What helps when your relationship is on the rocks? Would you believe “talking about the weather”?
A common fix is to plan date nights and romantic trips to reconnect. While your intentions may be good, this strategy can actually make a bad situation worse—when you and your partner are not connecting in the important ways a date night can turn simmering resentment into all out conflict.
Relationships are formed and maintained through everyday interactions, what I call “micro moments” of connection. The best way to restore emotional connection and save your relationship really may be to talk about the weather.
A great relationship is about two unique personalities responding to each other’s emotional needs moment-to-moment. There are many small interactions each day where we turn towards our partner, and they to us. Cumulatively, successful micro moments create deep emotional connection and trust.
Observing couples in his love-lab, relationship researcher John Gottman found that these bids for connection are what determines whether a relationship will succeed or fail. It is not the depth of conversation either; passing comments about the everyday can do more to keep love strong than deep, moving discussions. However, awareness of bids and positive responses are absolutely necessary.
Relationships are about connection, knowing that your partner will be there for you. Trust, caring, and affection are built in the small moments when your partner turns to you, and you notice and respond positively (and vice versa). Inwardly, we are confirmed: “Yes, my partner has my back.” The topic isn’t as important as the act of emotionally connecting, being there.
An emotional connection can look like this:
A: Looks like rain
B: Uh huh, I think you’re right; what do you want to do today.
A successful connection fills your emotional tank and creates a sense of goodwill, secure connection, and even playfulness in (a sure sign of a good relationship). A positive response to your partner’s bids goes a long way in dealing with life’s stresses.
When your tank is full you can get through conflict more easily, even seeing it as opportunity to learn more about each other’s needs; and you become less sensitive to perceived slights. By the way, the benefits of positive response to bids also apply to children, coworkers, and friends.
3 Steps to Successful Emotional Connection:
You need only about 10% of your awareness to respond to micro bids. You can train yourself to do this, developing relationship-mindfulness—constantly scanning for your partner’s attempts to connect. You don’t need to catch every moment; just as many as possible.
2. Be Interested
You don’t need to have the same likes; being interested means you know that what your partner is talking about is interesting to them. It’s about the connection more than the topic. Good “connection radar” works both ways, so your partner knows not to subject you to an hour long dialog on cumulonimbus clouds when you respond to a comment about rain.
3. Respond Positively
There are three kinds of responses to bids for connection. A negative response is deflating: “I’m busy with my book” or “So, who cares.” No response, silence, eventually results in giving up, emotionally withdrawing. A positive response creates trust and increases the likelihood that your needs too will be responded to: “Golf on Saturday huh; looks like sunshine,” and then returning to your book. Responses need not be earth-shattering events, but they do confirm you are showing-up for the relationship.
When you attune to your partner’s bids for connection, you return your relationship to solid ground. By fine-tuning your micro-moment radar, other good things happen—you naturally fit in date nights and romantic getaways as a way of celebrating your connection. Don’t sweat the big stuff; just be there for each other in the every-day moments.
References: Gottman, J. (2001). The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers. New York: Crown