720.370.1800 - Intl 844.331.1993
Select Page
How to Connect With Your Partner

How to Connect With Your Partner

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.

Your Relationship Questions, Answered

Your Relationship Questions, Answered

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Relationship Help

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I know that relationships can be confusing sometimes, and lots of people have relationship questions. We have listeners of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast and readers of our blog get in touch frequently asking questions about how they can connect with their partners, improve their communication, or create positive change in their marriages. (As well as asking questions about how to grow personally, or create positive changes in different areas of their life). But today’s podcast is all about relationships – specifically, your relationship questions.

Your Relationship Questions, Answered.

Today, we’re answering your relationship questions in order to give you some direction, and real help for your relationship. Here are some of the relationship questions I’m answering today:

Ms M asks, “How do I know whether my relationship is worth saving, or if I should let this go and move on?”

Lisa asks: “Should I stay friends with my Ex?”

Mr. T asks: “I’m shutting down with my partner. How do I stop?”

Ms. K asks: “I’m afraid that my boyfriend is emotionally unavailable due to his own issues. What do I do?”

  • We talked about the realities of having a partner with unaddressed emotional issues, and who is not interested in working on themselves. We discussed her points of power, and her opportunities for changing the situation, as well as how to move forward with a partner who is unwilling. Resources mentioned included, What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Do you have relationship advice for these questioners or personal experiences that you can relate? Perhaps you have your own relationship questions, self-improvement questions, breakup questions, or career questions for an upcoming episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast? If so, please leave them in the comments!

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Relationship Advice: Listener's Relationship Questions, Answered

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Enjoy the Podcast?

Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Google Play

How Healthy is Your Relationship?

How Healthy is Your Relationship?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Get Clarity About Your Relationship

Are you confused about your relationship? Join the club. Relationships can be so hard to figure out. What’s normal in a marriage? What’s not normal? When is a fight just a fight, and when does it point to bigger issues? Is my relationship in trouble? Or are we just having the normal and expected bumps in the road that all couples have? Are we compatible? Or should we break up? Or is this fundamentally a really great relationship, and we just need to work on it? Can my partner change? Can I change? How?

So. Confusing.

Relationships are so confusing because so many different things can be simultaneously true about our relationships all at the same time. For example, all couples have disagreements. Every relationship has ups and downs. All people (even you and me) can have moments where we lose our cool, say dumb things, or be selfish and inconsiderate with our partners. The truth is, we’re all a mixed bag, and so is every relationship. EVEN amazing, healthy, fun, and wonderful relationships that are worth committing in, investing in and cherishing forever are not always perfect.

It is also true that there are things that happen in relationships that are easy to blow off as being not that big of a deal… but that can actually spell doom for a relationship. There are certain types of fights that are more toxic and damaging than others. There are a few things that can erode your sense of trust and emotional safety, to the point of no repair. And there are a few key relationship skills that can make all the difference between whether your love lasts a lifetime, or whether you grow apart.

Help is here. On this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m going to be walking you through the different vital relationship domains to help you understand what’s normal, and what suggests more serious problems under the surface. We’ll be talking about the things that people often are concerned about that are not really that important in the big scheme of things. We’ll also be addressing the things that people often minimize that are actually a really big deal. Then, I’ll be offering you some actionable advice for where to focus your energy if you want to improve your relationship.

FYI, this comes in two parts: First, listen to the podcast. Then, take the “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz, to find out how your relationship stacks up.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Music Credits: Bedouine, “One of These Days”

Enjoy the Podcast?

Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Google Play

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Are You Unhappily Married, and Wondering What to Do?

I have people get in touch with me with all kinds of relationship questions. “Jane” from New Zealand recently contacted me with a really common dilemma: How to proceed in an “ambivalent” marriage — one where there are both positive and also very difficult aspects? How do you know if there is hope? When is a relationship salvageable, and when has too much damage been done? How do you know if it’s time to get divorced, or if you can be happy together again?

