We’ve spent the last few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog discussing self care, exploring strategies for making healthy, proactive choices that will lead you on a path to stronger, happier relationships with yourself and with your partner.

We’ve covered some of the basics: taking time for yourself, working on self-trust, pursuing passions and hobbies outside of the relationship, etc. But all of these activities can be difficult to undertake alone, especially if introducing them into your life creates unprecedented changes in your relationship dynamics.

In between postings on The Gottman Relationship Blog, where can you turn to for guidance and support? It turns out that – barring this blog, your partner, your family, and yourself – your greatest resources are your friends.

Unfortunately, these days, we seem to struggle in the friendship department.

Too often, we rationalize subordinating friendship in favor of other things. And we don’t have to be too creative in rationalization! Stressed out by work, our relationships with lovers, children, and extended family, our inability to attain perfection in every area of our lives, we neglect those who may best be able to help us relieve stress.

When social life itself begins to seem like just another entry on our interminable To-Do list, we intentionally or unintentionally forget/avoid/disregard it. Abandon friend-ship!

Though this stressed-out view of socializing is totally normal – in that you are not alone in experiencing it – that doesn’t make it adaptive or realistic. Regaining our collective sanity and reducing stress in our lives begins by acknowledging the lack of logic here, and then doing something about it. Trying out a different approach. This is where we come in!

Friendships may become stressful when we are overwhelmed by other stressors. Under the pressure of the daily grind, overcome by personal challenges, we may be too tense and flustered to notice social cues. We may feel like no one cares enough to reach out! This blindness can make us feel very lonely, and provide breeding ground for self-fulfilling prophecies. Fertile soil for the growth of vicious cycles, sown from low self-esteem and social self-confidence.

Luckily, this blindness does not have to lead to social avoidance, because it is itself totally avoidable. Here’s how:

We can take matters into our own hands, practicing consciousness of others and their social overtures, by learning to recognize bids.

Dr. Gottman’s Guide to Recognizing Bids:

How do we recognize bids? As Dr. Gottman quips in The Relationship Cure, it would be a relief if we could create a world in which “people made all their bids for connection in the form of standard written invitations… all expectations and feelings would be spelled out in vivid detail,” and there wouldn’t be any more “tension or guesswork.”

In the interest of responding to others’ bids in healthy ways, and learning to create a healthy pattern of interactions in your relationships, we’d like to offer you a list of potential bidding types. See the following to recognize ways in which your friends may be bidding for connection!

Dr. Gottman says that bids can come into your life in an infinite number of ways: some of which are “easy to see and interpret, others that are nearly indecipherable.” Whether they be verbal or nonverbal, physical, sexual, intellectual, humorous, serious, in the form of a question or statement or comment, they qualify as a “bid” for attention:

Bids may be thoughts, feelings, observations, opinions, or invitations. Easily recognizable verbal bids may sound like this:

“Oy! Abby! do you want to go get drinks sometime this week?”
“Drew, could you ask your friends if they know a good auto-mechanic?”
“Jenny, could I borrow a pencil?”

According to Dr. Gottman, nonverbal bids include:

  • Affectionate touching, such as a back-slap, a handshake, a pat, a squeeze, a kiss, a hug, or a back or shoulder rub.
  • Facial expressions, such as a smile, blowing a kiss, rolling your eyes, or sticking out your tongue.
  • Playful touching, such as tickling, bopping, wrestling, dancing, or a gentle bump or shove.
  • Affiliating gestures, such as opening a door, offering a place to sit, handing over a utensil, or pointing to a shared activity or interest.
  • Vocalizing, such as laughing, chuckling, grunting, sighing, or groaning in a way that invites interaction or interest.

We hope that these examples will help you identify moments in which you can respond to bids (and give you some ideas for making bids of your own) leading to the formation and nurturance of satisfying, long-lasting relationships!

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Dr. Gottman’s Guide to Recognizing Bids
Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.