Dr. John Gottman’s motto „Often the Small Things“ refers to the impact of everyday small actions on the well-being and longevity of your relationship.
Certified Gottman therapist Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT, recently discussed this idea in a webinar for the Gottman Institute. She begins with the concept of „bids,“ which are gestures signaling a need for connection. It can be verbal or nonverbal, and Dr. John Gottman describes them as „the basic unit of emotional connection.“
Panganiban says there are different ways to respond to a partner’s bid:
- Turning toward: Noticing the bid and positively responding to your partner.
- Turning away: Missing the bid and not responding to your partner.
- Turning against: Noticing the bid and responding negatively.
Happy, stable couples turn toward the relationship 86% of the time, while couples who end up separating only turn toward 33% of the time.
Based on the responses to bids, a feedback cycle begins to develop. It can look like:
- Each time you turn toward your partner, you create security and connection.
- This gives your partner the feeling of being able to make more bids.
- As you continue to turn toward, bids increase.
- Each time you turn away or reject your partner, they feel rejected/unimportant.
- As these accumulate, they begin to wonder if you will respond or not.
- Bids decrease, and you begin to feel disconnected.
How to Often Multiply Small Things
- Be attentive and attune to your partner’s need for attention.
- View your partner’s bids as opportunities to connect.
- Turn toward in meaningful ways.
- Prioritize the relationship and minimize distractions (especially technology and social media).
- If you miss a bid, acknowledge and apologize for it.
The Importance of Rituals
Once you begin to notice bids in your relationship, you can start developing rituals with your partner. This way, you don’t always have to wait for spontaneous bids. By incorporating and ritualizing moments of connection, you can rely on making a daily connection with your partner. Here are Panganiban’s recommended rituals that are easy to implement and integrate into your daily life:
- Goodbye and 6-second kiss: Don’t leave the house without knowing something interesting that will happen in your partner’s life. Give each other a 6-second kiss… that’s a kiss with potential!
- Admiration and appreciation: Cultivate a positive attitude and express your appreciation aloud.
- Affection: Examples include hugging, cuddling on the couch, holding hands, massaging each other. Affection can trigger the release of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone associated with well-being.
- Reunion and stress-reducing conversations: Create a „couple bubble“ where you have a space to discuss a stressful situation. Let the speaker share their external stressors (for the relationship), and the listener can empathize with their partner’s feelings. Reflect, ask questions, and take your partner’s side.
- Date night: Use this time to create love maps. Do not talk about the kids, work, or household duties! It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but plan alternately and be creative.
Start slowly, it’s not a race. Don’t expect perfection. Remember that small actions have big impacts! If you’re having trouble, please reach out to a Gottman-trained therapist. Check out the Gottman Relationship Coach!