Bids for connection in relationships

A concept we find useful and intriguing comes from John Gottman’s work. Gottman and his colleagues have been conducting cutting-edge research on marriages for over three decades. Their research methods are fascinating and if you are intersted in learning more about them, look at some of his academically oriented books.

The concept we want to talk about here is bids for connection in relationships. Basically, Gottman and his colleagues found that relationships were not necessarily composed of regular big intense interactions, rather marriages were made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of small moments of connection that would seem mundane to the casual observer. For example, Carl saying to his wife Jessica, “A funny thing happened today at work.” Jessica looks up from what she is doing, and asks “What happened?” The subsequent exchange takes place over the next two minutes or so and then each goes back to what they were doing. In Gottman’s view what just happened was that Carl made a bid for connection and Jessica responded with an example of ‘turning towards’. A bid for connection then is a small invitation to have to contact with your partner. According to Gottman, there are only three possible responses to a bid for connection. 1) turning towards the person who made the bid 2) turning away (most often exemplified by being none responsive). 3) turning against. An example of turning against would be Jessica saying something like “What the hell’s wrong with you? Can’t you see I’m busy?

It’s interesting to think about bids for connection happening all around us every day. Last week I (Bea) was buying a hair dryer. I was at the cashier’s station and the woman behind me told me she bought the exact same hairdryer and that it was really good. I responded by telling her I appreciated her input. We chatted a bit about hairdryers and a bit about her lovely sweatercoat which I admired and then went our separate ways.

I (Warren) find myself viewing casual remarks made by strangers differently than before. For example: now I see the bid for connection in a stranger’s question “How long have you been waiting for the bus?” and in my neighbour’s remark in the elevator, “Your Thai food sure smells good.”

More importantly, we both have come to understand the significance of bids for connection in close relationships.

Imagine a wife making bids for connection to her husband that get ignored repeatedly. How likely is she to continue to try and how might she feel when she finally gives up? How might this influence her receptiveness to his sexual overtures? And, how does the husband feel who makes a bid for connection with his wife only to have her respond with, “Don’t waste my time with another one of your idiotic stories.”

Gottman’s research shows in a compelling way that relationships, good or bad, are made up of a cumulation of many such moments. To learn more about bids for connection and other relationship advice go to www.gottman.com. There you will find free quizzes. One quiz for assessing the bids for connection in your relationship and one to assess how well your relationsihp is doing overall. To find them, go to the Marriage and Couples tab on the website.

Dr. Warren Weir and Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at B-Sort.com

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