The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships

A powerful, simple five-step program, for greatly improving all of the relationships in your life.

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Karsen: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships by Dr. John Gottman and Joan DeClaire

This title provides a research-based, simple solution to the problems that trouble our relationships. From romantic partners, friends, family members, and coworkers, this title sets out to improve communication and connection in all relationships.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, who are the authors, and what inspired this book?

Vincent: Dr. John M. Gottman is a research and clinical psychologist with over four decades of experience. He and his wife founded The Gottman Institute, which trains therapists to apply the principles derived from his research.

Joan DeClaire is the director of communications at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

This is the third book the authors wrote together. This book was inspired to help couples experiencing relationship problems, people looking for ways to get closer to their friends, coworkers, or family members, and anyone wanting to improve their communication and relationship-building skills.

Karsen: The title of this book is The Relationship Cure but, there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of all types of relationships, can there?

Vincent: Yes and no. There isn’t a magic pill that will fix your relationships in one fell swoop, but the underlying principles are the same. Through research, the authors teach some general strategies that you can learn and apply to each relationship to help you deal with them better.

Karsen: So this age-old question has covered media for decades: What’s the secret to having a happy, healthy, and close relationship with another person? I feel like the answer always comes down to “opening up” to each other. What do the authors say about this?

Vincent: If you think the answer is a willingness to share your deepest, most personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences, you’re not alone. In the early 1990s, many psychologists thought so too – including one of the authors, Dr. Gottmam. But then he conducted some research into the matter, and the results surprised both him and many others in psychology.

In research done with his colleagues at the University of Washington, Gottman set up an unusual research center called “the Love Lab.”

Karsen: I remember reading about this. Was it the study where they created a fake apartment and had couples spend the weekend there?

Vincent: Yes, on the inside, it looked like a typical, cozy studio apartment, and over the year, they invited 60 married couples to stay there. Each pair got one instruction: live life as you usually would. But the one catch was that they had four surveillance cameras and a 2-way mirror where researchers observed the couples for 12-hours a day. The participants were rigged with microphones and body sensors that watched for symptoms of stress, like increases in heart rate or levels of sweat.

Karsen: Wow, that’s hundreds of hours of footage! When Gottman went through the tapes, did he find any deep conversations between the married couples?

Vincent: He looked hard for examples of partners baring their souls to one another. But, he hardly found any instances of what psychologists call “self-disclosure.”

Most of the conversations were mundane and went like this:

“Honey, could you grab me a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, dear.”


“Hey, check out this comic strip!”

“Shh, I’m trying to read.”

Karsen: Oh, that’s very anticlimactic.

Vincent: That’s what he thought too. But then, after reviewing the footage for a few months, he noticed something. The key to forming close relationships was right there in all those boring conversations.

It wasn’t in what the couples were talking about but how they were talking to each other. And it’s a lesson that applies to all relationships, romantic or not.

Karsen: How’d he find that?

Vincent: The difference comes down to what the authors call a “bid” and the way your partner responds to it. For example, imagine you are the wife that asked your husband for a cup of coffee. Imagine that instead of saying “Sure, honey,” your husband responded by snapping, “Go get it yourself.” There’s a difference. The first scenario reveals a pleasant domestic interaction – the sort of thing you’d witness in a loving home. The second is more like something you’d see in a playback reel called “Why We Got a Divorce.”

Bids are the most fundamental units of emotional communication.

Karsen: What was the bid in this scenario?

Vincent: According to the authors, a bid is any attempt to establish an emotional connection with someone through verbal or nonverbal communication. It can be a question, like, “Hey, did you see the game last night?” An exclamation, like “Wow, look at that sunset!” A gesture, such as offering someone a chair, or even just a facial expression, like a simple smile. Regardless of the form it takes or surface-level meaning, the underlying message of the bid remains the same. It says, “Hey, I want to connect with you.” The other person can then respond in three ways: turning toward, turning away from, or turning against the bid.

For example, you read an interesting news article and want to share it with your friend. You’d say, “Hey, check this out.” That’s your bid.

Now, imagine your friend puts down their phone and cheerfully asks, “What’s up?” That’s them turning toward your bid and responding positively to your attempt to establish a connection.

Karsen: So by contrast, if your friend continued looking at their phone, pretended not to hear you, or tried to change the subject, are they turning away from your bid?

Vincent: Yes, they are turning away by ignoring it or sidestepping it. But if they responded by saying, “Ugh, can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?” An adverse reaction like this is turning against your bid.

Through his research, Dr. Gottman found that these sorts of bids, and the three types of response, represent the fundamental building blocks of emotional communication and human connection. And as you’ll see, these bids and bid responses can make or break your relationships.

Karsen: They seem harmless, so how can they have a significant impact on your relationships?

Vincent: Well, the authors say that bids contain hidden messages and meanings. While they seem like small talk, bids establish an emotional connection with someone, and each can play a crucial role. The reason these questions are so important is that there’s more to them than meets the eye.

The authors give an example of a romantic couple, Mary and Jeff, sitting on a sofa in their living room. Mary leans over to Jeff and says, “It’s a bit chilly in here, don’t you think?” This is her bid.

