Pay Attention to Your Partner’s Emotional Bids |

Pay Attention to Your Partner’s Emotional Bids

Learn to turn towards each other

I frequently discuss ways that couples can stop fighting and communicate without anger. Most arguments are based more on emotion rather than logic and practicality. If couples learn how to slow down and think about what they are saying, they can calm down and think more rationally about how to solve their disagreement.


John Gottman, PhD. is a top marriage researcher and author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. He has examined the factors that contribute to couples’ fights in the first place. He believes that most fights are actually caused by one partner feeling like he or she needs more or better stability and connection in the relationship. This feeling causes them to reach out with words or actions called Emotional Bids in order to gain attention from their partner. The actual conversation taking place during the argument does not matter as much as receiving the attention from their partner they feel is missing.


There are three different types of reactions to an emotional bid: towards, away, or against. Here is a typical scenario:  You stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work and say to your partner, “I bought us some groceries.”


1. Turning away  – would entail him not responding at all (ignoring you) or changing the subject/bringing up something completely unrelated to what you said. For example by saying: “Did you get the mail?”


2. Turning against – would entail him using what you said as an opportunity to complain or release stored up anger. For example by saying: “Finally! We have not had food in the house forever!”


3. Turning towards would entail him thanking you or greeting you with a hug or a smile. This provides the attention and appreciation you seek whereas turning away or against could cause resentment, hurt, and potential arguments.


Emotional bids are essential in relationships to create a deeper connection. Reacting with either the turning away or turning against response on a regular basis can make your partner feel like giving up and no longer trying to make emotional bids. Having a bid constantly ignored or attacked will only cause more arguments and feelings of withdrawal and loneliness out of fear of getting hurt. This can lead to a downward spiral that affects both partners.  


The best solution to this issue is to become more aware of when your partner is making an emotional bid for your attention. Once you realize when this is taking place it becomes much easier to react in a turn towards response. Sitting down and committing to trying to turn towards each other more often can make frustrations easier to deal with at another time.  It is also important to realize that if you ever do turn away or against, it is never too late to go back and reconcile the situation and make sure your partner knows they are appreciated and you do pay attention to them.

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Mary Kay Cocharo
Marriage And Family Therapists, LMFT
Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, “The Couples Therapist”, has been working with couples and families for over 25 years through her private practice in West Los Angeles, California. Her work focuses on helping couples rediscover the joy of being together, deepen communication and resolve conflict.

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