Hollywood dramatically distorted notions of romance and confused couples entirely about what makes passion burn. Real-life romance is fueled by how you interact with each other in the little moments that make up your day. You keep it alive through a joined effort to stay connected. You create it each time you let your partner know that you love and value them.
Romance can grow anywhere. It grows when Sam asks, “Are we out of bleach?” and instead of shrugging, Charlie says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case!” It grows when Sam wakes up in the morning to say, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” and Charlie responds, “I’m sorry honey. I’ve got to run to work, but tell me a little bit about it now so we can talk about it more this evening!” instead of “I don’t have time, I have to go.” In one case, the partners respond to a bid with “turning towards,” and in the other, they “turn away,” which is a choice that sends their mate a message about whether or not they are attentive, caring, supportive. These everyday moments can either be a source of stability or a source of stress.
In relationships, these seemingly unimportant moments are the most important of all. They force you to make a quick decision, often entirely unaware that it may play a role in determining the strength or weakness of your emotional connection. If you don’t pay attention to these little moments, your failures to turn towards each other build up, and you risk undermining the strength of your bond. Luckily, Gottman research provides a strategy to avoid putting your relationship in jeopardy.
A major indicator of a couple’s overall happiness is their Emotional Bank Account. Partners who characteristically turn towards each other rather than away are putting money in the bank. They build up emotional savings that can give them a sense of peace and security when they go through hard times. Because they stored up so much mutual goodwill, they can make allowances for each other when conflicts arise.
Though it is challenging to always notice when your partner does turn towards you, Gottman research shows that taking the time to see the benefits of your work will pay off. In “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Dr. John Gottman describes a study where couples were observed at home, noting that “happily married couples noticed almost all of the positive things the researchers observed their partners do for them…unhappily married couples underestimated their partners’ loving intentions by 50 percent!”
If you regularly contribute to your Emotional Bank Account, you and your partner will both understand each other’s intentions much better when conflict arises. Rather than interpreting each other’s words as intentionally aggressive or negative, even when they are not meant that way, you will hear each other’s message loud and clear: Though at the moment you may be arguing, you both know that you love each other, and that this momentary conflict is much, much less important to each of you than your relationship.