1 Do you see me?
2 Do you care that I’m here?
3 Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
4 Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
Schafler notes that patients from her practice come in and complain that they walk into the bedroom and their partner barely looks up from the phone. Or they get their kid dressed and ready for school without really acknowledging them or making eye contact. Taking a moment to let someone know that you see them, that you care that they’re there, that they’re enough, and that you think they’re special is the nitty-gritty of what makes a good relationship good.
I have a friend who is a master at making me feel good about myself—she asks me questions, seems sincerely interested in the answers, and treats me like I am a special person who has unique things to offer her as a friend. I’ve always thought she had unusually good social skills, but now I realize that she is (unconsciously) always answering these four questions that I’m (unconsciously) asking.
John Gottman, a psychotherapist whose research can be used to predict which couples will stay together and which will divorce, calls these requests bids: “any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection.” Not every bid will be answered, but what matters, according to his research, is that you answer the bid affirmatively 85%-ish percent of the time. (Couples likely to divorce were at more like 33%.)