When you are in a relationship, every interaction holds the potential to deepen connection or create distance. This is true for even the most seemingly ordinary moments with your partner—whether you ask them to go for a walk, listen to a new song, or reach out to hold their hand. These are all examples of how we bid for connection with our partners, and they are essential to understanding how we remain connected.

What are bids for connection?

Imagine bids as subtle invitations that you and your partner extend to each other, inviting one another to share moments of understanding, affection, humor, fun, or support. How you respond to these bids, whether you turn toward, away, or against them, can profoundly influence the course of your relationships. 

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned relationship researchers, define bids for connection as the fundamental units of emotional communication in relationships. Turning toward a bid involves acknowledging and responding positively, turning away involves ignoring or missing the bid, and turning against involves responding negatively. These responses add up and significantly impact the emotional climate of the relationship.

To better understand how bids for connection work, check out the scenarios below and consider how you might respond to your partner’s bids. 


Turning toward your partner’s bid for connection

The more you turn toward your partner’s bids, the more positivity and connection you will feel in your relationship. Turning toward involves acknowledging the bid, showing interest, and engaging in a way that fosters emotional connection and strengthens the relationship. When you turn toward your partner’s bid for connection, you build trust, intimacy, and a sense of partnership or friendship.

Here’s an example of what turning toward your partner’s bid may sound like: 

Joe: “Hey, it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day today. It could be a good day to ride our bikes…” 

Alice: “Yeah! Let’s do it. Especially before the rain rolls in tomorrow. Maybe we can grab some lunch after that, too?” 

Joe: “Sounds like a plan. I’ll get the bikes ready.” 

Ah, doesn’t that feel good? It’s ideal when your partner accepts your bid for connection and adds to it, as Alice did. Alice turned toward Joe, and together, they undoubtedly sparked a connection and felt important to each other.


Turning away from your partner’s bid for connection

Turning away from a bid has the opposite effect. This generally looks and sounds like ignoring your partner or shrugging off their bid. Turning away leaves the bidding partner disappointed and assuming how you feel toward them. Does my partner still like hanging out with me? Do they care about our relationship? Frequent turning away can diminish your partner’s desire to continue bidding for connection, resulting in possible resentfulness and ultimately damaging your bond.

Here’s an example of turning away from your partner’s bid for connection: 

Sarah and Jake are sitting in their living room. Sarah is reading a book, and Jake is browsing his phone.

Sarah: (looks up from her book) “Hey, Jake, did you see the news about that new restaurant opening downtown? I think we should check it out this weekend.”

Jake: (without looking up from his phone) “Mm-hmm.”

Sarah: (pauses, feeling a bit disheartened) “I heard their menu is really interesting. Maybe we could go on Saturday?”

Jake: (still focused on his phone) “Yeah, sure. Whatever you want.”

Sarah: (sighs softly and goes back to her book, feeling ignored and disconnected)

In this exchange, Jake turns away from Sarah’s bid for connection by not giving her his full attention and offering minimal, distracted responses. The lack of engagement can make Sarah feel undervalued or ignored, weakening their emotional bond.


Turning against your partner’s bid for connection

Turning against a partner’s bid for connection means responding to their attempt to engage with you in a hostile, critical, or dismissive way. Instead of acknowledging and positively engaging with the bid, the response is negative and can create conflict or emotional harm. This reaction can undermine the emotional bond between partners and lead to feelings of rejection, hurt, or resentment.

Check out this scenario of turning against your partner’s bid for connection: 

Gene and Mark are in the kitchen. Gene is preparing dinner, and Mark is reading a magazine.

Gene: (looking over at Mark) “Hey, Mark, I was thinking it would be nice to go for a walk after dinner. It’s so nice outside.”

Mark: (snaps, not looking up) “Can’t you see I’m busy right now? I don’t have time for that.”

Gene: (taken aback) “Oh, okay… never mind.”

In this dialogue, Mark turns against Gene’s bid for connection by responding with irritation and dismissiveness. The negative response rejects the bid and introduces conflict, potentially causing hurt feelings and tension in the relationship.


Can I turn down my partner’s bid for connection?

Ideally, we should try to turn toward our partner’s bid as often as possible; however, it’s not always feasible. Perhaps you’re not feeling well or have other obligations that need immediate attention (e.g., work, kids activities, etc.). This is okay and understandable. What matters most is how you turn down the bid.

The key here is to acknowledge your partner’s bid for connection. Let your partner know that you hear them and are disappointed that you cannot spend time with them at that moment. Try offering a time in the near future to hang out and spend time together. 

Here’s an example of how you can thoughtfully turn down a bid for connection:

Alex and Jamie are in their living room. Jamie is watching a TV show, and Alex is reading a book.

Jamie: (smiling) “Hey, Alex, do you want to join me and watch this show? It’s really funny.”

Alex: (looks up from the book and smiles back) “That sounds fun, Jamie. I really want to finish this chapter, though. How about I join you in about 20 minutes?”

Jamie: (nods) “Sure, that works. I’ll save the next episode for us to watch together.”

Alex: “Great, thanks for understanding. I’m looking forward to it.”

In this dialogue, Alex gently and respectfully turns down Jamie’s bid for connection while acknowledging the invitation and expressing a willingness to connect later. This response maintains an emotional connection and shows consideration for both Alex’s and Jamie’s interests.


How are bids for connection received in your relationship?

Bids for connection can take many forms, ranging from lighthearted gestures to more intentional expressions of affection. These bids might be as simple as offering a smile or wink, or as direct as saying, “I miss spending quality time with you; let’s go on a date.” Regardless of the size or significance of the bids, it’s crucial to recognize how you and your partner seek connection and to remain mindful of turning toward each other as much as possible.

If you and your partner are struggling to connect and feel like you are experiencing more turning away or against in your relationship, attending couples therapy can help you address the underlying barriers to bids in your relationship. 

Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.