Bidding for Affection: What Really Creates Relationship Satisfaction? by Sarah Beth Thompson

Couples build intimacy through hundreds of ordinary, seemingly mundane moments in which they attempt to make emotional connections. These attempts have been termed “bids” by leading couple relationship researcher John Gottman. These bids are important to help maintain happiness in one’s relationship and they are what really nurture marital satisfaction.

It is of absolute importance that each person makes their relationship a priority. Putting one’s couple relationship at the top of the to-do list instead of at the bottom is a good start. As society’s demands are ever-growing, it can be easy to assume one’s partner will always be around. If time is not put into the relationship by each partner, the relationship will suffer and ultimately end. The wonderful news is that this can be accomplished by small, easy steps – it does not take a grand gesture! A few areas of relational aspects that you (yes you!) can use to benefit your partner and yourself can be found below.  



Taking the time to listen to each other is crucial. Gottman found in his research that an enthusiastic response during everyday life may impact affection during conflict. This goes to show that listening and being interactive with your partner in their day to day life is important for when those times of conflict do occur. Maintaining the use of affection during conflict plays a very significant role in marital satisfaction, and increasing communication in an enthusiastic manner is one way to do this. Increasing communication may be easier said than done. You and your partner can start by setting aside ten to twenty minutes of time per day to discuss the events of your day, absent of other distractions. It could look like sitting at the kitchen table before bed and after the kids are asleep. You can also send emails, texts, or phone calls during the day randomly to see how your partner’s day is going. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant step with an eager intent can make a large difference in your relationship satisfaction.

Stay light-hearted and use humor

Playful bids from each partner in daily life play an important role for not only daily interactions, but for relational conflict. One partner’s playful bids relate strongly to the other partner’s enthusiasm about the relationship and the ability to solve the conflict together. These playful bids are also important for one to be able to stay light hearted during conflict. As would be expected, the use of humor during conflict is very important. The ability to stay light-hearted and playful even during somber times or conflict is admirable and something to work towards. One way to do this is to take a break during an argument and discuss something funny or happy about each of your days. By focusing on something light-hearted it becomes easier to see that the argument you and your partner are having may not be as important as you once thought. The important thing is to remember not to tease or make jokes when your partner is hurting or upset though. The use of humor is a positive thing, but it must be used at the right time and agreed upon by both partners.

Turn toward, not away

An important finding of the research that I studied for this blog is that one partner’s enthusiasm about the relationship in these daily moments is actually what drives his or her partner’s affection during conflict. Knowing this employs an essential fact: by turning toward your partner during both every day events and during conflict, you grow their affection during times of conflict. This step takes a very particular and active effort. While it is easier to turn towards one’s partner in every day events, it is one’s natural inclination to turn away from his or her partner during conflict. By choosing to turn toward your partner during all times, you grow his or her affection. 

Each relationship is different, but employing even one of these ideas into your relationship could be helpful in more than one way. Building a positive relationship environment is unlikely to happen in the middle of conflict, but it is likely to happen in everyday life. Making those changes will in turn create more positive feelings during the conflicts your partner and you experience. My hope is that these tools will help you to do this and create more relationship satisfaction between your partner and you.

-Sarah Beth Thompson



Driver, L. D., Gottman, J. M. (2004). Daily marital interactions and positive affect during marital conflict among newlywed couples. Family Process, 43(3), 301-314.

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