Strengthen Your Bond: Turning Towards Each Other, Instead of Away
Are you missing opportunities to connect with your partner? Do you feel your relationship could use an emotional connection spark? 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 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.
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 attention.”
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. [Check out: How to Stop a Divorce, and Save Your Marriage].
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.” [Read: Vulnerability- The Biggest Risk, and Greatest Reward]
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. This requires paying attention to not only your partner, but also 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
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
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!
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.
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.