Position Yourself Face to Faceby Rachel Eden June 25, 2018
“Always take out the trash!” one said, cheeks flushed from the buzz of good food and wine. “Happy wife, happy life!” laughed another. We had been married for 4 days, 7 hours, and 23 minutes. We were eating our fourth celebratory dinner complete with big smiles, well wishers and an abundance of unsolicited advice. I recall a transient thought: Write everything down because who knows which person just shared the ultimate secret to intimacy and harmony.
Dr. John Gottman, renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, discusses an element of marriage that is highly relevant for both newly and ‘oldly’ weds. The principle is called: Turn Towards Instead of Away. Couples who stay married (in a study that followed them for six years) turned towards one another 86% of the time. Divorced couples only turned towards one another 33% of the time. The secret, it would appear, to staying married, is turning towards.
The first step to understanding turning towards is understanding a “bid.” A bid is a request for affection, attention, affirmation or any positive connection. Bids show up when a partner requests help (“Ready to put the kids to sleep?), needs comforting (“I had a hard day”) or wants attention (“How do I look?”). Missing a bid, or turning away from it, is devastating for a relationship. When a partner misses a bid, the bids diminish, or worse, those same bids will be made outside of the marriage.
A visual that emerges when contemplating Turn Towards Instead of Away is that of the kruvim, the cherubim. Inside the mishkan, the portable dwelling place for G-d used while the Jews wandered the desert, there was a fascinating structure called the kruvim. Above the ark’s ceiling stood two figures that had the faces of cherubic children with outstretched wings. When there was peace among the Jewish people, the children would face each other, but when there was conflict, they would turn away from one another.
Apparently, the Turn Towards model originated with the kruvim which were a symbol for all modes of relationship. What if we began to notice the bids, or opportunities to Turn Towards, of our friends, our family members and our community? I began my own personal experiment and was surprised to note how often bids are made of me and how often I make them (and to whom). Once I became aware of these bids, I made a point of addressing them, meeting people’s desire for positive connection, support and help.
In a financially stable climate, where we enjoy safety and good health, we also experience deep isolation and polarization. Divisive issues can easily split groups of people perhaps because we don’t experience much loss when divided. We are able-bodied, we can work, we have money, what need do we have for others? One step further, we may perceive a loss when we connect with others because then we have to share what’s ours. Our resources of time, energy and money are divided and we have less than when we started.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes this zero-sum game as the reason for our political divide nationally and globally. We assume we lose if the other side wins and vice versa. However, Rabbi Sacks asserts that social resources expand when shared, such as love, friendship and influence. These “social goods” function differently because they are predicated on cooperation, not competition. He continues that our relationships should not be formed on contracts, transactional exchanges for mutual benefit, but rather covenants, coming together to share lives faithfully and do together what neither could accomplish alone. While the social contract creates a state, the social covenant creates the society.
So Turning Towards may not just be what saves your marriage, it may be what saves the world. While I fondly remember everyone’s anecdotes and pearls of wisdom at that celebratory dinner as a new bride, it’s rare for me to put them to use. Thankfully, by the time you read this, we will be married for 11 years, 3 months, 2 weeks, and 5 days. We still have a long way to go (I hope) but we are definitely no longer newlyweds. The well-intentioned, albeit trite advice has faded and we now require words of substance to thrive. In every possible moment, we strive to Turn Towards Instead of Away. We must stop living alongside one another, or worse, back to back, rather, we must position ourselves face to face.