We found in our apartment lab that people were making these bids for emotional connection – they were trying to get their partner’s attention – they were trying to tell a joke. They started saying, “Okay, there’s four lawyers in a boat,” you know, and then the camera would look at the other person, right? And some people would be maybe cleaning their glasses, and they hear this joke, and they just keep doing what they’re doing, no response, right? And some people say, “Yeah, okay, four lawyers in a boat,” you know, and we call that turning toward. And the no response, we call turning away, or sometimes people would give an irritative response like, “I am trying to read,” and we call that turning against.
Now, when we studied 130 newlyweds, a representative sample in Seattle, and looked six years after the wedding, the couples who were still together, not divorced, had turned toward one another in the apartment laboratory, turned toward bids of their partner 86 percent of the time. Couples who were divorced had turned toward their partner 33 percent of the time, and we were measuring a couple of months after the wedding, so that was an excellent predictor. This building, this emotional bank account by turning toward bids, and bids are really ways in which your partner, a lot of times very subtly and non-verbally, expresses a need, a need for affection, for conversation, for interest, for emotional support. And when people really build an awareness of that, that’s the fundamental process; then they start really building this emotional bank account.
So those were the elements of friendship that we could work on in our workshops, and we could train therapists to really work on in therapy that build a positive emotional connection in the relationship that is the basis for repair during conflict that makes conflict work right, be constructive rather than destructive. So the conflict really can be a way that couples get closer to one another, and they can understand each other better. Conflict is inevitable, and it’s really a mechanism for learning how to love one another better because we all make errors; we all communicate badly, and that’s par for the course in every relationship. So that’s what friendship was about.
Now, a surprising thing was that these three elements of friendship, love maps, turning toward, and fondness and admiration, were also the basis for satisfying sexual relationships, romance, and passion in the relationship. In many marriages and also in gay and lesbian relationships, once people have a committed relationship, they appear to stop courting one another, and they appear to stop having romance.
Now, this dimension of romance is very interesting. At a recent workshop, one of our, uh, a woman in one of the couples in the workshop raised her hand; she said, “Could you please define romance?” And, uh, you know, we opened it up to the audience, and we got maybe 30 different definitions of romance, and, uh, and what is romance? And my daughter, I asked my daughter this question; now she’s 18, and she gave me the best answer because I went on Google and tried to find out all these ways people define romance, and none of them were very satisfying. But my daughter said, “Romance is an agreement that you make with your partner that there would be magic in your relationship, and it’s a shared fantasy that eventually becomes a reality.” I love that definition.
So anyway, that shared fantasy that becomes a reality, the way we create magic by really cherishing our partner, is something that happens only when these first three levels of the sound relationship house, the components of friendship and intimacy, really are happening. And they’re things you can build; they’re not ethereal, you know, they’re measurable, and they’re things that we can really teach therapists to build, and we can teach couples to build in our workshops. If you work on the friendship, you automatically are in the positive perspective, which is the next level of the sound relationship house, and what that means is that generally, your cost-benefit analysis of your partner’s character and the relationship having a relationship with one another that’s romantic, that has conflict, but they’re really building a life together, a life with meaning and purpose and mission and legacy and culture and values. And unless they have the conversations they need to have that make those meanings intentional and shared, then they go through life really not understanding what their partner’s mission is and what their partner’s legacy is and what their partner’s values are and what their partner’s goals are. And they’re not really building a life together; they’re just sharing space.
So that’s what the Sound Relationship House is about. It’s about building a life together, and it’s about building a relationship that is really a friendship and an intimate connection. And it’s about building a relationship that is really a friendship and an intimate connection that is the basis for making conflict constructive and for making life dreams come true and for building a sense of shared meaning.
So that’s what we’ve learned in 35 years of research, and I’m happy to take any questions you have. Thank you very much.