BUILDING EMOTIONAL CONNECTION SERIES, PART ONE
Emotional Connection, What it is and Why it matters
If you are reading this article I am assuming that you are curious about this whole emotional connection thing. Perhaps you are re-entering the dating scene or want to breathe new life into an existing relationship.
Whatever your motivations, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, we humans can generally use all of the fresh ideas we can get. From my world view, the most important work of this human era is in area of interpersonal relationships.
Hence my dedication to working with folks to improve the quality of their relationships with those close to them.
I sincerely hope that you find this and the other articles in this series inspiring and useful in your quest for more fulfilling relationships.
This article will take a different form from my other postings.
I will begin this article with a general discussion of emotional connection as it applies to all relationships.
This will be followed by a brief introduction to Dr. John Gottman’s model for emotional connection including some explanation of terms I will be using throughout this series.
The next section provides some some statistical data to support the need for more focus on emotional connection.
I will then provide some important tips for those of you in the dating scene and/or those of you who are interested in breathing new emotional life into an existing intimate relationship.
The articles in this particular series contain information and practical tips that are cumulative in nature. To gain the most benefit, I advise readers to start with the first article and to read the remaining articles in the order presented.
We live in a fast paced interactive social world that can be quite unforgiving.
If you are lucky you grew up in family with parents and extended family members that modeled most of the acceptable ways to be be in relationship.
You learned important communication principles like listening, not interrupting, taking your turn in conversations, recognizing someone’s need for a little TLC, appropriate ways to get your emotional needs met, and of course polite ways of telling really rude people where they can put their rudeness.
However, if you are like most folks you didn’t get all of the emotional training you need to be masterful in all social situations and may be especially in need of some fresh ideas about emotional connection in intimate relationships.
These two are happily connected!
So let’s start at the beginning.
We all want to be:
- Have a sense of control over our lives
- Be liked or at the very least, accepted.
At the most basic level, emotional connection forms the basis for how we give and receive the emotional support we all need.
Failure to read and respond accordingly to other people’s emotional cues can, over time, derail almost any relationship.
This is especially true for intimate relationships with lovers, children, and family members as well as the close relationships often required in the modern work place.
If you are re-entering the dating scene or want to jump start an existing relationship, read on, the information and tips presented will be worth the effort.
Terms and model for understanding emotional connection
So what exactly is “emotional connection”
John M. Gottman, Ph.D., practicing Therapist, researcher and internationally recognized authority in the area of human relationship, has advanced a simple yet powerful model that identifies the basic components of emotional connection as well as a systematic method for improving our ability to give and receive the emotional connection we all want and need.
Understanding the “Bid”, The basic unit of emotional connection
Dr. Gottman posits that people frequently make what he calls “bids” for emotional connection and that these attempts to connect with those around us can take a variety of forms. According to Dr. Gottman, a bid can be:
- a question
- a comment
- a gesture
- a joke
- a touch
- or any single expression that says “I want to connect with you”.
So to be clear a “bid” is any attempt to reach out for emotional connection.
It is absolutely essential that you understand that bids for emotional attention can run the entire range of human expression from subtle body language to a heart felt hug.
I highly recommend really powering up your observational antenna at work and in all the social situations you encounter in the next few days. See how many bids for emotional attention you can pick up. Even waiting in line at the grocery store can provide opportunities for emotional connection.
Three possible responses to “bids” for emotional connection
Dr. Gottman further proposes that there are three possible responses to bids for emotional connection:
- Turning Toward
- Turning Against
- Turning Away
Let’s carefully examine each possible response.
1) Turning Toward means to react in a positive way to another’s bid for attention/emotional connection.
Examples of “Turning Toward”
- A guy at work smiles at you, you acknowledge his smile with one of your own
- A colleague at work asks you what you’re doing for lunch. You respond by stating that today you are behind and have to work through lunch, but would love to join him for lunch on Friday.
- The new guy at work pops off with a bad joke. You acknowledge his attempt at humor and ask him to join you for coffee at 2:30.
In all three examples the other person’s “bid” for emotional connection was acknowledged and, in the last two examples this acknowledgement included the added bonus of making a plan for further interaction and emotional connection.
2) Turning Against refers to a reaction to another’s bid for attention/emotional connection that is belligerent or argumentative and often involves sarcasm or ridicule.
Examples of “Turning Against”
- A guy a work smiles at you. He is grossly over weight and you respond to his attempt at connection with a frown. You instantly regret this response but take no action. More than likely, you have just needlessly hurt this man’s feelings.
- The same colleague at work asks you to join him for lunch and you respond by saying, “Dan, what’s wrong with you, I told you when you stopped in my office this morning, that I was buried with work… didn’t you see the pile of unfinished reports on my desk! Don’t you pay attention to anything!
- The new guy at work pops off with a bad joke and you belittle him by pointing how bad his joke was and add insult to injury by saying you are glad he’s not on your team.
In all of the three examples the other person’s “bid” for emotional attention was met with ridicule and rejection.
Take this opportunity to recall times that you’ve been treated this way.
Feels pretty bad, doesn’t it.
