Happy belated Thanksgiving to all of our readers that celebrated over the weekend. We hope you had a good one! If you’re enjoying family time and seeing friends, we hope that you’re feeling fulfilled and loved. In the event that you’re experiencing/have experienced/expect to experience some of that customary holiday stress, we’ve got you covered. 

We hope that you were able to take advantage of Dr. John Gottman’s List of Minor Bids from Wednesday’s Holiday Cheat Sheet – if you missed it, take a very worthwhile peek here! Today, we move smoothly along into a discussion of sliding door moments in the holiday season. So, what exactly is a “sliding door moment?”

Sliding Door Moments are seemingly inconsequential everyday moments filled with words we haphazardly throw back and forth at each other, accompanied by the little evanescent pains, frustrations, joys, and laughter, flying through our minds and our hearts, that make or break the most important relationships in our lives.

In the general fluster of the holiday season, sliding door moments are easy to miss. A great deal of research demonstrates that paying attention to a million things at once is impossible. When we try to multitask, we lose our ability to concentrate adequately on any one thing. We lose sight of what is important and opportunities for intimacy glide away.

When we busy ourselves trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone and end up ignoring or snapping at anyone foolish enough to interrupt our labors, we let sliding door moments slide right by! Our clipped responses do more than nip conversations in the bud. When we are “snippy” and stressed out, we try to keep interactions trim in effort to stay sane as we take care of business – what we succeed in doing instead is cutting those we care about, lopping their attempts at connection right off.

And then we wonder, metaphorical pruning shears dangling casually from our fingertips, why Grandma didn’t just say she wanted to go on a walk, why Uncle Max couldn’t have justtold us he was on an all bread diet, why Jamie didn’t explain that she didn’t like the Nutcracker. Everyone is frustrated.

Now we all start snipping and snapping at each other. Bids for connection, attention, and affection are increasingly disregarded. We stop turning towards!

When turning towards becomes a rare occurrence, Negative Sentiment Override kicks in – read more here! This is illustrated in endless variations on the theme of family dysfunction in holiday movies. Why is all of this happening?

To begin with, many people feel awkward openly sharing their desires. The holidays, a stressful time for many, often exacerbate this anxiety. In the setting of a family reunion, people might feel uncomfortable voicing their deepest wishes, afraid that they will be judged, criticized, or dismissed – even though traditions, rituals, and ways of doing things over the holidays can be very important to many. 

As the prospect of rejection is unappealing, family members may say something very, very quietly, or not say anything at all. They may say something without words. You may find this exasperating. They are not trying to be unhelpful. But the sliding door moment slides right by, and they remain silent, needs unmet.

What can you do to avoid this painful mess?

You can put down your pruning shears  and set a positive example. Whether you want to build and strengthen individual relationships or encourage healthy, warm group dynamics, your best bet is to be attentive and supportive – even towards those who have trouble vocalizing their needs. To create an environment welcoming of bids, you have to build trust, demonstrating to others that their bids will be recognized and responded to.*

Turning towards others and giving people individual attention can go a long way to making everyone feel more comfortable. A comfortable, warm environment can be made safe enough to welcome bids  and create great potential for connection!

Be on the look-out for sliding door moments and take advantage of them whenever possible. Remember to turn towards and connect with those you love!

* This can be very difficult, as you can see from the examples above. Be easy on yourself. When Dr. Gottman talks about sliding door moments in dynamics between couples, he emphasizes the way that healthy couples build awareness of each other’s style of making bids for emotional connection. In the context of a family get-together, dynamics are different – for example, you may be seeing relatives you haven’t connected with for a long time, whose bidding styles you aren’t exactly attuned to! Awareness is key. 

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Sliding Door Moments: The Holidays

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.