Reach Out to the One Reaching Out

Reach Out to the One Reaching Out

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In the previous article I pointed out that couples in faltering relationships fail to respond when their partners try to connect with them. If such failures occur too many times, relationships are likely to get worse. Research shows that the couples headed for divorce fail to respond to overtures from their partners, on average, about five times more often than do other couples.

Failure to respond to another person's attempt to connect is not always a deliberate act. Many times, people are not aware when they are ignoring or blocking another person's overtures. Furthermore, people don't always recognize when someone is trying to connect with them.

It is good to look at these ways of communication closely as they are important, not just for intimate relationships, but, for all levels of relationships.

Dr. John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure, calls all such ways to connect with other people, as "bids." He has done a remarkable job of defining and categorizing the bids.

Bids for connection come in a large variety of styles. They can be verbal or nonverbal.

Verbal bids could be in the form of comments, questions, opinions or statements which express such content as interest, thoughts, feelings, observations, views, invitations, etc.

Nonverbal bids may be classified in the following five categories:
1. Affectionate touching, such as a handshake, a pat, a squeeze, a kiss or a hug.
2. Facial expressions, such as smiling, blowing a kiss, winking or expressing love with eyes and face.
3. Playful touching such as tickling, bopping, wrestling or a gentle bump.
4. Affiliating gestures such as opening a door, offering a place to sit or pointing to a shared activity or interest.
5. Vocalizations such as laughing, chuckling, whistling or sighing in a way that invites interaction or interest in the other person.

An exchange of bids help to initiate, maintain and enhance relationships.

For example, "A" smiles at "B" and B smiles back. A and B connect with each other. They may start conversing about various subjects of common interests and may end up becoming friends.

In another example, "A" asks a question to fellow passenger "B" about his job or comments about the weather and the latter doesn't answer, the conversation doesn't go anywhere. The possibility of A and B becoming friends is nipped in the bud.

If strangers or acquaintances don't connect with one another, they go separate ways and that's the end of their transaction. However, in intimate relationships, if connection attempts are habitually ignored or unattended, significant resentment builds up over time. Such resentment transforms into arguments over insignificant matters. Often, partners may not understand why they fight so much and fail to see eye to eye about anything anymore.

Relationships work like banks. Each time you respond positively to a connection attempt by your partner, you make a "deposit." Deposits can become huge balances. If you have a large balance, your relationship can tolerate occasional "withdrawals," such as disagreements or setbacks with your partner.

It is better to withdraw just a little so it can be paid from the "interest," without having to take out from the principal. However, if you withdraw frequently and fail to make enough deposits, the relationship is likely to go bankrupt over time.

Partners who have significant savings for a rainy day have relationships which can weather the storms with much humor and a lot of love. Others can't reconcile at all. Why not? Because they might have used up all their savings without making sufficient deposits.

When you make an attempt to connect with someone, here are three ways in which he or she may respond:
1. Turn towards you. He or she may become immediately attentive, nod, ask questions, agree, comment, give an opinion or show support.
2. Turn away from you. He or she may be too preoccupied to respond, disregard your attempt, interrupt you, or abruptly change or close the conversation.
3. Turn against you. He or she may contradict, use sarcasm, blame, or become hostile and belligerent.

The more we use the "turning towards" behavior, the more the relationship deepens. Every time you turn towards someone, you make a deposit in their bank. It may be a penny, but all the pennies together can turn into a pretty penny.

E-mail a link to this article to a friend. 

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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