Do you find yourself more distant from your partner than you’d like to be? Does it seem like your conversations are often surface level, just touching on routines or the kids? Here’s a concept that can help you connect with your partner in deeper, more intentional ways. It’s called ‘Bids for Connection’. The concept was described by John Gottman in his book called “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”.
Bids for connection are essentially any time we seek to connect with another. These bids can happen in verbal or non-verbal ways. A hug, a touch on the shoulder, or a wink can all be small, non-verbal bids. Sharing a funny joke you heard or a video you recently saw are bids for connection. Saying, “Hey, how was your day?” or “Guess what happened at work today” are bids for connection as well. There are dozens of these small, but important, bids that occur each day.
There are essentially three ways to respond to a bid: 1. Reject it 2. Stay silent or don’t acknowledge it and 3. Accept the bid. The first and second ways of responding lead to, yep you guessed it, disconnection. It’s only when we accept the bid that we literally and metaphorically turn towards our partner to establish emotional connection.
Here’s a common example to help you understand. You're driving down the road on a nice summer day and one of you says to the other, “Wow, check out that nice, shiny boat! I can already picture us out on the lake with the kids.” This is the moment, the moment of decision for the other partner. Are you going to stay silent, quietly thinking, “Oh, here we go again, always dreaming about things we can’t afford”? Or will you verbalize that thought and shut down the conversation? Or, do you turn to your partner and say something like, “That is a nice boat! Tell me why you like it so much.”
It is clear which response leads to connection and deeper conversation. So start paying attention to how often you accept these bids for connection versus reject them. Try to figure out what is getting in the way of you accepting more bids. Is it stress or anxiety? Is it your phone or the TV? Whatever it is, there is probably a way to reduce its impact on your ability to accept bids for connection from your partner.
Gottman’s research suggests that couples who accept 70-80% of bids are happy and satisfied in their relationship. Couples who end up separating or divorcing are usually closer to 30-40% of overall bids accepted. If you put in the work to increase how often you are accepting your partner’s bids for connection, you will see the results and feel more deeply emotionally connected to each other. Now go ahead, give it a try!