I have a desk job. I am a UX Designer at Microsoft, which stands for User Experience Designer, which is the current fad-name for a web designer. I sit in a chair, at a desk, staring at a couple of monitors, from 8:30am to about 5pm Monday through Friday in Redmond, Washington. Sometimes I have meetings where I’ll have to un-dock my laptop from my two monitors and walk to a conference room where people critique my work or give me more work to do. But all the time, my computer is with me. This handy little device helps me to stay tethered to my coworkers and my projects, whether they are Microsoft projects or freelance, but also helps me stay connected to my wife and my family.
It started YEARS ago… maybe 2004… but IM-ing (instant messaging) was as cool then as texting is now. I believe Michelle and I started with Windows Messenger. Somehow, when we were still just acquaintances, Michelle or I found the other and we started chatting during the day. Sometimes just a few messages back and forth. Sometimes constant interaction for 8 hours. But there was always one and only one way to start off the day’s ration of IM-ing. A single period. Whomever noticed the other was logging in would send a single dot over once they were available.
This was our whisper. It was a very covert way of saying “I’m here, and I see that you’re at your desk now, and I’d like to talk if you’d like to talk, but no pressure.”
It was always so exciting to get that little dot. Like a trinket that someone brings back to you from their vacation. The trinket’s true meaning is I was thinking about you even when I was far away. You really treasure those gifts, not because of how they practically improve your day to day life, but how your relationship with that person is stronger than it was before. And this little dot was that to me. Day after day, I received a tiny gift from Michelle, saying, You’re on my mind, which in turn put her on my mind if she wasn’t already. This is how our friendship started, and later, how it turned into our committing our entire lives to each other.
Though we never had a name for it, we continued to use this method throughout the years as we started dating, then became engaged, and once we got married. Still to this day, I’ll be sitting at my desk, or in a conference room, and a tiny little gift will pop up and remind me that I have a friend who loves me.
Recently Michelle gave it a name that I think is perfect. Love crumb. Like a little piece of love that’s broken off and left somewhere for me to find. Michelle will never know how much these Love Crumbs mean to me, as I’m not very good with words and any attempt at using the right ones would be feeble anyway. This is our own inside way of reaching out to the other, and even though yours is probably not exactly like ours, you still have one.
Bids for Connection
Dr. John Gottman calls this “Bids for Connection” or “Emotional Bidding,” or sometimes just “bids.” In his book, The Relationship Cure, he qualifies a bid as affectionate touching, facial expressions, playful touching, flirtatious gestures, and vocalizing to show your partner your affection and appreciation for them.
As this book was published in 2002, I’d like to submit friendly and playful texting and IM-ing as qualifiers as well. Gottman has discovered that a determining factor in how a relationship will fare over time depends on the way these “bids” are extended AND received.
With decades of study in his University of Washington Love Lab, Gottman has observed that happy couples will bid for each other’s attention A TON – about 100 times in 10 minutes. Given, The Love Lab is a setting where the couple is face-to-face and communicating with one another on purpose, but that breaks down to about once every 6 seconds.
What the crap? I feel like I have a pretty good marriage, but there is no way that Michelle and I are bidding for each other’s attention every 6 seconds! If I just ask her one good question, she might talk to me for 20 minutes straight without letting me get a word in, let alone a bid for affection. Are we doomed? I don’t think we are.
The way I see it, Gottman puts these couples together in a room with the intention of monitoring their interaction for an extended period. They do not have the distractions of a potty training two-year old, or a midday meeting, or grass on the lawn that never stops needing to be mowed. They get to spend this focused time that is unlike most of our everyday lives. Because most of us don’t live in a Love Lab and our lives are full of distractions, the numbers for the rest of us are skewed.
