An emotional connection is what truly makes for great relationships.
And emotional connections are built on emotional bids for connection and learning how to turn towards those emotional bids.
By the end of this article, you will know how recognize an emotional bid and how to correctly turn toward.
What is Emotional Connection
Let’s define “emotional connection” as follows:
An emotional connection is the attunement couples have to each other’s feelings.
We connect emotionally every time we recognize that something is meaningful to our partners and we turn towards them.
Every time our partner wants to connect with us (bid for connection) and we turn towards them, we build emotional connection.
This example will clear everything out for you:
Turning Towards & Emotional Connection
Turning Towards is the expression John Gottman uses for emotional connection.
This article is based in large part on Gottman’s work, but I will be using the expression “emotional connection” in place of “turning towards”.
1. Turning Towards
Turning towards is what builds trust and emotional connection. To turn towards, one must first recognize the bids for connection.
Recognizing Bids for Connection
Bids for connection are attempts for affection, attention or any type of positive connection.
In The Relationship Cure Gottman says that recognizing bids for connection requires a bit of emotional intelligence as it’s not always straightforward to recognize a bid for connection. Sometimes a comment is pure “transactional”, meaning that our partner wants to get something done or just says something with no feelings or deeper meaning behind it.
However, as you get to your know your partner better -“expand your love maps” in Gottman’s wording-, you will naturally become better and better at recognizing bids for connection.
Bids for Connection & Gender
As a rule of thumb, women make more bids for connection than men.
Men make less bids for connection when the health of the relationship deteriorates. Women instead keep making the same amount of bids independently of the health of the relationship.
This gives men a great chance to turn things around by turning towards those bids more often when things aren’t going well.
When People Miss Bids for Emotional Connections
Missing a bid for connection is the equivalent of turning away.
And it’s important to get bids for emotional connections right because Gottman research shows that people will not try again 80% of the times.
Recognizing Hidden Bids
Sometimes bids for emotional connection are not even verbally expressed but hide behind a complaint, a criticism or an argument. In Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage Gottman refers to them as “longing behind the criticism”.
Here’s an example:
Notice how he recognizes her bid for emotional connection beyond her facade aggressiveness.
2. Turning Away
Turning away can happen because the partner:
- Lacks emotional sensitivity
- Doesn’t care
- Is engaging in suppressed negativity (passive aggressiveness, stonewalling)
This is an example of a guy lacking emotional sensitivity and misses all the chances to turn towards her partner:
Notice his mistakes:
“It’s not that big of a deal”
And looks away instead of fully engaging
I don’t know what to say, what do you want me to do
He’s obviously not paying attention to the emotional conversation going on. He needs to attune and turn towards -and she could do a better job to communicate it more clearly-.
Emotional Connection & Infidelity
A lack of emotional connection in the relationship is one of the major causes of infidelity.
The movie The Good Girl is fully based on infidelity born out of emotional disconnection:
3. Turning Against
Turning against is less often suppressed negativity and more often about full blown belligerence.
This includes the whole gamut of relationship killers: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and meanness. If belligerence starts to supersede the positive aspects of the relationship it can often give birth to a vicious circle of negativity.
Emotional Connection & Relationships Impact
John Gottnam followed newly wed couples for 6 years.
At the 6 year mark he noticed that couples who were still married turned towards each other 86% of the times. And couple that divorced turned towards each other only 33% of the times.
That’s the kind of difference that turning towards each other and building emotional connection does for a relationship.
Emotional Connection Examples
And as usual, here are some example to better understand through practical examples.
#1. Fake Turn Towards Example
Sweet Dreams (1985) has a great example of what I’d call a “fake turn towards”.
He turns towards only verbally.
He has no follow up questions and, most of all, he doesn’t turn towards with his body language. She gives him another chance when she says:
Ask me something else? Come on, let’s have a conversation
But he turns away once again. And he shows how clueless he is when he says “I don’t want to have a fight with you”. Of course she doesn’t want a fight, she wanted some attention and emotional connection.
#2. Turn Away Example
Here’s a real life example of turning away. It needs little explanations:
A good example of how learning to turn towards can drastically improve a relationship.
#3. Sexually Turning Away
Bid for (sexual) connections are particularly obvious when initiating sex.
Turning away or against in this case can be particularly painful for the partner as it’s a double rejection.
Here is an example from “Wake Up That Libido” (1996):
#4. Turning Towards
And, albeit it was very easy for him to spot, here’s a turning towards example.
Notice that the conversation soon takes a bad turn, but the beginning is typical turning towards.
Learn to turn towards and to stay on that emotional wave, and you’re golden.
How to Emotionally Connect
To emotionally connect better, we can do a few things:
1. Improve your emotional intelligence
We can learn body language, nonverbal and typical situations when people make bids for connection (ie.: after a loss, when grieving, when feeling lonely etc.)
2. Communicate Clearly
Our partner can’t read our minds and might not be highly emotionally intelligent.
That’s OK, we can help train them!
Instead of hiding behind an argument, we have to make it clear to our partner that we are making a bid for attention. This is how secure attachment types communicate.
3. Learn about your partner
Here’s how to kill two birds with a stone: the more you know your partner, the stronger your relationship. And the more you know your partner, the more you will know when they are making a bid for connection.
Read how to get to know your partner.
4. Listening Without Offering Empty Reassurance
Sometimes it’s difficult listening to our partner’s pain. Especially if we feel like we caused. But responding with “don’t worry, it will be fine” does not feel like support.
It feels like you don’t want to be bothered by her feelings.
Much better instead to say something like: “of course you are upset, anyone would be upset”.
5. Don’t Dismiss and Minimize
Many couples fight because men dismiss their partners’ emotions instead of attuning. To avoid dismissing emotions and keep a strong emotional connection in your relationship, avoid all of the following when she’s sharing her feelings:
- Minimize them (or say she’s exaggerating)
- Fix them
- Try to distract her from them
- Make fun of them
- Mock them
- Ignore them
Men shouldn’t think of emotions as troubles that need to be fixed, but as opportunities for emotional connection.
6. Do The Following
- Take turns to speak
- Don’t give advice, just listen first (women react more negatively to quick advise)
- Force yourself to listen non-defensively even if it’s about something you did wrong
- Show genuine interest
- Communicate your understanding
- Take your partner side
- Express a ‘we against others’ attitude
- Express affection (say I love you, put arm around them)
- Validate emotions (empathize)
Turning towards our partner when they make a bid for connection increases our emotional connection in relationships. Emotional connection makes a huge difference between great relationship and floundering ones.
For creating emotional connection from strangers, read: how to develop deep emotional connection.
- Get to know your partner for deeper intimacy
- Positive perspective for happy relationships
- Accept influence
- Learn conflict management skills
- Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling)
- How meanness undermines relationships
And if you want to read everything (and more) tidily organized in one single place, check the relationship manual in the store.