Imagine you and your spouse are walking the milky-colored beaches of Turks & Caicos with another BMWK cruise couple. Your spouse grabs your hand and points towards a purple starfish on the edge of the water. “Babe, look at that starfish. I didn’t know they could be purple.” You nod (without looking up), say uh-huh and continue thumbing through your Instagram feed.
You may not realize it. But your spouse just made an emotional bid for acceptance and you rejected her without even looking up from your phone. “An emotional bid is a request for attention, affection or support.” – Dr. John Gottman
You rejected her without even looking up from your phone.
Dr. Gottman has studied relationships for more than 40 years and has observed thousands of couples in his Love Lab at the University of Washington. He explains that we have two options when our spouses make emotional bids:
- We can turn toward them by engaging, showing interest or support
- Or we can turn away by showing disinterest or continuing whatever we’re doing
An Indicator of Success or Divorce…
Over time, our responses to emotional bids can be an indicator of whether or not our marriages will be successful or end in divorce. In his six-year research follow up, Dr. Gottman found couples that divorced only had 33 percent of their emotional bids accepted. On the other hand, couples that remained married had 87 percent of their emotional bids accepted. (Sounds like we need to pay more attention to our spouses!!)
Say your spouse mentions that starfish. You put away your phone, wrap your arm around her waist and respond. That would be an example of turning toward her and making a deposit in her Emotional Bank Account. The Emotional Bank Account is another one of Dr. Gottman’s theories. He says that overtime we’re either building an environment of trust or distrust in our marriage. Turning towards our spouses are like making deposits and turning away is a withdrawal.
Thinking about communication in this way has helped me, because I now recognize when I’m asking for support. Or when my husband is asking, I’m more intentional in how I respond.
Stopping to listen and engage can seem like a small thing, but it’s the little things that make a big difference over time.
BMWK: What other ways can we make emotional deposits?
How to Learn Better Communication
Get our expert-led video training on better communication from the comfort of your own home.