. Turning Toward.

Does this scarf look good? Photo credit: Konrad Weiss

Let’s say my eccentric brother Thomas would give me $20,000 for my birthday. There is only one catch. I have to invest the money for six years with one of two IT companies my brother suggests. Company A is super well respected all over the world for its ethics and its returns and most clients are very happy even with a sometimes modest gain. Company B guarantees that they will blow my money out of the window and then blame me for it. Which company would you choose? 

Or let’s say I get diagnosed with a rare infection that kills its victims within a couple of days (I may have watched the movie “Contagion” a couple of weeks ago). A friend of mine, let’s call her Diana, had that exact same infection and knows of the only two doctors in the world who work with it. One doctor is into research, testing, and new treatments and is curing patients with rather great success. The other one is an alcoholic who cannot even spell his name, beat her up several times, saved one person and she had an affair with him. Which doctor would you choose? 

Or let’s say it is my wedding day (ha!), and the universe sets some sort of giant stopwatch for five years. When the stopwatch goes off, I will either be divorced or I won’t. I have recently heard the rumor that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Let’s say my friend Diana knows a strategy and secret that makes me stay married while others would guarantee that I get a divorce before the timer went off. Would you want to know Diana’s strategy? 

Of course! You would invest with company A, choose the sober doctor and would do whatever it takes to protect yourself from divorce. But my friend Diana is really onto something. There really is a secret. Doctor Gottman conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. Several had remained together; many had divorced. According to Dr. Gottman, all the couples that stayed married were much better at one thing: They turned towards instead of away. At Gottman’s six-year follow-up study, couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time and couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. In a nutshell, the secret is: turning toward if possible which is easier said than done sometimes. 

I think this is an awesome piece of data that suggests that there is something we can all do today that will dramatically change the course of our relationships. Or more importantly, it suggests that there is something that you cannot or should not do that will lead to its demise. Big questions: How do you turn toward instead of away? I guess in order to understand turn toward, I have to understand the “bid theory” first. My bid-theory is pretty much any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. These bids can show up in simple ways such as a smile, a wink or in such things as asking for advice, help or requests. According to Gottman, women make more bids than men (duh!), but in a healthy relationship, both partners are comfortable to make all kinds of bids without feeling bad and even recognize many. These bids can all become pretty tricky, too. Sometimes I miss a couple of bids. But men struggle in this regard even worse so it is important to pay attention. Bids usually have a secondary layer. A what? The true meaning is behind the word or you may call it the difference between text and subtext. Yes means no and no means yes? A few examples: 

Text: Does this outfit look good? Subtext: Can I have your attention? 

Text: Let’s put Joel to bed? Subtext: Can I have your help? 

Text: I spoke to my family today. Subtext: Will you chat with me? 

Text: Want to cuddle (kiss)? Subtext: Can I have your affection? 

Text: Want to play cards? Subtext: Will you play with me? 

Text: I have had a terrible day. Subtext: Will you help me destress? 

According to Gottman, to “miss a bid is to turn away” and turning away or rejecting can be devastating. Rejecting a bid at least provides the opportunity for some type of engagement and repair but missing the bid altogether may result in diminished bids or even worse, in making bids for enjoyment, attention, affection or some other crazy stuff. I think it is really important to learn and recognize those bids and to commit to making them to each other in a relationship and then turn towards by paying attention. To simply listen to each other and talk and recognize what the partner is saying may open doors to responses. If the partner has really paid attention, he/she will have recognized and responded to both the text and the subtext. Also, keep in mind that some bids can get more complicated and you may head into more vulnerable territory. However, this will all not be a problem if you built a solid friendship first and have a good foundation from the beginning. If you are committed you can stay focused on this ONE relationship or marriage you are in and make it work if it is worth it by turning toward instead of away. My eccentric brother Thomas and crazy friend Diana would be so proud of you. 

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