In addition to measuring the physiological responses of partners as they interact with one another, discussed in Part 1, Drs. John and Julie Gottman also reported findings in the same publication from a study of the day to day behaviors of 130 newlyweds. They found a qualitative difference in how both partners in happy relationships, still married in follow-up study years later, responded to one another’s “bids for connection.”
To clarify, a bid for connection is considered either partner’s attempt to initiate in interaction, and can be the smallest of gestures, such as being the first to say “good morning” or make a phone call, to more obvious bids for closeness, such as reaching for the other’s hand, indicating a desire for sex or asking to talk about a concern. In short, bids for connection are thought of as attempts to reach for the other.
A key component of bids has to do with what type of response you receive from your partner, basically, there are three types: a partner may either turn away, turn against or turn toward the other. For example, let’s say one partner came home from work and said, “What a day! Bob was really on my case all day!” Examples of each response type are as follows:
1. Turn away: “What’s for dinner?”
2. Turn against: “Are you being paranoid? What did you do to upset him?”
3. Turn toward: “Again? Sorry to hear this; how frustrating. Feel like talking about it?”
To really understand how profound your response to your partner’s bids for connection are, it helps to keep in mind that your brain is first and foremost a relationship organ. The human brain of an infant does not survive apart from some semblance of a relationship with a caregiver (however imperfect). In the words of Dr. Daniel Siegel, professor of psychiatry and best selling author of The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,
“The brain is a social organ, and our relationships with one another are not a luxury but an essential nutrient for our survival.”
Translated to the topic of bids for connection, that means nothing matters more to you and your partner than how loved and valued you feel in relation to (your self and) the …
It seems unfair. Of the many couples that get married each year, hoping to find lifelong companionship, lasting joy, friendship and fulfillment, only about 50% will stay married, and of those that do, the vast majority, about 70%, devolve into arrangements that are unsatisfying at best, and dysfunctional or even destructive at worst.
Cheer up, however. These trends are not necessarily bad news, at least not if you think of them as information regarding what works — and doesn’t — to create healthy, vibrant couple relationships! They speak to key elements that relationships need — must have — to stay alive and thrive; and they also point to unrealistic yet prevailing expectations that need to be identified, let go of and replaced. Why? Expectations are life shaping agents. If they form thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that limit the capacity of men and women to nourish and strengthen their love relationship, they are set ups for failure.
A healthy, vibrant couple relationship takes two persons working as a team, and as individuals, to change what is only in the power of each to change, more specifically, to unlock their imagination by shifting away from limiting, subconscious perceptions (i.o.w., beliefs, thinking patterns) that act as key hindrances to realizing natural aspirations for a deeper sense of trust, and an increasingly more meaningful love-connection.
Continuing from Part 3, the fourth prerequisite shift turns your focus to the value of creating a healthy couple relationship itself.
4. See the value of nurturing a healthy couple relationship to your personal health and happiness.
This prerequisite shift in perspective invites partners to place attention to nurturing a healthy relationship at the top of their list. In practice this means both agree to be available and responsive to oner another’s emotional needs, and that means to treat one another with dignity and respect, protecting and fostering the sense of safety, value and well-being each feels in relation to one another.
The permission to fully love and embrace your self and life with wonder, a compassionate love and acceptance is no small matter. Paradoxically, you need your own love and acceptance to fully and genuinely love your partner (and vice versa..).
Several reasons. For one, it is impossible to be in a love relationship and not hurt each other. It is par for the course. You are two different persons. You each bring unique strengths, gifts, intelligences and energy to the relationship. Each also brings past wounds, hurts and painful experiences in addition to a “new” build up of unresolved hurts between you. Each yearns to feel valued for their strengths, and yet at some point each tends to get stuck focusing on partner’s faults, weaknesses, lack of understanding, appreciation, etc.
Second, nature seems to love to bring together two persons in a couple relationship that have seemingly opposing approaches in several areas, especially when it comes to how they react to pain or stress. Pain is not the problem however. Pain is part of growth, learning, and stretching out of old comfort zones to realize new possibilities. The cliche “no pain, no gain” is more than a guideline; it is law of physics. The real problem has to do with how each partner reacts (defensively) when dealing with pain, i.e., extremes of either wallowing or detaching from pain.
