What makes a marriage or long-term relationship work? You may think it's all about romance such as giving great gifts or planning wonderful celebrations on birthdays and anniversaries. Or you may think it's about great sex and keeping the passion alive.
Not so much. As Amy Alkon notes in an insightful Psychology Today post, thinking you can preserve your relationship with grand gestures on special holidays is "doing the romantic version of cramming for an exam."

While that approach may have gotten you through college, it's how you show up all year long that will make or break a long-term relationship.


In fact, according to fascinating research by psychologists John Gottman and Janice Driver, it has a lot to do with how couples respond to each other's small bids for attention throughout the day.

A small bid for attention may not have anything to do with romance. The Gottman Institute offers 14 examples of small bids for attention and many of them are small requests, such as to help with a simple task.
Others are asking for a little bit of interaction, as when your partner wants to tell you about the book he or she is reading, or asks you about your day. Or it may be a bid for approval: "How do I look?" "How's that meal I cooked?"

There are three different ways you (or your partner) can respond to a small bid for attention. The first is what Gottman calls to "turn toward" your partner. 

You perform the small task you were asked to do, or you listen attentively to the description of the book and maybe ask a couple of questions about it, or, when asked, you tell your partner what kind of day you've had and how you're feeling.

A second option is to reject the bid for attention, for example, you say you can't walk the dog right now because you have to make an important phone call. You tell your partner you don't feel like talking about your day, you'd rather veg in front of the TV instead.

Rejecting a partner's bid for attention isn't great, but it isn't the worst thing you can do because it leaves room for more conversation or negotiation. For example, your partner could ask if the phone call can wait ten minutes while you take out the dog, of if it'll be a quick phone call and you can walk the dog right after.

The worst thing, but something we all do sometimes, is to miss the bid for attention altogether. When your partner asks if a meal is all right, you might take that question literally -- yes, it's edible and will satisfy your hunger -- and so you say "It's fine," and move on to something else.

But the subtext is that your partner wanted you to show appreciation by complimenting the food and maybe saying thank you for cooking it. If you don't respond to that bid for attention because you missed it, that's what Gottman calls "turning away" from your partner.

Turning away kills relationships.

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