Dr. John Gottman calls bids the “fundamental unit of emotional connection.” They are the gestures between a couple that signal a need for attention. Bids can be verbal or nonverbal and include asking for anything from physical affection to help with a project.
How to make a bid
The person who sends the bid desires to connect. Some bids are overt and obvious to the receiver. For example, if Sam tells Charlie, “Do you have a second? I need to run something by you,” that’s a clear bid. When Charlie initiates sex by winking and lightly massaging Sam’s thigh, that’s a very clear bid.
The more they both turn towards each other and respond to those bids, the more likely they are to send bids in the future. It’s a cyclical pattern that, when done correctly, makes the relationship happy and healthy.
Unfortunately, not all bids are created equal, and often the receiver will miss them by no fault of their own. If a bid is difficult to decipher, it may not elicit the response you want, because your partner does not understand what you’re asking for. Dr. John Gottman calls it “fuzzy bidding.”
There are ways to make a better bid for connection. Here are three tips that will clear up the fuzziness and get you and your partner to understand each other.
How to make a better bid
Use your words. Nonverbal bids are still bids and deserve recognition. That said, some people have difficulty reading gestures like a smile or flirty glance. The meaning behind silence is particularly hard to interpret. So, it’s important to speak up. If a labored sigh while washing the dishes doesn’t prompt your partner to lend a hand, ask them if they have time to help you dry. Get ahead of the situation by suggesting an arrangement where whoever cooks the meal gets the night off from loading the dishwasher. The point is, try to verbalize your bids in a way that your partner understands.
Ask for what you really need. Taking the previous step further, when making that verbal bid, be certain about exactly what you need in that moment. If you’ve had a hard day and need your partner to listen to you, say, “Today was a rough one. Can I tell you about it?” If you don’t want to talk about it, but just need some cuddle time on the couch, try saying exactly that. Help your partner take the guesswork out of responding to your bid.
Express your need as a positive. Turning against a bid is a relationship killer. However, one way this happens unintentionally is when the bid is wrapped up in the wrong package. Imagine missing your partner after a busy week of work and other responsibilities. However, instead of telling your partner that you miss them, you allow the hurt of the disconnection to come out in a critical statement (e.g., “You’re never home” or “I’m doing everything by myself around here”). What your partner hears is how they fall short, and their reaction could lead straight into conflict. That’s definitely not what you wanted. A better bid would be expressing a positive need (e.g., “I miss you. Can we schedule a date night?” or “It’s been a while since we had lunch together. Are you free next week?”). This type of bid requests an emotional connection with specifically what you want in a non-critical, judgment-free tone.
Feeling seen and heard
If you want to learn more ways to make bids that connect, check out our latest Gottman Relationship Coach: Feeling Seen and Heard. In this program, Drs. John and Julie Gottman lead you through tips and exercises that help you “get” each other, communicate your truths, and have conversations that reduce your stress.