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The Power of Turning Towards

Turning Towards is the third level in the Gottman’s Sound Relationship House, after focusing on building love maps and showing and sharing fondness and admiration with one another. This is something that you and your partner can work on becoming more aware of and make positive changes to create a safe space for both partners to express themselves and their needs. The whole premise of turning towards is when one partner within the relationship makes a “bid” (which will be described further below), and the other partner accepts the bid, which is essentially turning towards. These little moments can sometimes seem small and innocuous, but any moment like this can be an opportunity for connection. When Dr. John and Julie Gottman started looking into this idea of turning towards, the research they did showed that most of the couples that ended up staying together over time turned towards one another more than 80% of the time. While it may be minor at times, this can be an important part of your relationship that can impact it both positively and negatively depending on if and how frequently you turn towards your partner.

To understand turning towards, it’s important to understand what a “bid” is so that you can identify and acknowledge when your partner is making them. When you are in a relationship, there are going to be moments when you are going to want to receive something from your partner. What you want to receive might be attention, it might be comfort or support, or it may even be a specific task that you are asking the other to do or help with; that is called making a “bid.” When one person does that, they are typically expecting some sort of response from the other person, which in turn would then allow that person to turn towards them. While some “bids” can be obvious and intentional, other bids can be more indirect and can even be subconsciously done. So, the first step is recognizing “bids” and even being intentional about giving them so that you and your partner have opportunities to turn towards one another.

Turning towards means being present in the moment, acknowledging the other person’s needs, and responding with empathy and openness. It involves actively engaging in your partner’s bids for connection, attention, and/or support. It can even be beneficial to talk with one another about what “bids” look like and ways to be more deliberate about them to ensure each of you are feeling like have the opportunity to turn towards your partner and each feel acknowledged in those moments. Below is a list of some minor “bids” and some examples of what they may look like to help you start becoming aware of what to look for.

  • “While you’re up, can you grab something for me?” → a bid for support, asking for help or a simple request

  • “Did you see that cute dog?” → a bid for attention, seeking acknowledgement and engagement in what you are saying

  • Reaching out to hold your partner’s hand → a bid for affection, expressing the need for physical closeness or intimacy

Once you start paying more attention and recognizing those moments as “bids,” it can be easier to turn towards your partner. Actively listening, acknowledging and validating one another’s feelings, and being present in the moment can help to continue to turn towards your partner and recognize those “bids.” When we don’t turn towards, we are actually turning away or turning against. Turning away or turning against means ignoring, putting it off, or even rejecting your partner’s bid, which sometimes can even be done unintentionally; it also makes it that much more important to get used to recognizing bids when they happen so you can avoid turning away or against your partner.

When we are being intentional and turning towards one another on a regular basis, it can lead to an impactful and positive change within the relationship. Turning towards can help increase trust within the relationship, because knowing that your bids for connection will be met and received with responsiveness can foster a strong sense of security within your relationship. It can also strengthen emotional intimacy by allowing partners to each share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities without a fear of rejection. And when in conflict, which can be inevitable, turning towards and responding to your partner’s “bids” can allow for resolution and understanding to help navigate challenges more effectively. 

If you and your partner can work on intentionally making bids and turning towards each other, you can further provide a space for each of you to feel like you are being heard, understood, and getting what each of you need and want. The benefits of turning towards your partner can strengthen the foundation of your relationship and help to make it last. 

Written by,

Emily Blair, ALMFT



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