When an avoidant reaches out for your attention, how you respond can either increase emotional connection, undermine it or further damage your chance of getting them back. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the concept of “bids for connection”, one of the quickest and best ways to strengthen emotional connection with your ex.
What are bids for connection?
After a break-up, exes don’t usually come upfront and say “Hey, let’s connect” or ” I’d like to connect with you” – instead, they’ll say something or do something that tells us that they want to connect with us. These efforts to connect are what Dr. Gottman calls bids for connection.
According to Dr. Gottman who has spent years studying how couples interact, has written several books on the subject and runs The Gottman Institute, “a bid for connection” is any request for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection.
Dr. Gottman has observed that when one person sends a bid for connection to another, there are three ways we generally respond to a bid for connection:
Turning toward – Turning towards a bid for connection is responding to your ex’s bid for connection, engaging them, showing interest and making an effort to emotionally connect.
Turning away – Turning away from a bid for connection is ignoring, dismissing or avoiding the bid and not responding to it at all or in a satisfactory manner. This includes being unavailable, cutting off contact, pretending to be busy, distracting from or changing the subject of a conversation your ex clearly wants to have.
Turning against – Turning against a bid for connection responding in anger or with aggression making the person sending the bid for connection feel attacked for wanting to for attention, affirmation, affection, or any connection. This includes starting arguments, defensiveness, criticism or sarcastic remarks.
Avoidant reaching out with a bid for connection
There are so many different reasons and so many ways avoidants try to get your attention (bids for connection) after a break-up. Some avoidants reach out and show you they want to stay in contact or open up the lines of communication. Others don’t directly reach out but instead ask friends and family about you, watch your Instagram stories or try to get your attention on some other social media platform. And some of the ways avoidants try to get your attention can make you go “what was that about?” or “how do I even respond to that?”
Like many, you probably analyze and overanalyze why and how an avoidant is trying to get your attention and don’t realize that why and how an avoidant is trying to get your attention is not as important as how you respond their bid for connection.
1) Turning towards your avoidant ex’s bids for connection (engaging them, showing interest and making an effort to emotionally connect) makes an avoidant ex feel good about reaching out and makes them interact more (longer conversation) which typically leads to more bids and more positive responses from both sides.
2) Turning away from your avoidant ex’s bids for connection (ignoring, dismissing or avoiding the bid and not responding to it at all or in a satisfactory manner) repeatedly will make your ex feel anxious and afraid to send bids for connection. Most exes stop sending bids for connection.
3) Turning against your avoidant ex’s bids for connection (starting arguments, defensiveness, criticism or sarcastic remarks) creates hurt feelings or resentment and is often the cause of many relationship conflicts.
Ignoring your avoidant ex’s bids for connection makes them think you don’t care
Dr. Gottman found that turning away or ignoring bids for connection is more damaging to the relationship than turning against or responding in anger to a bid for connection.
The message ignoring your ex’s bids for connection sends (intentional or not) is that you don’t care. When you repeatedly tell someone that you don’t care about them, they’ll gradually stop caring about you too.
They gradually bid less and less, and may completely stop trying to make bids because they feel ignored, taken for granted or feel that their efforts are not appreciated. You may even find that turning away or against your ex’s bids for connection is why the break-up happened in the first place, but instead of learning from your mistakes, you go ahead and do the very same thing that got you where you are in. And some people are so emotionally clueless that even when their ex sends a bid for connection, they jump right into “This is what I want. Give it to me or I’ll ignore you (not give you any attention)”.
The more you turn towards your ex’s bids for connection the stronger the
Turning towards your avoidant ex’s bids for connection on the doesn’t mean you give in or go along with their every bid. It’s not even about how fast you respond to your ex’s text, or how much you tell them you love them, compliment them or tell them you support them. Turning towards your ex’s bids for connection is responding when your ex reaches out with genuine interest and a genuine effort to emotionally connect.
Bids for connection can be verbal (a comment, question, a request for advice or help) or non-verbal (a touch, hug, smile, look, wink, gesture). Bids for connection can also be sent via emojis.
An example of a bid for connection is an ex sending a photo of a sunset with a comment “Look at this beautiful sunset!” Your ex is not just commenting on the beautiful sunset, they’re asking for some kind of response or sign of interest with the hope that you’ll connect, however momentarily, over the photo of the sunset.
To some people an ex sending a sunset bid for connection might seem superficial and low effort, but to your ex, connecting with your over the photo of the sunset however brief the connection is a very special moment that may make the rest of their day.
Like many relationship theories, Dr. Gottman’s bids for connection is not perfect but his work has shown significant success with couples and now considered one of the quickest ways to improve a relationship especially if you want your ex to see that you care about the things they care about and by implication care about them.
So next time your avoidant ex reaches out:
1) Recognize or notice the ways they’re trying to connect with you
This means taking the time to think through the emotional context of the bid for connection your ex is making, and giving them the attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection they’re asking for at the given time.
Keep in mind that bids of connection change depending on what the person is feeling at the time and what level of connection they want. It can be one thing one text/conversation/day and another thing in another text/conversation/day.
This is why regular contact with your ex is very important. When you are not in contact, it’s very hard to figure out the emotional context of a given text, words or actions. You respond to a text thinking that’s the right response but instead get back silence or much worse… you find yourself in an argument you never intended to happen or defending yourself from something you never actually said or meant to say.
2) Don’t let temporary negative feelings get in the way
From time to time, you may fail to recognize or notice a bid for connection, or even “turn away” or “turn against” it. The important thing is to make more effort to recognize or notice a bid the next time, and keep going.
Throughout the process of trying to attract back your ex, both of you will from time to time send bids for connection. Sometimes it’s not possible to quickly recognize your ex’s bid for connection and turn towards all of them, this will happen especially if you’re distracted with your own emotions and hurt feelings.
Do not beat yourself up and work up yourself emotionally and make things even worse with your habitual anxiety, worry and catastrophizing. The important thing is to make sure you don’t miss the next bid.
3) Keep moving towards your ex and not away from your ex
Turning towards your ex’s bids for connection doesn’t mean you give in or go along with their every bid for attention. One, if your ex has an anxious attachment style, chances are that you will never keep up with their need for attention. People with an anxious attachment style need more attention than even someone with a secure attachment style can provide.
Turning towards your avoidant ex’s bids for connection means that you try as much as possible to respond when your ex is trying to get your attention. Once you become skilled at recognizing, noticing and turning towards your ex’s bids for connection, things go a lot smother and faster, and your chances get better and better.
More examples of the kinds of emotional bids for connection an ex might send and how to recognize them can be found in my book: Dating Your Ex.