Psychologists John and Julie Gottman, a couple themselves, have extensively studied the key characteristics that distinguish happy and unhappy relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or even unconventional relationship dynamics. Ultimately, it all comes down to how couples treat each other during a particular interaction, namely when one partner brings up something that holds personal significance or meaning to them (Chang, 2022). See the following example:
So called “Bids” are requests or connection that one partner makes towards their partner. Just like the girl in the example above. By telling her partner about the puppy she sees she is trying to connect with him. What is important now, is the reaction of the partner. He could either turn towards or turn away from the bid.
In 1990 Dr. John Gottman conducted a study where he invited 130 newly wed couples to spend some time in his so-called “love lab” which he had turned into a cozy bed and breakfast. He observed the behaviour of the couples concentrating on the behaviour regarding bids. After 6 years he looked at the situation of the then couples again and discovered a very interesting turn-out (Chang, 2022):
The couples who were divorced after the six years only turned toward 33% of the bids while the couples who remained together turned toward 87% of the bids.
So, Understanding the relevance of bids and their impact on our relationships can be transformative.
How should we respond to bids? As previously discussed, bids are requests for connection. The best way to respond is to turn towards the bid and acknowledge it, as exemplified in the earlier example. By actively engaging with our partner's bids, we create a positive dynamic that strengthens the relationship.
Why are bids so crucial? The tendency to turn towards our partner is the foundation of trust, emotional bond, passion, and a satisfying sexual life, as evidenced by Gottman's study. Acknowledging and responding to bids nurtures these essential aspects of a successful relationship.
How often should we make bids? As often as possible, we should make small gestures of attention and affection towards our partner. These acts of kindness and connection contribute to the overall health of the relationship.
What happens when bids are ignored? When our partner rejects our bids, we internalize that experience. Unconsciously, our brains keep track of how many bids from our partner are accepted or rejected. If our bids are consistently dismissed, frustration builds up. This often leads to criticism, putting our partner on the defensive and potentially leading to conflicts.
Gottman's findings reveal that couples who break up typically do so not because of major conflicts or infidelity. More often, it is the result of resentment and distance that accumulate over time as partners repeatedly turn away from bids for connection.
The lesson to be learned is to make numerous small bids every day. Be attentive and responsive to your partner's bids. Notice their sighs and winks. Make eye contact when they ask a question. Engage with them when they bring something to your attention (Ury, 2023).