What “Turning Against” Really Means

A partner who turns against bids may not be doing it maliciously. See what the real cause could be.


A partner who turns against bids may not be doing it maliciously. See what the real cause could be.

A partner who turns against bids may not be doing it maliciously. See what the real cause could be.

The previous post looks at the deeply destructive nature of “turning against” your partner’s bids. “Turning against” or “away” describes the behaviors in your interactions between you and your partner that, upon accumulation, categorically spell disaster for your relationship. What are the real reasons your partner would “turn against” you, lash out unexpectedly, or say things that they don’t really mean? 

The first step in building the skills that Drs. John and Julie Gottman teach in their marital therapy is understanding. There is a difference between what you think your partner is saying when they “turn against” your bids and what their behavior’s cause usually is. Here is what “turning against”  says and what it actually means.

“Turning Against” says

  • Your need for attention makes me angry.
  • I feel hostile towards you.
  • I don’t respect you.
  • I don’t value you or this relationship.
  • I want to hurt you.
  • I want to drive you away.

“Turning Against” usually means

Dr. John Gottman said, “Unlike ‘turning away’ responses, ‘turning against’ has a bite to it. It’s hard to hear such responses without thinking, ‘That’s mean’ or ‘That was uncalled for.’ Still, I doubt that most people who turn against their loved ones really intend to cause as much harm to their relationships as they do in these exchanges. Rather, they may simply have developed a personal style of relating that’s characteristically crabby or irritable.”

Such prickliness is often “the result of many factors, such as having too many demands on your time, not having enough peace of mind, or the lack of a satisfying purpose or direction for your life. Often it’s a spillover of self-criticism that has its origins in the distant past. The problem may also be biologically based irritability that is chemically related to depression.”

Whatever the source of your partner’s choice to “turn against” your bids for attention is, it still hurts. The build-up of ignored bids can cause long-term problems in relationships. When your partner habitually responds to you by “turning against” your bids for connection, you feel that you can’t ask them for support. The two of you may drift apart entirely because it feels impossible to sustain your relationship.

Hopefully understanding that the underlying causes for your partner’s behavior are rarely as malicious as they may feel. What they say and what they mean are usually oceans apart. Also, it, can help you to take these sudden attacks less personally. 

This applies only to healthy, generally supportive partnerships. If you are in an abusive relationship, know that you’re not alone and there is help. Click here for resources.

Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.