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Making Marriage Last – missing the tiny things may matter most
Making a marriage last or course requires commitment and effort on behalf of both partners, but what if there was a tool that significantly increased the success rate?
Having a lasting marriage isn’t about the grand romantic gestures often found while dating, but instead it’s in how we pay attention to the little things day in and day out.
According to fascinating research by psychologists John Gottman and Janice Driver, it has a lot to do with how couples respond to each other’s small “bids” for attention in everyday life.
There are many ways that we “bid” for the attention of our spouse, in fact the Gottman Institute [https://www.gottman.com/blog/turn-toward-instead-of-away/] offers many examples of small bids that may not have anything to do with romance. Many bids are for attention by asking for help with small tasks. Others are bids for a small interaction such as when your spouse wants to tell you about the show they’re watching or an article that they read. When we respond to these bids this is “turning towards” our spouse and is a moment that reinforces our connection and commitment.
Turning away kills relationships
When we do not engage our partner in their bid, or worse yet, ignore or miss it completely it sends a subtle and powerful message. How important is it to turn towards our spouse instead of away? Gottman and Driver studied newlyweds and checked back with them after six years. The ones who were still together had turned toward each other, on average, 86 percent of the time as newlyweds, when faced with a bid for attention. Those who had split up had only turned toward each other an average 33 percent of the time.
Armed with this new knowledge how do we apply it in our marriages? One way is to create awareness when someone is making a bid or when a bid is rejected. Rejecting a bid isn’t great, but it can leave room for conversation or negotiation. For example, if you don’t feel like responding when asked “How was your day?” immediately on arriving home, you might ask your partner to discuss that in a few minutes after you take the dog for a quick walk. This gives you some space to de-stress and be ready to connect intentionally. You can also create awareness and language around bids by reminding each other that you need one another’s attention, even when life is busy.
We want our marriages to last and no marriage is ever really a done deal. Pay attention this week to your and your partner’s bids for attention and prayerfully seek to love and support them as they do the same for you.