When children seek attention from their parents, they do so as what's called a "bid for connection." Sadly, many of us didn't get our needs met as kids with the attention needed when we expressed bids for connection. So, it can be difficult being vulnerable and expressing bids for connection in your adult relationships.
How you grow up affects your giving and receiving bids for connection. The developmental journey of having attuned parents who notice bids for connection is crucial to healthy relationships in adulthood.
If you are one of the adults who didn't get your needs met in childhood, you may struggle with many areas in relationships, such as:
Struggle to be emotionally available and present in your relationship.
To share clear signals with your partner about what makes you feel loved.
Expect your partner to immediately notice your needs or read your mind and anticipate your needs. Kind of like: "if you loved me, you'd know what I need."
Struggle with being vulnerable and authentic for fear you won't be loved.
Become angry and wounded quickly when your needs aren't met.
Become wounded quicker and deeper during the conflict.
If this is true for you, be sure to give yourself tender attention when you feel any of the above. Also, be mindful of the stories you tell yourself when your partner misses your bids for connection, knowing it hurts you deeply because it's touching your childhood wounding from when your needs were not met.
The good news is you can heal that emotional experience from childhood together with your partner when you work on this together as a couple. You can change the past by creating a new dynamic for your love relationships to develop healthy love in your adult life!
Step One: Turn Toward Your Partner, Not Away
Work with your partner to create a relationship climate where you stay open and turn toward one another. Resist the urge to turn away from one other. When you turn toward one another, you're adding money to your emotional bank account with loving feelings in your relationship.
Having an emotional bank account is essential in healthy love, and it's vital to add to the account continually. Because no partner can live with anxiety or fear if they accidentally miss a bid for connection, they'll have to pay a hefty price!
Become intentional about focusing on the little moments when your partner needs you. You are in this together. You are a team and meant to help one another develop this skill of turning toward one another.
Step Two: Daily Deposits in Your Relationship Emotional Bank Account
When you and your partner turn towards bids for connection and add money into the account, it creates a reserve for those rainy days when your partner is having a moment and isn't able to turn toward you. We have to make room for our mistakes and moments of humanness.
My husband and I have money in the account, so he understands when I come home from work and cannot put down the phone. Because he knows there are more times I put it down and prioritize those moments for us to connect.
The reality is that none of us can always meet bids for connection. We all get distracted and may miss them. But, if you criticize your partner when they miss your bid for connection, it won't make them want to turn more towards you. It can even deplete your entire account!
If you and your partner have a deficit in your emotional bank account, it's not too late because you can both commit to learning practice together and even preface by saying, "I'm making a bid for connection." Remember, you're on the same team and helping each other.
In those critical moments when we leave or come back to our partner, it's essential to focus on your connection. Ask yourself, where can you strengthen this practice of improving your bids for connection with your partner?
Step Three: Become An Expert In Bids For Connection
Pay attention to your partner as you turn toward them. Be intentional in connecting with your partner and open up to learning more about their subtle bids for connection as you practice more and more. Here's an example of the practice to becoming an expert:
If your partner comes home from a long day at work and seems frustrated, you have a choice at that moment. You can ignore this behavior, or do you choose any of the following?
Ask your partner if they'd like to talk about their day at work
Kiss your partner on the cheek or give them a big hug
Ask your partner if they'd like you to cook their favorite meal for dinner
Struggle with becoming an expert? Want to get better? Dig deeper and ask yourself these questions to help?
How do you respond to your partner's bids for connection?
Are you on the lookout for your partner's bids for connection?
Do you actively make bids for connection with your partner?
Does your partner respond to your bid for connection? If not, can you talk about it?
The Gottman Institute research shows that the Masters (successful couples) turned toward their partners' bids 86% of the time. Sadly, the Disasters (less successful couples) only turned towards each other 33%. Are you closer to 33% or 86% in bid responses?
Take heart if you don't feel like a Master Couple because many couples forget to focus enough attention and intention on their relationships. There may be resentments, hurt feelings with a lot of water under the bridge. Maybe you feel you have an unresponsive partner. But, nothing changes if nothing changes. Relationships are like plants - water them, and they will grow.
There will be moments when you aren't feeling like turning toward your partner, but it's essential to continue with the practice. Because successful couples turn towards each other, are attuned and responsive. Successful couples constantly make and accept bids for connection, and they notice big and small, verbal and non-verbal bids for connection.
Don't worry. If you and your partner aren't good at it, you can practice together by paying more attention to one another and becoming intentional with making and accepting bids for connection. Work together to build your emotional bank account along the way.
After all, if you knew there was something you could do to guarantee an ongoing, loving, and amazing connection between you and your partner, wouldn't you do it? Of course, you would. Enjoy the journey of becoming closer and relax in the warmth and love you both can offer in your relationship.
If you struggle to connect with your partner and create the relationship you both genuinely want and need, we're here to help. Check out our virtual and in-person Imago Relationships Workshops and Imago Relationships Therapy.