Relationship guru John Gottman refers to bids as “the fundamental unit of emotional
communication.” Bids can be small or big, verbal or nonverbal. They’re requests to
connect. They might take the form of an expression, question, or physical outreach. They
can be funny, serious, or sexual in nature.
For example, your partner might say, “Hey, whatever happened with that situation at
work with your manager?” or, “Do you want to talk about our plans this weekend?” or
simply, “Can you pass the water?”
They could also give you a loving squeeze, pat you affectionately on the head, or tease
you with a wink.
Bids are often purposely subtle because people are afraid to be vulnerable and put
themselves out there. It’s scary to say, “Hey! I want to connect! Pay attention to me!” so
instead, we ask a question or tell a story or offer our hand for connection. We hope we’ll
receive connection in return, but if not, it’s less scary than pleading, “Connect with me,
There are three ways you can respond to a bid:
1. Turning towards (acknowledging the bid)
2. Turning away (ignoring or missing the bid)
3. Turning against (rejecting the bid in an argumentative or belligerent way)
When your partner reads their email and sighs audibly, they’re making a bid. You could
turn towards them and ask, “What’s wrong?”
Now imagine you’re tidying up the kitchen and your partner asks you how your day was.
You could pause, look up from what you’re doing and respond with details about the
challenging phone call you had that day. That’s turning towards. You’re telling your
partner you see and value them.
Turning away from your partner, in the same situation, would be ignoring them or just
grunting and continuing what you were doing.
Turning against them takes the form of an attack, such as replying, “Why are you always
interrupting me when I’m trying to get things done?”
A tendency to turn towards your partner forms the basis of trust, emotional connection,
passion, and a satisfying sex life.
Gottman found a critical difference in how successful and unsuccessful relationships
respond to bids for connection. The former turned towards each other 86% of the time.
The latter turned towards each other only 33% of the time.
Some people think they can put their relationship on ice and then thaw it out with the
occasional romantic date night. But relationships are built and maintained with daily
attention, not grand gestures.
Bid often. Master the art of the tiny moment. Reach out to show you care. Send a good
luck message before a meeting. Leave an encouraging note on the fridge. Kiss your
partner when they walk in the door—Gottman recommends a kiss that lasts at least six
Bids can be super short and simple, but they hold great power. The key is to make many
bids per day to show your partner you want to connect.
In fact, happy couples bid all the time. Gottman found that at the dinner table, they bid
as many as one hundred times in a ten minute period.
When our partner denies our bids, we internalize the experience. Our brains
subconsciously keep track of how many bids are accepted or rejected by our partners.
When our partner constantly turns away or against our bids, we begin to feel frustrated.
We are more inclined to criticize our partners, which pushes them to be defensive and
may result in an argument.
Gottman found when couples break up, it’s usually not because of issues like big fights or
infidelity. More often, it’s a result of the resentment and distance that builds up over
time when partners continually turn away from bids for connection.
The lesson here is to make many small bids every day. Pay attention and turn towards
your partner’s bids. Listen for their sighs and look out for their winks. Make eye contact
when they ask you a question. Engage with them when they point something out.
I believe that music can be healing. I can show you the research if you want. I think it
could be helpful to create a playlist for your relationship.
● Make bids for connection this week, big and small.
● Catch your partner making bids and turn toward them.
● Set the tone of the day with a phrase of appreciation.
A day date.