Turn Towards Each Other Instead of Away 

Does it frustrate you when you start to talk to your spouse, only to find him or her preoccupied with the phone or something on the computer? In this blog post, we will talk about an important principle in marriage. 

Dr. John Gottman, in his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, shares crucial elements that every married couple needs to have in place. One of these is learning how to turn towards each other instead of away. What does this mean? 

Examples of Turning Away From Your Spouse 

It’s quite common for married couples to turn away from each other without being conscious about it. For example, for Daniel and myself, once the kids came, I always turned away from him, to tend the kids. Daniel would also always be looking at his phone.  

Turning away happens whenever a person tells you something, and you just ignore him or her; you don’t respond, or you might give a negative response. It includes being indifferent, not showing interest, or being distracted. Sometimes you don’t even acknowledge that the other person has said something. 

In our case, sometimes when I talk to him, he doesn’t respond. In cases like this, there’s never a connection; a minimal response is when he says, “I hear you,” but he’s still looking at the phone or reading his assignment. It doesn’t help, because I know that he’s not really listening. 

When we turn towards our spouse, it means we are engaging with them. We don’t just patronize but show a real interest, and that will require practice and stopping what you’re doing at that point in time.  
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We find that the habit of turning away is quite common in the Asian context. When your spouse is talking, you may just walk away—this is usually the case for someone with a non-confrontational slant. 

Asking “What is it this time?” is also another way of turning away from your spouse. The phrase expresses irritation or annoyance, and it can hurt our partner even when we’re not aware of it.

Examples of Turning Towards Your Spouse

When we turn towards our spouse, it means we are engaging with them. We don’t just patronize but show a real interest, and that will require practice and stopping what you’re doing at that point in time.

There are different levels of turning towards each other. For example, if you are shopping with your wife and she shows you a dress she likes, being fully engaged can be saying, “Oh, that’s nice, why don’t you go and try it on?” And then when she comes out of the dressing room, you can help her decide by giving your comments on how the dress looks and all that.

Being partially engaged might mean saying, “That’s pretty,” but not moving past that. Just nodding and not saying anything is another step down, and finally, not even responding or looking at the dress is the other end of the spectrum.  

How to Turn Towards Each Other

Because turning towards each other is an important skill we need to develop as married couples, we have compiled a few action steps you can practice to do this more often. 

1. Pause and turn towards the speaker  

When your spouse says something to you, practice pausing whatever you’re doing and turning to face him or her. If you’re like most couples, you may have developed a habit of ignoring your spouse when he or she speaks. But it’s possible to undo that detrimental mindset and practice turning your attention towards your partner. 

2. Express an apology and suggest a future time. 

If you are on the receiving end and you really cannot listen right now, express an apology and promise to listen at another time in the near future. For example, you might say, “I’m sorry, Hon, I’m busy, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I finish this page.” And then follow through! If you find that you easily forget, put a reminder on your phone. 

3. Express your need for full attention.  

As part of the practice process, sometimes we need to be reminded; as receivers of the conversation, we must be open to be reminded! 

If you’re the speaker in the conversation, instead of assuming that your partner should know when you’re talking to him or her, we will need to practice expressing our need. A pre-agreed simple reminder may help. “Hey, I’ll need your full attention now, is that possible?”

4. Before you talk, be sensitive, too, to what your spouse is doing. 

Marriage is a two-way street. If you’re the initiator of the conversation, you also need to practice being sensitive. 

For example, if Daniel is very engrossed in a project, assignment, or work project, if I want to talk about something that’s very serious, I also need to find the right time. It’s unreasonable to expect him to drop everything every time I start talking. Instead, I need to gauge and find a good time that will work for both of us. 

Practice Turning Towards Each Other 

As you’ve probably noticed, if we’ve developed the habit of turning away from our spouse, it might take time to undo and replace with healthier ways of communication. But don’t fret, it’s very doable as long as you commit to it! 

 We hope that through these articles, you can grow more in your connection as husband and wife. If you want to learn other important skills for improving your marriage, do feel free to get in touch with us. 

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