In a relationship couples will continuously make bids for their partner's attention, support and affection. Difficulties arise when partners respond by turning away from rather than towards this bid.
Leading psychologist John Gottman explores this issue in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He found that couples who later divorced experienced on average only 33% success on their bids for connection. Compare this with couples who were still married after 6 years who experience on average 87% success on their bids for connection.
It's the small things that count
Couples that consistently turn toward each other during the small everyday interactions are building a strong relationship. The strength of this relationship means that it is more likely to survive any tougher times that they may face.
Examples of small everyday interactions:
Calling each other for a brief chat during the work day, especially if a partner has been going through a stressful period at work.
Do some kind of task or housework together.
Listen to music together.
Try a new experience together.
Putting down your phone or book when your partner starts to speak to you.
Discussing the day
One of the most important interactions for decreasing stress is finding out how each other’s day went. Though be mindful of when your partner might want to do this, some people need a little time to wind down and do not like to speak as soon as they come home from work. Remember do not jump in to give advice to fix your partners troubles. Giving them the space to be listened to is much more beneficial. Be supportive and communicate that you are listening by repeating your understanding of key issues. Try not to pass judgement rather empathise with them as much as possible. If you are not sure how to empathise use phrases like:
That sounds really unfair.
I’m sorry you have to go through this.
I can understand why this is stressing you out.
If you are unsure whether your partner needs advice from you, then it is best to ask them. Use a non-threatening phrase like ‘what support do you need from me right now?’. This promotes feelings of being in a team and working together. Create an atmosphere of us against the world rather than us against each other.
If you constantly find that your partner is rejecting your requests for connection than there is a bigger issue at play. You will need to talk to them to establish if there is an unresolved long-standing issue. It could also be that your partner has a difficultly with maintaining close relationships. Try to find out your partners perspective as you could be playing some role in the problem that you were not aware of.
Lastly, remember that bids for connection can be non-verbal. This could be through affectionate touch or facial expressions like a smile.
For further reading see John Gottman, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work - first released 4 January 2007