“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as evidence of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.) Updated December 2020.

The Position (but not what you think)

When you say to someone, “I have your back,” then “the position” is the physicality of that.

“The position” is an attachment posture for problem-solving, planning or visioning, doing a 10/10 conversation, foreplay for love-making, watching TV, or simply resting. It provides a maximum amount of physical contact without the necessity or even the intention of sex. It is not about coercion; it is about support and affection. It is about dreaming of something better. It is about having someone’s back. It is not a face-to-face encounter.

I often recommend this posture for couples that have low intimacy or who seldom share sex. The position lines life up, merges intentions, welcomes the future.

Vertically we call it “the position” but horizontally it is called “spooning.” Both are postures for caring intimacy.

Everyone needs support sometimes; everyone needs someone who has their back. The position builds a couple’s “emotional bank account” when there have been too many withdrawals or when there is a threat of emotional bankruptcy. The back person strengthens the front person, as the front person rests into the support person.

The back person (man or woman who provides the support) has their arms surrounding the resting person (in the front). The support person’s arms and hands can be held or directed by the front partner to touch and hold in the way that they wish. Couples find this directed touch to be both soothing and erotic.

It is a good practice to switch between being the support person and being the supported one. Say 5 minutes and then switch.

Both are facing in the same way. Rather than being a face-to-face encounter, the position soothes rather than challenges. It allows for seeing in the same direction. It reduces the intensity of conflict or fighting. It builds trust.

I have found that men love to be in the supported position — it is not just a female thing. Both can support and both need support.

See the link on my idea of a “10/10” daily conversation. Combining the position and the 10/10 is about emotional sanity.

10/10 — A Sanity Prescription

Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. This is a sanity prescription. 10 minutes talking to yourself, journaling your thoughts, praying or pondering before you get on with the busyness of your day.

Works well in your partnerships and marriage too. 10 minutes of face-to-face conversation at (say) 7 am and 10 pm. In the morning, sharing your emotional geography as you anticipate your day. And in the evening, catching up your partner on your thoughts and experiences for the hours in between. Researchers tell us that “great couples” have at least 20 minutes of conversational intimacy every day. And in a month, you have enjoyed 4200 minutes (7 hours) of intimacy. More than many couples have in 5 years.

By the way, doing 20/20 is usually way too much. Keep it brief and important.

Here is what you can do in your 10/10. Try an ancient Ignatian discernment practice: consolations and desolations.  If you want to dump the Catholic part, call it roses and thorns. Either way, look at the events that are opportunities (consolations) for growth and wisdom and those interruptions (desolations) that make your worry and ruminate.

This is sanity. It is about thinking rather than ruminating; planning rather than obsessing; creating intimacy rather than avoiding and hiding.

Sex Therapy on Skype

I just got off a Skype call with a lovely couple who can’t make their sex life work. Married for just a few years and with a couple of kids, their intimacy is interrupted by occasional porn, premature ejaculation, and anxiety by self-judgement.

So I troop out lots of stuff that I know and some that they know, too. Though on Skype they look a bit aghast by the objectivity of the ideas.

  • The brain is the sex organ and that the genitals are just the conduits.
  • Everybody has fantasies, its just that they are so often different.
  • Porn breaks trust but this has as much to do with the self-critical spouse as the partner.
  • Shared masturbation is a great idea when intercourse is a bit complicated.

I recommended that the couple talk about their fantasies and good memories. I suggested that the woman stimulate herself for several minutes each night before falling asleep. I helped them create a shared fantasy that was about their dating prior to marriage. I told them about the best positions for sex during pregnancy and how oral sex is often better for the wife than penile penetration. I advised them to give up the “ideal” of simultaneous orgasms for something more realistic. I told them that the woman should probably climax first to avoid premature ejaculation for the husband.

And then I remembered a great Harvard Medical article on “Tips to Improve Your Sex Life” and, sure enough, it says a lot better what I was thinking.

Still I was amazed what you could get accomplished on a cross-Canada Skype call. I hope the lines were secure.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]