Extra Virgin :: Leaning In
This month we’ve looked into the art of nurturing a happy marriage, focusing on kindness and gratitude. There are so many different ways to add joy and lightness to your relationship, and much of it depends on the unique personality of your marriage, but I wanted to talk about one last thing before we end the series.
In John Gottman’s research, he said there was one specific gesture, more than any other, that indicated a healthy marriage.
Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.
The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.
People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”
I once heard a speaker refer to this kind of activity as “leaning in” to your spouse. I love how it suggests that you just assume that whatever your spouse wants from you comes from a place of love, goodness or interest.
Last night, right after I finished the finale of Gilmore Girls, I rushed into the room where Logan was. Even though he was busy doing his own thing, he paused it to look me in the eyes and listen to all of the Lorelai-Rory-StarsHollow-Jess-London-newspaper-Wild-Luke gibberish I was spouting. Later, he listened to me again at supper, and even asked me a question about it! I know that question had such less to do with his interest and much more to do with letting me know that I could talk to him as long as I wished. Even though it was such a small thing, it meant a lot to me, and made me feel like he cared about me.
Also, I couldn’t help thinking of this scene from The Office, when Jim and Pam are struggling in their relationship. They can’t seem to break through to each other, both their “bids” and their responses are forced and unnatural, and Pam says her heart “just feels so blocked up.” And suddenly Jim just hugs Pam, and won’t let her go. She doesn’t embrace him back, but he won’t let go, and then she remembers 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…” And Pam starts to embrace him back. It’s such a beautiful, meaningful scene, and it reminded me of the importance of leaning in, even/especially in the hard times.
What about you? Do you notice these little moments to respond to your husband? Can you tell when he makes a “bid” for you love? What is your usual response? How can you “lean in” to your husband in both small and big ways?
(Photo by Jordan McQueen)