How to Respond to Emotional Bids & Build Your Marital Bond

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Who do you turn to in times of need? When you need reassurance or support? When you want  someone to share your excitement? 

We turn to our spouses for emotional connection in seemingly endless ways. For married couples (or in any committed relationship), such moments build trust and deepen our bond with each other.

Dr. John Gottman calls these moments "bids" to our partner. They serve as either “deposits” or "withdrawals" in your “Emotional Bank Account.” Whether it's a deposit or withdrawal depends on our partner's response.

What are some examples of emotional bids?

As stated above, we turn to our partner for a myriad of reasons. Listed here are just a few examples of the bids we make and receive.

  • Emotional support
  • Attention
  • Enthusiasm
  • Conversation
  • Affection
  • Humor
  • Intimacy

Making bids and responding to them are important ways in which we build our marital bond. In a study of newlyweds, for example, researchers found that some newlyweds turned towards each other 86% of the time while others did so 33% of the time. Guess which group was still married six years later?

What does it mean to “turn towards” your partner?

The simplest answer is likely the best. To turn towards your partner when they make an emotional bid is to react in a positive manner. In contrast, “turning away” is a way of avoiding or ignoring the bid. The third style of response is “turning against.” As you might imagine, this choice involves more arguments, negative language, and sarcasm.

When you turn towards your partner, you make a deposit in that emotional bank account.  Turning away constitutes a withdrawal. You want to build up a fat bank account so when the inevitable time comes and you fail to turn toward a bid, the withdrawal won't deplete your account. Too many failed bids can result in bankruptcy.

Both turning away and against your partner’s emotional bids is now seen as a potential precursor to divorce with turning away being the most likely source of marital discord. The same patterns hold for other types of relationships:

  • Work-related
  • Parent-child
  • Friends and family

All this adds up to clear-cut incentive to develop more awareness about the concept of bids and how to turn towards them.

How to Turn Towards Your Partner’s Emotional Bids

Understand the role of text and subtext

Even the best communicators can sometimes leave things unsaid. For example, take the basic question: “How do I look?” The subtext may be a bid for attention or reassurance. Here are a few more examples to help clarify the possibilities:

Text: My friends told me about a fun game.

Subtext: I want you to play with me.

 

Text: My commute was a nightmare this morning.

Subtext: I need you to listen so I can de-stress.

 

Text: Let’s do the dishes.

Subtext: I’d like your help.

 

Text: My mother called me today.

Subtext: Will you talk with me about this?

 

Text: I just saw such a funny meme.

Subtext: I want you to enjoy my company

 

Healthy relationships rely on a unique connection. Part of this connection is speaking the same language and operating on a similar wavelength. To turn towards your partner, listen to what’s said and what’s not being verbalized.

Pay close attention to the everyday moments

If we were to solely trust popular culture, we’d believe relationships are made of monumental moments—moments worthy of swirling montages and epic musical scores!

Sure, these moments and experiences happen, but no one has to remind us to notice. What creates a foundation of safety and trust, however, is focusing in on your partner’s everyday life. For example, when they comment about a big meeting, wish them luck. But also text them later in the day to check in.

Turning Towards the Value of Couple Counseling

So many of us believe relationship issues must be kept private and handled solely by the couple. This ends up being a counterproductive mindset. We all have patterns of communication and behavior, some of which may be maladaptive.

Couples also develop patterns. Learning now to turn towards your partner rather than away may require some guidance. With such help, couples can develop deeper, more positive communication. They can unravel past influences, restore intimacy, and re-connect to the friendship that forms the foundation of the marriage.