Turn Towards the Bid of Your Partner

In 1986, Gottman performed a study that was later dubbed, “The Seattle Love Lab Study.” In this study, observed and interviewed various newlywed couples and then put them into two categories: The Masters – who he predicted would make it, and the Disasters – whose marriages he predicted would likely fail.


In making his predictions, one of the first things Dr. Gottman observes is how well one “turns towards” or “turns away” from the “bids” of their partners.


A bid is simply a call for one’s attention. In Gottman’s classification system, there are four ways in which one can respond to the bids of their partner.

              1. Passive Constructive
              2. Passive Destructive
              3. Active Destructive
              4. Active Constructive


Of these four categories of responses, there are three which Gottman considers as “turning away” from the bids of one’s partner, and only one of which he considers as “turning towards” one’s partner. Passive constructive, passive destructive, and active destructive he classifies as “turning away.” Active constructive responses he classifies as “turning towards” the bids of one’s partner.


To further illustrate, let’s take a look at an example of each response.


A Passive Constructive response is a half-hearted response. It’s a response that shows little interest, enthusiasm, or interaction. Oftentimes, it’s barely a response at all. Say your spouse comes home and starts to tell you about a recent accomplishment that day at work. They want you to share in their enthusiasm, but instead you reply with, “that’s great, babe,” as you continue to text or crush candy on your iPad. Ouch…

Another disastrous response is a Passive Destructive response. This is where one party attempts to steal the spotlight from the other. For example, you spouse is telling you about an accomplishment they had at work and you stop them in their tracks and say, “Oh man, you wouldn’t believe the good fortune I had today. I won $10 on a lottery ticket!”


Hopefully that $10 is worth it to you to sleep on the couch for a night!


Yet, in my opinion, the worst response is an Active Destructive response. An active destructive response is one where you are actively negating the emotional experience of your partner. Your spouse is excited because they got a promotion at work and instead of sharing in their excitement you say, “Well that sucks, I mean that’s not even really good news at all. I mean, seriously, how are the kids and I ever even going to get to see you anymore?” Then with this emotional attack, your partner responds, “I thought you’d be happy for me!” You can see where this leads and I promise, it isn’t good.


The only winning response is an active constructive response. It’s actually quite simple. Avoid the “righting reflex” and share in and validate that person’s emotional state. For example, you say, “That’s awesome, babe. Congratulations! I’m really proud of you. How did you find out? Tell me more.”


This is the emotionally intelligent response that is the only one Gottman classifies as “turning towards” the bid of your partner. It’s simple and elegant – leaving your partner feeling heard and important, appreciated and valued. It’s a winning response. It’s a masterful response.


In just observation alone, “the Masters” – the ones Gottman predicted would succeed and stay together – turned towards the bid of their partners 87% of the time. “The Disasters,” on the other hand, turn towards the bid of their partners only 33% of the time.80


If these statistics are alarming to you, keep this in mind as well. The newlywed couples he was studying were often still in the honeymoon phrase of their relationship!


Turning away from the bids of your partner, however, does not mean that you’re a bad person or that you’re being intentionally rude or neglectful. It just means that you may not have been aware of how important this response is to the long-term health and happiness of a relationship. Nobody’s perfect – no relationship is perfect. Everyone has room for improvement.


If you want to improve your relationship with others, be it a significant other, best friend, or newly met neighbor, make sure you are turning towards their bids with an active constructive response!

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