Do Your Turn Towards, Away, or Against Your Partner/Others

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
two birds turning away from each other

Do you turn towards, away, or against your loved ones?

In the past, I’ve talked about the Gottman labs where couples come and stay for a weekend. Marriage researchers record all of their interactions and then play them back for them and coach them in how to improve their marriages.  Well, you would think that these researchers would get a lot of boring communication. But on the contrary, they have found profound meaning in simple, everyday communication.

For example, a husband may bring up an article he read in the paper. A wife may comment on the quality of her sleep last night. One of them may look out the window and say something about the weather. Although brief and seemingly superficial interactions, how spouses (people) respond to each other in such simple matters says a lot about the quality and future of their relationship. Those who respond positively in these moments are likely to be happy and stay married. Those who respond negatively are likely to be unhappy and may go on and get a divorce.

Mundane interactions have a lot of meaning

Another way of saying this is that the quality of a relationship isn’t about the big emotional events but rather their mundane interactions which indicate how well a couple is connecting to each other. For example, a wife asks, “Should I pick up bananas at the store?” Her husband could respond in a number of ways. However, a thoughtful, “Let’s see. I think that would be a good idea. We’re going through them quickly,” has a very different meaning than an indifferent shrug or “I don’t care.”

Three Responses to a Bid

John Gottman calls an invitation to interact a “bid.” Here are a few examples. Your spouse says, “I read the best article last night.” Or, “It looks like a beautiful day.” Or, “Wow am I hungry.” All of these can be considered bids or invitations to connect. Researches have created a coding system to categorize how couples respond to one another’s bids. They’ve concluded that there are three responses to a bid. You can turn towards, turn away, or turn against.

Here’s another example. If your partner says, “What beautiful sunset.” You turn towards by saying something like, “Wow, it certainly is beautiful. Look at those pink hues reflecting off the clouds.” You turn away by ignoring the comment or responding with indifference. You turn against by making a negative or even argumentative comment such as, “I don’t see what’s so special about it. We see sunsets like that all the time around here.” Or, “I can’t get anything done when you continually interrupt me.”

Happy couples turn towards each other 85% of the time

Research shows that in happy marriages, partners turn towards each other, in other words respond positively to one another’s bids, 85% of time. This doesn’t mean their responses are always the highest quality but they are almost always a positive response. In unhappy marriages, it is the opposite. Partners tend to either turn away or against most of the time.

And, by the way, happy marriages also have playful bidding. Couples joke with each other. One is more likely to wad up a napkin and throw it at his or her spouse. They tease each other playfully whereas these kinds of bids are non-existent for distressed couples.

So, awareness of this principle can make a huge difference in your marital satisfaction. Are you willing to be more attuned to your spouse’s bids? And are you willing to respond to his or her bids by turning towards rather than against or away? If so, you can increase the happiness of your marriage.

For you men

And, by the way, for you men out there. This is particularly important for you. The reason is that women, at least in more traditional marriages, are by nature more attentive and nurturing. As I’ve said before, they have a higher relationship IQ than most men and so it becomes easy to leave the quality of marriage and family life to a woman. But most satisfying marriages are those in which husbands improve their relationship IQ and learn to communicate with love. These men tend to be more flexible and influence-able. They see their marriage as a partnership and are more attentive and responsive to their partner’s needs. Part of the way they do this is by turning towards their wives during bids.

Personal application

So, let me ask you to test this practice. Would you be willing to turn towards your partner each time he or she makes a comment in the next 24 or 48 hours? You don’t need to explain the idea, at least not while you’re doing your experiment. Just commit to noticing your partner’s bids for connection and then respond by turning towards him or her. What changes do you notice in your partner? In yourself?

Of course, you don’t have to be in an intimate relationship to do this. It works equally well in any relationship.

About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit>.

2 responses to “Do Your Turn Towards, Away, or Against Your Partner/Others”

  1. Pam I says:

    I am determined that this type of communication will not define us.

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