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Turning Away or Turning Towards?

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Alice and Daniel have just been married for 8 months. After spending a lot of effort on building their dream home, they are looking forward to living a blissful married life. One night after dinner, Daniel took out a newly-bought game set and excitedly told Alice about how he spent a lot of time and money looking for the game. Alice started to remind him about the importance of saving up for their future and keeping their expenses to the essentials. Daniel went quiet……

Ken and Lily have been married for 10 years and have 3 children. They had mutually agreed that Lily would be a stay-at-home mother to focus on raising their children. Over the years, Ken and Lily had many arguments over their differences in parenting styles. Whenever Ken makes a comment on the children’s behaviour or results, Lily would become quiet, walk out of the room to occupy herself with chores, and refuse to talk to Ken for the rest of the day.

Do you find that you or your spouse shuts down whenever a conversation doesn’t go the way either of you want?

According to the research conducted by Dr. John Gottman, the key to staying happily married is to turn towards each other instead of turning away. “Turning towards” simply refers to catching hints from your partner for attention, affirmation, affection or any other positive connection. Such hints may come in the form of a wink, a grin, or rhetorical questions. But hints can be difficult to catch. So here are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Pay Attention – Face and look at your partner

  2. Focus on here & now – What do you see? What do you hear?

Facing and looking at your partner (cue: lovingly) lets him/her know that you are paying attention. Remember those courtship days when you were unable to peel your eyes off him/her? He/she is still the very same person you are looking at. Think back, and let that feeling wash over you.

Being present with your partner allows you to see what is here (the physical and facial expressions) and hear what is now (the content). It is not helpful to bring up past experiences that hurt you and your partner. Tackling the here and now lets you and your partner manage the issue objectively.

Clearly state what you see/hear that hurts you (e.g. issue, situation), share why you feel that way (describe its impact on you) and then offer what your partner can do for you next time (the way forward). For example, “When I hear you talk about our children’s behaviour, I feel hurt because it makes me feel that I am not a good mother. I hope you can listen to my difficulties in managing the children. Let’s work things out together.”

As Dr Julie Gottman puts it, “You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path”.

You have the power to choose your response. What will you choose today?


Gottman, J.M. & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press.