When it comes to healing your couple communications and relationship, there are at least five prerequisite shifts in perception that are critical to help you unlock your imagination, and galvanize the energy you need to take action — to break out of stuck places and let go of old comfort zones (thus making it more likely your partner will do the same).
Continuing from Part 2, the third prerequisite shift in perception allows you to take 100% responsibility for how you respond to life events, and thus who you become (and what you create) as a result of your responses.
3. See your self as fully equipped and capable captain of your life (thus own body’s relaxation response).
This is a choice you make to see your self as capable of creating a fulfilling life — i.e., making good decisions, learning from them, thoughtfully connecting to your wants and needs, handling emotions along the way (triggering ones in particular), etc.
You know that repeated actions form habits, or emotion-command neural pathways, that are automatically activated by the subconscious mind as “default” options. Old habitual responses must be unlearned, retrained or replaced by new optimal ones.
It cannot be said too often to couples: choose words (and nonverbals) carefully in sensitive discussions, more specifically, to opt for ones that energize optimal emotional states. This can mean letting go of triggering words or actions, and breaking old habits is not easy. What if the life and health of your relationship depended on it however?
The fact is, words produce images in your mind. Images produce emotions, and emotions shape behaviors.
Speaking of breaking free of the criticizing habit, a step discussed in Part 2, it’s a lot easier to achieve when you also shift your focus to wanting to understand what you each want, then actively giving or supporting each other to realize your wants and yearnings etc. — at minimum with the energy you bring. These two remaining steps strengthen your relationship, and are the subject of this post.
Step 4: Know What You Each Want — and Why
Step four consists of two parts: clearly understanding what you (really, really) want and why, and also what your partner wants and why.
Knowing what you want makes it more likely you will: (1) be heard and understood ; (2) say and express what you want in ways your partner can “listen” (not get triggered); (3) stay on topic focused on what is most relevant; and (4) eventually come to a mutually satisfying resolution.
Like it or not, you are the one constant in your couple relationship. If your couple relationship is on the rocks and you’re wondering why you seem to “attract” certain issues or partners, here’s a sobering thought (and potentially uplifting): What you bring to your relationship shapes you and your life. If you’re not consciously choosing what you bring, i.e., in terms of your intentions, thoughts, actions etc., you’re sitting on pure power, waiting to go to work for you.
In Part 1 we looked at the first two steps to shift “how you “argue” in ways that create an authentic connection between you and your partner. Here is step 3:
In a recent study of predictors of infidelity in couple relationships, the findings overall indicated men and women overall seem to follow the stereotypes. The focus on sex, performance, variety and frequency tends to be driven by men, while the focus on emotional connection and nonsexual affection by women.
Drs. Mark, Janssen and Milhausen found no significant differences in rates of infidelity of men, with 23 percent for men and 19 percent for women, however, what predicted infidelity differed for men and women. Predictors for men in the study had more to do with personality traits, such as performance anxiety, a propensity for getting sexually excited by triggers, and so on, whereas relationship factors, such as emotional intimacy, partnership, feeling ignored, craving closeness or affection, etc., carried significantly more weight for women.
The reasons women cheat seem more related to unfulfilled expectations or failure, their own or partner’s, with regard to developing a deeper emotional connection. In contrast, author and sex addiction expert Robert Weiss states in an article on why men cheat that when it comes to sex, “men tend to be most aroused by a visual succession of body parts and sexual acts” where as women are “aroused by sexualized and romanticized emotional connections between people more than body parts.”
In successful relationships, partners take the basics seriously, and handle the yearnings of each to feel heard and understood as unique beings as really, really important; in short, they treat one another with dignity, recognizing their own and one another’s personal power.
As top trial lawyer Gerry Spence notes, what we face when we interact with one another, is what we most fear in our relationships, and that is: the power of the other as an agent of their choices.
The other has the power, for example, to choose to say no, to deny some need, want or yearning, and so on, and because this directly challenges our own sense of personal power (to realize dreams, wants and needs), it touches our deepest intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment.
Not surprisingly, this dynamic is particularly intense in couple relationships.