Jump to Questions

This topic is adapted from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.

Think about your marriage. How many times have you thrown out an idea in hopes that your spouse catches on, but they miss it? Or you’ve explicitly asked a favor and your spouse doesn’t do it? These missed opportunities leave us feeling frustrated, unloved, and unsure of our spouse’s commitment. It’s as though our spouse doesn’t care to pay attention.

[Related: Tips for Better Marriage Communication]

A marriage can’t be healthy if it’s defined only by missed opportunities or unmet expectations. This is a sure path to divorce. Instead, a successful marriage comes when both spouses are looking to meet the needs of the other and jump at the chance to serve in any way they can. John Gottman refers to this idea of responding to the requests, or “bids,” of your spouse.

A “bid” is any attempt from one partner to the other for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection.

Bids can be little things like a wink or the arch of an eyebrow. Bids can be in the form of asking a favor or requesting something specific. It can be saying something like, “I hate emptying the dishwasher,” or, “We haven’t been on a date in months.” An alert spouse will pick up on these bids and see them as requests for action. It’s one thing to be aware that your spouse will make bids, but it’s another thing to know how to respond to those bids.

Examples of Bids Adapted from John Gottman’s 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work

Here are some examples of bids and what they typically mean.

Text: How do I look?” Subtext:Can I have your attention?”

Text: “Getting the kids to bed is hard.” Subtext: “Can I have your help?”

Text: “Want to cuddle?” Subtext:Can I have your affection?”

Three Ways to Respond to a Bid

Turning toward. This is reacting positively to your partner’s bid for emotional connection. Instead of ignoring a bid, you hear it and respond. This breeds trust, love, and connection in the marriage. It’s a win every time.

Turning away. This response is essentially ignoring and avoiding the bid or acting preoccupied. When a spouse continually misses the bid, this will breed distrust and discord.

Turning against. This response is worse than just ignoring a bid. This is when one partner is critical of the request or responds sarcastically. Not only is the partner rejecting the request, they’re essentially belittling the thoughts and feelings of their spouse.

A couple that practices “turning toward” behavior “deposits” goodwill into the emotional “bank” of the relationship.

This is how you build trust into a marriage. Your actions show that you are attentive and ready to meet the needs of your spouse. As trust grows, so will intimacy.

[Related: 10 Tips for a Happy Marriage]

If you want a healthy marriage, you have to be ready to respond to the bids of your spouse. Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues and don’t discount a hint or direct request. Couples who ignore, or actively turn away from, their spouse’s bids, breed distrust and disconnection.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Is your spouse more of a hint dropper or more direct in communication? Explain.
  4. What are some of the common hints or requests you hear from your spouse? Do you notice a theme to their requests?
  5. How good is your spouse at responding to your hints/requests? How could they improve?
  6. Of the three ways to respond to a “bid,” which one would you say you do most? How about your spouse? Explain.
  7. Do you ever feel like your spouse turns against or belittles your requests? In what ways? How does that make you feel?
  8. Describe how you would love your spouse to respond to your needs. How can you start doing those same things for your spouse?
  9. How will you “deposit” trust into your relationship account? How will learning to trust one another more positively impact your marriage?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.