Maintaining the romance and securing the longevity of your relationship does not require expensive dinners out or romantic trips away. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of connection and relationship stability is the very mundane day-to-day moments where couples turn towards, rather than away from each other. This includes moments where your partner asks for help finding their keys, makes a comment about something they’ve noticed, complains about their work day, or asks you to put down your phone. How you choose to respond to such bids for your attention is crucial to the success of your relationship. Consistently turning towards each other builds a sense of trust, togetherness, and connection, which serves as a buffer when you face challenges in life and in your relationship.
Reach Out. It is important to take the time and effort to turn towards your partner on a regular and consistent basis. It is important to tell your partner about your day-to-day activities, share your opinions, and generally share your thoughts when you are together. Turning towards and reaching out can also include physical touch, humor or teasing, invitations to engage in an activity, and requests for help or support. For example, ask your partner to go with you when you walk the dog, to help you with a new life goal, or share a funny situation that you witnessed. It is also helpful to build in routines where you can turn towards each other, such as a check-in phone call before you drive home from work, eating meals together, or cuddling each night before bed.
Respond to Reaching. When your partner makes a comment or request of you, take the time to acknowledge and then respond. You don’t need to have a long poetic conversation, but you do need to acknowledge your partners bid for your attention and respond. When the opportunity presents itself, be helpful; this will increase your sense of working as a team. Research suggests that couples who remain together respond to each other’s bids for attention approximately 86% of the time.
Don’t Take It Personally. We all vary in our need for time alone with our thoughts and feelings. It is important to accept your partner’s needs for solitude, and view this as a need rather than a rejection of you. Acknowledge the ways in which your partner does turn towards you, even if it is not in your preferred format (e.g. your partner may prefer humor or touch, rather than conversation, while you prefer conversation and the sharing of ideas and plans).
Eliminate Obstacles. One of the biggest obstacles in your partner’s bid for attention is distraction. When we are task oriented (e.g. trying to make dinner before getting the kids to their after-school activities) or unwinding (e.g. during screen time), it can be difficult to allow the interruption of your partner’s bid for your attention. It is important to always turn towards your partner, even if only for a brief time. If you are task oriented, invite your partner to join you; if you are unwinding, consider putting down the activity and talking about what you were doing or thinking. It is also wise to consider limiting your own, and not just your kids, screen time, to allow greater opportunity for connection. A second obstacle for missing your partner’s bids is emotionality. When bids for attention are emotional, intense, or critical, it can be hard to respond without getting critical or defensive in response. In this situation, try to respond to your partner’s bid, not their delivery, and when expressing your own bids, try softening your initial request.
For more information on effective strategies to enhance your relationship refer to The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman. Couples completing each of the activities in this book show improvements in their marriage that are sustained for more than one year after they have completed the book. Turning towards one another is one of the behaviors Dr. Gottman and his colleagues found when watching couples interact for a single weekend, that predicted their remaining together years later.