It’s the little things…connecting in marriage is so important.
I can remember getting my first car, and my Dad explaining to me the importance of taking care of it. “If you want to avoid big problems”, he said, “take care of the little problems as soon as they come up.” See, the key to taking care of a car isn’t primarily about being willing to shell out money for a new engine, or a major overhaul, the key is to change the oil every 3,000 miles, keep the tires at the proper tire pressure, stay on top of the fluids, and take it in for it’s scheduled maintenance. Do these little things faithfully, and big things are less likely to come up. Of course, all the proper maintenance in the world won’t prevent some big problems coming up eventually, either through an accident or through normal wear and tear, but a cared for car makes those problems less frequent, and likely less costly when they do come up.
What does this have to do with love? When a relationship falls apart, people often assume it must have been because of some big issue, and sometimes, they are right. More often, however, I find that relationships go dry not because of one or two big things, but because of dozens or hundreds of little things over time, so that now the couple finds themselves drifted apart. Sometimes, the couple may not even realize it until the connection in the relationship feels almost gone.
What are these little things that make or break a relationship. John and Julie Gottman call them “bids,” and in my opinion (and their research) they are one of the most important components to a strong relationship. A bid is any attempt to make a positive connection with a partner for attention, support, or affection. It could be as simple as asking the other person to watch a video on Facebook or help do the dishes, or it could be more significant, like if one spouse asks another to rearrange their schedule to watch the kids, so that they can go back to school. With bids, the most important thing is not necessarily how significant it is, but how the partner responds. The partner can respond by either turning towards or turning away. Turning towards means paying attention and responding to your partner and to his or her request. Turning away means to ignore or dismiss the bid.
As simple as this may seem, it is hard to overstate the power of bids on a relationship. The Gottmans did a study with newlywed couples, and then did a follow-up study six years later. They had found that those who were still married six years later had “turned towards” each other 86% of the time. Those who had divorced at or before the six-year mark had only “turned towards” 33% of the time.
It is the little things…
There are many implications of this discovery, but one of the most important, in my opinion, is that relationships that thrive are often developed and maintained through the little things. We may not feel like our partner’s request to watch their show or hear about their day or go somewhere with them is much, but underneath the surface, there is often a call for connection that should be taken seriously, no matter how insignificant the actual “bid” itself might seem. Over time, if we ignore our partner’s request for connection, the connection itself may dwindle, and we may find that the requests come less and less. The good news, however, is that if we are attentive to our partner’s bids, we can, piece by piece, strengthen our relationship, and make it more capable of handling whatever challenges life might bring. Having a relationship that thrives starts not with the big things, but with responding to the little things.
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