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Small moments matter

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It probably will not surprise you to hear that couples can get into a contentious spot for the most minute matter. Here at Project FAMILY, we hear couples who struggle to find common ground on issues such as leaving the door unlocked, being late in picking up the children, not answering phone messages and many more.

In fact, for those who are familiar with Gottman’s work on marriages, he termed these small moments as “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, you can either connect with or turn away from your partner.  Every seemingly inconsequential moment can make or break your relationship over time. When your partner does not respond or they turn away from you, you naturally begin to lose trust in them. The reason behind a failed connection is often the result of mindlessness, not malice. However, trust builds as a result of the stacking and layering of small moments.  ‘Sliding away’ repeatedly over time erodes trust in any relationship.

This was what happened to David and Sheryl, one of the couples whose trust in each other eroded over time as they were missing out on small yet significant moments of connection. David exhibited fear and anxiety whenever he arrived home late after a long day of work as he knew that Sheryl would start to question his whereabouts.  Her incessant questioning drove David into his virtual mancave.  This avoidance is known as the “sliding door” moment, causing the couple to drift further apart.  Sheryl also grew increasingly suspicious over David’s silent treatment.  The situation then exacerbated to the point that the couple stopped speaking to each other for several days.

Helping the couple identify these “sliding door” moments, allowed them to attune to each other’s emotional bids. Sheryl ceased her investigative behaviour as she knew it would turn David away. David learned to stay connected by providing Sheryl simple cues of “time out”, instead of walking away without another word. He then returned to re-connect with Sheryl after the agreed “time out”. This helped Sheryl to feel more assured and not helpless anymore.  Over time, they began to build a stronger emotional connection which stacked up the layers of trust in their relationship.

Can you identify the “sliding door” moments in your relationship?

How can you turn towards rather than turn away from each other?

Written by: Isabelle Ng, Marriage Educator, Fei Yue Community Services



  1. Gottman, John (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. New York Harmony.

  2. Lisitsa, Ellie (August 31, 2012). An Introduction to Emotional Bids and Trust. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved 18 February 2021 https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-introduction-to-emotional-bids-and-trust/

  3. Lisitsa, Ellie (August 10, 2012). Sliding Door Moments. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved 18 February 2021 https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-makes-love-last-sliding-door-moments

  4. Brown, Brené (2018). Dare to lead. New York: Random House.