In my work with couples, I often see partners come into therapy with complaints about similar issues. They say “we have communication problems”, “we fight all the time”, “we constantly disagree about money / parenting / the in-laws”, “we don’t have sex anymore”. The list of issues is endless, but the core of the problem is always the same. Couples come to therapy because they have lost their connection with each other, they have lost sight of what it was that drew them together in the first place, and now they are floundering and unhappy.
Interestingly, it is not attending to the big disagreements that mends the couple relationship, it is repairing the emotional connection and helping couples to care for the relationship on a daily basis. In doing so we need to learn that it is the small repetitive behaviours that make or break our bond with each other, the things we do or don’t do each day that either build up trust and a deepened intimacy, or that tear us apart.
Relationship expert John Gottman has spent decades studying couples and what makes a relationship succeed or fail. He has identified the emotional bids that partners make when they are trying to engage with each other. In a six-year study, Gottman found that couples who consistently respond positively to each other’s emotional bids, or turn towards each other, are more likely to stay together. In his study, those couples who turned towards each other’s emotional bids over 80% of the time went on to stay together long term, while those who ended up divorcing only turned toward each other about a third of the time.
An emotional bid can be as straightforward as a request for a hug or a comment about our day. Gottman has identified four possible ways that we respond to these bids:
To illustrate this, let’s imagine a scenario where one partner has had a hard day at work. The commute was difficult, there was a series of unproductive meetings that didn’t go well and a serious disagreement with a colleague rounded off the day into a perfect storm. Our unhappy spouse comes home exhausted and wants nothing more than to watch some mindless TV and be left alone. Then their partner comes home, seemingly in a bright mood and starts talking about her day while she unpacks some shopping in the kitchen.
In this example, the partner who comes home tired can either make a kind comment to acknowledge their loved one is in a bright mood and had a good day, or go into the kitchen and engage in conversation about her day, or ignore her, or ask her to be quiet as the TV is on. Which would you choose? Interestingly, you don’t always have to be enthusiastic, sometimes it is enough just to acknowledge your partner’s bid for attention and make them feel valued in the process.
An emotional bid is the way that we each constantly check in to make sure our partner still cares, and when it is answered with positive attention it serves to reinforce and strengthen the relationship. So, take note of the ways in which your partner makes emotional bids to you, and be sure you turn towards and not away. It could be the key to saving your marriage.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you, and this can be face to face, via phone or video link, whichever feels easier for you.
This article was also published as one of my regular posts for English Informer in France
Coping with Sleeplessness and Insomnia
Many of us suffer with periods of poor sleep, where we spend endless hours staring at the alarm clock as we struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep, or we find ourselves waking up much too early and then feeling exhausted throughout the day as our time in bed failed to leave us feeling refreshed. When this pattern repeats, these periods of poor sleep can build up into a cycle of anxiety about sleep in general, and thus we can get into a vicious cycle.
The symptoms I have described can be diagnosed as insomnia when they occur regularly each week for at least a month and cause distress, and they are of concern as they can lead to problems functioning during the day. We all know how short tempered we become when we are tired, and how tough it is to get even the simplest of tasks completed. Some days it can feel like we are wading through treacle when all we really need is some good quality sleep. As a counsellor, I often see that poor sleep is additionally associated with anxiety and depression, and therefore disrupted patterns of sleep can be indicative of other problems in a client’s life.
Our dream patterns are also important, as dreams are in effect a form of stress control where the patterns of stress arousal during the day are worked through in the brain and in a sense ‘deactivated’. In normal sleep, we fall into REM or dream sleep about every 90 minutes, with around 2 hours a night spent dreaming; but if a person is depressed they can have excessive dream sleep, which leads to higher stress arousal and exhaustion. Some anti-depressants reduce our amount of dream-sleep, as does a pattern of the brain naturally starting to wake earlier than normal. It is therefore both the amount and the quality of our sleep that we need to pay attention to.
If you are finding that your sleep patterns have been changing for the worse lately, and your GP has ruled out a physical cause, then here are some tips to help you recondition your mind and body back into a good sleep pattern:
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.