What is a "Bid for Connection" and How Can It Strengthen Your Relationship?

An emotional bid is an idea observed by marriage researcher John Gottman, and describes an essential element of intimacy in a great relationship: a request to connect. A bid for connection is reaching out to your partner when you want to maintain, enrich, or reestablish the emotional bond you share. A bid could be anything from inviting your partner to join in on a personal hobby or passion, to simply asking, “How was your day?”

The two halves of every bid for connection

After observing countless couples in relationship, and following up with couples years later, Gottman found that for those who stayed happily united, successful emotional bidding occurred 87% of the time. In relationships that eventually ended, or dragged on unhappily, successful emotional bids only occurred about a third of the time.

So what makes a bid for connection “successful”? When you respond to your partner’s bid by turning toward him emotionally, opening yourself up to his attempt to connect, you’ve succeeded together at placing trust and connection at the center of the life you share.

Responding positively to your partner’s emotional bid relates to a crucial element of a good relationship: kindness. An attitude of kindness means that you’re always scanning the emotional landscape for something to feel grateful about. It makes sense that responding kindly to most attempts to connect would make you and your partner feel like united.

You can turn toward your partner during an emotional bid by listening to and engaging with him. If your partner loves gardening, and points out a beautiful garden you pass, it’s an emotional bid to bring you into a part of his world he values. When you respond by taking an interest in the garden too, your relationship benefits.

Emotional bidding and kindness are most difficult—and probably most important—during conflict. If the foundation of your relationship is trust and love, you’ll likely see flashes of intimacy and affection even when you’re at odds, or even angry. If emotional bids aren’t extended, or go unmet over a long period of time, conflicts can instead become defined by criticism and derision—who can hurt the other the most.

Why is emotional bidding important?

When it comes to how safe you feel within your relationship, the quality of the attention you and your partner pay to one another daily matters deeply. It might seem strange that something as small as asking your partner what he’s thinking about will determine how happy your relationship stays over time, but the small things done frequently will make a positive impact on your partnership.

If your partner doesn’t make emotional bids for your affection and attention, or if you fail to respond to his bids, and turn back to whatever you were doing, your connection suffers. Rather than building a strong connection with your partner, disconnection and doubt are fostered. Even though you’re living in a committed relationship, you feel alone.

A bid can be a light touch, or asking your partner if he’s heard about something you saw on the news. You might not even recognize what you’re doing as emotionally powerful—after all, you’re not discussing your deepest feelings, or agreeing on deeply held value systems. In truth, emotional bids are so important because they’re a thermometer reading that answers the question, “How are we doing?”