The Subtle (But Powerful) Way Partners Ask For Love & Attention — And How To Respond

Dr. John Gottman discovered that meeting a partner's bids for attention builds stronger, happier relationships.

A happy couple alongside an unhappy couple against a colorful background Sjale from Getty Images, Chermiti Mohamed from Pexels 

Creating a loving and intimate relationship over many decades can be extremely complicated.

With most happy couples, at least one partner has communication skills that create more trust and intimacy over decades. This practice makes a big difference and facilitates a long-term marriage.

If you are the only partner with these skills, then you may find yourself making what are called “bids for attention” that go unnoticed or fail to elicit a desirable response. This may leave you feeling confused, disappointed, lonely, and angry.


But before your relationship becomes icy cold, or you think about divorce, here are the secrets to creating successful bids for attention that grow and strengthen your relationship.

3 ways people respond to 'bids for attention'

Behavioral scientiest Logan Ury, writing for The Gottman Institute, where this concept was initially developed under co-founder John Gottman, describes three ways you can respond to a bid. He calls these the "building blocks" of emotional communication. 


In her article, Ury explains that, “in the 1990s, Gottman and his team at the University of Washington observed the interactions of 130 newlywed couples in what came to be known as 'The Love Lab' and followed up with them six years later. They found that those who were still married had turned toward each other 86% of the time during the observation period, while those who ended up divorcing had turned toward each other just 33% of the time.”

  • You can turn toward your partner
  • You can turn away from your partner
  • You can turn against your partner

You’ve heard about “three strikes and you’re out” — this applies to bids for attention, as well as baseball!

It’s essential to deconstruct bidding options so that you become a maestro before your partner offers you the next bid. If you have a plan in place so you can assess what's being asked of you, you can react in a way that grows your relationship rather than the distance between you.

RELATED: The Most Successful Marriages Happen When Both Partners Do 3 Very Specific Things


Examples of what will and will not generate closeness in your relationship:

Example: A man is rebuffed by his wife in bed. 

This happens a few times and the 3rd time he figures that he better change his bid.

  • Turning toward her example: He might say, “Honey, I know that something is bothering you and I want to solve this with you; can we discuss it tomorrow?”
  • Turning away example: “Well, goodnight!” he says as he turns away and tries to go to sleep.
  • Turning against example: “Sex with you is always a struggle!” he says sarcastically.

When you’re ready to go to bed and you want your partner to join you there are many ways to motivate them. Considering your partner’s needs at bedtime is the fastest way to get there. A few options include:

  • Giving a delicious kiss and hug may be all the inspiration required.
  • Offering to run a bubble bath may be the only hint of playtime that’s needed.
  • Empathy is the key when you say, “I know you had a tough day, would you like a massage?” If the answer is “yes," then suggest that a massage in bed would be the most relaxing option for your partner because you keep the emphasis on them! And once your partner is in bed and naked…….

RELATED: The Common Behavior That's The Biggest Predictor Of Divorce


Example: A woman is very interested in a man who’s rock climbing.  

She asks him, “My friends and I are climbing here for the 1st time and we would love some tips if you’ve been here before…..”

  • Turning toward her example: “Yes, I have 3 suggestions for you…..”
  • Turning away example: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time; I can’t keep my group waiting.”
  • Turning against example: “You really shouldn’t climb until you know the challenges you’ll face on any rock.”

Example: A woman who is happily married asks her husband, "Did you see how I organized the linen closet?."

This may seem like a throw-away bit of chit-chat, it was likely a bid for appreciation.

  • Turning toward her example: If he walked over to the linen closet when the wife said this and said "This looks great, this must've been a lot of work. I really appreciate it."
  • Turning away example: If he had said, "I organized the pantry last week, you know, and didn't make a big deal out of it" or if he had ignored her bid and didn’t look at the linen closet.
  • Turning against example: If he had critiqued her work saying, “I don’t know why you spend so much time on things no one else cares about!”

Example: A man is looking for love, or at least for a lover.

He meets a woman at a business event: “Hi, I’m George with XYZ Corp., what do you think of this meeting so far?"

  • Turning toward him example: ‘Hi, it’s so nice to meet you” she says with a big smile and flirtatious expression, reducing the space between them.
  • Turning away example: “Hello,” she says cooly, realizing she must be civil to him although she’s not in the mood to be friendly.
  • Turning against example: “Frankly; I really hate being here!” and storms off.

The purpose of bids for attention is to meet your needs. Whether that's affection, attention, passion, income, or anything else, there are strategies that work because they aren’t manipulative!



How to create successful bids that earn you the attention you actually want

When you need appreciation, it’s best to be direct.

As the partner being "biddedd" — figure out the action that will meet the other person’s needs. Do that, and never ever ask for praise!


When you need attention, beware of generating negative attention.

Quite often children will ask questions that they know are less than intelligent because they are really seeking attention from an inattentive parent not information or answers. It’s never successful and can have the dangerous outcome of convincing a parent that their child lacks intellect, which begins a downward spiral of parental behaviors.

Adults may do this, too, and it is likey even less effective than it is for children. 

When you need affection, timing is everything.

If you’re calling your partner to set up a date, consider their availability to talk or text. Calling someone when they’re most likely to be available, increases your odds of success so much.

Conversely, calling someone on Monday morning when they get back to work is rarely a plan for success unless that’s their only time at the office.  


RELATED: 7 Unsexy Ways To Revive An Unhappy Marriage

When you need connection always offer something they value.

I teach men, women, and even seniors up to 85 years of age how to find a new partner. Deciding what a potential date might enjoy is the 1st step to getting the date with a “high-demand individual."  If someone loves boating, check out the local options; if your target date enjoys music check those out.

Don’t be the complainer who tells me that you can’t ever get a date with a hot woman. Fun and generous people can always get dates, and even if you start “in the friend zone,” the more skills you have, the bigger the opportunities for romance and passion that you can generate.


Happy couples make bids often and joyfully and respond to each other's bids with affection. Unhappy couples rarely make bids.

When you learn to make bids and learn to turn towards bids with mutual frequency, you save your marriage; it’s that simple. Although, you must also have so many inner tools and skills to self-soothe and calm your partner, as well as successful communication skills to motivate and inspire your partner instead of pushing them.  Offering someone what they want is not manipulation unless you believe you are buying their time.

When you offer something that your partner truly wants and you do that with love, that is the key to opening any door to their heart and to the long-term marriage or relationship you desire!

RELATED: How To Tell Your Partner You're Unhappy


Susan Allan is a certified mediator and coach and the founder of the Marriage Forum, Inc., creator of ‘The 6 Part Conversation’ and ‘The 7 Stages of Marriage and Divorce’ training, as well as Marital Mediation©, all tools and resources to help people understand their own needs and the needs of their partner.