Building Friendship in Your Relationship: Turning Towards

couples therapy turning towards

Couples who maintain warm, intimate relationships for a lifetime know a few skills that are worth understanding to improve any relationship.  One of these skills is turning towards their partners’ bids for attention.

The Gottmans’ couples research team has discovered that couples who regularly turn toward one another during even subtle bids for attention are better friends and able to weather the storms of life as a team.

What are bids for attention?

Any effort to connect with your partner is a bid for attention.  The purpose is to express a need of some kind, big or small.  These bids may be expressed verbally or nonverbally.  There are many of these small moments throughout the day when one part of a couple reaches out to the other and needs a response to connect.

Example of a subtle bid:

  • “Hey, Honey, did you hear it’s supposed to storm again today?”

Possible responses to a bid:

  • “You’re right, the clouds sure look dark.” = turning towards
  • Says nothing while distracted with checking email = turning away
  • Rolls eyes and says “I don’t need a weather report.  I’m busy!” = turning against


Example of a nonverbal bid:

  • One partner leans in to snuggle on the couch.

Possible responses to a bid:

  • Warmly embraces partner to cuddle = turning towards
  • Does not move or stiffens = turning away
  • Pulls back and remarks “You’re hair is so prickly and blocking my view of the tv.” = turning against


Why are bids for attention so important?

These little moments of reaching out to our partner for connection or attention are crucial for sustaining our friendships.  Each time a bid is refused by our partner, we crumple a little bit and are less likely to make another bid.  Each time a bid is received with warmth and enthusiasm, the relationship is strengthened and we are more likely to make more bids for connection.

Think about your relationship as having a sort of bank account.  Each time you turn toward your partner, you’re making a deposit in this account.  Each time you turn away or against your partner, you’re making a withdrawal.  If you make too many withdrawals without deposits, you’ll run in the red which is a sign of trouble!

The Gottman research has shown that satisfied couples in relationships that last are turning towards one another FIVE times for every ONE missed bid.  And during times of stress, this is even more important.  Couples under distress need to turn toward each other FIFTEEN times for every ONE missed bid.


How can you build your relationship bank account?

We are not perfect human beings and will naturally miss our partner’s bids for attention even in the happiest of relationships.  So it is important to make the effort to connect and respond to your partner whenever able.  And it is helpful to alert your partner if he/she has missed your bid for attention.  You might say a simple “Ouch!” to alert your partner of a missed bid.  This will give him/her the opportunity to reach out and connect again.  We can use these moments to increase our awareness of our partner’s efforts to express his/her needs.

The more you make efforts to turn toward your partner, the more your partner will turn toward you.  This creates a positive, safe environment to build friendship and intimacy.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. at Linden BP based on research from The Gottman Institute. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment for individual or couples therapy with Dr. Smith, contact LindenBP at 440-250-9880.