The Communication Skills You Need in Your Marriage

Today’s blog about marriage communication tips is written by Jeannette Williams, a colleague who has been working with me on my podcasts and other projects.

Lisa B. Marshall
3-minute read

Recently I read the book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by Dr. John Gottman. I was so impressed by his work that I was moved to create a Haiku Deck slide presentation so others could benefit.

Dr. Gottman has studied married couples for years, and can now predict with 91% accuracy whether or not a couple’s marriage will survive—after just six minutes! What’s his secret? It’s in how the couple argues. 

There are four warning signs that a marriage is in trouble: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (going silent). When these characteristics are present, the couple is in deep trouble. But in all his research, Dr. Gottman also learned about what makes healthy couples really succeed. And he shares them in his book. But the one I wanted to share was what he called “responding to bids.” His take on this is really unique, but he is completely right about this.

Communication That Matters

Dr. Gottman says that it’s not the lofty, flowery words of love that bind a couple together. They’re nice, and for some people quite important. But what bonds the couple together is how they respond to little “bids for attention.” For instance, let’s say a husband is reading the newspaper and his wife is sitting at her desk, in front of a window. She looks up and says, “Oh! What a lovely bird!” Now, things could go two ways. Suppose the husband looks up from his paper and says, “Is it red? I saw a cardinal around here the other day.” She may reply, “Yes. Maybe it’s the same one.” Then they both go back to what they were doing. Dr. Gottman would say that the husband responded to his wife’s bid, and just deposited credits into their mutual love-bank account! The more such casual interactions take place, interactions that say, “I’m in the same space as you, I’m aware of your presence, and I want to make contact,” the stronger the bond is and the stronger their love is when disagreements come along. It’s almost like a verbal touch. It’s like walking by your husband and just touching his arm to say, “I’m here and you’re here and I’m glad.”

But suppose the husband had just grunted, or had said nothing at all. Not good. He failed to respond to the bid. This actually draws from the account. Too many such withdrawals and the account is too low when disagreements ensue. And they will probably ensue more often than if the couple was in the habit of verbally reaching out to each other and touching.

… and It Doesn’t Just Matter in Marriage

Once I became aware of this principle, I noticed how often my husband and I respond to bids, and we have twenty-seven happy years to show for it. But I also noticed I don’t always respond to my children’s bids! Wow, was that an eye-opener! Shortly after reading about the principle of bids, one of my girls came up to me while I was working on the computer and said, “Mom! Look what I drew!” At first, engrossed in my typing, I continued my thoughts until I jolted myself internally. “NO!” I said to myself, “That was a bid!” I quickly stopped, smiled, and enjoyed a moment with my daughter. Another daughter said, just into the quiet air one day, “I’m finally seeing the end in sight on my cross-stitch project.” This was not a comment that needed a reply, and it was out of the blue, but it was a bid. “That’s great, honey.” And that was enough. She was happy I cared.

Once I realized how this principle applied to other relationships, I realized the other principles do, too. I highly recommend the book. It could have been called The Seven Principles for Making Any Relationship Work. It’s a much-needed reminder about how to live sincerely and love fully.

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.