How Even Close Relationships Can Eventually Fail

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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(972) 441-4432 or Send us a text at (214) 431-5764

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