Relationship Bids Are Crucial in Building a Healthy Relationship—And You Might Be Missing Them

written by EMMA GINSBERG
Source: @igor-la-prado | Pexels
Source: @igor-la-prado | Pexels

At some point or another, you’ve likely heard someone say “It’s the little things that matter most” when it comes to making a long-term relationship work. Whether you’ve heard this from a family member, your closest couple friends that you’re always third-wheeling with because they’re just so great together, or even a therapist, it can be hard to know what “the little things” actually are in your own relationship. Enter relationship bids—super subtle ways in which we initiate a connection with our partner and express our needs for assistance and affection, which usually fall directly into the category of “the little things.”

For anyone seeking greater depth in their relationship, wanting to be a better and more attentive partner, or simply looking to unlock the key to success that so many successful relationships are built on, learning about relationship bids (and how to recognize them) can be incredibly helpful. In this article, we’re breaking down what relationship bids are, why they’re important, and how to recognize them when they come up. After noticing these small cues, you’ll be the one giving the “It’s the little things” advice from now on.

What is a relationship bid?

Given the sheer amount of therapy-speak that circulates around the internet, especially with regard to dating advice, it’s important to know the exact definition of a relationship bid before implementing these practices in your own relationship. The term “relationship bid” was coined by Dr. John Gottman as a part of the Gottman Method and is defined as “any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection.” In other words, bids are the verbal and nonverbal cues we give our partners that indicate that we want their affection, assistance, or attention—that we want them to act as our partner.

According to Elizabeth Marks, LMSW, an associate therapist at Manhattan Wellness, bids are extremely common, which is why they can be difficult to recognize. “A great example of a bid is when a partner asks the other to assist in solving a problem or blatantly asks the other to be affectionate,” Marks says. “Even a simple request for help such as, ‘Can you reach this blanket for me?’ is a relationship bid.” Bids can include asking for affection from a partner (winking, reaching for their hand, actively asking them to cuddle), requesting their help with something (sharing how stressful our day was, asking them to take the dog for a walk), or seeking engagement (asking them how their day was). As mundane as these examples may seem, they are all important ways in which we ask our partners to connect with us in our day-to-day lives.

How can relationship bids strengthen your relationship?

Given how common relationship bids are, it might seem as though they are unimportant. After all, your partner taking out the trash when you ask isn’t exactly a grand romantic gesture. However, it is precisely the mundanity of bids that makes them crucial to maintaining a healthy long-term connection. “Relationship bids are important and impactful in romantic relationships because they show trust, desire, and honesty,” Marks says. “Bids are a way to turn into the relationship instead of either looking outward for assistance or trying to solve something on your own.”

The act of seeking help and affection is one of those things that everyone deserves to feel comfortable doing in their relationship. The second you don’t feel comfortable doing those things, the fewer opportunities you have to connect with your person. Thus, relationship bids provide both partners with the opportunity to show up for one another in a way that creates mutual trust. “Bids give the partner an opportunity to succeed and show up for the other person and also build trust that they have commitment and buy-in from the other,” Marks says. Commitment and buy-in? I’d say those seem like some pretty crucial elements of a healthy long-term relationship.

What happens when we ignore or miss a relationship bid?

Picture this: You’ve had a hard day at work, so you start to tell your partner about the project you’re frustrated about. If your partner stops what they’re doing to listen to you vent and provide back-and-forth communication, you’re going to feel a lot better after the interaction than if they were to brush you off and tell you they’re in the middle of something. This is the impact of missing a relationship bid: When we miss a bid, we miss out on an opportunity to show our partner that we are there for them. Colette Sachs, LMSW, also an associate therapist at Manhattan Wellness, says that consistently missed bids can erode trust in a relationship. “When relationship bids are ignored or missed, it can lead to feelings of neglect, rejection, or disconnection in the relationship,” she says.

Of course, the reality is that we likely can’t respond to every relationship bid that our partner provides. After all, sometimes we actually are in the middle of something and need to handle our own things before we can fully respond to one of these tiny cues. However, consistently missing bids can have a detrimental effect on our relationships in the long run. “If partners are repeatedly missing smaller opportunities to affirm or support each other, this can lead to a more significant impact later on,” Sachs says. “Over time, this can erode emotional closeness between partners and lead to conflict or dissatisfaction in the relationship.”

4 tips for recognizing and responding to bids

Clearly, in order for relationship bids to work the way they’re supposed to, we need to take the time to recognize and respond accordingly to the bids our partners show us. If you and your partner want to become more attentive to the little seeds you plant in your daily interactions that indicate a need for affection and attention, here are four ways to notice relationship bids.

Slow down and actively listen

Huge shocker here, but given that relationship bids are fairly mundane, being attentive to your partner is the number one way to recognize and notice them more frequently. Marks advises being as clear and active with your listening as possible. “When a partner asks for something simple or complex, we can respond to their bid by hearing, responding, and even clarifying or completing the request we show that we hear and respect them,” she says. Intentional listening when we are spending time with our partner—even when we might not be able to complete the bid right away—is the best way to show love over the little things in our long-term relationships.

Express your own needs clearly

Relationship bids are a two-way street; when we respond to a bid, it makes us more comfortable bidding to our partner, and vice-versa, which is how mutual trust is built. Thus, being able to recognize our own relationship bids when we give them is huge for creating a communicative understanding of how our own needs and our partner’s needs match up. “We can recognize our own bids when we have a desire, whether emotional, physical or sexual by taking the cue and expressing it as clearly as possible,” Marks says. When you feel like you need your partner in some way, act on that need, because doing so in a healthy way will sow trust in your relationship

Engage the bid with empathy and interest

We’ve all been there: Our partner starts talking about something they really care about that we have no interest in (happy fantasy football season), and we totally tune out. Ultimately, it is these moments where the most beneficial thing we can do is actively listen and engage the person we’re in a relationship with. “If your partner shares a personal story, respond with active listening, ask follow-up questions, and offer support or validation,” Sachs advises. “By showing genuine interest, you can foster a sense of emotional intimacy and connection.” Even if you don’t care about fantasy football itself, showing that you care about completing the bid (being excited for your partner and asking questions about their interest) is what’s important.

Physically turn towards your partner

The most basic way to recognize and respond to a bid often has nothing to do with what we say at all. Instead, our body language can be a huge indicator of our openness to a relationship bid. This is why The Gottman Institute calls responding to a bid “turning towards”—often, it does literally mean turning toward your partner. Pay attention to your body language when your partner is asking you for something because physically turning away might be more harmful than it seems.