Are These Little Moments Causing Divorce?

by Jan 4, 2016Breakup and Divorce, Couples and Marriage, Relationships, Singles0 comments

I recently came across this awesome comic by Sarah Andersen of Sarah’s Scribbles. Check it out… Good vs. Bad Relationship What did you think of the different responses? It’s these small moments that occur within seconds that can predict happiness or dissatisfaction in a relationship – much more so than those intense arguments. These little moments can also have a big impact on your relationship and, when left unchecked, may lead to divorce. Surprised?

This comic was enough to inspire an entire post on the importance of turning toward your partner and responding positively to their bids for connection.

The concepts of “bids for connection” and “turning towards, against, or away” are those of Dr. John Gottman. He has spent the last 40+ years completing groundbreaking research on thousands of couples. I reference him often because of his stellar work in the area of relationships.

So What Are Bids For Connection?

Bids are attempts at getting your partner’s attention for conversation, for emotional support, for affection, or for humor, among many other reasons. The purpose of bids is to enhance the connection and intimacy you share with your partner.

When Do Bids Occur?

Bids for connection can occur at any time: when you are chilling with your partner on the couch, when you two are out to dinner, or during a car ride to the grocery store. So, basically, anytime.

One important thing to know about bids is that they are short moments in the span of a relationship. Because they come and go within seconds, many will see them as insignificant and discount their power. This is a huge mistake. I’ll tell you why later in this post.

The Three Bid Responses

When a bid for connection is made, your partner has three ways in which they can respond: turning toward, turning away, or turning against. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Bids Graphic, John Gottman, AVL Couples Therapy Relationship Blog

  • Turn Toward: When your partner turns toward the bid for connection you have made they respond in a positive way or engage with you. Responding in this way promotes even more bids for connection, reduces conflict, and allows the relationship to grow and strengthen.
  • Two Examples of Turning Toward:

Karen: “I can’t believe we lost our kickball game tonight! The league predicted that we would win.”

Michael: “You’ll get them next time.”

Michael: “Check out this awesome TV for sale online.”

Karen: “That’s a great deal.”

  • Turn Away: When your partner turns away from a bid they are typically not responding at all or they begin talking about something unrelated to the bid. Responses such as this may result in increased conflict, high likelihood of breakup/divorce, and less bids for connection.
  • Two Examples of Turning Away:

Sam: “I really want to go see that new action movie at the theater tonight.”

Angel: *silence* *crickets* “Have you seen my brown shoes?”

Angel: “You should probably call your sister. She seemed upset at the party.”

Sam: *no response* *turns up the volume on the TV*

  • Turn Against: When your partner turns against your bid for connection they respond in a critical or hostile way. Turning against, much like turning away, also leads to less bidding for connection within the relationship. Although these partners may hang on a little longer than those that turn away, it’s highly likely that these relationships will end as well.
  • Two Examples of Turning Against:

Erica: “Wow! Look out the window at this cool bird at our feeder today.”

Zach: “All you talk about are those damn birds! Give it a rest!”

Zach: “Can you come into the kitchen for a minute?”

Erica: “Can you not see that I’m trying to read!?”

Bids for Connection Infographic What The Research Says

Gottman observed the interactions of newlywed couples during their 24-hour stay in his apartment lab and found some interesting results. Six years later, the couples who were divorced turned toward each other only 33% of the time during the study. The couples who were still married six years later turned toward one another 86% of the time.


Percentage of Times Couples Turned Toward Each Other Who Were Still Married After 6 Years


Percentage of Times Couples Turned Toward Each Other Who Ended Up Divorced After 6 Years

Neglected Bids Increase Distance

If you and your partner are in a pattern of turning away or against each other your relationship could be in serious trouble. When you make a bid for connection and are met with silence or a less than positive response it won’t take very long for you to stop making bids entirely. This allows distance to come between you and your partner and resentment begins to set in.

Ignoring Bids Is A Huge Mistake

Oftentimes couples focus their attention on their big fights and disagreements and think that it is these times that are most detrimental to their relationship. This isn’t always the case. Healthy couples fight just as much as unhealthy couples; it’s how they fight that makes the difference. I’ll talk more about that in a future post. But for now, let’s get back to bids.

Bids for connection live in very small moments that do not have much emotion tied to them. This sometimes makes them easy to overlook or discredit. However, they have a great impact on the stability of your relationship.

How Turning Toward Helps With Conflict

If you are part of a couple that can make jokes with each other and find ways of expressing fondness for each other– even in the midst of an argument – you probably do very well at positively responding to your partner’s bids for connection. Because you allow yourself to turn toward your partner during these small everyday moments, you are better capable of accessing this fondness and humor during your disagreements.

Bids In Our Everyday Relationships

Bids occur in our everyday relationships with our family, friends, co-workers, and even brief acquaintances.

When a co-worker asks to talk to you about a situation at work, you can either turn toward – “Sure, when?” – or turn away by staring at your computer and waving your hand as if to say “not now.”

A friend may tell you that she is getting married. You can either turn toward by saying, “Congratulations!” or turn against by saying “He’s an ass! You know I don’t like him!”

Check Your Attitude

In both of these situations, if you chose to turn away or against, the recipient is probably going to be turned off by your attitude – whether you were telling the truth or not.

You may actually be very busy at work and feel as though you do not have time for your co-worker’s concern. Likewise, your friend’s fiancée may very well be an ass.

However, there are other ways to go about responding to people to preserve your relationship with them – if that’s what you desire.

As I am writing this I am reminded of a quote, “Being kind is more important than being right.” (There are many different forms of this idea attributed to many different individuals.)

Is it more important to you in your relationships to be kind or to be right? How is this impacting how you relate to your partner, to your family, or to your friends? It’s something to think about.

Responding Differently

Is it possible you could stop your work for a moment and say to your co-worker, “I would love to hear about your situation. Can we meet in about an hour in your office when I finish this up?”

The situation with your friend is a little more complicated. Being a true friend to someone usually means being brutally honest. Most of the time friends are respected for that – though not always.

Examine your feelings toward your friend’s boo. Did you two get off on the wrong foot? Or does he treat your friend badly? Does your friend not spend as much time with you now resulting in a little resentment? Or does she complain to you about what a bad person he is? The answers to these questions may help guide you in this situation.

If you and your friend’s partner are just experiencing a personality clash, try to be supportive of your friend and her choice in relationship. Have a discussion with her without pointing fingers. An example could be, “I’m having a difficult time getting along with your partner. Do you have any suggestions?”

Keep in mind though, if your friend has made the serious decision to marry this person, your snide comment will probably not get much traction in breaking up their union. It may only add distance between you and your friend.

It’s true that we may not always agree with the choices that our friends make. However, being an adult means that we are old enough to make our own decisions and that we live with the consequences of those choices.

With that being said, maybe your friend’s relationship is doomed. But when the relationship does end, who do you think she would rather find support with and confide in? The friend who is going to say, “I told you so!” or the friend who says, “How can I help?”

Note: If you are truly worried about a friend’s safety in their current relationship, seek out resources on how best to talk to them and support them. This is a topic that deserves its own full-length post. In the meantime, a great resource is The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their website has resources for friends and family.


Be sure to check out Sarah’s Scribbles with new comics posted every Wednesday and Saturday.

If you are interested in learning more about bids for connection and turning toward your partner, Dr. John Gottman’s book The Relationship Cure will provide more in-depth information. Click on the Resources for a link to order the book.

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