each other. The conversation doesn’t have to be perfect or “a talk.” Instead, sitting quietly or walking together is a great starting point for re-familiarizing yourselves and beginning the process of turning toward each other.
If I’d written this post a week or a year ago, you would be reading that I’m looking for a partner who connects with me, realizes the bids he’s making (and how I’ve wanted him to connect more), and that I’ve done everything I could – it’s his turn to recognize my bids. But now that I’ve had an epiphany, I realize that my best relationships happen when I make my bids and then continue to give, rather than keep track of whether my bids have been recognized. The reality is that my ideal partner isn’t someone who connects with me. He’s the man with whom I connect in a balanced union. He’s someone who is naturally affected by my desires, needs, victories, and hardships and in whom I take pleasure. It occurs to me that in this type of “turning toward” relationship, the feelings and actions are mutual. This epiphany, a life-changing realization that stems from my grandma and my ongoing work, is that I am enough.
In short, a healthy relationship is not about either tallying our bids or efforts. We meet from our hearts and our heads follow.
So how does this all relate?
Well, many bids at connection are missed because the partners are mis-aligned. If we pay attention with our hearts, we can connect. In the best relationships, we see instead of look, we listen instead of hear. When I use intuition along with logic, I can accurately feel the energy brewing, circling around us. You’ll be able to, also, if you pay attention. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Am I making bids for connection?
- Do I accept my partner’s bids for intimacy and closeness?
- Even if I’m surprised by the words my partner is saying, can I pick up the subtext?
- How do I feel when my partner doesn’t turn toward me? How can I improve turning toward them?
- What’s one thing I can do today to turn toward?
Currently, I’m overjoyed with possibility and know my energetic field is received because I’ve been practicing turning toward myself and learning more, and inviting in others who share the same values. When I’m in this place, I feel deep trust and a sense of timelessness. It’s the opposite of anxiety and control; instead, it’s an intuitive knowing and believing that someone is waiting for me and the timing is coming together. The willingness is already present. We will eventually turn toward each other for love and support, fun, deep connection, and a relationship. And our bids will be met with joy!
As a Life Coach, I work with couples and individuals on their relationships. I give homework and practical tips for improving intimacy and turning toward each other. Please get in touch for more information.
Thank you to Meredith and Erin for your help!