The Most Important Warning Sign That Your Relationship Is In Trouble

red mystery flowerWritten by Terri Crosby for In Care of Relationships

It turns out that whether or not a couple will stay together and be happy is jaw-droppingly predictable.

Researcher, John Gottman dedicates his life to studying couples.   In a 1990 study, he set up a love laboratory to learn how partners either create a culture of love and intimacy, or squash it.

Gottman designed a lab on the University of Washington campus to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. He invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day at this retreat and watched couples do what they do on vacation: eat, chat, hang out, cook, clean, and listen to music.

Making A Bid For Connection

Throughout the day, partners made requests or “bids” for connection.   For instance, a wife might ask a question, make a comment, or start a conversation, hoping her husband will join in and show signs of interest and  support.

Now her husband has a choice.   He can  “turn toward” the bid or “turn away.”  If he turns toward her, he engages, and shows interest and support.  When he comments back, smiles, or asks a question, he encourages intimacy and connection.

If he turns away, he keeps doing what he’s doing (watching TV, reading, checking his smartphone or iPad).  He makes little or no eye contact, and responds minimally or brushes her off.  He ignores, downplays, opposes, refuses or mumbles “uh huh.”  He might even say or imply, “Stop interrupting me, can’t you see I’m watching the game?”

Take A Look At These Impressive Follow Up Stats

Here’s what John Gottman found. key to success

Couples from his study who had broken up six years later had “turn-towards” responses 33 percent of the time.  Only 3 out of 10 bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy.

The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-towards” moments 87 percent of the time, or 9 out of 10 times.

Quite a difference!

Gottman’s findings, by the way, apply whether a person is straight or gay, rich or poor, or has children or no children.

Gottman says successful couples are consistently looking to build a culture of respect and connection.  He says these couples are on the look out for what to appreciate and say thank you for.  On the other hand, couples who don’t stay together (or are chronically unhappy) are looking for their partners’ mistakes.

Contempt, according to Gottman, is the number one thing that tears couples apart.  And get this — when partners are focused on criticizing, they miss a whopping 50% of the positive things their spouse is doing, and see negativity when it’s not even there.

(Been there.  Done that.)

Kindness on the other hand, is good glue, and bonds a couple together.  It’s good to think of kindness as a muscle you can develop.  That way, the longer you live together, the more kindness you create in your relationship.

And kindness tends to create more kindness, which is a very good thing in relationships!


For more information about In Care of Relationships, click here.

About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 15 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant.  I love really good food, good friends, and great relationships!

contempt, couples, In Care of Relationships, John Gottman, kindness, problems, relationship, relationships, Terri Crosby, turning away, turning toward

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