The Three Connection Choices
Every bid in a relationship creates a connection moment. When one partner makes a bid for connection, the other’s response is to either connect or to not connect.
After studying 3,000 couples, Dr. Gottman has uncovered that we respond in three ways. We either turn towards our partner’s bid and build our relationship, or we turn away, or we turn against our partners and sever the emotional connection.
- “Did you notice the sailboat? It was beautiful!”
- “I have a big presentation that could get me promoted today. Wish me luck.”
- “I wish you would pick up your clothes off the floor.”
1. Turning Towards Responses.
- “I didn’t notice it. Tell me what made it so beautiful?”
- “Good luck love. I know you’re going to do great. You’ve worked really hard on the presentation.”
- “That probably grosses you out. I’ll pick it up now. Sorry.”
When our partners make a bid, our first option is to turn towards them and build our emotional bond. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the foundation of trust, passion, and great sex life.
As stupid as it sounds, romance is enhanced in the supermarket when your partner asks you, “do we have ketchup at home?” and you answer, “I’m not sure. Let me grab some just in case,” rather than shrugging off their question. The romance grows when you send your partner a loving text because you know they’re having a rough day.
In these brief moments, partners are connecting. They are attuning to each other by turning towards each other. The culprit of disconnection is often a deficit in attunement. Attunement is the desire and willingness to understand and respect your partner’s inner world. Couples who attune to each other build mutual trust. Those who don’t are likely to lose their way.
In Dr. Gottman’s love lab, he noticed that couples who stay together turn toward their partner’s bids an average of 86% of the time. He also noticed that those who divorced turned towards the bids an average of 33%. It’s insightful to know that most arguments between couples in both groups were not about specific topics such as money or sex. They were the result of failed bids for connection: turning against and turning away.
2. Turning Against Responses.
The second option we have is turning against our partner’s bids for connection. When we turn against our partner, we disconnect with them by responding defensively. This shuts down the emotional connection.
- “Did you not notice that I’m reading?”
- “Did you forgot about my big meeting earlier this week? So typical.”
- “Why? You never get my snacks.”
The more negative a couple’s interactions become, the less productive their attempts to communicate are, and the more partners shut down from connecting emotionally. Being rejected by the one you love is physical and emotional torture. Eventually, fights turn into silence, and partners go from soulmates to cellmates. They become locked in the prison of an emotionally disconnected relationship.
3. Turning Away Responses.
The third option is the worst of all. Emotional starvation is gut-wrenching. Feeling emotionally neglected creates pain and panic. At least you get a response with option two, but when your partner turns away, you feel as if your partner couldn’t care less about what you are feeling. Neglect murders love.
- Pretending to read the newspaper.
- Picks up phone to read emails.
- Leaves the room.
When the person you have entrusted with your deepest vulnerabilities is unavailable or unresponsive to a deep-seated need, the result is anger, panic, and loneliness. When our partners don’t turn towards our bids for connection, we are wired to protest the emotional connection. Our first instinct is to reconnect with our partners and soothe our deepest fears.
Protesting Emotional Disconnection
When our partners turn toward our bids for connection, we recognize that they are responsive to us and are emotionally connected to us. As a result, our attachment anxiety is soothed, because we feel safe and secure in our bond. According to the dependency paradox, the safe haven of a secure attachment gives us the security to focus our attention outside of the relationship.
When our partners turn away or against our bids for connection, we feel that they are unresponsive to our needs. As a result, our attachment alarm goes off in the shape of insecurity, and we unconsciously utilize protest behavior to try and reconnect with our partners or disconnect more to protect ourselves:
1. We become demanding and clingy in hopes of receiving comfort and reassurance from our partners. Anxious partners typically use indirect cries for help or demand something from their partner which feels very negative to their partner. The motivation under this behavior is to see if our partner is there for us and wants to be with us.