Are you connecting with your partner the way you want to?
Listen up. Your partner is talking to you. What do you hear?
- “Honey, do you want to grab lunch tomorrow?”
- “You would never guess the stuff I heard at work today!’
- “Aren’t YouTube cat videos the worst?”
So, how do you respond to your partner? With a nod or shrug, before turning back to the TV? A murmured “uh- huh” while surfing your social media?
Just a heads up, your partner is likely bidding for connection with you. And if he or she is doing any of the following, you’re probably missing even more:
Did they open your door, offer you a seat, or willingly share a bite of their dessert?
Did they chuckle or sigh at something, hoping you would ask why?
Did they touch you affectionately with a little squeeze on the leg, a pat on the shoulder, a hug, or a peck on the cheek?
All of these behaviors are bids for emotional connection. Instead of using words, their actions speak instead.
They say, “Here I am.” “Come to me.” “Let’s get together.” And, “Hey! I want to be with you.”
And each bid requires your response, the best being positive, affirming reaction. They are without a doubt vital to the health of your relationship.
Because when attempts at connection are deflected, deliberately ignored, or simply fall flat or unnoticed, the desire to make ourselves vulnerable to each other is doused with disappointment. Intimacy then gives way to uncertainty and resentment over time. And the good thing between you can start to fizzle out and weaken.
To prevent a breakdown in your bond, learn to recognize and respond to your partner
Demands or “bids” for emotional involvement have long been the subject of much study and exploration by well-known relationship and marriage counseling expert and scholar Dr. John Gottman. For decades, Gottman identified nine ways in which partners seek emotional connection. Specifically, these include:
- Bids for Attention: “Check out what I did while you were at work!”
- Bids for Interest: “Did you just see what happened in the news today?”
- Bids for Enthusiastic Engagement: “Why don’t we get away this weekend?”
- Bids for Extended Conversation: “How did your sister’s vacation go?”
- Bids for Humor: “Listen, what happened in class was hilarious!”
- Bids for Emotional Support: “I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays.”
- Bids for Self-Disclosure: “What happened at work today?”
- Bids for Play: Teasing or playfully wrestling with your partner.
- Bids for Physical Contact: Reaching for your partner’s hand or leaning in for a hug.
As you become more adept at recognizing these bids, so should you work at becoming a skilled and intentional positive responder. Gottman breaks this down too. He calls the way we should respond “turning toward” your partner:
Response to each other’s bids for emotional intimacy generally occurs in three key ways
There are three primary ways we generally respond to our partner’s bids for emotional connection and intimacy with us:
- “Turning toward.”
When we turn toward our partners, we acknowledge and respond appropriately to their bids. For example, we might provide encouragement, smile, nod, ask questions, or offer a hug. These behaviors indicate that we’re listening and responsive.
- “Turning away.”
In this case, we literally dismiss or ignore bids for intimacy. We might turn away by refusing to answer questions, walking off, or deciding not to accept an outstretched hand or embrace. Passively, we might choose to ignore phone calls or texts as well.
- “Turning against.”
This occurs when we respond to our partners in an irritable, hostile, or negative way. We may become angry or short, shooting down our partner when they make a request. We may pull away when they seek to make physical contact. Or we may respond in a generally critical way to whatever they say or do to get close or establish rapport.
Not surprisingly, couples who respond to bids for connection by turning toward each other enjoy a higher level of intimacy and relationship satisfaction. This is because these small gestures of acceptance help answer a key question spouses ask each other. John Gottman defines the key to building trust as answering positively your partner’s question, “Are you there for me?” Accepting your spouse’s bids for connection answers these questions:
Are you there for me when:
- I need affection?
- I want to share a smile?
- I’m seeking emotional support?
- I’d like to be playful?
- I’m interested in something?
While you can’t turn towards each other 100 percent of the time, you can dedicate yourself to accepting bids for connection consistently. When you do, you’ll have thousands of opportunities over the course of a year to show your spouse you are there for him or her. When you do that, you’re building trust in all the little ways, day by day.
If you find that your relationship is mired in behavior that turns you away or against each other, all is not lost. Commit to change, and look for ways to meet your partner’s bids for connection. When you do, you just might find that they’re meeting your needs more often, too. And, if the two of you aren’t able to work through things on your own, don’t wait. Couple’s counseling can create the space where building new habits can help to turn things around.