Improve Connection and Communication, One “Bid” at a Time

Saturday, December 5, 2015

 

I often tell couples that relationships are a lot like gambling. On a minute to minute basis, we make “bids” to connect with others. Like gambling, we try to make “good bids” where we predict a positive outcome. Sometimes the stakes are high. And sometimes we win big and we are rewarded with love, companionship, and a feeling of connection and belonging. Sometimes, we lose our figurative shirts.

 

The concept of “the bid” comes comes from the research of Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr.Julie Schwartz Gottman. They spent years observing couples in laboratory settings and also many years doing relationship counseling. The bid  involves one person taking a change, being vulnerable, and making a bid to connect with the other. This can be a touch, a word, an invitation, a flirtation; it can be almost anything. A simple example would be:

“Hi Honey. How was your day?”

 

According to the Gottmans, the second person’s response can be interpreted as either, “turning toward, turning away, or turning against.” When we turn toward someone’s bid for connection, we connect. By repeatedly making bids and turning toward bids, we build and strengthen our relationships. An example of a “turn toward” response to “How was your day?” might be:

“I had a great day! How was your day, Sweetie?”

 

Turning toward doesn’t have to be cheerful. Another turn toward response would be:

“I had a pretty rough day. Thanks for asking. Can I tell you about it?”

 

The two damaging responses to a bid are to “turn away,” and to “turn against.”

Turning away includes ignoring the other person or responding as if a different bid had been offered. Example responses of turning away would be:

“Hi Honey. How was your day?”

“Did the mail come in?”

or

“When’s dinner?”

or

“grunt” and walk away.

or ignore and say nothing.

 

To “turn against” a bid is to attack or punish the first person for making a bid in the first place. These responses communicate contempt, irritation and rejection.

“Hi Honey. How was your day?”

With a huff the person glares and says, “Can’t I have a few minutes of peace before you start in with your neediness?”

or

“I wonder if the kitchen would look better painted yellow?”

“I hope you’re ready to paint it yourself, because I am not taking on another home fix-it project!”

 

The Gottmans found in their research that happy couples responded by turning toward each other’s bids an average of 86% of the time. And couples destined for divorce only turned toward each other’s bids an average of 33% of the time. Eventually, they were able to observe a couple and predict with 90% accuracy, if (without couple’s counseling or some other intervention) they were destined for divorce or separation.

 

The concept of the bid does not just apply to romantic relationships. Bids apply to all relationships. Consider the parent child relationship. The dreaded teen years often includes the parents feeling hurt because the child that adored them just last year, now responds to most of the parents’ bids for connection with rolling eyes, irritable rejection, indifferent grunts and proclamations such as, “You just don’t understand!” All of these are examples of the teen turning away or turning against the parents’ bids to connect.

 

What does emotional neglect or abuse from a parent look like? The child makes a bid to connect and the parent turns away,

“Daddy, look what I made for you!”

“Uh huh.” Without looking up.

 

or turning against,

Daddy, look what I made for you!”

“Dammit! Can’t you see I’m busy?”

 

Bids for connection and our responses to those bids are the small, minute to minute interactions that either build connections or erode connections. This is true for friendships, work relationships, parents and children, spouses, metamours and neighbors.

 

Of course there will be many times you don’t feel like engaging with another person. What do you do then? I recommend, turn toward the bid, then kindly express your desire to not engage while asking for the other person’s understanding. And example might be:

“Hi Honey. How was your day?”

“I had a really rough day. I really appreciate you showing an interest, and I do want to tell you about my day. But first, I’d really like some time to unwind by myself. Would that be alright?”

 

So what if you want to improve a relationship? Sit down with the other person and discuss the concept of “the bid” and the three response types. Then agree to try to be more aware of when you make a bid. At first, you may only notice that you made a bid when you feel the sting of rejection. But when you or the other person do notice a bid, acknowledge it out loud. “Hey, I feel like I just made a bid. And I perceive your response as turning away. What do you think? Would you say you turned away?” And then talk about it. Make a commitment to try to turn toward each other’s bids a often as you can. Each and every bid for connection matters!

 

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