Karsen: So, to decipher the hidden meaning, what do we look for beneath the surface of this interaction?

Vincent: See, it’s not that Mary only wants to tell Jeff that she’s cold or find out if he agrees with her assessment of the temperature. Mary has an unstated objective: she’s hoping that Jeff will cuddle her. In other words, she’s bidding him move closer to her, both literally and figuratively.

Karsen: But why doesn’t she say, “Hey, Jeff, want to cuddle?”

Vincent: Well, sometimes we make overt bids. But, usually, we make them more subtle and vague – and for a good reason. By framing her bid for physical affection as a statement about the temperature, Mary has a way to save face and feel less of a blow if Jeff rejects it. Imagine if she says, “Give me a cuddle,” and Jeff replies bluntly, “No, I’m not in the mood.” That would hurt.

Karsen: Ouch. But on the other hand, if he responds by tossing her a blanket, she’s still not getting what she wants.

Vincent: But at least she’s getting something positive in return, and it’s a heck of a lot better than outright rejection. Mary is also giving Jeff a way to decline her bid smoothly. If he knows she wants to cuddle and he doesn’t, he can avoid the awkwardness of saying he wishes to keep to himself. He can choose to interpret Mary’s statement literally and respond accordingly. In other words, the vagueness of our bids is a feature, and it often serves us well. But unfortunately, the indirectness can lead to some problems.

Karsen: Going off that, I’d imagine a big problem would come when the hidden messages of bids are hard to interpret. How do you respond to a bid when you are unsure of the meaning behind the words?

Vincent: The example of the bid we went through was simple. You didn’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to decipher them since the message wasn’t very hidden. If all bids were that simple, relationships would be effortless to navigate.

But, in reality, it’s often difficult to respond to bids. They usually don’t seem like bids at all. The authors point out that we all have feelings and desires that we don’t know how to express – at least not constructively. And if we don’t understand our own emotions, we have a hard time communicating them to other people.

Karsen: Do the authors give a more realistic example?

Vincent: Yes, they give a few. For example, a child throws a temper tantrum because their parent refuses to buy them a toy. You might think the tantrum is an expression of anger at not getting what they want. But, it could also be a bid for their parent’s comfort.

Another example is a husband asking his wife a loaded question. “Why don’t you ever call me when you’re at work?” It’s not just an accusation; it’s a bid for more communication. Poorly expressed, but a bid nonetheless.

When feelings of sadness, anger, or fear are involved, people’s bids can sound like criticisms or complaints. This makes them difficult to recognize and respond to.

Karsen: So you have to look past the upfront emotions and look beneath the surface of what the other person is saying.

Vincent: Yes, that’s important to remember. If you’re the parent in the scenario, instead of defensively explaining why you won’t buy the toy, hug your child and acknowledge their need for comfort.

Karsen: If you’re the wife in the other example, instead of complaining that you’re too busy to make personal calls, you can arrange a set time when you’ll briefly chat. This way, you acknowledge their need for communication, right?

Vincent: Exactly. By focusing on the underlying bid, the authors say that you’re more likely to find a response that will build connections. Therefore, turning toward the bid instead of away from it.

To understand people’s bids, it helps to know where they are coming from.

Karsen: So that psych Ph.D. might be needed after all.

Vincent: Haha, before enrolling in grad school, you can still give yourself a significant leg up in interpreting other people’s bids. All you need is a better understanding of what the authors call their emotional makeup.

Have you ever gotten into a fight with someone and felt that the two of you were arguing with a third person who wasn’t in the room?

Karsen: Definitely.

Vincent: That’s what happens in an example Dr. Gottman gives about Rick and Sarah, a couple that came to him for therapy.

When Rick was a child, his mother left him, and his grandmother raised him. She resented having to look after him and constantly told him he was worthless. As a result, he developed a fragile sense of self-esteem.

Every time Sarah complained about Rick’s behavior, it would be as if he heard his grandmother’s voice. For example, Sarah would get mad when he turned on the TV instead of talking with her. But instead of hearing a message about Sarah not liking the TV or wanting to spend more time with him, Rick heard, “you can’t do anything right!”

Sarah was one of seven siblings and had grown up in a low-income family. She was taught to keep her personal needs to herself. So she did that in her relationship with Rick. She would keep to herself for a week or two, and then her frustrations would explode in various complaints.

Karsen: So, in the case of the TV, what she wanted was to have a closer connection with Rick, but unfortunately, she expressed this desire in a way that sounded bitter and accusatory.

Vincent: Yes, that’s what the authors uncovered as well. To this point, like Rick and Sarah, we all carry baggage from past relationships into the present ones. The authors call this our emotional heritage, and it affects our interactions with other people. So the more you know about someone’s background, the more you’ll understand where they’re coming from, and the more successful you’ll be at interpreting their bids.

Karsen: So first, we learned that simple interactions between people are often bids for emotional connection. Second, these bids often contain hidden messages. And third, these underlying meanings are shaped by a person’s emotional heritage and past relationships. By remembering these, we apply them to the essential people in our lives and respond constructively to their bids. But what about making our bids? What do the authors suggest to make ourselves more likely to be understood and meet our emotional needs?