Instead of focusing on the “once every six seconds,” let’s focus on “the ton.” Gottman’s research tells me that these couples spend a lot of time engaging with each other. They enjoy each other and send that message to one another often in lots of different ways. It might be a kiss goodbye or a text “hello.” It might be a hand on the the arm or a smile from across the room during dinner prep. Think back to yesterday. How many times would you say you made these types of bids toward your partner? Twice? A dozen times? More? Less?
Bidding for affection is an integral part of happy relationships.
A pivotal part of these bids is not only in how they are extended and how often, but also in how they are received. Since we now know that bids can be physical, verbal, or visual, are you aware of the bids your partner is extending? Are you receptive and eager to respond when your spouse reaches for your hand? Do you look up to meet their eyes when they begin to talk to you? Or, are you often too busy to be bothered by these little interactions?
Let’s take this one into consideration…
In this interaction, Trish is sending Bud a verbal bid. He doesn’t receive it well, and she concedes. It is very possible that Trish interprets the “thing with the thing” as more important than her. She retreats and a valuable connection is sidelined.
If this sounds too familiar, and you’re Bud, let me suggest:
And if you’re Trish, you could try this:
Sometimes those missed opportunities are just misinterpretations of the bidding… Gottman calls this “Fuzzy Bidding.” If a bid is extended and the other party isn’t receiving it correctly, an opportunity to connect is lost. How are you at noticing your partners cues? Are you hearing the underlying request, “I’m lonely and miss you and I need you,” when your wife says, “we’ve been so busy lately”? How often do you allow the job to be a distraction in your marriage rather than your spouse being a distraction to your professional life? Remember what Michelle said a few weeks ago in Your Marriage Needs a Vacation…
“You may be incredibly dedicated and committed to your job, but the truth is, you can be replaced. The only truly indispensable role you have in your life is the role you have in your family. Invest yourself wisely.”
Emotional Bank Account
Missing the bid once or twice shouldn’t cause your relationship to suffer. The key with this is understanding that each time you bid, and each time you receive a bid well, you are making deposits in the Emotional Bank Account of your marriage. These little moments add up, reminding the two of you of the feelings you have for one another, and of your commitment to supporting each other through all of the grit and grime.
Every time I get that Love Crumb is an opportunity for me to make a tiny deposit into the emotional bank account of my marriage to Michelle. It’s fine if I miss a deposit or two – there are reserves in that account. But if I miss a whole day’s worth? A couple of days? Michelle will definitely feel the gap. If she decides to respond in kind, I’ll feel the weight of it as well.
Keeping a good balance in the Emotional Bank Account can act as a cushion when external, or even internal, stresses hit your marriage. Similar to your cash bank account, if your account is low and something unexpected happens – you just blew all four tires and need new ones immediately! – it’s going to be a lot more stressful for you than if you would have kept a good savings. When your Emotional Bank Account is low, the slightest irritation or misunderstanding could cause a pretty nasty and unnecessary fight between you. But, if you’ve both been on top of making those deposits, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll give each other the benefit of the doubt and not let the little things bring so much stress to your marriage.
Is your spouse bidding and are you missing your opportunities to fill their Emotional Bank Account?
The Love Crumb Quiz
Since we’ve let you in on one of our frequent bids – the Love Crumb – let’s do a little relationship evaluation. The material comes from those geniuses at The Gottman Institute, but rather than calling it the Bids for Emotional Connection Evaluation, we’re going to call it The Love Crumb Quiz…
Pro-Tip: Take this quiz now and Pin it so you can share it with your spouse later.
How are you dropping those Love Crumbs? Are you noticing them from your partner and picking them up? Think this week about extending more bids for connection, being receptive to your partner’s bids, and building a healthy emotional bank account so that when the storms of life hit, you’ve got loving reserves to help you #staymarried.
I don’t write at #staymarried very often, but if you’d like to read more from me, you can check out Team Peterson and Sometimes My Wife Complains. Also, don’t forget to Pin the Love Crumb Quiz so you can share it with your spouse and see how you both are doing.
Thanks for reading