Answering Bids in Your Relationship

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Answering bids is one of the most important things you can do to create a connected, happy and fulfilling relationship. Answering bids means that any time your partner makes an attempt at connection you need to move towards them in some way and bond. Marriage researcher John Gottman calls these attempts to connect “bids.” (https://www.gottman.com/blog/turn-toward-instead-of-away/). At different times in a given day, partners make various requests to connect and when this “bid” isn’t met, the relationship suffers. When your partner makes a bid, they’re not simply commenting on what they’re looking at or asking you a question. They’re looking for your interest or support, hoping to connect with you about whatever it is they’re bringing up. 

Let me give you a fabulous example from my very own life: My man is really into working out and being physical. He loves it. He says crazy things like, “Oooh, I get to go workout” (I know, it seems like he should take medication for this, but the doctor actually says this thinking is healthy)! Right now he’s really into obstacle course races. Maybe you’ve seen these on TV. Men and women run an eight to ten mile course while crawling through mud, over walls and basically getting through tons of obstructions that most people wouldn’t want to attempt unless they were running from a herd of wildebeest. 

He recently completed a Spartan race (http://www.spartan.com/en) and, in the weeks leading up to it, wanted to watch Spartan races on TV and would constantly look at different exercises and Spartan courses on the Internet. He would often call me over to look at a video of someone jumping over fire or to watch one of the races on TV. Here’s the thing: every time he says something like, “This is a cool course,” or “Wow! I can’t believe how this guy did this,” he’s not just commenting on the activity. He’s actually making a “bid.” 

I could ignore his comments or nod my head benignly and smile, but these would not be connecting answers to his bids. Instead, I get my butt up and sit next to him while he’s watching something. I comment myself on what I’m seeing or ask questions about an exercise or course. In other words, I answer his bid and connect. I went with him to his last race, took pictures and got excited for him. Now, is this something I’m interested in otherwise? No, it’s not (I can’t even wear my stilettos at these things – barbaric!). However, I really do get excited with him because I am a “Gary fan,” even though I'm not an “obstacle course fan.” 

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times I just can’t watch another race or video. However, I consciously try to make those times the exception, not the rule. No one is perfect (not even me) so this isn’t about answering every bid, but it is about making them a priority. Gottman calls this “turning toward” instead of “turning away” from the bid and your partner. You have a choice, every time, in how you respond. 

If your partner thinks politics, your children, what’s for dinner or cats are important enough to bring up, then you need to recognize and respect that. Another, more common, example of this might be when a wife asks a husband what he wants for dinner. Often the husband will say, “I don’t care; whatever’s easiest for you.” This is not answering the wife’s bid. This is dismissing her feelings and acting like dinner isn’t something important, even though the wife might spend a lot of time thinking about healthy meals to make, shopping and cooking. I’m not saying the wife thinks cooking dinner is the most important thing in the world, but it’s something that occupies a lot more of her time and head space than most would imagine, and she’d like to be supported and appreciated for that. How you do that isn’t by saying “Thanks for a great meal” or “I really appreciate all the work you put into this” (although that’s nice too). To really answer this bid you need to be part of the planning and process of making dinner. So instead you might actually go into the kitchen with her and look at what you have available, brainstorm different ideas or even help her cook the meal. These are all true answers to the bid.

Turning away from a bid could look like a lot of things, such as:

  • Dismissing or ignoring
  • Continuing whatever you were doing without stopping (like not looking up from your computer)
  • Allowing your attention to be diverted easily, such as hearing the ding on your phone and checking your text messages while your partner is talking (note to self: unless you're due for emergency surgery, you can wait five minutes to check your phone)
  • Interrupting or changing the subject
  • Simply saying “no” as your automatic response
  • Continuing to watch TV or read your book. 

Sometimes, bids are even met with outright hostility, “Why do you keep bugging me about this?” or “Why are you interrupting me while I’m in the middle of making dinner/watching the game?”

Gottman says: “These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had ‘turn-toward bids’ only 33% of the time.” (https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-introduction-to-emotional-bids-and-trust/) In other words, only three out of every ten bids for emotional connection were met with support, interaction and intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87% of the time. In other words, these couples were getting their emotional needs met nine times out of every ten bid attempts. 

Action Tips:

1) You’ll notice that staying in the here and now, and not allowing yourself to get distracted is the best way to ensure that you’re aware when bids are made so you can turn toward them instead of turning away. So practice what you learned in Key #1.

2) Another tip is to make a commitment to say “yes” to whatever your partner asks for the next week. You’ll notice more intimacy and connection right away.

Abby Medcalf