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44. ADHD and Relationships: Making Bids for Connection

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about ADHD and relationships. We're going to talk about this idea of making a "bid for connection" with other people.

Doctors John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute introduced this idea: many of the things we do each day are bids to the people in our lives for connection. When someone does want to connect with you, they're not likely to come to you and say, "Hey, I want to connect with you".

Usually we use these bids, these ways of grabbing someone's attention, inviting someone into interaction throughout our day, without even realizing we're doing it.

I'm going to give you some examples of what a bid for connection looks like. Some of them might be more obvious to us. If your partner comes home, and they're like, "Oh, I've just had the craziest experience!" That's an obvious bid for connection, for reciprocation.

If your response is to change the subject, ignore that, or share something of your own in response to that bid, then that is a bid that they've put out there that you have turned away from. If you say, "Oh, what happened?!" you've accepted this bid for connection.

When I worked in pediatrics, I would use the analogy of a catch game. If I say, "Hey, you're not going to believe what happened to me!", it's like I'm throwing that ball. And if you catch the ball, you're going to respond in some way. "Oh, yeah, tell me about that" or "Can't wait to hear!", whatever you're going to say.

If you let the ball drop, you've stopped the game. This is the same thing with the connection, you've stopped this connection if you're not receiving this bid and responding to it. So, that example I gave was a really obvious example of a bid for connection. But bids can be a lot more subtle than that.

They can be just trying to get someone to share attention with you, "Whoa, look at that bird!" or "Did you just see the color of that house we just drove by?" It's an attempt to draw the other person in to connection and a communication exchange.

It can be really obvious like "Wow, I've had the most difficult day" or these can seem not so important, not so consequential, and they're easy to miss. They can be nonverbal like touching the other person on the shoulder. Even sending somebody a meme that you think is funny, that you think they're going to appreciate is an attempt for connections, a bid for connection.

It's easy to miss these, it's easy for these bids to go unanswered. This can start to break down communication. Now, of course, if my husband says "Look at that bird!" and I don't respond, that's not going to be devastating. But if my pattern is not responding to various bids habitually with him, either intentionally or unaware that I'm doing this, this can really cause friction and break down communication in our relationship.

The thing to remember here, it's not really the content of the bid. It's the intention of the bid. I'm trying to draw this person in, I'm trying to connect with this person, so missed bids can be problematic. When someone makes a bid, we respond.

Responses to bids: turning away, turning against, or turning towards

Even if we're not responding, that is a response when it comes to bids. If I say to Clint, "I'm really stressed about this situation at work.", that's my bid for connection. He can respond by turning away from my bid, not acknowledging what I'm saying, leaving the room, or changing the subject.

He can respond by turning against my bid: responding in a negative way to my bid, "It's always something with you and work!" or he can respond by turning towards my bid. In that catch analogy, it's catching the ball and then sending it back to me. "Oh, what's going on? Tell me about it".

We can all benefit from this frame of reference, because bids are happening all day long in our relationships and it's easy to miss them. The accumulation of missed bids can contribute to a feeling of not being valued, not being regarded, and of not having connection with the people in our lives.

I'm talking about romantic relationships more in this episode, but this applies to friendships, to other family members, to parents and children. These dropped bids can really break down connection.

I'm going to talk specifically about ADHD and some trends with ADHD communication. When we look at the way our brains work and some of our struggles, that can make this even more complicated.

ADHD and Bid Challenges

One thing that's true for many of us, definitely true for me, is that we may miss more bids just because of inattention. A couple of weeks ago, one of my daughters was talking about how she had been saying something to me and my response was looking at her and completely either changing the subject or ignoring it entirely. I had no idea what she was talking about. It wasn't that it happened and I didn't remember it happening, I never received it in the first place.

Obviously, I'm not going to willingly, knowingly drop the bids of the people I love in my life, but that may happen more often because of inattention. I want to be aware of that on a personal level, as part of me managing my brain, but I also want to educate the important people in my life that effective communication for me might be actually touching my shoulder, making sure I'm with you.

