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What is Turning Towards?

Turning towards is a phenomenon coined by Dr. John Gottman through his extensive research with couples. It refers to the third level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House. Turning towards is something that happens when one partner makes a bid (i.e., an attempt for emotional connection, affection, or attention), and the other partner accepts the bid. Accepting a bid, or turning towards, can take many different forms. It can be very direct: your partner might say something like, “I had a bad day, and I could use a hug,” and you would give them a hug. Bids can also be more subtle such as a smile or a wink your partner gives you, to which you might smile or wink back. When we are able to accept our partners’ bids, it positively impacts our relationship. 

How does turning towards affect us?

It can be difficult to recognize our partners’ bids — let alone respond to them. According to Dr. Gottman, there are innumerous bids, and each one is an opportunity to connect with our partners on a deeper level. However, the opposite is true when we are unable to accept their bids (or vice versa). When we miss a bid, it is known as turning away and it can make our partners feel rejected. When bids are consistently missed, it can lead to decreased bids. Through his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples who stayed together were more likely to turn towards and accept their partners’ bids; whereas, partners who missed bids were more likely to break up. 

How can I practice turning towards? 

Every bid is an opportunity to turn towards and build a stronger connection with our partners. However, it can be very difficult to recognize the bids our partners make. In order to get better at turning towards, we need to get better at paying attention. The more we pay attention, the better we will be able to identify different bids our partners may make (e.g., a sigh, a smile, a wink). In turn, we will be better equipped to respond and accept their bids. If we are the ones making the bids, then it can be helpful to communicate clearly what we want or need from our partner (e.g., “I’d like a hug and to talk about my day”). Other ways to turn towards are to help your partner with chores, to give your partner compliments, and to give your partner other signs of affections. These are small actions we can do which can have long term, positive impacts on our relationship. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.