We all know the numbers, are all familiar with that gloomy statistic – 50%. Fifty percent of modern marriages end in divorce. We may as well flip a coin at the altar before uttering the phrase, “till death do us part.” (Though that marriage statistic has recently fallen below 50%! Woohoo!)
Of course a coin-flip is just a game of chance. Marriage is infinitely more complex than that, and we can always stack the odds in our favor. So what if I gave you a card to slip up your sleeve, one that greatly increases your chances of having a successful marriage and without which you could almost be guaranteed to divorce?
Before I hand it over, you need to understand the concept of bidding.
No, not like in poker (a bet), but the second definition: an intent to get or attract something, such as when a politician makes a bid for office. We all make bids for attention, affirmation, or positive connection, both in romantic and platonic relationships. They can be simple, like a smile or a wink, or come in the form of seemingly simple phrases, complaints, or questions. If you key into the subtext, you’ll find that we are really asking to have a need met.
Here’s what I mean:
What We Say: What We Mean:
How do I look? Can you reassure me?
I had an awful day at the office. Will you help me unwind?
I went to Walgreen’s today. Could we chat for awhile?
Got the idea? Oftentimes, we really aren’t sure what we want, but if the bid goes unanswered then we find ourselves frustrated and out of sorts. We may throw out a few more bids, retreat into ourselves, or snap at our partner.
This is why it is so important to understand bids – both our own and that of others. Within a relationship it can really help to get comfortable talking about bids. Practice pointing out your own bids. If you think your partner has made a bid, try clarifying the subtext. The more you begin to understand your bids, the better prepared you are to meet one another’s needs. You may come to realize that you make bids for needs that you can meet yourself, or needs that are better met by someone else. Our partner’s can never be everything to us, and the better you balance and adapt, the healthier you become individually and as a couple.
Now it’s time for the secret. Dr. John Gottman, world renowned couples therapist and marital stability researcher, conducted a survey with newlyweds and then reconnected six years later. Predictably, many of the couples had divorced. Within all the complicated data, there was one practice that the still-married couples did very well and the divorced couples did poorly: couples who stayed married turned towards a bid an average of 86% of the time, while the divorced couples had only averaged 33%. Learning to turn towards could seriously alter the course of one’s marriage.
Turning towards a bid doesn’t necessarily mean filling our partner’s need. A rejected bid is still an opening to conversation. Maybe you come home, drop your bag on the counter and sigh, “Man, what a rough day.”
Your partner, in a fantastic mood, doesn’t feel like having the same old conversation about your boss, but they recognize the bid. They could say something like, “I’m sorry, why don’t you call your sister? That will make you feel better,” or “That’s too bad. I can make you a cup of tea and you can take a nice bath.”
There are lots of ways that we can turn towards a bid, but the important thing is that we don’t miss them. Like in the scenario above, there are many ways that we can “reject” a bid, but still maintain the integrity of the relationship. To turn away from the bid is to miss it entirely, and missed bids can be devastating. When bids are consistently turned away from, we may get less comfortable making bids at all, or worse, start making bids elsewhere.
The good news is, it’s easy to start recognizing and decoding your bids right now. Pay attention to how and why you bid, and how you respond to the bids of others. Share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, and commit to turning towards one another when bids are made. The more well-versed you become in the language of bidding, the better you’ll get at playing the game. And now you’ve got a winning card up your sleeve: turn towards.