In relationships, partners make requests for connection every day, often in small or subtle ways. These are called “bids,” and they are the building blocks of emotional communication, according to renowned relationship researcher John Gottman.
Bids can take various forms, such as a comment, a question, a story, an invitation, a request for help, a facial expression, or a physical gesture. The main goal of a bid is to get time, attention, affection, acceptance, affirmation, or some other positive signal back, as explained by marriage and family therapist Marni Feuerman.
How you respond to these bids says a lot about your relationship. According to Gottman, there are three ways you can respond: turning toward your partner, turning away from them, or turning against them.
Turning toward your partner means acknowledging or fulfilling the bid, while turning away is when you don’t acknowledge it, and turning against is when you respond negatively. The way you respond to bids can significantly impact the health of your relationship.
Gottman and his team observed the interactions of 130 newlywed couples and found that those who were still married had turned toward each other 86% of the time, while those who ended up divorcing had turned toward each other just 33% of the time. Responding positively to bids helps build trust and strengthens the emotional connection.
On the other hand, missing bids or responding negatively can erode trust over time, leading to more arguments, resentment, loneliness, disconnection, and lack of intimacy. It can even discourage someone from making future bids and seeking fulfillment elsewhere.
Initiating bids is equally important in a happy relationship. Both partners should make frequent bids and respond to a majority of them in a positive way. When there’s an imbalance in bid initiation, the relationship can become unsatisfying for the partner who is constantly ignored or rejected.
To improve bid response, Feuerman suggests being clear, direct, and non-critical when making a bid. If many bids are being missed, it’s essential to communicate with your partner and seek professional help if needed.
When you’re on the receiving end of a bid, be mindful of your partner’s attempts to connect. Reduce distractions and actively engage with them by listening, responding, helping, and showing interest in their life.
By understanding the importance of bids and responding positively to them, you can take small but powerful steps to strengthen your relationship.