“Hey honey, check out what I found on Facebook!”
“No! Stop wasting time on your phone! I have real problems to take care of!”
Anyone who’s been around children knows how much they enjoy showing their creations. They’ll make a drawing and bring it to mom or dad and say, “Look!” As the adult, in that moment, we face a relationship-building or relationship-breaking decision.
Choosing the former, we might say to our child, “That’s wonderful, thanks for showing me”. But if we choose the latter, we might say, “I don’t have time for that! Besides, it doesn’t look like anything but scribbles!”
When we go with the first option, our child feels validated and encouraged and will typically return to playing. With the latter option, our child will feel deflated, rejected, and hurt, like she or he just received a verbal slap across the face.
Adults are no different than children. We too want someone to see our creations, to listen to our musings and celebrate our accomplishments. We want someone to notice us, to see us, to step into our world.
When the child above brings a drawing to mom or dad, it is called “making a bid”. It’s an offer to share or show something. What the adult does in response is either “accepting or rejecting the bid”. If the adult turns towards the child positively, they are accepting the bid, and if they turn away, they are ignoring or rejecting the bid.
I first heard this term from Dr. John Gottman’s research into what makes some relationships succeed and some fail. From Dr. Gottman’s website :
“In his research, Dr. Gottman observed that happy couples turn towards their partners approximately twenty times more than couples in distress during everyday, non-conflict discussions. In a newlywed study, newlyweds who were still married six years after their wedding had turned towards each other 86% of the time while in the lab. Those who were divorced six years later, however, had only turned towards each other 33% of the time.”
As adults in relationship, we make a lot of bids of our partners or prospective partners. Some of these bids we make consciously. “Wanna go to a movie?” “Can I get your phone number?” “Will you spend time with me?” These are all examples of bids we make deliberately, in search of a response.
We also make lots of bids embedded in everyday conversations. “Look what I found on Facebook!” “Did you see that bird?” “We sure haven’t had sex for a long time.”
On a deeper level, making a bid is an invitation for someone I care about to step into my world, sometimes for just a moment. It’s a request for someone to see me, to join with me, to validate me, and to take an interest in me.
In that way, we are all still like kids showing off our drawings in the hopes that someone will say, “Wow, you did really well with that”. When someone receives our bid, we feel validated and witnessed and it gives a little jolt of “I matter”; which is a powerful antidote to the negative sound tracks many of us have running in our minds. When someone rejects our bids, we feel a little “ouch” inside.
If our bids are rejected with force, like “I don’t have time for your nonsense!” it can really sting. And what do we tend to do when we feel stung? We counter-attack, get defensive, or withdraw, all of which contributes to the pollution of our intimate environment. If our bids keep getting rejected, we might eventually stop making bids altogether and resort to feeling resigned and distant in our relationships.
Many couples, for example, who have stopped sharing touch, sex and intimacy, have often had their bids rejected repeatedly over time (and/or the bids weren’t skillfully made, but that’s material for another article). In response, to avoid the pain of rejection, they eventually stopped making bids – and with negative consequences.
As Dr. Gottman’s research suggest, accepting or rejecting your partner’s bids will quite literally make or break your marriage or relationship. Once you know these concepts, it’s easy to recognize the positive and negative consequences of receiving and rejecting bids in both your own relationship and in observing others. Want to be a “relationship scientist” and make a prediction about the quality or stability of someone’s relationship? Watch if the partners reject or receive each other’s bids.
The studies quoted above are about married couples, but making bids is just as relevant for singles. The dating process is essentially one long string of bids that either get received or rejected. Someone who likes your profile is offering a bid. Sending someone a message is a bid. When you reply to a message sent to you, you accepted someone’s bid. Asking for a phone number or a coffee meeting is a bid. You might even say swiping right is a sort of indirect bid that you hope will be received. We talk to so many singles who get fatigued or guarded because they feel discarded and rejected from having so many of their bids for connection declined or ignored.
In LoveWorks, we are big proponents of receiving bids with grace and kindness. For one, it’s effective communication and relationship behavior. It secures loving stability. Secondly, when someone makes a bid, that person is taking a risk, putting themselves out there in a somewhat vulnerable position, just like the kid showing off a drawing. Making a bid opens the person reaching out to rejection, and we generally think that should be rewarded kindly. But doesn’t mean you have to say yes to what is asked of you.
Yes, you can receive a bid kindly and still say no to the request. Say someone asks for your phone number, but you don’t want to give it. You receive the bid first by saying, “Thanks for asking for my number, I’m honored you would ask”. Then, you can give your reply, by saying something like, “I’m not prepared to share my number with you right now (or quite yet); but I’d be willing to take yours”. Point being, first receive with kindness, then give your response.
One couple who came to our workshop and heard about this concept of bids, realized that their temper tantrum child was making several bids of them a day that they were missing. This allowed them to completely shift their interactions with him and dramatically improve their relationship.
Another couple, who frequently got in fights when she came home late from work to her retired stay at home husband, realized that his anger at the door was the result of an unspoken bid for more attention and quality time together. This awareness shifted their interactions with each other. They deliberately created a weekly date night and began offering up more verbal appreciations of each other on a daily basis. Recognizing bids and responding positively to them significantly reduced the distance and tension in their relationship.
In a recent article, we quoted a movie character for sharing her theory that why we get married is so that we have a witness to our lives. In a world of billions of people, what does one life really matter? But in a marriage or committed relationship it’s as if we say to each other, “Your life will not go un-noticed, because I will notice it”.
Philosophically, we believe there’s a lot of truth to that theory. Practically, in our day-to-day lives and relationship, this philosophy gets played out by the making and subsequent reception or rejection of bids.
Our invitation to you is two-fold:
- Notice how and where you make bids in your relationship. Do you do it consciously or unconsciously? Do you do it a positive way? (You can make bids negatively. “We never have sex anymore!” sounds like a criticism, but is often a bid for more sex and intimacy).
- Receive bids with kindness and compassion. Even if you can’t say yes to the request, you can still receive the gift of the bid.
Making bids consciously increases your chances of getting what you want. Receiving bids kindly and generously makes your partner feel seen and validated and makes them want to give to you as well. Even if you say no to the request, a kind reception of a bid encourages them to keep putting themselves out there.