Connecting with your spouse is a daily choice that you must make. It is your choice in turning toward your spouse to connect or turning away to disconnect.
Strong relationships are built incrementally, daily, as one partner will “bid” for connection and another will choose to turn toward or away, couples either become Masters and stay together, or Disasters and eventually separate.
In groundbreaking research, psychologist John Gottman studied newlyweds as they interacted, seeking clues to understand why some couples remain happily married, while others eventually break up. The findings provide a poignant picture of the power of turning toward our spouse, even in conflict.
As Dr. Gottman and his colleagues interviewed couples, they monitored each husband’s and wife’s physiological changes.
They asked series of questions relating to pleasant experiences, mundane facts, and negative situations the couple had experienced together. Measuring pulse, adrenaline levels, and sweat, the team recorded each response, and then six years later, Gottman’s team followed up with the couple.
Masters or Disasters
Analyzing their data, they began dividing couples into “masters,” those happily married, and “disasters,” those unhappily married or divorced. The masters answered questions exhibiting little physical arousal. Even when disagreeing, their attitudes remained relatively hopeful and their biometrics stayed constant.
Disaster couples, on the other hand, seemed calm on the exterior but “showed all the signs of arousal—of being in a fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships,” according to author Emily Smith.
“Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack or be attacked.”
In the follow-up study, Dr. Gottman made another discovery. His research team noticed that throughout the day, husbands and wives would consistently make “bids” to each other, efforts to connect and build relationships through continual casual remarks and observations.
How are You Responding to Your Spouse?
Responding to a bid, the spouse could either turn toward their mate and engage, or turn away, offering a minimal reply, no response, or one laced with hostility.
Couples who stayed together responded to their mate’s bids by turning towardtheir spouse almost 90 percent of the time.
Couples who divorced after a six-year period had only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection met.
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Dr. Gottman noted. “They are scanning social environments for things they can appreciate and say thank you for.
Couples are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” On the other hand, “Disasters are scanning the social environment for their partner’s mistake.” Contempt was the number one factor that drove disasters apart.
They missed nearly 50 percent of the positive things their partners did.
Following this approach, Dr. Gottman can predict long-term success in relationships with close to 94 percent accuracy.
Are You Turning Toward or Away?
Are you proactively looking for areas to affirm and express appreciation of your spouse?
Are you sensitive to the heart of your husband or mate?
Do you turn away or toward your mate when offered a bid to connect and relate?
With so many opportunities to send and receive messages, healthy communication is a matter of situational awareness, sensitive interaction, and reliance upon the Holy Spirit for guidance.
A faith perspective (knowing God brought you together to glorify himself) is the underpinning of valuable and ongoing conversation.
When we know we are the right people for each other, it helps us work through the entanglements of miscommunication. We are more apt to say we are sorry and ask for forgiveness. We adequately see our own weaknesses as well as those of our spouse.
Excerpted from Two Becoming One, by Don and Sally Meredith with Roland and Tammy Martinez