Daniel Dowling reveals the secret to a great marriage and lasting intimacy with your partner.
Every attempt at communication by your partner is a request for your confidence, attention, and emotional connection. If you turn toward your partner during these requests with empathy, you will find new depth and intimacy in your relationship.
Studies have shown that couples who turn toward each other after “bids” are the ones who stay together and enjoy the highest levels of intimacy and satisfaction. *Study links at bottom.
Here is a list of bids common throughout relationships
Can you help me with this?
Will you do me a favor?
What do you think about this?
Do you like this dress?
I love you, honey.
Work was rough today.
The kids were acting up today and I feel stressed
Let’s get out.
I feel upset.
My mother is ill again.
Sometimes I just can’t understand people.
I feel like what I do is never good enough.
When you hear a bid, that is a cue to tune in, empathize and connect with your partner. Studies show that the “turn towards” ratio is what makes or breaks a marriage, and that “Super Couples” have the highest ratio of engaged bids. The good news is that anyone can be part of a Super Couple if they pay attention and respond positively to their partner’s bids.
The list of bids goes on ad infinitum, but you can get better at determining a bid by listening for connection. Focus your thoughts on how your partner needs or wants to connect with you, and respect the fundamental need to feel needed.
How you respond to bids will determine the quality of your relationship. In every bid, there are three opportunities: Empathize, ignore, or defend.
Empathizing is taking the time and thought to consider the needs behind another’s statement or behavior; it is “turning towards.” What emotions are they experiencing, and what needs are behind their expressions?
Empathy opens the door for your partner to be vulnerable. Empathy lets your lover know that what they have to say is important to you, that you won’t judge them, and that they are completely safe in expressing how they feel.
Phrases like, “I’m here for you” or “I’m listening, hon” let your partner know that you care, and they also remind you to actually be present to their needs.
Ignoring bids comes from the best intentions many times, but it always leaves your partner feeling disconnected from you. Since human connection is our most fundamental need in relationships, ignoring your partner is a fast way to escalate conflict and increase tension.
Ignoring a bid may come from an instinct to protect. Perhaps the last time your partner said she was upset you reacted defensively and the conversation turned into an attack that led to a week of not speaking to one another. In this case, ignoring her bid will fuel the wounds that led her to feel upset in the first place. Ignoring a bid is saying “no” to a golden opportunity to make an emotional connection.
3- Defend and Attack
This is perhaps the most common response to bids outside of the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Take a couple scenarios for example:
“I’m upset,” says the wife. Husband says, “Well what do you want me to do about it?!” By stating, “I’m upset,” the wife is really saying, I need you to understand what I’m going through; that is her need. By responding defensively and placing attention on himself, the husband is ignoring the underlying need in the bid, which is to feel connected.
Responding defensively creates further distance in an effort to protect, and the desire to protect is most always a misinterpretation of the other person’s needs. When couples speak, rarely if ever is there a need to hurt someone or to make another person feel less, but moreover to be connected. How we interpret the action, however, is a different story.
Wife- “Do you like this dress on me?”
Husband- “Every time I tell you what I think you just tell me you think you look fat—I’m not playing this game.”
Instead of her bid for attention being met with affection, the wife finds herself fielding a defense. Behind each statement is a need: The wife needs to be doted on, and the husband needs his opinion to be valued.
Many times our bids will be met with defensiveness. We can see defensiveness as an attack on our character, or we can empathize with the needs and feelings behind defensiveness.
Seeing into others needs while expressing your own
It’s important to understand that people who respond negatively are trying to protect themselves while expressing needs of their own. They are scared, frustrated, confused, and oftentimes so desperate to make a connection that they don’t realize they are hurting others.
So the wife could say to the husband, “Are you feeling frustrated?” After hearing her husband’s response and further clarification of needs, the wife can then state that her bid was simply a request for attention after she empathizes with her husband.
A simple way to connect with someone else’s needs when we first feel defensive is to remind ourselves that no matter how our spouse is coming across, their primary need is to be connected.
Intimacy is a primary need in relationships. Responding positively to your partner’s bids will help you grow intimacy, so take every chance you can to make emotional connections. Be vulnerable, look for the best in your partner, and stay connected. Don’t just aim to stay together, but shoot to be a Super Couple!
The Timing of Divorce, Gottman and Levenson
What Do You Do When Things Go Right?, Gable Reis, Impett, and Asher