Making or breaking relationships
We tend to think it’s the big moments that define, make or break relationships but as recent research showed we thought wrong. In this book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, exploring his research, Gottman looked at those “seemingly meaningless and inconsequential exchanges between people.”
And as he puts it:
These seemingly big moments are not the defining ones that make or break relationships. Rather, it’s almost always the small things, like that time two weeks ago when your friend asked you if you wanted a cup of coffee. How you responded to that question may have influenced the relationship more than you can imagine.
These apparently inconsequential moments determine the fate of relationships more than arguments. Psychologist John Gottman can determine the fate of a married couple with an accuracy rate in the 90s.
As meaningless as they seemed on the surface, at a deeper level, the exchanges were highly nuanced, emotional signals …
These emotional signals are what Gottman called “bids.” And it turns out that how we respond to bids is the key to successful relationships.
So this got me thinking – over what has been – successful or unsuccessful past relationships and the exact moments when they either went north or south. And as far as I could remember, it was these small moments – things that were said, either in the heat of the moment or in unthoughtful or thoughtful ways – that forever changed how I viewed that particular relationship.
There was that time when someone very close to me passed away and my best friend at the time made the comment, “but what did you expect? she was so …. “. Whatever else ‘she’ might have been, that was not a kind thing to say at a moment of intense grief and loss about someone who has passed away. My BF and I drifted apart as I noticed more and more how insensitive she can be and unkind. That relationship never did recover.
There was the other time earlier this year, when I walked up to a girl in my class and said “I want to interrogate you because I think you are an interesting person”. She could’ve been intimidated, she could’ve hedged, instead she said “sure, as long as I get to ask you questions too”. So we talked, very candidly, asking and answering questions that went well beyond the polite small talks we had until that point. A few months later, we are sleeping over at each other’s house, planning trips together and loving this new friendship that sustains us.
In both of these cases, the other person was a women. But I notice the same in my relationships with other men. Friends, lovers, colleagues, acquaintances. There is this collection of moments or rather a build up of many small moments, where a switch flips and it’s either a big yes or no. In the case of no, I have walked away, from the person, from the situation. I have walked away knowing that I am better off walking away then staying.
Do you think Gottman is right or wrong in emphasizing these small moments or ’emotional bids’ as the foundation of relationships?