Communication is key in relationships, but many of us are hesitant to directly ask for our emotional needs to be met. We often end up asking in more subtle ways because, let’s be honest, being open and vulnerable can be scary AF.
The term was coined by Dr. John Gottman, who has done 50 years of research with thousands of couples through The Gottman Institute. He calls bids the “fundamental unit of emotional connection.”
“Bids are any gesture, verbal or non verbal, that signal a need for connection or attention,” says Kimberly Panganiban, MA, LMFT, a certified Gottman couples therapist. “Bids can be small, such as asking a question to gather information (‘What do you want for dinner?’) or bigger, such as seeking emotional support in a really difficult time (‘I just had the worst day at work I have ever had’).”
Bids are basically requests to connect, and like we just said, they can be subtle, which unfortunately means they often go unrecognized.
A bid could look like:
- Sharing a story about your day.
- Sending a TikTok video.
- Giving a hug, arm rub, or other physical gesture.
- Talking about a common interest.
- Asking for advice.
It’s important to not only recognize when your partner is making a bid, but also to respond in a way that builds connection and trust. Gottman identified three ways to respond to a bid:
- Turn toward it and acknowledge it.
- Turn away and ignore/miss it.
- Turn against it and reject it.
“Bids are what leads to a couple either feeling emotionally connected or emotionally disconnected,” Kimberly says. “Turning toward leads to more bids and more turning towards. It has a cyclical nature. Turning away/against leads to less bids and more turning away/against. In other words, whether you notice your partner’s bids and how you respond sets the trajectory for the entire relationship.”
Imagine asking your partner if they liked the new recipe you tried out for dinner. On the surface, it seems like a simple, topical question. But what you’re doing is making a bid for connection by asking your partner to show interest in your accomplishment.
Then, imagine they respond with a shrug and a grunt, without taking their eyes off their phone. Ouch, right? That’s turning away from a bid, and though it seems like a small thing, it can be very damaging to your relationship. “Failed bids add up over time and lead to distance, disconnection and, often, to dissolution of the relationship,” Kimberly says.
But what if they responded by looking up from their phone, giving you their attention, and enthusiastically telling you that it was really good, and they loved how garlicky it was? Or that they didn’t think they liked chickpeas, but they really liked the dish you made? That’s turning toward a bid, and it fosters a stronger connection.
How you and your partner respond to emotional bids is a strong indicator of if it’ll be a lasting, healthy relationship or not. Dr. Gottman did a study with newlyweds and followed up with them six years later. He found that the couples who stayed married were significantly better at turning toward bids (aka responding positively) than couples who divorced. Seriously, the still-married couples turned toward each other’s bids 86% of the time, compared to the divorced couples’ 33% of the time.
Ofc, it’s not the only thing you need for a successful relationship. But clearly, it’s an important component that we should be emphasizing more.
You ask, we answer. Send your relationship questions to [email protected], and one of our experts may just answer them in an upcoming column.