Vincent: The key message given is when making our bids, we should reflect on our underlying needs and express them through soft language.

The next time you find yourself about to launch an argument or make a complaint, stop and ask yourself: What’s my unmet emotional need here? Often it will be rooted in a fundamental human impulse.

Karsen: Can you give an example?

Vincent: Yes, for example, if a wife is skeptical of her husband’s decision to buy a firearm for their household, it could be that she’s worried about what will happen if one of the kids gets hold of it.

Karsen: So, in this case, rather than making a broad statement that guns are dangerous, she should make a bid to express her fear of having them in the house.

Vincent: That way, instead of getting into a heated argument about the right to bear arms, they can confront their concerns and compromise, like buying a lockbox and keeping the gun stored out of reach.

Softening a bid goes a long way to make it more appealing. Once, the author was waiting to have dinner with his family, but his wife was busy working in the basement. He harshly shouted, “Hey, Julie! Stop working! It’s family time!”

Karsen: I bet that didn’t go over well.

Vincent: You’re right. Understandably, Julie felt attacked and criticized and responded defensively by saying, “I can’t! I’ve got to get this done!”

Instead, the author could have opened his bid by calling out, “Hey, Julie, we miss you! Come up and have dinner with us as soon as you can.”

Karsen: Imagine how much more positive Julie’s response would have been. So knowing all of this, how does this improve our relationships overall?

Vincent: The initial bid and bid-response that kick off the first rounds of emotional communication between two people are like the beginnings of a friendly game of tennis. If you get your initial bid and bid-response right, you give yourself more opportunities for connection. If they are successful, the action is just getting started.

Karsen: For example, how would this work outside of a home setting, like with coworkers in an office?

Vincent: The authors used a similar example. So imagine the coworkers are Jim and Linda. Jim goes to Linda’s desk and makes his initial bid by asking, “do you have any plans for lunch?”

Linda could reply, saying she had brought a lunch from home and was going to eat outside. Understanding the hidden meaning of the bid, she turns towards it and asks if Jim would like to join her. Jim could say yes, then take the bid up a notch by adding, “I’m going to the vending machine. Do you want anything?”

Then Linda replies, “yeah, a coke,” and again turning towards Jim’s bid. She adds, “Oh, and I’ll find those photos I told you about. I want to show them to you!” Prompting Jim to reply, “Great! I’d love to see them!”

Karsen: I could see that conversation play out in a lot of different ways. What if Linda hadn’t turned toward Jim’s bid?

Vincent: Right. She could have turned away from the bid by saying she was too busy, or had too much work to do.

In this case, Jim may say something along the lines of maybe another time, but for all intents and purposes, the communication between them is over – as if any chance to connect would be missed.

Reiterating the authors’ point that there’s much more to bids than first meets the eye. The way they are made and responded to can make a huge difference in how relationships unfold.

Karsen: So does this mean we have to accept every lunch invitation that comes along? Suppose you decline a bid or fail to pick up on it. In that case, there’s the stress of potentially damaging relationships and pushing people away.

Vincent: No, the authors’ would say that extreme. Fortunately, you can still turn toward other people’s bids while also declining their requests. It all comes down to how you respond. You don’t have to accept a bid at face value to reply positively.

Going back to Jim and Linda. Say Linda doesn’t have time to break for lunch today, so she can’t accept Jim’s exact bid. But she can still respond positively and turn toward the bid.

She could say, “Oh, I’d really love to have lunch with you, but I’m so swamped with work right now. Maybe tomorrow? Or we could grab a coffee and catch up after work.”

Karsen: So she affirms that she wants to connect with him even though she declined the literal offer.

Vincent: She also offers some alternative ways for them to connect. In other words, instead of shutting the metaphorical door between them with a blunt rejection, she leaves it open and calls Jim closer.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this title is that if you analyze other people’s communications with you, you’ll see that they’re often asking bids to connect. These bids may come in vague language or even disguised as complaints, compliments, or criticisms. Therefore, it’s important to interpret them carefully. Whatever you do, remember that your choice to turn toward, away from, or against a bid is something that can have a significant impact on your relationships.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

Vincent: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.

Karsen: We’ll see you next time.


From the country’s foremost relationship expert and New York Times, bestselling author Dr. John M. Gottman comes a powerful, simple five-step program, based on twenty years of innovative research, for greatly improving all of the relationships in your life—with spouses and lovers, children, siblings, and even your colleagues at work.

Gottman provides the tools you need to make your relationships thrive. In The Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman:

  • Reveals the key elements of healthy relationships, emphasizing the importance of what he calls “emotional connection”
  • Introduces the powerful new concept of the emotional “bid,” the fundamental unit of emotional connection
  • Provides remarkably empowering tools for improving the way you bid for emotional connection and how you respond to others’ bids
  • And more!

Packed with fascinating questionnaires and exercises developed in his therapy, The Relationship Cure offers a simple but profound program that will fundamentally transform the quality of all of the relationships in your life.

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