There’s a seldom-discussed trick to building relationships that last. They’re called “bids” and they’re a couple’s secret weapon against waning love.
One of the most crucial ways to connect and be present in a relationship is by meeting your partner’s “bids” for attention.
As humans, we all have a need to feel loved and valued, especially in a relationship. Bids are simply a way we meet our needs for connection and attention with each other. You likely use and respond to bids every day, but had no idea there was a word for it, or a science behind it. Understanding how to recognize and respond to bids is a simple, yet powerful way to help you build a healthy, mindful, loving relationship.
The concept of bids was first identified by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, psychologists and researchers (and a happily married couple) who have been studying and treating thousands of couples over the years. What the Gottmans have learned from their research is couples who know how to recognize and respond to bids in positive ways are able to maintain their relationships over time. The lack of this ability becomes a significant predictor of divorce.
The bottom line is, how you pay attention to your partner is more important than what you say.
Bids consist of verbal and non-verbal gestures or statements that attempt to connect two people.
Verbal bids include: opinions, invitations, feelings, thoughts, or observations. They sound like: How was your day?; How do I look in this dress?; I had a great day!; Will you help me clean the dishes?
Non-verbal bids involve facial expressions, vocalizations like “uh-huh,” an affectionate touch, or gestures like pointing or waving.
When your partner makes a bid for your attention, there are basically three different ways to respond:
1. Turning toward a bid gives your partner the message: You’re important, I accept you, I hear you.
An example would be when your partner says “I had a great day at work!” Your response is, “That’s great! What happened?” These types of positive responses fill the emotional bank account between two people over time. Trust and respect become the foundation of the relationship.
2. Turning away from a bid gives the message: I’ve got more important things to do, you’re not important.
This usually happens because someone is distracted, and is not usually purposeful. An example is when you’re surfing the internet, and you either don’t hear your partner, or you completely ignore a statement of “I had the best day at work!” This type of response erodes the foundation of trust and respect over time.
3. Turning against a bid gives the message: Your need for attention makes me angry, I don’t respect you, I don’t value you.
This often sounds like criticism, defensiveness, put downs, and insults. An example would be your response to the comment “I had a great day at work!” with, “I don’t care how your day was!” This is the most damaging type of bid, as it clearly leads to hurt and resentment in a relationship.
So the question is, how can you be more mindful of your partner’s bids and begin building a healthy relationship from the start?
When you are listening to your partner, without the distraction of technology, TV, or some other task, you will increase your ability to notice and respond to bids. Even when you’re tired at the end of your day, or busy with something else, it is vital to make efforts to respond when your partner makes an attempt to connect with you.
Use open ended questions and listen to the responses.
If you don’t know how to respond to something your partner said, an easy answer is: “tell me about it.” An open-ended question allows your partner to talk in detail about something, which helps a person feel supported and important. Sometimes bids can be full of emotion or too much content—you may have no idea how to respond—so this technique helps by just allowing your partner to openly talk. You don’t always have to know the answer or solve the problem.
If you’re intent on creating an incredible, connected relationship, where you can love and feel loved, make your partner feel like a priority. Even if you have to take a minute before you respond to something, acknowledge it. Kindly, gently, lovingly say “I really want to hear what you have to say, can you give me a minute so I can give you my full attention?” Remember, it is how you pay attention that matters, more than what you say.
Love and relationships can sometimes be complicated, but bidding is a simple tool that can help build a strong foundation of love, trust, and respect in your relationship.
If you want to learn more about bids, The Relationship Cure, by Dr. Gottman, is an excellent resource.