Tough questions, and ones that many people wrestle with. There is a slew of new research out as to the prevalence of “mixed bag” relationships and the emotional and physical consequences they take, including this new article from the New York Times: The Ambivalent Marriage Takes a Toll On Health. 

Marriage Is a Journey, Not a Destination

What makes “ambivalent marriages” so confusing is that relationships are constantly evolving. There is no “final destination” unless a couple divorces or someone dies. What might be true in one season of life doesn’t stay put forever. It changes.

In fact, couples do a dance of intimacy over decades: Coming together, then pulling apart, then rediscovering each other, then being preoccupied with other things, and then delighting in the new person their partner has grown into while they weren’t paying attention. During the hard times that all marriages weather, people can feel extremely ambivalent about their relationship, and wonder whether it will ever get better. But the space you’re in right now can always change. That hope for change can keep people hanging on for a long time.

[tweetthis]”Where there is life, there is hope.” — Cicero[/tweetthis]

Is There Hope For YOUR Marriage?

I’ll share with you Jane’s question, and my answer, and we’ll plunge into the multi-faceted, messy, ever-evolving reality of relationships and the confusing paradoxes of attachment. As we do, I encourage you to think about your own situation, and the current opportunities (and challenges) in your marriage.

Here’s what Jane asked:

“What usually happens in a marriage when there are both reasons to divorce AND reasons to stay? How do people resolve their ambivalence about their marriage and decide whether to end a relationship or work on it? Here’s the situation…

A husband in his forties is not happy about his marriage, because:

  • They are “always” arguing
  • He is jealous of his wife
  • The love & passion is long absent from the relationship
  • They are just not happy like this
  • They have different priorities, can’t agree on anything
  • She spends too much time in work therefore she is never at home
  • They have different opinions on religion, politics
  • No one wants to resolve the conflicts, they just build up

However, there are also some reasons for saving the marriage:

  • They have two grown-up kids
  • She responsibly takes care of food, laundry & cleaning
  • They are co-owners of a family business
  • They have common assets (bank accounts, property) that would be difficult to divide
  • The high cost of divorce
  • The social impact on family, friends & church
  • They might lose some common friends
  • They have nice history together, many good memories
  • They have known each other forever
  • Maybe they still like each other deep down
  • It’s hard to imagine what life will be like after splitting up (afraid of change)”

“Can this marriage be saved?” — Jane

Here’s my response to Jane, about my perspective of the possible strengths and challenges of this marriage.

Jane, this sounds like a very difficult situation that is causing a great deal of pain and unhappiness for both of the partners. I also know that this kind of situation doesn’t just explode into being overnight — it takes many years of hurt feelings, negative experiences, and resentment to get to this point. This is a great example of what can happen when a couple waits too long to get good marriage counseling. Sometimes the wounds and hurts pile up to the point where an attachment is broken beyond repair.

However, I’d caution you against using a “pros and cons” list to attempt to figure out what the most likely out come will (or should) be. Love is a mysterious and powerful thing, and what you’ve shared with me speaks to the possibility that there may be a profound attachment remaining between these two people. If they had the opportunity to explore that with each other in a safe place, all kinds of amazing things may still be possible for this couple. The warmth of empathy, compassion, and responsiveness can bring love back to life — particularly if it’s been disguised as hurt and anger.

Strengths of This Marriage

They are still fighting. I know this sounds very odd to think of arguements as a positive thing, but when people are fighting it means that they are feeling hurt, and trying to get the other person to understand them. This means that they still care enough about each other to be hurt. Their (angry) attempts to communicate mean that they still want the other person to understand them.

People who are really, really done with a relationship simply disengage all together. They don’t get hurt, angry or offended. They don’t care enough about their partner one way or another to be hurt or perturbed by anything they say or do. They stopped expecting anything better a long time ago.

