Let’s say your eccentric uncle Kevin gives you $10,000 on your wedding day. The only catch is that you have to invest it for six years with one of two firms that Kevin suggests. Firm A is well respected on Wall Street for both its ethics and its returns, and most clients are very happy even with sometimes modest gains. Firm B guarantees they’ll squander your money and blame you for it. Which one would you choose?

Or let’s say that on your wedding day, you get a diagnosis of a rare blood disease that usually kills its victims within six years. Your wacky aunt Cathy had that same disease and she knows of the only two doctors in the world that work with it. One doctor is actively doing research, testing new treatments, and curing patients with great success. The other is a drunk. Which doctor would you choose?

Or let’s say that on your wedding day, the universe starts a giant egg timer set for six years. When the egg timer goes off, you’ll either be divorced or you won’t. You’ve heard the rumor that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but Kevin and Cathy know some tips that can increase your odds of making it. More importantly, they know of a single strategy that would virtually guarantee that you would divorce before the timer went off. Would you want to know it?

Of course you would. You would invest with Firm A. You would choose the sober doctor. And you will do whatever it takes to ensure that you protected yourself from divorce. As it turns out, your aunt and uncle are onto something: there really is a secret.

As part of his research, Dr. Gottman conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. Many of the couples had remained together. Many had divorced. The couples that stayed married were much better at one thing – the third level of the Sound Relationship House, Turn Towards Instead of Away. At the six-year follow up, couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. The secret is turning towards.

I think this is a pretty incredible piece of data. It suggests that there is something you can today that will dramatically change the course of your relationship. More importantly, it suggests that there is something that you can not do that will lead to its demise. So, how do you turn towards instead of away? In order to understand turning, you have to first understand bids.

A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. In general, women make more bids than men, but in the healthiest relationships, both partners are comfortable making all kinds of bids.

Bids can get tricky, however, and admittedly I sometimes miss more bids than I don’t. Indeed many men struggle in this regard, so it’s important to pay attention. Bids usually have a secondary layer – the true meaning behind the words. Call it the the difference between text and subtext. A few examples to get your brain going:

Text                                                           Subtext
How do I look?                                         Can I have your attention?
Let’s put the kids to bed.                           Can I have your help?
I talked to my sister today.                        Will you chat with me?
Did I tell you the one about…?                  Will you enjoy me?
Want to cuddle?                                      Can I have your affection?
Want to play Cribbage?                              Will you play with me?
I had a terrible lunch meeting today.      Will you help me destress?

To “miss” a bid is to “turn away.” Turning away can be devastating. It’s even more devastating than “turning against” or rejecting the bid. Rejecting a bid at least provides the opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Missing the bid results in diminished bids, or worse, making bids for attention, enjoyment, and affection somewhere else.

It is important that you learn to recognize bids and that you commit to making them to one another. Make the word “bids” part of your conversation and perhaps name your bids toward one another. It’s okay to say, “I’m making a bid for attention now” as you get to know each other in this early phase of your relationship. You can also practice discerning subtext together. Pick a show that is new to you both and watch it on mute. See if you can interpret the bids that the characters are making based only on non-verbals. Once you start to get intentional about your bids, you can concentrate on “turning towards.”

Turning towards starts with paying attention. Your work on bids will come in handy here. Simply recognizing that a bid has been made opens the door to response. If you’ve really been paying attention, you’ll respond to both the text and the subtext. As bids get more complicated, so will the nature of turning toward. For now, start simple. Take an inventory of the bids and turning in your relationship and share your responses with one another.

  • What do I know about how I make bids?
  • Could or should I get better at making bids? How?
  • How good am I at recognizing the difference between text and subtext?
  • What keeps me from making bids?
  • What is my impulse for turning? Do I turn away or against more often than I turn towards?
  • When it comes to turning towards, am I closer to 33% or 86%?
  • What does it feel like when my partner doesn’t turn towards me?
  • How can I get better at turning towards?

As you continue moving through life together, you will undoubtedly have to risk heading into more vulnerable territory. This will be easier if you’ve committed to building a solid friendship based on Building Love Maps, Sharing Fondness and Admiration, and Turning Towards Instead of Away. Your eccentric uncle Kevin and wacky aunt Cathy would be proud.


The Marriage Minute is a new email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up below.


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Zach Brittle, LMHC

Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at his website.

  • John Dawkins

    Well written Zach. Thanks.

  • Carlie T.

    This post was needed, thank you.

  • Great point, very well presented. Loved the comparisons at the beginning.

  • I never comment much on blogs I read, yet I feel compelled to say something about this. What an important subject to spread knowledge about. Using the term “bid” creates common language to help make examples for people who may be more concrete thinkers. It perfectly spells out that the small every day decisions you make, steer the direction of your relationship. Wonderful. I look forward to reading more.

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  • Blaine

    Well written, thank you.
    Frustrating to feel that ones bids are being ignored.

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  • Duncan Thomson

    Some other material I was looking at on this subject mentioned some of the reasons that we turn away from bids, and that we cannot always “turn towards” bids. One reason for turning away is zero emotional energy. Another was a desire to be more independent than your partner wants. My thought…. ok, yeah, those definitely happen. And so… what? How do you avoid the negative pattern that comes from missed bids (partner becomes angry, etc.) when those factors are there?

    • Rose Hagalaz

      Late to the party, but I believe that a well-communicated “no” can still be a “turn toward.” Instead of just shrugging it off or acting as if it didn’t happen, a positive statement like, “I don’t have very much emotional energy right now and I don’t think I’d be a good conversational partner. Could we do X instead, or would you be willing to check in with me later?” could work.

      This conveys that you saw and understood the bid, and does engage with it, but sets good boundaries around your own needs, while letting the bidder know that they weren’t unseen or ignored.

      • Duncan Thomson

        That’s a good answer. If the response to: “I’m sorry, but I’m right now, could we get together on that later?” is an angry outburst, then… well ultimately, at some point you just have to walk away.

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  • notjustanindex

    if your wife told you she doesn’t believe in that touchy feely bullshit like the need to sit close together while watching a TV show would you be offput or simply chalk it up to we each love differently and decide whether that is something you can live with

  • Duncan Thomson

    I’d like to add one more comment to this. The article focuses on recognizing bids and turning towards them. It doesn’t spend any time on the converse, that is, how to make bids that will be recognized and result in a “turning towards” rather than being ignored or getting an undesirable response. For example, “You never hug me when I come home,” might be a bid, with a subtext of, “Please show me affection”. What are the chances that this bid is going to be successful? Very low, esecially in the context of a strained relationship. So, the “secret” to preventing divorce could just as well be “make your bids clear and easy for your partner to turn towards.” I wonder why the author chose to focus only on the other side of the equation?