Discovering Gottman Bids, a tool for processing relational conflict

Today I first came across the term “bid” or “Gottman Bids“, as a way to interpret handling a potential conflict situation. Handling things in the moment, during the heat of an instance, a triggering, or some kind of unexpected surprise – something I began to see as an essential skill to have for healthy, enduring relationships. It is something I very clearly failed at in the past, and it would have been useful to know the concept of the bid. It smacks of the Stephen Covey / Victor Frankl “space between stimulus and response” concept, tailored to an instance, a moment of relational tension (or opportunity to deal with such).

John Gottman, who’s a relationship guru that studies marriages, calls our invitations to connect with our partners “bids”. This could be something as mundane as one person reading the paper and declaring out loud, “Hmmmm. That’s interesting!” They’re not just making a remark. In that comment is a request to connect. In that moment we have a choice, to either “turn towards” or “turn away” as Gottman calls it.

Mark Grove’s “Love her before she leaves you” offers some background on Gottman’s ideas and their implications.

In the research these interactions have an incredibly powerful effect on how our relationships fair and whether or not they will last. Couples who only turned towards bids 33% of the time were divorced in a six year follow up. The couples who were still in magical bliss after that same six year period responded to 87% of bids.

Wow. This is profound. Gottman can predict, just by observing a couple’s interactions, whether a couple will divorce with over 94% accuracy. This is regardless of sexual orientation, whether they have children, or their socio-economic status. So, in essence, our words and how they’re delivered, literally do shape our world.

For more from the Gottman institute, look at the ‘Turn Towards Not Away’ blog.

The project for building that toolbox goes on. . .


Of course the challenge is that we (men) have been generally cultured and socialized to not share our feelings and frustrations. We’ve been told to not use language to communicate our fears and feelings because only pussies and sissies do that. When we engage in emotional conversations, we don’t have a toolbox filled with as many words and as much emotional fluency that can articulate the range of things we’re feeling. But, the best thing about all of this is, we can learn how to.

Yes, we can learn.

It allows the opportunity for moving forward.

As a closing note, I’m curious to look into, say, what Gottman would say about people who learn the concept of bids and “turn towards” their partner, but ultimately realize they aren’t compatible or don’t want to be together. I would speculate that even in such a case, doing so directly and with literacy of the situation and concern for the other person, it would be much less damaging and wasteful of time and energy, compared to letting things slide while the resentment builds up over time.

If you have any thoughts, experienced, or resources about Gottman Bids, feel free to share.

Stay learning.

  • Jesse

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