Live Meaningfully – By Ayesha G. Shenk, M.A.
The title of an underrated 1998 Peter Howitt film featuring the darling Gwyneth Paltrow?
The kitschy new bar down the street?
The swanky interior design firm out west?
Your favorite Pinterest page?
Or a term to which Dr. John Gottman refers to as one of the linchpins for true relational trust and connectedness?
I know, I’m pretty predictable that way… although I absolutely would love to discuss the first four options, I think we all probably know that I’m referring to the last.
According to John Gottman (the foremost psychological expert on relational science- if you’re not familiar check him out!) ‘sliding door moments’ (perhaps inspired by dear Gwynnie’s film) are those seemingly inconsequential split second decisions and reactions in your relationships that actually make more of an impact as a cumulative effect than the big doozies of a conversation or a fight.
These are the moments in which one partner (let’s call this partner A) is trying to offer a ‘bid’ for connection by showing the other partner (perhaps we’ll call this partner B, just to be original) the world through his/her eyes and sharing a part of his/her reality with them. These ‘bids’ from partner A sound like sometimes immaterial mentionings or comments or questions, and partner B has the choice to: ignore them as he/she may find them irrelevant, acknowledge them (perhaps with a non-descript grumble or chortle), or ‘turn towards’ them by joining with the initiating partner (A) and choosing to connect, comment, empathize, commiserate, or otherwise acknowledge the reality in which he/she finds him/herself.
Sounds obvious or innocuous enough?
I’ll offer a word picture…
This morning over coffee your husband is reading the paper (a now somewhat outdated but nostalgic morning ritual) and, although it barely seems as though he’s aware of your presence in the kitchen, he begins to read aloud an excerpt of the article he’s perusing.
(This is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” part of the show)
In response, you:
A: Ignore the indiscernible mumbling and chalk it up to the old man talking to himself again.
B: Give a feeble “Uh huh” as you stifle your irritation that he’s interrupting your enjoyment of Matt and Savannah’s witty repartee.
C: Recognize the comment and close the conversation (considering him lucky that you’re not disagreeing with him or outwardly expressing your annoyance that he has the paper strewn all over the kitchen again).
D: “Press pause” on those crazy Today Show antics and turn towards your husband in order to ask a clarifying or deepening question about the topic he believed was important enough to bring up.
Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of A through C… maybe more often than we even realize. And, to be fair, it is usually neither out of malice nor ill intent, but rather more likely due to the mindlessness with which we become accustomed to navigating our lives, homes, relationships, and communication styles.
These simple and seemingly inconsequential opportunities to engage with our loved ones and see the world through their eyes (even if only for a moment) are some of the foundational elements of building trust and connectedness.
The overseas merger of foreign car companies can really have an impact on the happiness in my marriage or in my relationships?
Or more accurately, turning towards your spouse/friend/colleague/partner to better understand why the overseas auto industry matters to him/her absolutely has an impact on your connectedness and relational satisfaction.
Therefore, today – instead of tackling the overdue project, the albatross closet, the stack of bills, or never-ending to-dos… perhaps try to be mindful of the sliding doors instead. And recognize the incremental, but powerful, impact ‘turning towards’ has on your relationship and your own understanding of what matters most to you and your home life… it just may the impact of your own merger.
Till the next time,
Be Well; Live Meaningfully.
Ayesha G. Shenk, M.A. practices at 2150 Park Avenue North as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and can be reached at www.livemeaningfully.net or 407-796-2959.