Sometimes, even if it might kind of look like I'm with you, I still might need that little extra cue. Dr. Reeves mentioned this when we did our interview on auditory processing disorder, that effective communication might be affirming that someone's with you when you're about to make this bid.

That's for the person that's receiving the bid and the person who is bidding. Understanding whether or not your message is actually being attended to is important, because you might be interpreting a dropped bid when it was actually never received.

Another thing that I have seen come up a lot for people with ADHD is responding to a bid with an attempt for connection which actually drops the bid. Your friend comes to you and says, "I just had the most incredible thing happen to me, you won't believe this..." and the person with ADHD gets really excited and jumps in with their own related story without having accepted the bid.

In their mind, they have accepted it, this is their way of accepting it, connecting, and responding. But when you're looking at more neurotypical conversation, it misses the mark, right? Because the perception for that person (with ADHD) is that they've received this bid, but the perception on the other end is that bid has been dropped.

I've seen this specific dynamic cause a lot of suffering, it creates a lot of misunderstanding and the people in their lives can feel like they're not important to this person. That's not true at all, it's just these drop bids. This misunderstanding is based on these drop bids.

What do we do with that? There's not really an easy answer here. People want to make this an easy answer. I saw someone post something that was along the lines of "Let's normalize the fact that neurodivergent people show they care by responding to your story with their story" or something along the lines of what I just described, that dynamic.

I think that message misses the mark. First of all, "let's normalize", to me, is kind of problematic in itself. When you have a neurodivergent brain, it's not going to be the "norm", it's not going to be the typical, it's not going to be common. When there's this approach of "Let's say that it is", I don't really find that is empowering. I don't get helpful strategies and I don't get better connections. I'm not saying that we need to always need to try to change ourselves. I'm a big advocate of accepting your brain for what it is, who you are. When I was talking about that example of me with the attention piece, I don't really have active control over that and I'm not beating myself up over the fact that I don't receive all of the messages.

No, that's not "normal". It's not the norm. I don't need you to normalize that. I would like the people in my life to understand that. I plan to advocate for myself so that they do, but I don't need for us all to say that that's normal. I think normal is a little overrated... my favorite people would not be classified as normal, quite honestly. And that's okay. I don't think normal is synonymous with good.

I've seen this situation play out often when it comes to ADHD brains: a friend shares a story and rather than responding to their story, we jump in with our story. Sometimes that has to do with just the excitement, impulsivity, even working memory (knowing that you're not going to remember what you wanted to share makes it even harder to wait).

When we know this about ourselves, we know what's at play that's making this more difficult, we can support that. If it's something you don't want to forget, letting your friend know, "Oh, hang on a second, I want to hear your story but let me just write myself a note real quick, so I don't forget what I want to tell you later".

It's kind of a "meeting in the middle" and it can really help us from dropping the bid and help us turn towards these bids and deepen our connection with the people that matter to us.

So far I've been talking about when we're dropping the bids, communication when a bid is made by our partner and we've dropped that bid. Let's flip it. Let's look at when we, as the ADHD brains, put a bid out there and that bid is turned away from.

Maybe you've sent something that you really think would interest your partner, an article or something that's funny, and it's just dropped, it's not responded to, the understanding this whole framework of bids, responding to bids, and how we turn away or turn towards our partners when we're putting these bids out there is helpful. Those os us with ADHD may be carrying the story with us (or the people in our lives are believing the story) that we're super sensitive and over reactive. When you have that kind of a reputation or you believe that about yourself, then legitimate dropped bids (that can be really damaging when they accumulate) can be dismissed as sensitivity when there's actually a dynamic here that is the sum of parts, right?

This is a sum of lots of drop bids and it can really have a damaging impact on a relationship (without either partner being aware of what's going on). Building that kind of awareness with a partner is ideal, to be able to work on this together and understand this framework together.

I also think this framework is helpful when you're looking at communicating with friends, with family, and with your children. There are even some professional applications. Understanding this and using this framework as a communication tool can be super helpful for all brains.


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