information for transformational people

Turn 246Want a long-lasting relationship? Turn towards one another 

From research by The Gottman Institute

First some facts from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) about families in the UK in 2016:

  • There were 18.9 million families in the UK.
  • There were 12.7 million married or civil partner couple families in the UK. This was the most common type of family.
  • Cohabiting couple families were the fastest growing family type between 1996 and 2016, more than doubling from 1.5 million families to 3.3 million families.
  • There were 2.9 million lone parent families - the majority (86%) were headed by a female lone parent.
  • Around 25% of young adults aged 20 to 34 were living with their parents, increasing from 21% in 1996.
  • Around 7.7 million people lived alone in the UK, the majority were women.

In England and Wales, the divorce rate has been declining for over a decade. In 2014, there were 111,169 divorces - a decline of 27% from a recent peak in 2003. Factors could include increased cohabiting (which then leads to marriage) and increasing age at first marriage (mature decision).

For cohabiting couples, relationship breakdown is far more likely but 40% do lead to marriage. Of partnerships begun in the period 2000-2004, only around one quarter continued after five years, with four in ten couples marrying and 35% separating.  The additional instability of cohabiting partnerships has much to do with the sociodemographic circumstances of those who are cohabiting, as compared to married. In particular cohabitants tend to be younger and have lower average incomes, which are associated with a higher risk of partnership instability.
How can we help relationships in the community?

If you are involved in relationship or pre-marriage counselling, maybe research from the Gottman Institute will help.

As part of his decades long research into relationships, Professor Gottman conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. Many of the couples had remained together. Many had divorced. The couples that stayed married were much better at one thing – turning toward their partner rather than turning away. At the six-year follow up, couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. The secret is turning towards.

It suggests that there is something anyone can do today that will dramatically change the course of their relationship. So, how do you turn towards instead of away? In order to understand turning, you have to first understand bids.

A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. In general, women make more bids than men, but in the healthiest relationships, both partners are comfortable making all kinds of bids.

Bids can get tricky, however. Many men struggle to recognise them, so it’s important to pay attention. Bids usually have a secondary layer – the true meaning behind the words. Call it the the difference between text and subtext. A few examples to get one's brain going:

Text   Subtext
How do I look? Can I have your attention?
Let’s put the kids to bed.   Can I have your help?
I talked to my sister today.   Will you chat with me?
Did I tell you the one about…? Will you enjoy me?
Want to cuddle? Can I have your affection?
Want to play Cribbage?   Will you play with me?
I had a terrible lunch meeting today. Will you help me destress?

To “miss” a bid is to “turn away.” Turning away can be devastating. It’s even more devastating than “turning against” or rejecting the bid. Rejecting a bid at least provides the opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Missing the bid results in diminished bids, or worse, making bids for attention, enjoyment, and affection somewhere else.

It is important that one learns to recognise bids and that they commit to making them to one another. Make the word “bids” part of their conversation and perhaps name  bids toward one another. It’s okay to say, “I’m making a bid for attention now” as they get to know each other in the early phase of a relationship.

Turning towards starts with paying attention. Simply recognising that a bid has been made opens the door to response. If they’ve really been paying attention, they’ll respond to both the text and the subtext. Such kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

By observing these and related types of interactions, Professor Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

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Geoff Knott, 06/03/2017

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