Relationships that become romantic and grow into marriage have their own unique pattern. In the beginning, a couple is usually at their best, treating their partner with heightened attention and desired and needed emotional expression and connection.
Yet, in too many instances, that attention and expression can slowly diminish and one or both individuals feel a loss because there is still a need to know that their spouse understands them and cares about their thoughts and feelings.
Turning Toward, Away From, or Against Your Spouse
In his book The Relationship Cure (first published in 2001), John M. Gottman, Ph.D., co-founder of the Gottman Institute at the University of Washington talks about how this sharing or lack of it takes place between two people. He calls it a “bidding” process which can also be seen as a person making an appeal to a partner through words, a touch, a gesture, a look, a question or any kind of reaching out that is saying, “I want to be close. I want to connect with you.”
The response to this bid or appeal will be one of three types:
1.) Turning toward,
2.) Turning away, or
3.) Turning against.
Turning toward is positive. Turning away can be ambivalent and disregarding while turning against can include belligerence, criticism even hostility.
A wife attempts to hug her husband after both come home from work and she asks him how his day was.
Turning toward: Her husband gives her an affectionate hug and says, it was good and asks, “How was yours?”
Turning away: Her husband lets his wife hug him, but barely touches her and answers that his day could have gone better, He then walks into the living room and turns on the tv.
Turning against: Her husband backs away and says that his day was brutal and he just wants a little alone time.
A husband tells his wife he wants his good friends to come over to watch the Super Bowl.
Turning toward: The wife answers, “That’s a great idea. Just tell me how many will be here and what you’d like for food and drinks.”
Turning away: She says, “I don’t know if that is such a good idea. I really don’t feel like entertaining.”
Turning against: She glares at her husband and says, “ I don’t want them here.”
Dr. Gottman points out that the more a person’s bids/appeals receive a “turning toward” from a partner, the more a person feels like bidding/appealing which contributes to the strength of the relationship.
The more a partner bids/appeals and receives a “turning away” from their partner, the less the partner will feel like bidding and the relationship will likely experience increased conflict, hurt feelings and a growing apart.
With the “turning against” a partner’s bidding, the first partner may simply avoid bidding at all and suppress feelings in order to avoid conflict.
It is of note to point out that this bidding/appealing can take place many times during a conversation, a dinner, an evening, or any place and time the couple in interacting.
The result in a long-term pattern of “turning away” or “turning against” with little or no “turning toward” is that the relationship will likely end sooner or later or it will simply turn into an empty existence.
A fair disclaimer is that each partner will not always be in a place to “turn toward” with factors that might include having a bad day or being preoccupied which is natural, but the bottom line is to look at the normal pattern a couple experiences in the bid/appeal and response interaction which needs to include a willingness to create and maintain a strong, positive emotional connection which is the basis of a solid relationship.
If Both Partners Want to Save their Marriage, They May be able to Reverse Course on their Divorce
The good news is that a negative response pattern to a partner’s bidding can be turned around if the partner(s) become aware of the negativity and if there are enough love and interest in the relationship to rebuild and work on change and emotional connection.
It will take one partner becoming aware of the negative pattern and making the decision to talk to the spouse about it which is a bold but necessary step in addressing the problem. Ironically, this is also a bid/appeal and the response from the partner can be any of the three possibilities: moving toward, moving away or moving against. Yet, the risk is worth taking if the marriage is worth saving.
The worst scenario would be for a couple to go blindly into a freefall failing to do anything to improve the dynamics of their relationship. In my work as a relationship and divorce coach, a light bulb often goes off with clients when I explain the bidding/appealing process and ask them about the pattern in their own relationships. It gives them a focal point and something significant to address when realizing it is relevant to their own dynamic with their partners.
In essence, it’s true that “It ain’t over till it’s over.” If a couple becomes aware of how their relationship has gone off base and is then willing to work on themselves and on rebuilding their emotional connection, they too can make a comeback and win the pennant that is their marriage.