Obstacles to filling emotional bank accounts: distraction

As adults, many conflicts begin when our needs go unmet. Maybe we express our need when our partner is busy doing something else. Or perhaps we feel scared that our partner won't be willing or able to meet our need, so we don't express it or we use hints to "test the waters." A key strategy of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home program is to express our needs clearly and regularly so that they don't build up or escape our mouths as criticism or contempt.  (Dr. Gottman calls this a negative bid - expressing our bid, or request, in a negative way).

Interestingly, babies have similar strategies that they use when their bids are not met.  Check out the videos below to see how babies act when they make a bid (express a need) and their parent does not respond.   

So there are 3 things to consider here:  

  • to slow down and become more aware of the ways that our partners and our babies express their needs,
  • to express our own needs clearly and with appreciation,
  • and to make an effort to turn off our cell phones when we are spending time with those that we love so that we can be present in the moment.  

See also:  The dangers of distracted parenting

Step 2: Respond to bids mindfully

The next step in this challenge is to slow down, breathe, recognize bids, and RESPOND MINDFULLY.

In the Bringing Baby Home class, Dr. Gottman talks about the importance of recognizing bids and responding to them intentionally.  The motto of the workshop is "small things often."  

When we notice that our partner or our child is making a bid for connection, we have several ways that we can respond.

1.  We can turn towards. This means that we respond to their request for connection by connecting with them.  If our partner asks "Do we have any more laundry detergent?" we respond by putting some laundry detergent in the cart or add it to the shopping list.  If our baby is crying for attention, we respond by looking at them, talking or singing to them, and maybe by picking them up.  If the bid was that the person looked at us, we might simply smile at them.  Turning towards adds deposits to our emotional bank account.  

2.  We can turn away. This means that the bid is ignored.  Maybe we are too busy with our work at the moment.  Maybe we are focused on something else or on "automatic pilot."  Maybe we are busy on our phone. Usually we aren't intentionally being mean, but we are deep in thought or preoccupied with something else.  Turning away has a negative effect on our relationship's emotional bank account. It is a withdrawal from our emotional bank account. 

3.  We can turn against. This means that the other person responds to the bid in a negative way.  The response might be critical or contemptuous.  It is being intentionally negative to the other person.  Turning against is a withdrawal from our emotional bank account. It leads to increased conflict and puts emotional distance between you. 

In order to put deposits into our emotional bank account, we need to be mindful.  We need to slow down and breathe.  We need to recognize the other person's bid, and we need to be intentional to make the other person to feel heard and respected and important.  "Mindful responses increase the positive perspective in the relationship, and over time, increase relationship satisfaction... These small acts will add points to your emotional bank account (deposits) and over time will have a significant impact on your relationship" (Bringing Baby Home workbook, p. 77).

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Step 1: Recognizing bids

The first step in this challenge is to slow down, breathe, and then RECOGNIZE BIDS.

As I mentioned in this month's newsletter, a bid is defined as the way that a person expresses what they need at the moment.  

Some examples of bids that our partner might make include:
- A bid for our attention, such as calling our name or saying "Look at this"
- A bid for conversation: "How was your day today?"
- A bid for relief: "I'm so tired. Could you take care of the baby for a while so that I can take a nap?"
- A bid for humor: "I just heard a new joke"
- A bid for affection: "Can I have a hug?"
- A bid for sex: "You are really turning me on right now"
- A bid for dreaming: "What would you like your life to be like in 10 years?"
- A bid for play: Playfully tickling, dancing, wrestling, or a gentle bump or shove.
- A bid for excitement: "At the party the other day, I was talking to a neighbor about a cool trip that would be awesome to take together."
- A bid for emotional support or empathy: "I feel sad" or "I had a hard day at work today"
- A bid for discussing shared meaning, goals, or purpose in life: "What is the most important legacy that you want to give to the baby?"

Some examples of bids that our child might make include:
- A bid for our attention, such as making sounds or gestures or crying for attention
- A bid to show us something, such as pointing or looking at the object and then looking at us
- A bid for a nap: a yawn; slow motion blinks; drowsiness; hyperactivity; staring off into space; rubbing eyes, ears or hair; losing interest in play; interest in sucking
- A bid for laughter: starting a game of peekaboo
- A bid for affection: rubbing up against us or giving a hug or kiss
- A bid for play: Playfully tickling, dancing, wrestling, or a gentle bump or shove.
- A bid for excitement: initiating an exciting game
- A bid for emotional support or empathy: a pouty face or cry

Next Monday we will look at different ways that we respond to other people's bids.  

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