Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Emotional Paddle: Bidding for Connection

My husband likes silly Youtube videos. You’ve probably seen them; double rainbow, Argentinian Dancing with the Stars, cats bickering. Might I add that he likes to show me these videos at the most imperfect time; while giving the children a bath, getting them out the door in the morning, or while I am running around the house trying to finish up chores. He walks up to me like a kid in the candy store, brimming with excitement. Humor is one of his top strengths and one of the many reasons we fell in love. I have noticed lately that his gesture of humor, to share a video that he finds playful and interesting, is usually met with a sigh, a turning away, or sometimes a snide remark from me like “I don’t have time for this.”

When a couple welcomes a child into their lives, the relationship between husband and wife shifts dramatically. The treasured moments of snuggling on the couch, conversing over dinner, holding hands and embracing each other after a long days work can get buried, like dirty socks, at the bottom of the laundry pile. The everyday moments of connection between spouses are absorbed by moments of feeding, bathing, bed readying and storybook reading. John Gottmann, founder of the Gottman Relationship Institute in Seattle, Washington, has been studying couples in his Love Lab for the last forty years. He has authored various books on marriage and relationships, such as “Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work”. The Sound Relationship House is a theory born out of Gottman’s work with couples and “Turning Toward”, is a foundational step to building a strong marriage, keeping the emotional connection alive between you and your partner. During a recent seminar at the MAPP Summit at the University of Pennsylvania, Julie Gottman, John’s wife, related the concept of turning towards to that of a sea anemone, which opens and closes in reaction to outward stimuli. The more you turn towards your partner, the more you are depositing in the emotional bank account of your relationship, which leads to a relationship house built on solid foundation, not a deck of cards.

When your partner shares an interesting story, remark, or points out something in nature that she finds beautiful, how do you respond? On the other hand, when you share with your partner, how does she respond? And, how likely are you to open up to your partner if she closes up or turns away when you share tidbits or ahem…videos.

Example: You are sitting at the breakfast table with the family and your husband is reading the paper. He comes across an interesting topic and tells you about the article in one sentence or phrase. How do you respond? Turning toward would mean offering a gesture like a nod, simply saying “Wow!” or " I’d like to hear some more about that." Turning away would be ignoring, shifting your focus, or saying “That is really ridiculous.” There are many parallels between the turning toward/turning away principle and the research conducted by Shelly Gable on Active Constructive Responding. How you respond or how you listen to your partner, even when interactions seem trivial, are, little bids for emotional connection.

So, earlier this week, when my husband asked me to watch a YouTube video at the most imperfect time, I acknowledged my interest with a short phrase “Great, I’ll watch it in a minute.” Granted, that minute turned into the next day, when I could give it my full viewing attention. But regardless, I responded, watched the video and the conversation came full circle, prompting a discussion about authenticity and the nature of sexuality in America.

Love is a superordinate heart strength. Cultivate it in your relationships by holding up your emotional paddle, bidding on an emotional connection with your partner, and maybe throwing in a kiss or two for good measure.


  1. great article, Elizabeth, as I am exactly in this situation now! How I miss the time we had before the child......And that's why ACR and other relationship building skills are particularly important now, as the relationship may be fragile n...ow. I am consciously trying ACR now, since I am usually Passive CR. :-)
    only question is, maybe it's better to use Jeff's name?

  2. Thanks for your comments Yukun. Welcoming a child into your life is no small feat. Remembering that the relationship with your wife is the glue that holds the family together is a challenge at times. I admire your awareness of the fragility of your relationship and your commitment to ACR. Those small bids for connection, from a woman's perspective, mean a lot. Things like touching her arm while she is laying next to you nursing in the middle of the night. Small gestures go a long way:) Thanks for the suggestion about adding Jeff's name to my post. Do you think it matters to people who may not know him?

  3. I can so see Jeff in your example! I do agree with Yukun, using his name personalizes your story more - even if people don't know him. Simple message and simple intervention, if we just take the time to remember to it! Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Done! I will include his name next time. Thank you Mrs. Snyder!