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A New Way To View Human Connection

A New Way To View Human Connection

by Spencer Lee, MSW Intern

John Gottman is a world-renowned therapist and psychology researcher, famous for his work surrounding couples, marriage, and divorce. You may have heard of his version of the ‘Four Horsemen’ in relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. John, and his wife Julie, founded the Gottman Institute where you can find different resources and trainings for couples, parents, and professionals.


John Gottman also coined the term “bid for connection” which is the “fundamental unit of emotional communication” between two people. Most often, bids are being made between couples, but they also appear between friends, family members, and even strangers. We make and receive bids all the time. They can be verbal, nonverbal, subtle, or obvious; sometimes bids for connection are presented in ways that come off as attention-seeking or argument-provoking. We aren’t always adept at recognizing them or making the intent behind them clear, which can cause conflict in relationships.


How do bids for connection appear in our lives?

The trouble with these bids is that they aren’t always obvious. A bid for connection can look like “How was work today?” or “Check out this TikTok I just saw!”. A bid can be asking someone to join you on an errand and it can even look like starting an argument to gain someone’s attention, even if it comes in the form of conflict.


Because bids can be subtle and don’t always directly express their intent, we aren’t always the best at recognizing them for what they are. Any time someone makes a bid, they are asking to connect with you.


How can we better respond to bids from others?

The most important thing we can do when responding to bids from others is to recognize it as a request for connection. Like I mentioned earlier, a bid for connection can come across as your partner starting an argument. Without any knowledge of how people make bids, you’re likely to become irritated with your partner for starting an argument- when all they really wanted was your attention.


Once we have recognized an action as a bid for connection, we have three options. We can turn toward, turn away, or turn against someone’s request for connection. Turning toward a bid involves engaging with your partner and giving them the connection they are asking for. Turning away from the bid would be ignoring the request altogether and turning against the bid involves meeting the request with hostility or quickly shutting them down.


Let’s look at an example. You make a “bid” by telling your partner about the crazy traffic you encountered earlier. Your partner can a) turn towards the bid by saying “Oh man I saw that too, I wonder if there was an accident in that area” or b) turn away from the bid by going “Mhm” or c) turn against the bid responding, “You always find something to complain about”.


How can we make “better” bids?

Learning about these requests for connection can highlight how we make bids in our own lives. Has anyone ever shot you down or ignored you when you tried to engage with them? Many times, bids are not accepted by accident- because the person does not realize it is someone’s desire for connection. So, one of the best things we can do to earn the connection we seek is to open up with the person about our request. You are more likely to be told “no” or get shrugged off when saying “Hey look at this picture” rather than saying “I really want to connect with you right now.” By making your intent know, it is more likely the person you’re trying to connect with will do so.


Now, it would become pretty annoying if every time we wanted to share a moment with someone we had a full-blown discussion about our desire for connection. However, your relationship may benefit from sitting down with a person who has been turning away from or against your bids recently and telling them how it is impacting you. On the flip side, if your partner often turns toward your bids, you can take a moment to tell them how much you appreciate their effort to connect with you.


Why do bids matter anyway?

Bids for connection are omnipresent and essential to building strong relationships. Having a bid be turned away from or against is not a good feeling; continuous rejection of bids can lead to feelings of loneliness, disconnection, resentment, sadness and anger. Although when a person rejects a bid they are probably just saying “I’m tired right now”, or “I’m upset with you at the moment”, it can feel like the message is “I don’t like you and you don’t deserve to connect with me”. Turning against or away from bids can be hurtful, even unintentionally. So, next time someone asks you to join them at the grocery store, consider the meaning behind their request and express your feelings on connection too!