Feeling Seen and Heard: Becoming a Better Listener and Turning Towards Your Partner
Turning towards your partner represents the everyday efforts you make in a relationship to reach out to your partner and accept their ‘bids’ for emotional connection. Ellie Lisitsa, the editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog, shares that the ‘bids’ come in all sizes and shapes, exhibiting verbally and non-verbally.
Verbal bidsmay sound like this:
“Sam, shall we check out a new café this weekend?”
Nonverbal bids include a pat, a kiss, rolling your eyes, sticking out your tongue, tickling, opening a door, offering a place to sit, laughing or groaning in a way that invites interaction or interest.
I wish I’d learnt about these verbal and non-verbal bids earlier.
When we first got married, my husband had this annoying habit: he began each statement with a ‘No’. I would be sharing my view on perhaps some of the latest news I read or watched, and he would inevitably reply with a ‘No’ first before continuing his point of view. His ‘nay’ responses often left me feeling rejected, unheard, and drove me miles away. I often got frustrated and discontinued the conversation with him prematurely.
This negative interaction pattern continued for a long while, making us feel helpless. Our emotional banks were near empty. It grew increasingly obvious, especially after being highlighted by one of his good friends. My husband started to be more conscious and aware of this habit. Having experienced the harmful effects of being seen as dismissive and rejecting, he grew to be gentler and more careful with his timing and choice of words.
As we communicated more and more, I discovered that my own insecurities contributed to the negative pattern. Each ‘nay’ response exposed the low self-esteem within me. I saw his attempts to share alternative views as disregarding my voice, which left me feeling wounded and made me reject his views or opinions. With him showing more and more affirmative responses, I began to be more confident of expressing my views.
We have both changed a lot in our communication patterns from when we first started. I learnt to recognize his ‘bids’ for attention and listened to his point of view; he learnt to sense my ‘bids’ and affirmed me more. Building up these positive interactions with my husband, we are now more satisfied in our relationship.
After recognising the bids, let’s see how different responses to your partner’s bid can lead to different effects. Let’s take this scenario.
John: “Do you want to order in food tonight?”
Mary could respond in 4 different ways:
This is a Passive response. Mary may continue with whatever she is still doing. But John knows that she heard him.
Mary: “Fine. From where?”
This is a Low-energy response. It involves a few words or a question to clarify the bid.
Mary: “That sounds great. You like that Thai place down the street?”
This is an Attentiveresponse. It involves opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
Mary: “That’s a great idea. I know how stressed you’ve been lately. Where do you want to order from? I feel like Thai tonight.”
This is a High-energyresponse. It involves full attention and preferably with good eye contact. High-energy responses are enthusiastic, include humour, affection, and/or sincere empathy.
Try to notice how you and your partner respond to such ‘bids’ for attention, empathy, or connection in your interactions. Dr John Gottman strongly encourages using the latter two response types: Attentive and High-energy.
Dr John Gottman has aptly put it:
“Nobody has the emotional stamina to turn towards other people’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Realising the limits of our time and attention, if you face a time when turning towards one another is impossible, the goodwill you’ve accumulated (your emotional bank is still filled), will be enough to see you through to better times.”
As you build healthy communication patterns with your partner, connecting emotionally will get easier and easier. Your relationship will be able to weather the different seasons, and it will keep you on track to maintain a happy, satisfied life together.