What I hear is that this couple still has a longing for connection, but perceives each other as being unavailable and emotionally unsafe. There is enormous opportunity for healing and growth for even the most tormented marriage when people can still open up to each other (and hear) how much pain they are feeling about their disconnection, loneliness, and longing for closeness and companionship.

The fact that the husband is suspicious of his wife (and resents the time she spends away) tells me that he really wants to feel loved by her, and have her attention. I wonder what could happen if he could share that longing with her in a vulnerable way? In a badly damaged marriage, people require a competent marriage counselor to be able to create and maintain the emotional safety necessary to do this productively. But amazing things happen when it does.

Having been the marriage counselor who creates safety for couples to have those kinds of new conversations, I’ve had the honor and privilege of witnessing the magic that can happen when people realize that they’ve BOTH been hurting, and wanting the same thing: Connection, emotional security, and love. It’s like they discover each other all over again. I’ve had sessions where all three of us were moved to tears by the beauty of two hurting people realizing they both need the same thing.

If I’ve learned anything as a marriage counselor, it’s this: Love is powerful, it can overcome seemingly enormous obstacles, and that you have no idea what’s possible, until you try.

Challenges of This Marriage

In my opinion most troubling thing about this situation, and one that may signify that the marriage cannot be repaired, is that the “positives” are largely centered upon conveniences and efforts to protect themselves from other kinds of losses. (Financial losses, losing friends, risking the business, losing the security of the “housekeeper / provider” arrangement). Only at the very end does this vignette allude to the possibility that there may be some remnant of affection, or attachment that would be lost if they split.

When people don’t really care that much about the other person’s presence in their lives, but are instead focused on maintaining the lifestyle or conveniences that marriage affords, it implies that emotional detachment has already occurred. The partners are focused more on themselves rather than each other. People who are very self focused sometimes have difficulty doing the work of repairing a relationship, which is developing empathy and appreciation for the needs, rights and feelings of the other, cultivating emotional safety for your partner, and showing them that you love them.

However the fact that this couple has had positive experiences with each other in the past, still relies on each other for companionship, “might still like each other” and “can’t imagine life without the other” signifies that there may still be a powerful attachment bond making them feel cared for by aspects of their partnership.

The presence of an attachment bond would explain why they still care enough to feel hurt, or worry that the other is being unfaithful, or feel annoyed that the other spends too much time at work. This tips their hand — revealing their longing for love. They still want each other, they just don’t have any idea how to find each other again.

Very Few People Really Want to Get Divorced

In my experience, even in couples who do divorce, I’d say that 90% of them don’t really want to end the marriage. They are just unhappy with the way their relationship is. They don’t want it to be over, they want it to be better better …but they have no idea how to fix it. So divorce seems like the only solution to an unsustainable situation.

What marriage counselors understand is that just because you don’t know how to fix it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be fixed. If there is still an attachment, if people are willing to be vulnerable with each other, and if there is a willingness to show the other person that you do still care about them there is always hope and opportunity. But many couples need help to see past the hurt, anger and blame, and reach for love instead.

The bottom line: I don’t know what is possible for this couple. But neither do they, currently. What I do know for sure is that this couple needs a good marriage counselor who can help them talk about their pain, and create new understanding between them. If they can connect with the part of themselves that still wants to love and be loved by this person, they may be able to achieve a whole new chapter of connection, affection, intimacy, and the deep, meaningful relationship that can only be EARNED by walking through the dark woods of disconnection… and finding each other on the other side again.

I know that this probably sounds like an infomercial for marriage counseling, but think of it instead that someone who cares about you is letting know know that there is always hope, that change is always possible, and there are people who can help you. If you want to take a chance on marriage counseling, make sure you work with someone who is competent to help you. Here’s a tutorial that can help you find the right marriage counselor for you:  http://www.growingself.com/marriage-counseling-questions/how-to-choose-a-marriage-counselor/

Thank you for your question, and I wish you both the very best…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
Loading...