In this section, we will explore the concept of placing a bid in a relationship. Understanding what it means to place a bid and how to respond will help you and your partner feel connected to one another and meet one anothers needs.
Placing a Bid
There are lots of ways you might try to get your partner’s attention, and there are lots of ways your partner might respond. Facial expressions, hand gestures, and comments are all forms of communication. Every encounter from high-fives to lengthy conversations begins with one person asking for the attention of another, a process Dr. John Gottman refers to as ‘placing a bid’. Begin this section by reading Chapter 1 of The Relationship Cure for a clear explanation of the concept.
Individually, you and your partner need to visit Dr. John Gottman’s Bid for Connection quiz.
You will have a three-part numerical score.
The first number is a measure of your directness and clarity when bidding for your partner’s attention. Speaking with clarity about your needs and wants eliminates confusion and makes it easier for your partner to understand what you are asking of them.
The second number is a measure of how forceful you are when placing a bid. Emotions such as anger and frustration can interfere with the bidding process by turning your partner away. If your partner feels attacked or demanded rather than invited, they are likely to refuse your bid out of a desire to defend themselves. Remember, each bid is a new opportunity to connect with your partner.
The third number is a measure of the level of trust you have in your relationship. Unfortunately, withdrawing from ones partner is a common response to fear, pain, confusion, or even anger. If you and/or your partner are experiencing any of these emotions within the relationship, you are probably also experiencing a desire to withdraw and ‘protect yourself’. As understandable as these instincts are, building trust in your relationship will require risk and commitment from both participants. Move slowly and practice placing and responding to bids together.
You would really like to go to the movies this weekend and your partner is more of a homebody.
Indirect bid: “Josh and Traci went to the movies this past weekend” tossed casually over your shoulder while you are chopping veggies for dinner.
Your partner responds: “Oh, they are always looking for an excuse to go out.”
So you try (indirectly) again: “well, it does sound sort of fun to go – Judi at work said that Julia Roberts’ latest film was really good”.
Your partner: “I thought you and Judi had a disagreement – why were you talking about movies?”
In this scenario, your partner is unable to recognize your bid for emotional connection. You may find yourself thinking “why can’t I get just one thing I want? I just want to go to the movies in the theater for a change.” Before you give up on your partner, revisit the bid. Your prime objective was to find out if your partner wanted to go with you to the movies, yet you didn’t say that out loud. Your partner is not a mind reader. Try placing a more direct and clearly spoken bid.
A more direct bid might look like this: “I was talking with a coworker that said the latest Julia Roberts’ film was really good. Josh and Traci went to the movies last weekend; what if we invite them along to that new show this weekend?”
When you are direct, your partner doesn’t get sidetracked and can hear your bid more clearly. Sometimes we do not know how to be direct. Below is an exercise to help you have more clarity.
Take a scratch piece of paper. Think of something simple you would like to talk with your partner about. Write “I want” at the top of the paper. Below that, write out everything that comes to mind regarding this bid.
to spend more time with my partner this weekend
to get out of the house
to do something new/outside of our routine
to maybe eat out instead of cooking
Keep going….write in as many wants as you can think of regarding your upcoming bid. Get it all out and then review what you have written.
Decide on how you want the bid to go. The example above may go this way:
You: “Honey, let’s go to the movies this weekend.”
Partner: “Why would we do that? We can rent a movie…hey, you could make those ribs again!”
You: “I do enjoy movie night here and those ribs are good, but I was hoping we could go see that new Julia Roberts film.”
Partner: “We can catch it as a rental later. Let’s invite Josh and Traci over for ribs!”
You: “I was thinking about Josh and Traci too. They went out to the movies last weekend, I think they enjoy the new theater.”
Your partner is responding better, but still has not heard your bid.
This is more direct:
You: “Honey, can we have Josh and Traci over some other time for ribs? I would really like to get out of the house this weekend and go to the movies at the theater, maybe they would join us?”
Remember, placing a clear bid doesn’t mean the response will be in your favor, but look at the difference in these responses:
Partner: “Oh, sure! But can we see the new James Bond film instead? Maybe you and Traci can go to the chick flick together!”
Partner: “Sure, but if you girls choose the chick flick, Josh and I get to choose the restaurant!”
Partner: “This weekend is really not good for me, I am leaving next week for that business trip and I need to finish up some things first. How about we stay in this weekend and go out when I get back?”
In each of those, your partner is responding directly to your bid; because your bid was specific, your partner knew exactly what you were asking for. By placing your bid clearly, you will feel heard by your partner, even when their answer isn’t 100% “yes”.
Recognizing different types of bidding can be tricky! Visit this blog post from the Gottman Institute to read examples of both verbal and non-verbal bids. Explore the other October posts for lots of helpful tips!
Responding to a Bid
Even when you are placing direct bids, your partner may not be responding in a direct or encouraging way. Dr. Gottman notes three ways in which people typically respond to another’s bid for connection: they turn toward, turn against, or turn away.
“Turning toward” is a positive, encouraging response.
“Turning against” is a negative, discouraging response.
“Turning away” is the hurtful ignoring of another’s bid for emotional connection.
Read The Relationship Cure, Chapter 1, Turning Points: The Choices we make in Responding to Bids. Here, Dr. Gottman explains these “turning points” with examples and discusses their long term effects on your relationship.
Even from the brief descriptions here and in Chapter 1, it’s easy to guess that “turning towards” is the ideal response to your partner’s bids. Gottman’s research has proven that relationships in which people consistently turn toward one another’s bids are stable and long-lasting.
Revisit the Gottman Institute blog and read the October posts bidding and responding to bids. Practice turning toward and placing bids with your partner. Remember, bidding doesn’t have to be serious! Have fun!