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The Mechanics of Bidding: Messages You Don’t Even Know You’re Sending

Pay attention to how you and your partner interpret each other’s responses to bids, so that you learn exactly how to create positive change in your relationship.

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The smallest exchanges between you and your partner, most of which seem totally irrelevant to your relationship,  have the power to ultimately make or break it. It is important to give close attention to how you and your partner interpret each other’s responses to bids so that you learn exactly how to create positive change in your own relationship.

The following are Dr. John Gottman’s descriptions of the messages you and your partner send each other when you turn away from each other’s bids, whether this happens consciously or unconsciously. Keep in mind that bids occur in our relationships constantly. Bids range from kisses on the cheek and asking “do you want to watch a movie?” to requests to stay home for the holidays. 

What turning away tells your partner

  • I don’t care.
  • I’m not interested in your interests.
  • I’ve got more important things on my mind.
  • I’m too busy to pay attention to you.

What turning towards tells your partner:

  • I hear you.
  • I’m interested in you.
  • I understand you (or I want to understand you).
  • I’m on your side.
  • I’d love to help you (whether or not I can).
  • I’d love to be with you (whether or not I can).
  • I accept you (even if I don’t accept all of your behaviors).

Keep these messages in mind as you interact with your partner. Though keeping all of this in mind is a daunting task given the plethora of other things that you have to keep in mind, forming these habits can make critical changes in your relationship. As you begin to engage with your partner in healthy styles of communication, the two of you may be surprised to see what a difference the smallest exchanges can make.


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Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute. She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

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