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How Often Do You “Turn Toward” Your Partner? Maybe Less Often Than You Realize

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When my husband and I started fighting after we became parents, two deceptively simple pieces of advice from couples’ therapists, John and Julie Gottman, helped put us back on track.

The first is this: during the ordinary moments of life, they found, couples should have a 20 to one ratio of positive to negative interactions. Positive interactions can be the tiniest of gestures: a smile, making eye contact, nodding to show you’re listening, or a quick joke.

This ratio forced me to pay attention to the tone of our daily exchanges. How often were we actually being nice to each other? For the first week, I kept a loose count and I noticed that a dispiriting number of our communications were administrative. What time was our daughter’s birthday party? Did you buy shin guards for her soccer class? Well, can you go get them now?


Our feeble ratio of positives was a warning that we had to strengthen our daily bond by paying attention to what Gottman calls bids. When Tom is reading the paper, for example, he’ll say, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” This is a bid, a sometimes-subtle appeal for attention. If I reply, “Oh, what are you reading?” this response is what Gottman calls “turning toward” my partner – I have given him the encouragement he’s seeking. If I ignore his bid, I am “turning away” from Tom. It can be hard to take note of these bids – especially when kids seemingly lie in wait to unleash a volley of their own bids the moment they see you sit down. A spouse’s bidding can also be brushed off as needy or annoying, but often what they want is simply a quick connection: a brief chat, a smile, or a reassuring word.

In a now-famous study of newlywed couples, John Gottman found that these seemingly insignificant bidding exchanges have a huge impact on marital happiness. After a six year follow-up, he learned that the couples who’d divorced turned towards bids only a third of the time, while those that were still together turned towards bids almost 90 percent of the time.

I began to pay attention to and identify bids from Tom that might’ve slipped by me before. As it turns out, the guy is the human version of click bait:

Staring through binoculars at our neighbor’s apartment across the street: “Huh.”

Examining a coin from his pocket: “Now that’s something you don’t see every day.”

Reading a magazine: “Hmm. Pretty incredible about eels.”

The second game-changer is this: look for the good in your partner and then build a culture of appreciation by pointing it out. I made an effort to really see Tom’s acts of caring, some of which normally flit under the radar – such as stocking a precisely arranged cabinet of seven sizes of batteries for Sylvie’s various toys. When he walks Sylvie and me across a busy crosswalk, he makes direct and uncomfortable eye contact with the driver waiting at the light because he read that this reduces a pedestrian’s chances of getting hit.

It’s not enough just to think good things, says Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist. She states that giving your mate affectionate comments daily is beneficial for them, but also helps you by reducing cortisol, lowering blood pressure, boosting your immune system, and even reducing cholesterol levels.

How important is this habit? Researchers from the University of Georgia found that what separates marriages that last from those that don’t is not necessarily how often couples argue, but how they treat each other on a daily basis when they are not bickering. Expressions of gratitude were the “most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.” The power of a simple thank you, as it turns out, is considerable.

So I thank Tom whenever it occurs to me – for ordering our daughter a new striped backpack she didn’t need but desperately wanted or for bringing home a half dozen chocolate bars and conducting a family taste test for fun. I feel a little woo-woo advancing this “attitude of gratitude” yet is it any less strange that I politely thank Andre our UPS guy way more often than the person I married?

Touching regularly also makes a difference. Even a quick squeeze on the arm reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and triggers the release of the brain chemical oxytocin, which promotes trust. Helen Fisher says that merely touching the palm or arm of someone raises your face and body temperature. (As she says, “People keep us warm.”)

I now make an effort to grab Tom’s arm when he walks by or sling my legs over his while we are watching a movie. Going further, I’ve made myself reach for his hand when a fight is looming, even if I’m so irritated that I’d rather pick up a live rodent. Soon enough, I calm down. It’s hard to holler at someone when they’re mere inches from you and the familiar contours of his hand remind me that this is the person I married, not the bogeyman.

How important is touch? In 2010, scientists from UC Berkeley studied and coded every physical interaction in a single game played by each team in the National Basketball Association, from chest bumps to high fives. They found that with few exceptions, the teams who touched the most won the most (at that time, it was the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers). Their conclusion: good teams tend to be more hands-on than bad ones.

Is there a more appropriate metaphor for relationships than that?

This essay is adapted from Dunn’s book “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids,” published by Little, Brown. 

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.

Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"

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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)


Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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