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Small Actions Make Big Impacts

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‘Small things often’ is Dr. John Gottman’s motto which refers to the impact of everyday small actions on the wellbeing and longevity of your relationship.

Certified Gottman Therapist Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT discussed this idea in a recent webinar for The Gottman Institute. She begins with the concept of ‘bids’ which are any gesture that signals a need for connection. It can be verbal or non-verbal, and Dr. John Gottman describes them as ‘the fundamental unit of emotional connection’.

Panganiban says that there are different ways to respond to a partner’s bid.

  • Turning toward which means that you notice the bid and respond positively to your partner.
  • Turning away which means that you miss the bid and are unresponsive to your partner.
  • Turning against which means that you notice the bid and respond negatively.

Happy, stable couples turn toward 86% of the time while couples that end up separating only turn toward about 33% of the time.

Feedback Cycle

There is a feedback cycle that starts to develop based on the responses to bids. Here is what they can look like:

Turn towards

  • Every time you turn toward your partner, you are creating security and connection.
  • This makes your partner feel safe in making more bids. 
  • As you continue to turn toward, bids continue to increase. 

Turn away/against

  • Anytime you turn away or against your partner, they feel rejected/unimportant. 
  • When these pile up, they begin to question whether or not you will be responsive.
  • Bids decline, and you begin to feel disconnected.

How to increase small things often

  • Pay attention and tune into your partner’s needs for attention 
  • See your partner’s bids as an opportunity to connect
  • Turn toward in meaningful ways
  • Prioritize the relationship and minimize distractions (especially technology and social media)
  • If you miss a bid, acknowledge it and apologize

The importance of rituals

Once you have started to notice bids in your relationship, you can start developing rituals with your partner. That way you don’t always have to wait for bids to happen spontaneously. When you build in moments of connection and ritualize them, you can count on connecting with your partner on a daily basis. Here are Panganiban’s suggested rituals that can easily be implemented and integrated into your daily routine.

  1. Partings and 6 second kiss: Don’t leave the house without knowing one interesting thing that is going to happen in your partner’s day. Give each other a 6 second kiss…now that’s a kiss with possibilities!
  2. Admiration and Appreciation: Build a positive habit of mind and say appreciations out loud.
  3. Affection: Examples are hugging, snuggling on the couch, holding hands, giving each other a massage. Affection can trigger the release of oxytocin, the ‘cuddle’ hormone associated with feeling good.
  4. Reunions and the stress reducing conversation: Create a ‘couple bubble’ where you have space to talk about a stressful situation. Let the speaker share their external (to the relationship) stressors, and the listener empathizes with their partner’s emotions. They reflect, ask questions, and take their partner’s side.
  5. Date night: Use this time to build love maps. Do not talk about the kids, work or household responsibilities! It doesn’t have to be elaborate but take turns planning and be creative.

Next steps

Start slowly, it’s not a race. Do not expect perfection. Remember small actions make big impacts! If you are struggling, please seek the guidance of a Gottman trained therapist. Check out the Gottman Relationship Coach!



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