Drawing on Gottman, bids for connection are an attempt by one partner to elicit attention, affirmation, affection and any other kind of positive connection from their partner. Bids of connection are usually not grand gestures but more subtle behaviours such as smiling or touching, winking, asking for advice or paying a compliment.
Whenever we successfully turn towards our partner when they bid for connection, we contribute positively towards our relationship: we are emotionally available and attuned; our partner feels validated, heard and valued; we feel loving feelings towards them; we grow in self-esteem; and our relationship thrives on security, stability and intimacy. It’s a win-win solution all around.
When we feel emotionally connected to our partners, our sex lives usually flourish too. The sexual experiences we share with our romantic partners are an extension of how safe, loved and valued we feel within our relationship. It is a sign of how well we respond to each other and therefore trust each other. It tells us how willing we are to open up and value each other in uniquely intimate ways. Our sexual way of connecting can be seen a valid indicator of our relationship’s emotional health.
We must remind ourselves here that a relationship is not something that has a life of its own. A relationship describes the space we co-create with our partner. It is filled with whatever we contribute and remove from it. We are not powerless over our relationship. We are an important half of our relationship and as such we must take responsibility for it.
When we feel sexually dissatisfied within our relationship, our minds can easily wander. It might be easier in the short-term to find a new partner though that is debatable when considering everything we would be set to lose. And isn’t it more likely that if we saw our dissatisfaction as a sign to take action about something that is valuable to us, we would put more effort into this area in our lives and make change happen?
When We Turn Away
Bids and positive responses to the bids are contributions towards our relationship and our own mental stability and wellbeing. It’s almost like every time we respond positively we nourish our relationship and keep our innate connection flowing. Intimacy flourishes because we experience consistency in connection. We know that someone is there for us and with us – and vice versa.
Bids are not demands or requests. They do not come from a place of entitlement or selfishness. When used as such the success rate of having our bids responded to in loving and nourishing ways is very, very low. So when our bids are turned away from, we must first explore how we bid and how we express ourselves. Are our bids easy to interpret and understand? Does the way we bid make a positive response likely?
When our emotional bids are not responded to or even judged, shamed and rejected, we and our relationship begins to suffer. We experience emotional distress and feelings of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. A lack of trust that is fueled by a heightened state of suspicion sets in. Our sense of goodwill in our partner seems to deteriorate and we begin to feel lonely, insignificant and isolated within our relationship. Our self-esteem seems to take a hit as we no longer feel connected. Our distressed state of mind leads us down the path of disappointment, anger and resentment that ultimately leads to increased conflict, relationship dissatisfaction and often relationship breakdown.
In a newlyweds study Gottman found that when couples only turned to each other for 30% of the bids, they were divorced 6 years later whereas couples who turned towards each other 86% of the time were still married 6 years later. The way we respond to our partners strongly determines the health, success, satisfaction and longevity of our relationship.
Bids for Sexual Connection
In its original sense Gottman’s concept of bids for connection was of an emotional nature. When we talk about intimate relationships we assume that the nature of such close, romantic relationships also includes a sexual component. Our sex life with our partner is usually highly valued and many couples are joined in attempting to create mind-blowing and magical sexual experiences with each other.
Research has shown that a lack of emotional connection and intimacy within a romantic relationship decreases sexual connection and the frequency of sexual encounters. Healthy sexual experiences with our partners are often seen as a reflection of the state of our relationship. It is usually most beneficial to explore blocks to our emotional intimacy first so they can be addressed.
A Lack of Sex
In many relationships sex becomes a problem when there is an increasing absence of it. We may feel a lack of desire or we may notice decreased desire in our partners, which can feel very unsettling. Communicating sexual needs can be very difficult. We may fear ridicule or rejection. We may feel ashamed of our sexual desires. And yet, the more we try to suppress or hide them, the more powerful they become.
So before we start bringing our worries about our sex life to our partner, we must become aware of our needs, our expectations, desires and motivations. We must come to accept our desires without self-judgement or shame so we can freely express them in a compassionate manner.
A healthy relationship is a place in which we can explore our sexuality safely. It is also the place in which we must provide safety for our partners to explore their sexuality safely – free from judgement, humiliation and rejection.
It is the place in which we must learn to open up and take risks so we can grow – in relationship and sexuality. This provides a unique opportunity to connect with our body, ourselves and our partner. It is an opportunity for liberation and growth.
When we feel rejected in our sexual bids and advances, we can easily feel hurt, disappointed and rejected. We then often criticise or reject our partners in aggressive but more often passive-aggressive ways. And so the cycle of discontent, disappointment and dissatisfaction takes on a life of its own as we respond to each other from low levels of consciousness and connectedness.
Communicating Our Sexual Needs
When we first get together with our partner, sex usually comes naturally. We ride the waves of lust, passion and exploration with great expectation, excitement and joy. We often make this mean something about our relationship when in my opinion it says more about our state of mind than anything else. When we first meet someone, we are usually open-minded, accepting, excited, interested, loving and giving. What we experience in the early stage of relationship is our own liberated mind that thrives in its natural state of connectedness.
Soon, however, we start to engage in more negative thinking about our partner and how they may not measure up to our thought-created expectations. We choose formless thought over what is presented to us in form and start to complain about it. We lose gratitude and enthusiasm. Our doubts affect how we behave in our relationship and thus strongly determine the quality of it. And yet, we often don’t see the role we play and blame our partners.
Communicating our sexual needs has to be done in a sensitive and respectful way. Like emotional bids, they cannot be communicated in a selfish or entitled, critical or judgemental way.
Fully Knowing Ourselves
Answer the questions below to gain more clarity about what it is you want and why before learning how to communicate your wishes. If you do have a very understanding and responsive partner, it might be possible to have an exploratory discussion that will help you both clarify what it is you both want.
My Sexual Bids
- What are my sexual bids?
- How well do they work?
- How well are they responded to?
- How often are they responded to?
- How would I like them to be responded to?
My Partner’s Sexual Bids
- What are my partner’s sexual bids?
- How well do they work?
- How well do I respond to them?
- How often do I respond to them?
- How would my partner like them to be responded to?
Write a list of your sexual bids and discuss them with your partner. Compare each other’s lists and discuss how you can both better turn towards each other.
How To Discuss This
If we feel that we contribute appropriate and healthy bids but that they are not responded to well, we must talk to our partner about it in an honest and respectful manner. Non-violent communication can be an excellent tool to express our feelings and make our wishes known in respectful ways.
Choose a time with your partner to discuss how you both experience your sex life and how well you both feel responded to. Make sure you are in a loving and open state of mind and to be gentle with each other. Opening up like this takes courage and we need to be safe for each other.
An Opportunity for Growth
Always remember that the challenges we experience in our relationships are not a sign of impending doom. When we learn to see them as opportunities for growth, opportunities for getting to know ourselves and our partners better, opportunities to learn to love more deeply and consciously, we can welcome challenges and act from a place of love instead of fear.