In relationships, both verbal and nonverbal communication play a role in how well you connect with and feel seen by your partner. What you say, how you say it, and how your body language supports your words all matter. When couples are in conflict, things like tone, responses, and eye contact can help them move through their conflict or add fuel to the fire and make them feel more disconnected.
Bids for Connection
One way to support healthy dialogue and build connection is to be attuned to your partner’s “bids for connection.” This term was coined by Dr. John and Julie Gottman, leading researchers in the field of love and relationships. A bid is “an invitation to connect” (Gottman & Gottman, p. 3); it is an attempt for positive connection from you or your partner. This can be verbal or nonverbal and come in the form of feelings, observations, opinions, invitations, physical gestures, or questions.
Responding to Bids
How bids are made is just as important as how they are received. When a partner initiates a moment of connection, the other partner can respond in one of three ways (Gottman & Gottman, p. 5). Let’s use an example to illustrate the differences. If your partner says, “I was thinking we should try that new restaurant in our neighborhood this weekend.” You could respond by;
Turning Toward – “Oh yes, I know which one you are talking about; sounds good.”
This involves being present and responding to your partner. It does not mean you have to agree, but you show interest and help your partner feel seen.
Turning Away – “. . . <silence>.”
No response is given; when you turn away, you completely ignore or miss the bid. This is like ghosting the bid.
Turning Against – “Why would we do that? That’s a terrible idea.”
When we turn against, we reject a bid, shutting down the conversation and likely causing anger.
When you turn toward the bid, you accumulate moments of connectivity. Whenever you turn away or against it, a withdrawal is made from your love bank. Turning toward helps nurture your relationship and offset those times when you are in conflict. Many couples feel challenged by the lack of time to focus on their relationship. They have competing priorities and endless to-do lists, and the thought of spending time on the relationship feels daunting. Meaningful connection can come in small moments, and opportunities present themselves several times throughout the day. Consider a kiss goodbye, quick text or phone call during lunch, greeting your partner with a hug, using eye contact, sharing a laugh, etc.
Reflecting on Connection
According to Gottman’s research, how well couples recognize and respond to bids can determine the health and longevity of relationships. Couples who report happy and satisfying relationships turn toward each other 86% of the time (The Gottman Institute). The key to cultivating connection is bringing awareness to these moments of connection. As you go into this week, think about the interactions with your partner and reflect or write down what you notice.
When was the last time you tried to make a bid for a connection? What did you do? How was it received?
When was the last time your partner tried to make a bid? How did you respond?
Gottman, J., & Schwartz Gottman, J. (2022). The Love Prescription. Random House USA.