What is a Negative Bid?

unhappy couple

I recently created a video, The Smallest Units of Intimacy, describing “bids” as any attempt a partner makes to try to connect with their partner. It could be a bid for time, for connection, for support, for humor, and so on. How partners typically respond to bids is highly predictive of stability and happiness in the relationship. I describe the three reactions possible with any bid. This is based on the Gottman research that found patterns in both happy and unhappy relationships. “The Love Lab” (first started in 1986, and recently opened again to continue research), was created as a relationship laboratory where Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Robert Levenson found that by coding interactions as negative or positive between partners they could predict divorce and relationship distress, as well as relationship happiness and stability. There are different types of bids, such as silent bids, comment bids, playful bids, but the one type of bid to try to avoid is the negative bid.

Not All Bids Are the Same

A negative bid has negative attributes, like criticism and defensiveness that have detrimental effects on the relationship. For example, imagine a partner is feeling lonely and is missing their partner since the partner has been working overtime on a project and they have had little time together. Here are some examples of negative bids:

  • I suppose you will be too busy again to spend any time with me.
  • I wish I was as important to you as your job.
  • I want you to just stop and talk to me, now!
  • I sure am having fun in our relationship with all the time we spend together!

Underneath each of those comments of criticism, control, and sarcasm, is a partner who is hurting, but what comes out is prickly. There is a need for connection, but what a partner hears in a negative bid is criticism and negativity. This is not likely to work well in terms of responses

The goal is to move out of the negative bid style and move toward describing what is happening, the feelings, and the need.

This ultimately takes a fair amount of trust, and partners can feel very vulnerable when expressing needs. “What if my partner gets angry or ignores my bid?”

Guidelines for Making A Positive Bid

  1. Describe yourself not your partner.
  2. Assuming what your partner is thinking, feeling, or is motivated by is usually going to end up as a criticism
  3. Describe the situation, how you feel, and what you want

Here are some examples of putting those guidelines into practice:

  • It has been a while since we have had time together. I miss you. I really would like to see if we can make some time.
  • We have both been working hard, I worry about us losing touch and getting too caught up in work. Could we set up some time together?
  • How about we take a break tonight and take some time to sit with a cup of coffee or tea, and touch bases for 20 minutes? I know you still have more work tonight.

That’s it, by focusing on yourself and not your partner, you will make a positive bid, and while that does not guarantee a positive response from your partner, it maximizes the chances.

The prickly stuff is underneath the flower. Look for the flower.

1 thought on “What is a Negative Bid?”

  1. Turning towards our partners, without the bid starting at their end, is a double deposit in the emotional bank account

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