Turning Towards, Away, or Against: Ways to Respond to Your Partner

Turning Towards, Away, or Against

With every interaction in our relationships with people, whether our significant other, colleague, or friend, we have 3 choices for how we will respond. We can choose to “turn towards” them, responding positively. We can “turn away”, react by ignoring, avoiding, or being too busy, or we can “turn against.”  When we turn against someone we usually respond in a way that is hurtful, critical, blaming, or sarcastic.

This idea was developed and thoroughly researched by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. They broke this relationship phenomenon into simple, tangible parts. First, it is important to understand “bids.” Bids are any attempt that one person tries to connect with another. A bid can be as simple as a nonverbal gesture like a smile or a more complex comment like “I can’t believe how much I have to get done,” which may in fact really mean, “I need some support from you.” Either way, bids are vital to any relationships and how we respond to them can greatly impact the strength and longevity of our relationships.

So let’s put it into perspective with couples in particular. The Gottmans discovered after 6 years of research that couples who turn away from bids had very high divorce rates. Those turning against also had relatively high divorce rates. The reason for this is that after bids are continuously turned away from or rejected, the partner making attempts eventually gives up and stops making bids. The lack of support and connectedness leads to the demise of the marriage.

gottman+method+of+couplesIf you knew that there was a way to prevent divorce would you be interested?

Would you try to learn how to incorporate that method to your relationship?

Would you give it a chance?

Practice identifying and acknowledging bids in your relationships. Put effort into making and turning towards bids. In healthy relationships, partners often make bids and respond positively towards bids.

Here is an example breaking down the 3 optional responses for a couple:

A husband states, “I guess I will take the dog for a walk.”

Turning Away = …silence… ignore him altogether.

Turning Towards = “We can all go for a family walk.”

Turning Against = “I’m not sure why you insist on saying that outloud.”

And here is another example using a couple:
If you are busy completing an important task and your partner asks you if you want to try a new, delicious treat. You can turn towards your partner by saying something like, “Babe, I would love to try the treat, but I really need to finish this, can we have it together later?” This way your partner feels heard and you can honor that time with him/her at a later time.

Above are more great examples from Cindy Norton of AVL Couples Therapy in Asheville, NC.

Have fun strengthening your connections and for more information on your relationship and how to enhance it visit our Resources for Couples page.  If you feel you need further assistance in your relationship and you are ready for couples counseling give me a call at 954.401.9011 or email at Katie@FamilyAndCouplesCounseling.com.  I look forward to helping you transform your relationship!

* This blog was written in collaboration between Katie Lemieux, LMFT and Emlyn Whipple, MA.

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