True acts of service involve some of the Gottmans’ key practices for cultivating lasting love and equal relationships – turning towards and accepting influence. Turning towards requires being intentional about paying attention to both the spoken and unspoken needs of your partner. Accepting influence is not just yielding to your partner’s ideas but truly seeing and hearing your partner and taking initiative. Both require staying present with vulnerable emotions.
We live in a society where there are so many ways to “check out” through distracting, numbing or avoiding our vulnerable emotions. The Gottmans found the majority of turning away happens out of mindlessness, not a lack of care. Many fathers often feel more of a sense of competence at work in the early days following birth, which can pull them away from home and reinforce gendered division of labor.
True Acts of Service require rejecting rigid gender socialization. But many of these internalized beliefs are unconscious and unspoken. Women’s anger can be a signal of inequality but often women have been taught to suppress their anger until it spills over. Instead of feeling heard and validated by their partners, many of my female clients describe feeling ignored or attacked by their partners when they try to confront them about the massive responsibility they feel. This makes sense in light of Dr. Gottman’s discovery that men may become flooded or physiologically overwhelmed when triggered. While some get defensive, many shut down or stonewall.
Rather than waiting for a partner’s resentment to grow, it’s important for partners to initiate regular meetings to celebrate what’s working, express appreciation, and ensure a balanced distribution of housework and childcare.
Instead of simply checking off tasks, true acts of service require being proactive and taking full responsibility for plans. Practicing mindful presence helps you better understand and even anticipate needs. Then you can take initiative for finding solutions. Glennon’s sister gave the example of researching and booking the therapist or tutor for a child who is struggling, rather than waiting and simply showing up after being told when and where the appointment is as the difference between a true act of service and “adulting.”
Make agreements where you assume ownership for certain responsibilities or take turns. For example, arranging the sitter, not just suggesting date night or doing an inventory of clothes and school supplies before taking kids back to school shopping, rather than just expecting a list from your partner are some of the ways you can cultivate an equal, lasting relationship.
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Nicole Schiener, RP, Bringing Baby Home Educator
Nicole Schiener is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Gottman Bringing Baby Home Educator and Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional in Ontario Canada. Nicole is passionate about fostering healthy relationships at home and work and is on a mission to liberate mothers from perfectionism and the pressure to do it all. A proud mom of teens, she loves reading memoirs and being in Nature. Visit her website (https://peaceandpossibility.ca)