2) Turning Away essentially means to ignore another’s bid for attention/emotional connection
Examples of “Turning Away”
- A guy at work smiles at you. You are in a hurry and give him no response.
- The same colleague at work asks you to join him for lunch. You decline the invitation and simply walk off, preoccupied with all the unfinished reports on your desk.
- The new guy at work pops off with a bad joke and you simply ignore him and resume your conversation with Daniel, the new, very cute techie person assigned to your team.
Some relationship statistics
According to Dr. Gottman’s research:
- Husbands heading for divorce disregarded their wives’ bids for connection 82% of the the time, while husbands in stable relationships disregarded their wives’ bids just 19% of the time.
- Wives headed for divorce act preoccupied with other activities when their husbands bid for their attention 50% of the time, while happily married wives act preoccupied in response to their husbands’ bids just 14% of the time.
- During typical dinner hour conversation, happily married couples engaged each other as many as 100 times in ten minutes while those headed for divorce only did so sixty five times in the same ten minute period. In discussing the significance of this seemingly small difference, Dr. Gottman points out that taken over a year what appears to be an inconsequential difference, really takes a toll on married relationships.
Now if you’ve struggled a bit with relationships you probably didn’t need any “statistical data” to convince you of the importance of making strong emotional connections.
The Good News:
The good news is that Dr. Gottman’s extensive research also indicates that, without a doubt, the emotional communication skills necessary for maintaining more fulfilling relationships can be learned at any age.
You got it. It is possible to learn the emotional communication skills necessary for establishing, maintaining, and deepening your relationships at any age. A more fulfilling relationship future awaits you!
Tips for improving emotional connection
Although men are not generally as connected to their emotions as women, their feelings need to acknowledged and accepted
Success in the dating arena requires timely recognition and responses to your sweetie’s bids for emotional connection. Train your self to be more attentive and responsive. It will pay huge dividends. I guarantee it!
Learn to recognize your biding style
The first step in learning to connect more deeply with him/her is to learn to recognize your own style of emotional bidding.
So how do you connect emotionally?
Are you coy, charming, rough, touchy?
Do you frequently use humor or sarcasm?
When you are nervous do you tend to shut down or become hyper sensitive?
Do you tend to be very matter of fact and avoid the “touchy feely” approach altogether?
Really give this some thought.
You might even ask a friend of the opposite sex for their take on your style of emotional connection.
Such a conversation might help you find a starting point for becoming more emotionally aware.
Improved competence in any field of interest generally begins with increased awareness.
Think of this as “science project”. I don’t care how you get done.
Just get it done. You’ll be very happy you did!
Learn to recognize his/her bidding style
Once you get some kind of a handle on your own bidding style, you can begin to focus on your sweetie’s bidding style.
If you don’t have a person you are currently dating you may choose to work on this with a friend of the opposite sex.
It’s that important!
Becoming more emotionally competent is not “rocket science”.
You simply have to pay attention. Notice your date’s body language.
Is he/she relaxed, pensive, flirtatious, frisky, removed, uptight, interested, coy…. You get the idea. If he/she smiles at you, acknowledge it with a nod, smile, or touch. If he/she appears restless, ask him/her if he would like to go for a stroll.
The point is to pay attention, be engaging, and to not miss opportunities. This is important!
Dr.Gottman’s extensive research on emotional connection between married couples conclusively demonstrated that “turning away”, or ignoring bids, actually had a more detrimental affect on relationships than did “turning against”.
The old adage: negative attention is better that being ignored really holds true for couples. Work at paying attention and responding appropriately and in a timely fashion.
Importance of connecting often
Recall the statistic that cited the high rate of connection between happily married couples during a typical dinner hour- that they connected a hundred times during a ten minute period.
When I first read this statistic, I thought to myself, this time science has gone too far, I just don’t have the energy to be that engaging.
So I paid attention to frequency of my interactions with my wife during our dinner hours for one week.
Boy was I wrong.
I found that we connected with each other almost constantly through conversation, facial expressions, touch, joking, etc.
I also found that during one dinner hour when I was overly tired and responded less frequently to her attempts at connection, that it took extra effort on my part to re-engage in our conversation. What a powerful learning experience.
Opportunities for emotional connection are truly cumulative.
You are always building your “relationship house”.
Interaction provides more opportunities for further interaction. Missed opportunities for interaction tend to result in fewer opportunities in the future for connection.
Pay attention and connect as often as possible.
So what if you tend to be quiet.
No problem. You can still be observant and respond to your guy’s/gal’s bids for attention with a smile, a nod, a gentle touch. You don’t have to be Mr./“Miss Talkative” to stay engaged.
So what if all of this seems uncomfortable.
Of course its uncomfortable, its new. Just pretend that you are British…. Keep a stiff upper lip and do it for the Queen.
If you don’t try you’ll never succeed.
Any effort you put toward increasing your emotional connection with your sweetie will pay dividends and encourage you to keep at it. Go on, give it go.
Dr. John Gottman is a practicing Clinical Psychologist, internationally acclaimed relationship researcher, author, and supporter of mutually fulfilling relationships extraordinaire.
I highly recommend his books, including but not limited to:
The Relationship Cure
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work