The point Gottman is stressing in Principle 3 is that couples who engage in lots of what might be called small, humdrum actions of connection, tend to remain happy. Actions as simple as chatting during lunch or watching the news together count. Real-life romance “is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”(p.88) He goes on:
“In marriage, couples are always making what I call “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humor or support. … The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and satisfying sex life.” (p.88)
Gottman’s Principle 3 Questionnaire
As in previous chapters, he has a questionnaire to help readers get a sense of how their relationship is faring (or is likely to fare in the future) in this area. For example, #4 My partner is usually interested in hearing my views. True or False 12 or more true answers (out of 20 questions) indicate you’re turning toward is pretty good. Less than 12 – probably could use some work.
Two obstacles to turning toward would be: a) “Missing” a bid because it’s wrapped in anger or another negative emotion. And b) Being distracted by the wired world. This last one certainly tallies with my experience over the last few years where more and more screen time (phone, tablet, computer, TV) can come between a couple. To help with the “turning toward” he outlines 3 exercises.
Exercise 1: The Emotional Bank Account
In Exercise 1, note and keep track of how your partner has been turning toward you and giving. The big challenge here is to actually notice when your partner does turn toward you. From a long list, he has partners choose three activities they most appreciate their partner has done in the past and share them with each other so that they both know which “turning toward” activity is most appreciated. For example, #4 Clean house, do laundry.
Exercise 2: The Stress-Reducing Conversation
During Exercise 2, couples are encouraged to share at the end of the day how their day went. It is a time to share about areas outside the marriage. Gottman lists a number of dos and don’ts for the exercise which is really a form of active listening. Basically, you want to make sure you hear your partner and validate their thoughts and feelings. He goes on in a fairly lengthy fashion listing suggestions and tips for listening well.
Exercise 3: Talking It Out
Exercise 3 challenges partners to share with each other what happens when either misses the other in little ways. Aides to this discussion include lists of: During the episode, I felt, What triggered those feelings, and When my partner (or I) turned away it reminded me of. Couples fill out the three forms and then share their responses.
“We are all complicated creatures whose actions and reactions are governed by a wide array of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories. In other words, the reality is subjective, which is why your partner’s take may be different from yours without either of you being right or wrong.” (p.111)
Principle 3: Conclusion
The conclusion of the exercise is to recognize your own contribution, however slight, to the mess and to share with your partner what you could do next time to make it better. As well you could suggest one thing your partner could do next time to avoid the problem.
This concludes the first three principles which form the basis of Gottman’s approach – the importance of strengthening the friendship and trust that is at the heart of any marriage. The first three principles are: Updating your love maps, deepening your fondness and admiration, and increasing your tendency to turn toward each other. Remember his earlier statement “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.”(p.21)
He provides a checklist for couples to measure how important friendship is in their relationship. 6 or higher of 10 is good. Below 6 the relationship probably needs work. These first three principles are critical. “When you honor and respect each other, you’re usually able to appreciate each other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.” (p.114) which leads to principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You.