Much to my dismay, football, it seems, can be viewed any time of day or night, any season of the year.  Now I am not a football hater by any means.  In fact, I love watching the Aggies, the Nittany Lions, the Texans and of course my teenage son.  But I have my limits with the ad nauseam verbiage on ESPN . . . and that’s where my husband and I differ . . . a lot.

A while back we were on the couch.  I was reading my latest Nook book while he was engrossed in an ESPN story about a coach and a sex scandal.  I could tell he was excited about the words coming out of their mouths because he was talking back to the TV quite loudly.  And then all of a sudden he shifts in his seat and starts talking to me, telling me the details of the sexual tryst du jour.  Unprepared to shift gears from my book to his excitement, but being the good Gottman Couples Therapist that I am,  I knew I quickly had to make one of four choices:

  1. I could glance up, smile, nod my head and acknowledge he was speaking to me, and return to my book.
  2. I could put the book down and ask a few questions to get the latest dirt, joining in his excitement.
  3. I could keep reading and pretend I didn’t hear him.
  4. I could get angry for the unwanted interruption and say something harsh, like “Shut up, can’t you see I am reading?”.

Of course you all know that Number 2 is the best option for marital happiness, followed by Number 1.  These two options demonstrate what John Gottman calls “turning towards”.  Simply put, that means whenever our partner makes a bid for our attention we turn towards them in some way to let them know they were heard.  The second option outweighs the first because it is enthusiastic and more likely to generate lively conversation, a necessary ingredient in closely connected couples.

If I opted for Number 3 I would be “turning away” from my hubby and he would have had a failed bid for my attention.  This one failed bid would not be disastrous for my relationship, but over time if there were many failed bids, emotional distance would ensue.

Option Number 4 is an example of “turning against”.   Turning against his bid in a harsh manner would have indicated that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse were sharing the couch with us that day and we would most likely be headed for relationship disaster.

Turning towards your partners bids for attention is one of the best ways to keep the love alive.  During any given day your partner can make several bids, anything from telling you about their crappy day at work to their desire to have hot sex with you.  You always have a choice in your response . . . what kind of relationship do you want?

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist