Reaching for your lover’s hand on a walk; offering a kiss to your wife as she rushes out the door; asking your partner for help with laundry when you’re feeling overwhelmed. These bids for connection, identified by researcher and relationship expert John Gottman, are the moments you or your partner make to invite affection, intimacy or interest. Initiating bids, and responding in kind to your partner’s bids, are the “nows” that shape a long, healthy and meaningful partnership.
Turning towards, rather that away from or against your partner’s bids, is a practice of paying attention to the here and now of your relationship. Bids for affection are sometimes verbal, but can often be non-verbal and subtle. Your partner’s body language, mood, tone of voice and word choice all communicate subtle cues about what how they feel and what they need. The practice of turning towards calls for active listening and engagement with the present moment. Being stuck in your own head or in your own ideas about who your partner is and what they expect from you might compromise your ability to notice and respond to bids. As Gottman’s research emphasizes, bids are the building blocks of a primary relationship. Turning towards your partner’s bids cultivates an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and attunement in your relationship.
The ability to turn towards your partner is connected to the practice of turning towards your self. Turning towards your self means inviting awareness of your own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, needs and body sensations, even when they are uncomfortable or undesirable. Being aware of your self in this way does not mean you have to like what shows up. What is does mean is that you make a choice not to shut out, avoid, dismiss or minimize your own experience. You may have judgments about your self, or about your partner, but an awareness that turns towards is able to see, feel, think and act beyond those judgments. It is an awareness that holds space for judgment and discomfort without allowing it to define you or your relationship. Sometimes it’s necessary to practice turning towards your self before you are able to consistently turn towards your partner. When you take up this practice, you’ll likely be more skilled at identifying what stands in the way of connection, and be more able to initiate bids that honor your needs while inviting the connection and intimacy that nurtures your relationship and helps it to grow.