Don't Turn Away! Don't Turn Away! Don't Turn Away.
In all the years I’ve been doing work with couples, the thing that seems to builds the most resentment, the most hurt, the most distance is when we turn away from our partners. Meaning, we reject (consciously or unconsciously) our partners attempts to connect with us. In relationships, we’re all just trying to connect with the one we love. We ask to snuggle on the couch. We ask for sex. We ask to be taken on a date. We ask for help around the house. We ask to be listened to. And sometimes we don’t ask. We complain. We pout. We withdraw. We get downright mean. It can be tough to know exactly when our partners are trying to connect with us, especially when we’re indirect or, quite frankly, child like in our attempts to get our needs met. Here are ways our partners try to connect:
1. Through expressions of opinions, thoughts, feelings or observations (e.g. “I just had the worst day…”, “Isn’t that a pretty building?”, “Woo-hoo! Did you see that shot?”).
2. Through direct invitations (e.g. “Do you want to go to movie this weekend?” “What do you think of taking a trip to Mexico this summer?” “Can we snuggle on the couch while we watch that?” “Wanna get busy later upstairs?”).
3. Through non-verbal gestures – hugs, kisses, pats on the back or butt, smiles, chuckling, tickling.
If your partner turns toward your connection attempt, this builds closeness in the relationship. Responses to these connection attempts can be low energy like “sure”, [grunt] or [chuckle] or be middle to high energy such as asking questions, responding enthusiastically, empathizing and giving full focus as if you’re their therapist for a few minutes. Here’s a typical scenario:
Bid for connection: “I can’t believe you’re going out again tonight.” [in your most whiny voice] (Yes, this is an indirect bid. Who are we kidding? You know that it sounds more like this than, “Honey, I miss you. I’m disappointed you’re going out tonight.” which is the better way, by the way).
Turning Toward Response: “Yeah, I’ve got to meet Janet. But, it sounds like you’re disappointed. Do you want to talk about it?”
Turning Away Response: “Yeah, I’ve got to meet Janet. See you later!”
In other words, close couples don’t ignore each other’s upset. And they don’t ignore each other’s requests for affection, sex, or time together. This is absolutely critical to the overall health and closeness in the relationship! If this is happening in your relationship, stop it or get help.