If you are in a close relationship with someone, you need their attention.
Society might have taught you that seeking attention is a bad thing. Especially if you’re a woman. How many times you have heard something like, “she’s such a drama queen; she needs so much attention”? It tends to mean that the woman is clingy, needy, and unable to take care of herself.
In truth, healthy attention isn’t about that at all. In a healthy relationship, you regularly make bids for your partner’s attention. Moreover, they see them and respond to you. This attunement to one another’s small needs is important and completely normal.
Basically, you’re saying, “I need some attention right now.” In turn, your partner responds, “You are valuable and worthy of my attention. I want to give it to you.”
What is a Bid in a Close Relationship?
The idea of the “bid” comes from psychologist John Gottman. He’s written about it quite a bit, particularly in his book, “The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships.” As you can see from the title, attention isn’t just for people in romantic relationships. Any close relationship includes bids for attention.
So, what is a bid for attention? It is any action, however small, that you make towards your partner that says, “I really want to connect with you right now.” Bids include:
- Touching; a tap, a hug, a poke, a playful bump as you walk by
- Talking, especially asking questions
- Facial expressions
Each time that you make a bid, your partner has the option to give you that attention or to ignore your bid.
Attention Improves Relationships
If your partner turns toward you, responding to your bid, then you feel their attention. This feels good in the moment. More importantly, it improves your relationship overall.
Gottman’s research found that happily married couples respond to each other’s bids for attention at least 80% of the time. In contrast, in couples headed for divorce, women ignored their husband’s attention requests nearly half the time. Furthermore, husbands ignored their wife’s bids for connection more than 80% of the time!
The research also found that attention bids do the following:
- Improve sense of humor
- Lead to more affection
- Reduce the negative impact of arguments
Lack of Attention Leads to Loneliness
Most couples don’t intend to ignore each other’s bids for attention. Life gets busy, and we fall into routine behaviors. For example, you’re in the middle of doing dishes when your spouse comes up and touches your shoulders. You don’t intend to blow him off, but you just want to get the dishes done and go to bed. So, you ignore the bid for attention.
If this happens repeatedly, over time, this causes your spouse to feel lonely. Most likely, you feel lonely, too. When you habitually turn away from each other instead of turning towards each other, you reduce the connection in any close relationship.
Learning New Bids for Attention
We can learn to better notice our partner’s bids for attention and turn towards them in those moments. In addition, we can also learn to adjust our own bids for attention so that we are more likely to get the result that we want. In her book “Hold Me Tight”, Dr. Sue Johnson explains that we often feel afraid of rejection so we don’t seek attention in healthy ways. For example, our bids are less effective when we:
- are tentative and don’t make our desires clear.
- send out bids that include anger or frustration.
- focus on sex instead of the underlying need for attention.
- demand attention instead of requesting it, creating a power struggle.
Sometimes we do this because we feel the underlying stigma of being “too needy” and we feel guilty about our need for seeking attention. However, healthy attention flows both ways and benefits the relationship.
People in an intimate relationship can learn to turn towards one another. Don’t hold back. Answer your partner’s bids for attention and enjoy a closer, more responsive union. Learn more about how therapy can help you here.