5 Ways to Engage Your Partner - Sage Hill Counseling

Are you familiar with the song “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson? If you have ever seen the movie Free Willy, it is the epic ballad playing as Willy traverses the wall that has held him captive for his entire life, singing him into the sweet freedom that the ocean holds. If you have never heard this song, I must request that you stop reading, open up your music streaming app of choice, and listen to it instantly.

In its most epic moment, this song begs the question, “Will you show to me you’ll be there for me and care enough to bear me?” Michael was on to something.

In some way, shape or form, this is the question we are all asking.

In my darkest moments, my most vulnerable and weak places, will you stay?  

When couples walk into my office for the first time, they often share narratives of years of feeling unvalued, unheard and lonely within their relationships. They are asking, whether explicitly or not, “do you even see me?”

In any given day, couples are afforded hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to ignore or engage the other. In a study done by the Gottman Institute, couples that report higher levels of satisfaction respond to the following appeals 86% of the time:

1. Learn your partner’s world

2. Ask open-ended questions

3. Respond to bids

4. Create rituals of connection

5. Play

You may be reading #3 and asking yourself, what are bids? According to the Gottman Institute (2014), five types of bids have been identified: silent, comments, questions, playful, and negative.

For example, while the act of having your partner silently hand you the plate they just washed may seem completely mundane and insignificant, this silent bid could begin to shift your perspective on your relationship as a whole.

Within these actions is a choice: to engage or ignore.

If you accept the plate when I hand it to you answers the question “do you see me?” at some level. And if you see me, there’s a chance we can hear one another, too.



This is not always an easy transition to make, particularly if you have felt stuck in a cycle of negativity within your relationship for a significant period of time. If this sounds like you, and you and your significant other want to learn more about how to engage one another in more meaningful and positive ways, we can help. Browse our list of therapists and setup your first session today. Browse our therapists by location and schedule your first session here: NashvilleBrentwoodMurfreesboroMemphis.

Cresson Haugland is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN.Cresson returned to her college home town of Nashville after several years on Young Life staff and further continuing her education at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

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