Relationships, Emotional bids and Attachment styles

Emotional bids

A husband and wife are at the breakfast table. The wife looks out the window and says, “oh what a pretty bird”. The husband looks in the paper and says, “looks like there is a town meeting on this Saturday night”

John gottman – the mathematician who studied relationships defined a bid as one of those times when you reach out to another person. Anything is a bid, and there are 3 broad ways to classify a bid/response pair. (my notes on his theory here at number 4)

  1. Positive – “Why yes honey, very pretty”
  2. Negative – “I don’t know why you want us to go to those stupid meetings”
  3. Silence – no reply.

Important note: you can give a positive bid response while saying no to an offer. Often a bid comes in the form of an invitation. Inviting a friend to an event or party. The wife above could have said, “oh yeah, thanks for reminding me. I don’t really want to go to the town meeting. You can go without me.”

Gottman Proposes that in the order above, ideally positive, second negative and the worst is silence. A partner can still learn from a negative bid. You might not like that topic. It might be hard to say “thank you” around an area, you can teach your partner to ask more carefully with negative bid responses. The worst is silence. We can’t tell if it was good or bad or old-age deafness.

Great relationships have a high ratio of positive to negative bids. You can make any relationship better with more positive bids. This means two things:

  1. Have enough bids goin on. (You may have to make more bids)
  2. Have them be positive.

For 2 – Ensure positive responses when you are returning a bid. Don’t get discouraged with a negative response. Remember the person is trying to tell you something.  It’s not necessarily clear what.  Try to clarify silences/negatives with positive intent (See also Gottman “turn towards don’t turn away”).  Silences – “Yesterday evening when you didn’t reply – I am guessing you fell asleep”.  If negative, “I am confused (and needing clarity), What do you want? do you want me to talk about that topic in the future? or are you distracted?grumpy?occupied?other? right now?”

You can’t force bids in any direction. Just like you can’t force a relationship. But you can try a little harder, and you can be careful/conscious around your bids. Some people are naturals at this. Some need to understand the model in order to do it better.

A note on bids: Bids can be big or small. Some people like big bids like an expensive gift, a fancy dinner, a holiday. Some people like lots of small bids through a day, notes, messages, reminders that you care. On some levels, bids score “relationship goodness points” no matter the size. On other levels, the size of the bid matters. See also the 5 love languages (wikipedia has a good summary), for some more things to consider in terms of the contents of bids and what might be appreciated the most.

Attachment styles

There are 4 adult attachment styles in the theory. The research isn’t clear on how people end up in their styles. The healthiest is secure, the others are “insecure” styles.  I wanted to explore the question – how do the various attachment styles feel about the emotional bids theory?  How do they engage with various types of bids, and how does this propagate various attachment styles?


Mostly positive bids.  Lots of bids.  If there are less bids it doesn’t personally feel like it’s a problem.  Occasional negative or missed connection because it can happen.  But you can always explain to each other what went wrong.  You don’t take it personally when they don’t reply because “you know they didn’t mean to” ignore you and probably have a good reason to not have replied (positive attributions).


Negative replies are hard to avoid. Bids are sometimes negatively returned too. Sometimes the world seems to be in such a way that you can’t help making an attacking bid that is likely to be responded to negatively. You are preoccupied sometimes and miss a connection.  Having a bid un-returned gives you damage.  People don’t return my bids because I am not valuable/important.


negative bid responses. Sometimes radio silence. Positive bids seem like a demand or pressure to act in a certain way and you can’t just be happy because people only do positive bids when they want something.  Probably lives with sassyness because that seems like “what you do”.  Not responding to people seems like a normal thing to do.  Sometimes being with other people feels like they are demanding my time and attention and I need my freedom.


Negative bid responses often. Sometimes silence because you are scared of the bid-responses. Or a bid seems to be an attack and you can’t trust the partner to not be attacking you.

Meta: I don’t know if this helps.  It just is.  Maybe if I understand just one person who reads this then I can help a little bit.

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