When was the last time you felt angry with someone? Do you remember your response? Did you close off and suppress your anger to maintain some sense of acceptance, emotional safety, peace? Or did you blame, judge, criticize in an effort to support your needs for transparency, being heard, emotional safety? Or, maybe, did you turn toward your friend, expressed yourself with compassion and listened with respect to understand your friend better and restore the connection?
John Gottman has 40 years of relationship research under his belt. Married couples, friends, siblings, co-workers, parent-child relationships. You name it, he researched it. He describes all interactions between people as bids for connection. “Honey, will you pass me the sugar?” “Dad, I need help with my homework.” “Will you come to my birthday party?” Even a bitchy “You’re late.”, or an enraged “Get of my back, f*ck off with your anger.” are bids for connection, a longing to be understood for our experience.
It took me a while to get the concept. Usually I see anger, dishonesty, blame as clear signals to disconnect, and I feel relieved to do so. One less conflict in my life.
The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. When we habitually turn away or turn against bids for connection, including conflict, we have less and less intimate relationships that help us weather the storms of our lives.
Let’s take the example of “F*ck off with your anger.” Not the most inspiring bid for connection, and we can respond with empathy and compassion. “I hear you’re fed up with the way I express my anger. Do you want more respect, harmony, support for your sense of well-being?” Sounds pretty open, doesn’t it? That’s what turning toward does. It conveys a message of acceptance, ‘your experience matters to me’, and a willingness to understand and restore the connection.
Turning away shows up as silence, disregarding, interrupting, being preoccupied. Turning away seems to be devastating for relationships, because the implicit message is ‘I don’t care about you, or your experience. You don’t matter.’
Turning against is more contemptuous, belligerent, contradictory, domineering, critical, or defensive. There are many flavors. It could sound like this “As if you’re such a sweetie-pie.” “What did I do? Nothing! It is you who is angry!” “You’re blowing it out of proportion, as usual, drama queen.” Painful responses, because I am arguing your experience. In the long run partners lose trust that they’ll be heard, and they’ll retreat within themselves and withdraw emotionally.
What is your habitual response? Turning toward? Turning away? Turning against? And how does that impact your relationships? Do they deepen, grow stronger, build up trust? Do they evaporate, dissolve, disappear? Or does conflict, distrust, withdrawal increase?
You want help to give turning toward a try? Contact me for a free, discovery session. I would be delighted to help, 512-589-0482.