Turning Against Bids: The Ultimate Relationship Killer

Recognizing your interactions with your partner allows you to catch and reverse toxic patterns of behavior that cause damage to your relationship.

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Recognizing your interactions with your partner allows you to catch and reverse toxic patterns of behavior that cause damage to your relationship.

Recognizing your interactions with your partner allows you to catch and reverse toxic patterns of behavior that cause damage to your relationship.

The greatest relationship killers discovered by Drs. John and Julie Gottman from their research can all be characterized as ways of “turning against” each other’s bids for emotional connection. Recognizing these behaviors in your interactions with your partner allows you to catch and reverse these toxic patterns of behavior to stop them from causing damage to your relationship. 

The bid used here is an example of a small request (NOTE: The bigger the request, the more destructive the respondent’s turning against can be).

Contemptuous responses

The respondent makes hurtful disrespecting comments aimed at the person bidding for connection. Such put-downs are often delivered with an air of superiority as if the speaker wants to put distance between them and the bidder. Intentional insults will do the trick.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “Is that all you can ever say to me?”

Belligerent responses

The respondent is provocative or combative. You get the sense that the speaker is looking for a fight. They would argue with whatever the bidder says, regardless of content. Belligerent responses often involve unfair teasing or a dare.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “What’ll you do if I say no? Yell at me again?”

Contradictory responses

The respondent seems intent on starting a debate or an argument. This is less hostile than a belligerent response, but it still blocks the bidder’s attempt to connect.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “Why the dishes? Why can’t I just take out the garbage like I always do?”

Domineering responses

The respondent attempts to control the other person. The respondent’s goal is to get the bidder to withdraw, retreat, or submit. You often hear a parental message in these responses, whether the speaker is a parental figure or not.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “Don’t be ridiculous. You can do them all by yourself without me holding your hand.”

Critical responses

The respondent makes broad-based attacks on a bidder’s character. They’re different from a complaint, which focuses on a particular event or specific behavior. When people are being critical, they frequently speak in global terms, saying things like “you always…” and “you never…” Often you’ll hear statements of blame or betrayal in these responses.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “You’re so lazy and self-centered, I’ve got to do real work right now!”

Defensive responses

The respondent creates a sense of separation by allowing the speaker to relinquish responsibility for matters at hand. If the bidder is upset about something, the respondent may act like an innocent victim of misplaced blame.

Sam: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Tracey: “No, I’m tired. You’re the one who made the kitchen a mess anyway.”

In intimate relationships, the build-up of such responses creates inevitable rifts. The more of these responses you experience, the more likely they are to destroy your relationship entirely.


Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.