Sliding Door Moments

Seventeen years ago, I met my partner in yoga class. On our first date we hiked up Inspiration Point to a view of Santa Barbara Foothills folding into East Beach below. Two dogs, two doctorates, two kids and nine chickens (how did we get to 9?) later, our marriage needed tending. Costco lists and Kindergarten drop off seems to have elbowed out tandem triangle poses.

For the past 35 years, John Gottman, Ph.D. has studied what makes relationships long-lasting and satisfying in his "love lab" at University of WA. Surprisingly, it is not the amount of conflict that predicts satisfaction, but rather, how often partners respond to each other's bid for connection. Gottman states that in every interaction is an opportunity to turn toward or away from our partners. He describes these opportunities as "sliding door moments" and states that it is in these moments that marriages are made or broken.

     My partner: "Honey, check out that red tailed hawk!"

     Me: "Hold on a second, I need to schedule this client."

     My partner, returning to to kitchen: "It's gone."

Over time, if you choose to turn away, trust, intimacy and connection erodes. Failed marriages are less about angry blow outs and more out mindless disconnect. Gottman found that marriage "masters" tend to their partner's bids for attention 87% of the time, whereas marriage disasters tend to bids only 33% of the time. According to Gottman, we need to A.T.T.U.N.E. to our partner on a regular basis to build trust and connection. He outlines these steps as:

A: Awareness 

T: Turning Toward

T: Tolerance

U: Understanding

N: Non-defensive responding

E: Empathy


Sue Johnson, Ph.D. the primary researcher behind Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) agrees. When asked "What makes a healthy marriage?," she responds, "the essential element is Emotional Responsiveness." When our partner bids, "Will you be there for me? Do I matter? Will you cherish me?," we answer with an unequivocal, "Yes."

So my partner and I headed off to an Emotionally Focused Therapy Couples Workshop in Tiburon, CA led by Drs. Michelle Gannon and Sam Jinich. The morning we woke in Tiburon, the bay was fogged in and I could not see beyond the grey mist. But by afternoon, the fog had lifted and exposed the remarkable view of the the San Francisco Bay Harbor.

Much like the Tiburon fog, when we are vulnerable, and move in, we are rewarded with the most stunning view we can have in life--love. 

To learn more about your emotional responsiveness you can take a self-exam here. You can also sign up for EFT couples workshops across the country here.