In chess, a stalemate is a situation where a player has no legal moves to make. When this happens, neither side wins or loses resulting in a draw. In relationships, we can also see this impasse of sorts. It is a feeling of "stuckness" where neither person is making a move to improve the current state of the relationship. Other times, it may feel like there isn't a move left to make. Generally, this sense of stuckness stems from an ongoing pattern of unmet needs and unheard thoughts. Relationship dissatisfaction slowly increases the longer a partner's needs are ignored. So what do most people need? Connection. Connection builds emotional intimacy and relationship security. When connection is not present, it may feel like there's no more chess pieces left to move.
So how does this translate when we feel stuck in our own relationships?
*Enter Dr. John Gottman* Gottman is a renowned relationship psychologist who has conducted breakthrough research with thousands of couples on marital stability and divorce prediction. He facilitated a 6-year research study with couples in the #LoveLab and found that happy couples "turn towards" their partners about 20 times more than couples in distress every day.
Every day, partners seek attention, affection, or support in the way of "bidding for connection." Turning towards your partner means that you are being aware and responsive to the small interactions that you two share, or acknowledging these bids for connection. It is this awareness and responsiveness that create a deeper sense of emotional connection to your partner. Your feelings towards your partner and the success of your relationship depend on the acceptance or rejection of your bids.
Let's use an example. A couple are taking a walk in the park. Partner A points out a red bird for Partner B to look at. This is an example of a bid for connection. Partner A is looking to connect or share a moment with Partner B. Partner B could either say:
- "Oh wow! Yes, I see it." (turning towards their partner and acknowledging the bid)
- Not acknowledging the comment (turning away from their partner and missing the bid)
- "You know that I don't care about birds!" (turning against their partner and rejecting/arguing with the bid)
If you can imagine, it's easy to feel more disconnected in a relationship when your partner generally responds by turning away or turning against your bids for connection.
In the Love Lab, Gottman found that satisfied couples turned towards each other 86% of the time whereas unsatisfied (and less responsive) couples turned towards each other only 33% of the time. Now let's go back to the relationship stalemate.
It is a human desire to feel heard and acknowledged by your partner. So what if there is a correlation between feeling stuck in a relationship and the amount of bids we acknowledge as a couple on a regular basis? If you're feeling stuck in your relationship, it's possible to make a move in the form of turning towards your partner to break a relationship stalemate.
Your homework is to make a conscious effort to turn towards your partner more than you currently are every day and notice how that affects your relationship. Increasing your responsiveness to your partner's needs can help with re-building connection. I could be stating the obvious here but you deserve to receive the same attention in return. So acknowledge your partner and ask for your partner to acknowledge you!