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Point-Blank Advice from Our Psych Major: Emotional ‘Bidding’

For those of you who haven’t heard, there is a brilliant marriage and parenting researcher named John Gottman. Dr. Gottman is the mind behind the concept of emotional bidding: the many ways in which we connect (or don’t) with our partners. By learning how bids work, we can learn not only how we can make a positive impact on our relationship, but also how we might be hindering them by rejecting our partners in ways we might not be aware of.

 A “bid” refers to an effort for interaction that we make towards our partner. Bids can be verbal or non-verbal and can come in the form of questions, statements, gestures, or touch. Asking your partner what he (or she) did today is an example of a bid. Our bids can elicit three types of responses: turning towards, turning away, and turning against.

  • ‘Turning towards’ is a positive bid response, such as my boyfriend launching into a detailed account of what he did today.
  • ‘Turning away’ is essentially failing to respond: if my boyfriend ignored my question and continued playing videogames, he would be turning away from my bid.
  • Finally, there is what Gottman calls ‘turning against.’ Turning against is the worst response to a bid; it is hostile and negative. Snapping back at me in an irritated voice with “Jess, I’m playing video games!” is an example of how my boyfriend might turn against my bid.

 So what happens when turning away or against our partner becomes habit? Well, that’s the crappy part. Gottman explains that reacting in these ways is essentially rejecting their bids, and eventually they will just stop bidding. Rejection gets old, fast! According to Gottman’s research, the healthiest couples are those who turn towards each other’s bids in all sorts of circumstances. Let’s take a look at examples of what to do – and what not to do – to enhance connection with your man.

Qualities of Turning Towards
“I just discovered a new band. They’re awesome, you would love them!”
• Act interested, positive, loving, engaged
• Touch them, make eye contact, smile
• Engage verbally

Qualities of Turning Away
• No verbal response; dismiss their bid by ignoring them
• Avoid eye contact, walk away, avoid physical contact
• Respond with something that has nothing to do with what they said
• Pretend not to notice what they said

Qualities of Turning Against
• Act angry, rejecting them and their bid
• Walk away, glare at them, make threatening gestures
• Respond with anger, sarcasm or put downs

Here’s the thing. Turning towards is a great thing, but sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Maybe my boyfriend and I are angry with each other and turning away or against is what we’d rather do. Maybe you’re not interested in talking or cuddling at the moment because you don’t feel well. So, how can we turn towards our partners when we feel like turning away or against? It’s easy! Basically, all you really need to do is find a way to put a positive spin on what you’re saying.

Think of it this way: your boyfriend asks you to go to the gym with him. It’s his favorite thing to do, and you know that joining him would make him happy, but you just finished a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and Grey’s Anatomy isn’t over yet, so you really aren’t feeling it. Rather than saying, “Ugh, babe, you’re always trying to make me go to the gym with you! I don’t want to!” which qualifies as turning against, you might try saying “I’m sorry honey, I don’t think I’m in beast mode right now. How about I come tomorrow?” This way, you’re still communicating your own needs, without entirely rejecting his.

As you can see, bidding is easy to understand, and once you understand how it works, it’s easy to learn how to increase the number of times you turn towards your partner and to stop turning away from or against them when they send a bid your way. Oh, and guess what else is cool about bidding? It’s a basic component of interpersonal interactions: we bid not only with our partners, but also with friends, family members, acquaintances, and coworkers. Now that I’ve given you the rundown on Gottman’s bids for emotional connection, try applying the art of effective bidding to your own life and see how it affects the quality of your relationships!


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