Relationship Tips

A Bid Is the ‘Fundamental Unit of Emotional Communication’—Here’s How It Can Strengthen Your Relationship

If you’ve been on the internet lately (or TikTok or Instagram), you’ve likely heard of relationship-related buzz words like love bombing (aka a type of emotionally manipulative behavior), relationship red flags that you shouldn’t ignore, and signs of toxic relationships. All good things to be aware of, for sure. But, all those things point to what not to do or what to avoid, leaving some wondering what you should do in a relationship to cultivate a healthy connection. Enter: Bids, a term coined by the Gottman Institute, which takes a research-based approach to relationship counseling.

Below is a deep dive into bids in relationships and how you can improve the way you respond to them. 

What is a bid?

According to Erika Evans, PhD, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and sexologist in Pennsylvania who trained at the Gottman Institute, bids are defined as units of emotional communication. “They are means for gaining attention, affection, and/or acceptance,” she explains. “They are requests from one partner to another—both verbal and nonverbal in nature—to connect. These moments of connection create safety in the relationship and support vulnerability.” And, she adds, bids can take many forms such as jokes, questions, expressions, affection, or sexual overtures. For example, one partner may say, “Look, how funny this meme is” or, “Did you talk to your mom today?” or, “Can you rub my back?”

Unfortunately, many bids often go unrecognized either because the other partner didn’t realize it was a call for connection or because they perceive the bid as nagging, criticism, or annoying, according to relationship therapist Darcy Sterling, PhD, host of E! Network’s Famously SingleSo understanding how to spot a bid, is an important part of fostering deeper connection. But bids can do so much more than that.

How bids can strengthen the relationship

Although bids can be small, how couples respond to them does majorly affect the relationship. Here’s why: “The quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our connection,” Dr. Sterling explains. “And to be connected, we need to let our partners know that we are open to their bids, even when we’re exhausted, and it’s the last thing we want to do.” Moreover, Dr. Evans adds, “these interactions help a relationship to flourish and for the participants to go deeper in their connection with one another in a variety of ways.”

Dr. Evans says there are three ways a partner can respond to a bid: “turning to the partner and connecting, which includes being vulnerable and engaging, turning away from the bid, which means the bid is being ignored, or turning against the bid, which means the response to the bid is angry or aggressive.”  

In a healthy relationship, Dr. Evans says partners respond to bids by turning to their partners and actively connecting. “By turning towards a bid that has been offered, a person is indicating that they are interested and invested in connecting, which encourages the person to make more bids,” she says. 

How to improve the way you make and respond to bids

Make your partner feel seen and heard

Often, one partner will ignore or disregard the other partner’s bid and say things like: “I can’t, I’m in the middle of something” or slam the conversation shut if they felt like they were being nagged or criticized. Instead, Dr. Sterling recommends saying something like, “Give me five minutes to finish what I’m doing, and I’ll take a look.” This shows the other partner that they want to give them attention, just at a different time.

Or, if one partner says, “I can’t stand working with my boss anymore,” instead of responding with a “so, quit,” ask what happened. Dr. Sterling says this is an example of a bid for connection through sharing, Dr. Sterling says, and it shows the other partner is interested in hearing more, which fosters connection. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want

Partners may often make subtle, small bids for connection out of fear of rejection or to protect their vulnerability. But, Dr. Evans encourages being direct and asking your partner for what you want, whether you need a hug, want to go on a dinner date, watch a movie, or whatever else you may need. “Understandably, it's scary to be explicit, but being subtle often creates opportunities for bids to be missed, not because of a lack of desire, but more so because of the chaos of everyday life,” Dr. Evans says.  

Tell your partner when they missed a bid

If your partner unintentionally ignores or disregards your bid, let’s say they didn’t realize that a bid asking for a back rub wasn’t just about a back rub, but perhaps you were seeking touch because it’s your primary love language, communicate that to them. Dr. Sterling recommends saying something like, “It was less about the [insert what your bid requested here] and more about me wanting to connect to you.”

Keep it simple

To harness the power of bids, take the pressure off by keeping bids quick, short, and simple. “They don't always have to be grand gestures,” Dr. Evans says. “As a result, responding to, and giving out, bids in abundance throughout the course of a day is helpful for couples in building that desired connection.” Dr. Sterling echoes this sentiment adding, “if you’re not making bids on the daily, you are neglecting your relationship.” 

Pay attention to subtle cues

Again, your partner's bids may often be subtle. For this reason, Dr. Evan’s best tip is to pay attention and learn to read your partner's cues to better understand when they need connection. This can look like being more present when you’re spending time together by putting down your phones, making direct eye contact, listening attentively, asking questions, and really taking an interest. Remember, she says, the goal with bids is to turn toward your partner as often as possible. 

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