With the divorce rate as high as it is (an estimated 40-50% of all first marriages), it’s only natural that we should look for some magical recipe for success or surefire way to preserve the happiness in our own relationships. While there is no “litmus test” for relationship health, researchers have been able to identify key factors that separate the marital “masters” from the unfortunate “disasters.” One such factor is what husband and wife psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman call “emotional bids” for connection.
Emotional bids for connection might sound like, “Come look at this!” or “Guess what happened to me today!” While many people refrain from explicitly stating, “Pay attention to me!” the fact remains that our partner’s undivided attention is basically worth more than all the gold and silver in the world to us. If you think that this sounds hyperbolic, try to recall the last time that you were feeling excited to share something with your partner (a story, a new outfit, or a funny viral video). Did your partner put aside what they were doing and engage with you? How did it feel to have their attention? If instead they nodded without looking your way, scoffed at your “neediness,” or didn’t take notice of your “bid,” how did that feel?
Now that you have an idea of what an emotional bid might look like, consider the various responses to those bids. As the Gottmans have found, relationship “masters” tend to respond to their partners by turning toward them (either actually or metaphorically) when they notice that their partner wants to connect. In contrast, the “disasters” tend to turn away from those attempts for connection by choosing not to acknowledge them or moving away. Some go so far as to roll their eyes in distaste or put their partner down.
Thankfully, when it comes to relationship and marital success, absolute perfection is not required…as long as we get it right more often than not. The Gottmans’ research has shown that relationship “masters” tend to respond positively to their partner’s emotional bids a whopping 86% of the time whereas “disasters” typically respond to those bids only 33% of the time. If you’re wondering why not responding to emotional bids might be so disastrous, consider that this tends to become symbolic of major relational themes and predicts levels of trust, emotional connection, and physical intimacy.
So, if you’re one of the many individuals looking to turn your relationship around to be more positive and connected, start by actually turning toward your partner. Put down that phone or TV remote, look them in the eye, and give them what they’ve been yearning for: your undivided attention; laugh at their joke, react to their story, follow their gaze toward the interesting scene outside the window. You just might be able to “master” the art of connection after all.
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