John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship researcher, was interested in understanding what makes some relationships work while others fail.
So, Gottman studied 600 newlyweds over a period of 6 years. His findings shed important light on what we can do to increase satisfaction and connection in our relationships and what we do to destroy it.
Gottman found that the difference between those relationships that thrive (masters) and those that do not (disasters) have a lot to do with how they respond to bids for attention. What is a bid for attention?
Gottman defines a bid for attention as any attempt from one partner to another for affirmation, affection or any other positive connection.
Bids show up in simple ways – such as a smile or wink – and in more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. Even a sigh can be a bid for attention. We can either ignore bids (turning away) or become curious and ask questions (turning toward).
Most bids have a subtext that is pointing to your partner’s true desire. You don’t have to be a mind-reader, you just have to be curious and ask questions to check it out. For example, if the attention seeker partner says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to learn Salsa dancing?” and the other partner responds, No, I don’t like dancing…” the other partner is turning away from that bid for attention.
The bid is most likely more about spending time together than the activity of dancing. So, maybe try, “I wish I liked dancing, but I don’t… can we do something else together?”
If you find resonance with this scenario then this is one of the signs that your partner is a big time attention seeker. This is not to say there is a flaw in their behavioral pattern, it means that you aren’t giving as much attention to them. You don’t need an answer to how to deal with attention seekers, you need to identify your partner’s bid for attention and fulfill it.
Gottman found that couples who stayed together (masters) turned toward bids for attention 86% of the time, while those who did not stay together turned towards bids for attention only 33% of the time. His research supports what we see in the office everyday. Conflict, anger and resentment have less to do with big issues, and more to do with not getting and giving the attention that is needed in the relationship for it to thrive and survive.
But what if both partners took seriously their partners bids for attention and made it a priority to notice and respond? What if they developed the simple skills to recognize a bid, and simple ways of turning towards?
Well, according to Gottman, there would be fewer divorces and way more happy, connected and healthy relationships!
How to handle an attention-seeking partner and fulfill their needs
- Sit down together and make a list of how you typically make bids for attention. One at a time, identify a common way that you notice yourself making a bid for attention to your partner. Keep going back and forth until you can’t think of any other way.
- Over the next week, be on the hunt for possible bids for attention from your partner. Have fun.. be playful… ask your partner, is this a bid for attention?
- Remember that turning toward a bid does not necessarily mean saying yes to your partner. Turning toward means acknowledging your partners desire for attention or support, and fulfilling it somehow. Maybe it’s delayed, like “I can’t talk now because I am in the middle of a project, but I would love to spend time with you later. Can we do that this evening?”
- If your partner misses a bid for attention, rather than feeling disappointed or resentful, let them know it was a bid for attention. Likewise, when your partner calls attention to a missed bid, take the time to ask questions and respond.
- Most importantly, keep it light, have fun, and know that developing the habit of leaning into bids is one of the healthiest and supportive thing you can do for your relationship.
These pointers should be able to help you recognize and fulfil your partner’s bid for attention. This will not only make your relationship stronger, this will also improve on your relationship communication skills.