Dr. John Schinnerer

What if I were to tell you there are secrets, scientifically proven tools, that will light up your relationship with your spouse? Would you be interested? Would you be willing to learn?

As it happens, there are proven tools that you can learn to improve your relationship with your spouse. And this same tool, that I am going to share with you here, even works with your children and coworkers. What’s more, it’s free and simple.

This tool comes from the work of Dr. John and Julie Gottman, the world’s preeminent researchers on couples — what makes couples successful and what leads to divorce. 

What Do Successful Couples Do Better Than Those Heading Towards a Divorce?

Dr. Gottman wanted to learn which habits might distinguish between successful and unsuccessful couples. He followed a group of couples for 6 years. Roughly half the couples remained together while half divorced. And there was one astonishing difference between these two groups — the successful, happy couples excelled at turning towards rather than turning away. Successful couples turned towards one another 86% of the time, while couples who wound up divorced turned towards only 33% of the time. What’s the secret? The secret is turning towards. 

What is Turning Towards?

This one piece of data is mind-numbing in its simplicity and power. It tells us that there is one simple habit you can work on which will help solidify the health of your marriage. And one simple habit which, if ignored, may lead to the end of your marriage. 

This one habit is something which you can begin to experiment with beginning today. And wherever you currently are, you can immediately begin to improve. Gottman calls this habit bids for attention. A bid is any attempt by one person for another person’s attention, affection or other positive point of connection. In essence, it is an attempt to connect. A bid might be a touch on the arm, a wink, a smile, a request for help, or a simple ask (“Did I tell you about the Johnsons?”). 

The Importance of Bids

These connection points are incredibly important. Why? Because when these bids are received negatively (“Stop pestering me.”) or neutrally (i.e., ignoring the bid), the bids for attention gradually stop. And when the bids stop, communication and connection slowly wither and die. 

How To Spot Bids

Bids can happen quickly and if you’re not paying attention, you can miss them. What’s more, bids often have a secondary meaning hidden just below the surface. So here are a few examples to help you get better at bid-spotting. 

Bid: How do these jeans look?

Hidden Meaning = Give me your attention, please.

Bid: Let’s do the dishes

Hidden Meaning = Can I have your help?

Bid: I spoke with my mom today.

Hidden Meaning= Can I share what was said?

Bid: Let’s play cards.

Hidden Meaning= Play with me. 

Bid: Sit with me on the couch?

Hidden Meaning = Snuggle with me. Touch me. Hug me. Show me you care.

Bid: I had a brutal day at work.

Hidden Meaning = Help me to decompress?

Bid: Did you hear about…?

Hidden Meaning = Talk to me. 

You can miss a bid by “turning away.” That is to say, by ignoring it, not noticing it, or responding negatively to it. I have found the biggest barrier to bids are electronic — the phone, video games, and the TV. Turning away is hugely problematic for relationships. If you respond negatively to a bid, at least you have a chance to repair things. If you continually miss bids, you run the risk of your loved one bidding for attention elsewhere. 

How To Respond Positively To Bids

As always, turning towards starts with paying attention. Once you are aware of bids being made, it’s an easy matter to make the effort to tune in and respond positively (e.g., “Tell me all about it.” “I’d love to hear.” “Give me a moment and then I can give you my full attention.”).  To start, keep it simple. Ask yourself, “Am I closer to 33% or 86%?”  Where would you like to be? During disagreements, ask yourself, “Am I turning towards or turning away?” Begin tuning into the bids of those around you. Be curious about the hidden meaning beneath the bid. Let go of any annoyance you might have at a bid. Don’t think of it as an interruption. Think of it as a courageous attempt to connect. Ask yourself how it feels to have your partner turn towards you when you make a bid. Its simple, but it’s not easy. It takes a bit of attention and effort. And you will find, over time, that it is well worth it.