Bids for Affection Strengthen Your Bond
“Bids for affection” or “bids for connection” are the small, easy-to-miss moments that are important windows of opportunity to strengthen your relationship. Are you accidentally missing these bids for affection and opportunities to connect with your partner?
Here’s a clue you might be: If you feel your relationship could use an emotional connection spark, it’s a sign that you might be missing your partner’s bids for affection (and they are probably missing yours too). It is common for partners to go through waves of feeling more or less connected during the span of a relationship. As a couples therapist and Denver marriage counselor, I often hear from my couples that they don’t feel as connected as they used to. They talk about feeling like roommates more than feeling like a partner.
While that’s bad enough, a relationship where you’re feeling disconnected and don’t have good strategies for reconnecting is vulnerable to developing other relationship problems, like power struggles, feelings of anger and resentment, unproductive conflict, and over time — serious doubts about your relationship.
So please know that connecting with your partner through bids for connection is more than about just loving your relationship and being happy together (though it absolutely supports those things too). Understanding, and using, bids for connection and bids for attention intentionally is basically the relationship equivalent of what eating your vegetables and exercising is to your health. Knowing how to stay connected in small, daily ways are the relationship skills that keep relationships healthy and strong, and prevents many common relationship problems from even starting.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how to stay connected to your partner by using bids for connection!
How to Connect With Your Partner: Bids for Affection
What if I told you there is a simple way to remain connected throughout the ups and downs of your relationship? Something that you or your partner are probably already doing, but not paying close attention to? Would you want to the simple way to stay connected? Of course you would! A simple way to feel connected with your partner is what we in the therapy world call “bids for connection.”
Marriage and Family Therapy researcher Dr. John Gottman (founder of “The Gottman Method” of marriage counseling) is well-known for his contribution in the couples counseling world. He’s known for studying and observing premarital couples and newlyweds, to long-term couples years later, in order to find what keeps couples married and what leads to divorce.
One of Dr. Gottman’s studies found that couples who remained married after 6 years together, recognized bids for attention and turned towards their partner 86% of the time. Couples who divorced after 6 years turned towards each other only 33% of the time. So I guess the question is, do you fall closer to 86% or 33%? In order to answer this question, you probably need more information about what bids for attention are, and how you can respond to them. Let’s talk about them!
What Are “Bids For Attention?”
Bids for attention are much more than questions or statements made by our partner. Bids for attention are attempts to connect with our partner when we are seeking attention, affirmation, or affection. A bid for attention is a way of saying “please pay attention to me”, “please talk with me”, “please lay with me”, or “please help me de-stress after the day I’ve had”, without actually asking explicitly.
I know what you might be thinking, shouldn’t our partner just tell us they want to talk about something or lay together? Am I really supposed to just know what my partner needs? Those are great questions! While explicitly asking your partner for something in order to meet your needs is important, bids for attention are just as important. Bids for attention aren’t intentionally asking your partner to read between the lines, they are the ways we reach out for connection that are less vulnerable than saying “I need you, please talk with me.”
How to Spot Bids For Attention
The secret to recognizing your partner’s bids, is to read the subtext underneath what your partner is actually saying, and then validate their feelings. This requires paying attention to not only your partner, and listening intentionally, but also paying attention to yourself and your responses. Here are some examples:
Bid for Attention vs. What Your Partner is Needing
“There was so much traffic on my drive home.” Really means, “I want to chat with you.”
“I ran into Rachel at the store today.” Really means, “I want you to hear about my day.”
“Will you watch this movie with me?” Really means, “Can we spend time together?”
“How was dinner tonight?” Really means, “I want your affirmation that you liked the dinner I made for you.”
“I need a hug after today.” Really means, “Can I have your affection?”
“Wow, check out the sunset!” Really means, “Can I have your attention?”
These are just a few examples of what your partner may really be asking for when they mention something about their day, ask to do something, or ask for you attention.
How To Respond to Bids For Attention and Bids for Affection
You can respond to a bid in three ways.
First, you can “turn away”, meaning ignoring or not recognizing the bid completely. This is the most hurtful response, as it tells your partner that you are not interested, and it shuts down connection altogether.
Another way to respond is by “turning against,” which means to reject the bid. While this is not necessarily helpful either, it at least lets your partner know that you’ve recognized their bid, and acknowledges them. It is okay to reject a bid, because we cannot expect our partner to be able to respond 100% of the time.
A positive way to reject a bid is to let your partner know that you’ve heard them, and that you want to check in with them later when you’re up for it. You can simply say, “It sounds like you’ve had a hard day. I really want to hear about it, but I’m not feeling up for it at this moment. Can we wait 30 minutes and then I’ll be ready to give you my attention?” This is still considered rejecting a bid but not as destructive as ignoring it!
The last way you can respond to a bid is by “turning towards” your partner, and meeting the need they are asking for. This lets them know you’ve recognized their bid, you’re acknowledging it, and you’re giving your partner what they’re needing from you in that moment. This is where the connection comes from!
How to Practice Turning Towards Your Partner in Bids of Affection
Now that we know what bids are, and the different responses to them, let’s talk about how you can practice turning towards.
How do you ask for connection? Both you and your partner should reflect on your own ways of bidding for attention. You
can also share with each other your reflections in order to start recognizing them when they happen. For example, one of the main bids I use is sharing a small piece of my day, which is my way of asking my partner to engage in a conversation with me to connect. It’s helpful to know how you and your partner bid for attention.
Dig a little deeper: Next, practice reading into the subtext of each bid. The next time your partner reaches out to you for anything, think about what they may really be needing or wanting from you? The more you practice, the better you’ll get!
Using Bids For Connection to Stay Connected
Just remember, bidding for attention is common in relationships, and the best thing we can do for our relationship — and for our partner — is to turn towards them, rather than turn away. Building connection doesn’t always mean big gestures or long talks, it can simply mean recognizing your partner’s needs for connection and meeting them.
This is especially true if you are dealing with relationship challenges like a long distance relationship, a particularly stressful time, or if your partner is going through something hard. In these moments it’s more important than ever to be listening for bits for connection and doing your best to respond to your partner with validation, empathy and understanding in these moments.
The data is clear: Turning towards your partner 86% leads to a long and happy marriage… 33% can spell real trouble for your relationship. I hope that this discussion gave you some ideas about how to increase your connection, and strengthen your relationship.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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