It’s not the grand birthday gift or the surprise weekend getaway that form the foundation of the best relationships. No, it’s how partners respond to the endless stream of small, everyday moments when, consciously or not, we “invite” our partner’s interest. We might do it with a sigh, a laugh, a toss-off comment, a reaction to something we see or hear or read, an expression on our face when we come through the door, as well as direct requests like, “Come sit with me” or “Let’s talk about last night” or “Tell me about your day.” These are all moments where we make a bid for connection with our partner.
With every bid that comes our way, we have a choice: we can turn towards our partner and respond to the bid in a way that creates connection, or we can turn away from our partner and miss out on an opportunity for connection. The nation’s leading relationship researchers affirm that the way partners respond to one another’s bids is, more than anything else, predictive of a strong and satisfying relationship.i
Turning toward your partner’s bids serves as a deposit in your emotional bank account. Yet it’s easy to turn away when we’re distracted by what we’re doing or what we’re thinking about, when we’re in a certain mood and prefer to be left alone, when we’re still irritated by something that happened earlier, and of course, when the power of a screen has us in its spell (see Your Partner or Your Screen). The epidemic of busyness that epitomizes much of American culture — we’re focused on checking the many boxes on our To Do lists — can prevent us from noticing the more subtle bids our partner sends us. Or taking time to connect just doesn’t seem compelling enough compared to other things vying for our time and attention.
As neglected bids accumulate, disconnection builds, typically leading to discontent and loneliness. Once partners stop reaching out to one another — once the bids dry up — the relationship finds itself on increasingly thin ice. That’s when partners describe their connection as “ships passing in the night” or “we’re like roommates.”
Making and responding to bids might be the most important things we do to keep our relationships strong. Review the essence of bids in this delightful short video.
i Gottman, John and Gottman, Julie S. The Love Prescription. Penguin Books: 2022.