December 31, 2013

Relationships fail when couples have more negative interactions than positive ones.  I see many couples who come to counseling because they feel distant and lonely.  They describe their marriage as starting out intimate and playful until one day they realize they aren’t even friends anymore.  One question they invariably ask is “How did it happen?” They aren’t sure how they lost their deep connection because it happened slowly….one missed bid at a time.  What’s a bid?  I’m so glad you asked because understanding bids and recognizing them can absolutely save a troubled marriage and can prevent a stable relationship from going off the rails.

An example of a bid would be the following – You are working late in your home office. Your husband calls upstairs to see what you are doing. Your husband isn’t really asking for an accounting of your time, he is making a bid for connection. You can respond to him by: ignore him and keep on working, go with the defensive “I’m working late and could you PLEASE just leave me alone”, or wrap things up quickly and head downstairs to spend time with him.

Marriage guru, Dr. John Gottman describes bids as a way to create, increase, maintain, or re-establish connection with one’s partner. The person receiving the bid can either turn toward the bid responding positively or turn away from the attempt by ignoring the bid or responding negatively. These bids can be a simple, sincere “How was your day?” or more complicated, “What are your thoughts on the new health care system?” However shallow or deep, the bid is an active component in any relationship. Bids can also be nonverbal: a smile, a wink, a sneaky pat on the rear as the partner passes by. Too often when bids are met negatively, they become offered more infrequently. Over time the couple can drift apart, rarely interacting except to transact business – “Did you make the bank deposit?” What time do the kids need picking up?”

So how do you use bids to keep the spark in your relationship? First, take the time to notice the bid. If a partner makes a comment on an article while reading the paper together, take the time to acknowledge the bid, instead of grunting and continuing to read your article. Gottman warns that repeated failure to turn toward in response to partner’s bids leads our partner to stop making bids. The relationship suffers and both people feel lonely. Frequently, couples find themselves in a devitalized relationship without realizing how they got there. Ignored or turning away from attempts for connection are what soured the bond.

Secondly, we need to turn toward the bid. Gottman tells us accepting the bid tells the bidder

  •  I am interested in you.
  •  I hear you.
  •  I understand you (or would like to).
  •  I’m on your side.
  •  I’d like to help you (whether I can or not).
  •  I’d like to be with you (whether I can or not).
  •  I accept you (even if I don’t accept all your behavior).

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The benefit of turning toward your partner is that it builds positive sentiments, which are deposited in the emotional bank account. We blogged about these actions a few weeks ago with Are You Feeding Your Partner’s Pig?  Not only will you feel more emotionally connected during the day, you can draw from your reserve when difficult conversations are necessary.

Bids boil down to paying attention to your spouse – acknowledging they are valuable and you care about what they say or think. Learning to recognize a bid and responding to them positively will keep your love fresh and playful.  It is never too late to start.  If you are in a relationship that feels more negative than positive, try giving and receiving bids. I can’t emphasize enough how important bids are.  Don’t believe me?  Try it!  I promise it works!

At The Marriage Place we teach couples how to recognize and respond to bids.  We are “pro-marriage” counselors who are committed to helping couples save their marriage.

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  1. Ejin

    i like to try everything to help my marriage, but my Christian husband doesn’t give me any chance to work together, Very very very broken heart

    • Kim Bowen

      Ejin, so so sorry to hear that. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

      • arnel

        That just deflated a potential client who was trying to reach out. Lol

        • Kim Bowen

          I’m sorry to hear this. Please know relationships can change, and do, over time and it IS possible to end destructive, negative patterns and replace them with new positive ones. This is the work we help our clients with each and every week. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Warmly, Kim

  2. Anna

    Can you suggest any examples of bids, other than about work and the children, when you are separated and trying to reconnect with your husband when he comes to see the kids.

  3. Holly

    Any suggestions of how I can even get my husband to speak to me? He is hardly home anymore and sleeps on the couch now when he is home. He hardly sees our son or even talks to him and ignores every text or phone call from me. I know he is seeing someone but he is literally mute with me on every level. I have stayed faithful in the word, church and prayer and I know God can turn anything around so my hope is in Him to soften my husbands heart and convict him of the sinful life he is living and get back in church.

    • Kim Bowen

      Holly, my heart goes out to you. You are in a really tough situation. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read my blog post from July 2015 on ultimatums. It sounds like your husband is behaving badly. He’s ignoring his marriage vows and his son. You can’t control your husband’s behavior, but you can control what you will tolerate. Keep in mind that your son is also taking notes – not only on what his dad is doing, but what behavior of his you are tolerating. As scary as they are, sometimes ultimatums are the smartest thing you can do for your relationship. If you’d like some guidance and someone with experience with situations like this, please consider calling my office or setting up a free Discovery Call to learn more. I have coaches that have helped other women walk a similar path successfully. Wishing you the best. Warmly, Kim.


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