According to John Gottman’s research, happily married couples make about 100 invitations (he calls them bids) to connect with one another in a 10 minutes time span. If couples make this many invitations to connect, imagine how many invitations your toddler or preschooler is offering up! That is a huge number of invitations…a lot of opportunities to connect and to nurture an intimate relationship each family member.
When our spouse or children throw out an invitation, they are communicating the desire to connect with us, to receive our attention, affection, interest, support, understanding, warmth, and conversation. We see invitation for connection expressed in a number of ways. For instance, asking questions, making comments, gentle touches, simple gestures, or even facial expressions are all invitations to enjoy connection. So, when your son follows you from room to room, he is inviting you to connect. When your wife looks up from dinner and smiles, she is inviting you to connect. When your daughter says, “I love Justin Beiber” she is inviting you to connect. Unfortunately, invitations to connect can also come across with angry or bitter overtones at times. For instance, your husband comes home from work tired and irritable, walks through the door and snaps “Are we eating or what?” This angry sounding question is most likely an invitation to connect, a request for understanding and affection.
With this many invitations to connect, you have a great opportunity to build intimacy in your family. You can build that intimacy by simply “RSVP-ing” to the invitation. I realize we won’t respond to every invitation. However, responding to invitations on a regular basis will build intimacy. Dr. Gottman has identified 3 ways to RSVP to an invitation for connection…only one will build intimacy.
· We can respond with the “turning-against-RSVP-style” by becoming argumentative or critical. Making a sarcastic remark or expressing contempt for the other person also turns us against the invitation to connect. As you can imagine, this kind of RSVP will increase the fear of future angry responses and result in fewer invitations and greater avoidance of conflict. Ultimately, turning against invitations to connect will destroy your relationship.
· We can also respond with the “turning-away-from-RSVP-style.” People use this RSVP style when they are preoccupied. It sends the message that my activities are more important than my relationship with you. The turning away RSVP may disregard the person, ignore the person, interrupt the person, or answer mindlessly while engaging in some other activity (like watching TV). Once again, turning away results in fewer invitations to connect. It also results in hurt feelings, increased conflict, and, ultimately, the destruction of the relationship.
· The best way to respond to invitations for connection is the “turning-toward-RSVP-style.” When we turn toward the invitation to connect, we give attention to the person making the invitation. This attention may range from passive, low-energy responses to focused, high-energy responses. By turning toward the person making the invitation, we welcome more invitations in the future and set the stage for them to respond to our invitations to connect. Happiness for the inviter and the responder will increase. The relationship will grow stronger and healthier. Intimacy will increase!
I bet your family will send you an invitation to connect within the first minute you are with them. Expect it, watch for it, and actively respond to it…your whole family will benefit and grow as a result!