Bait, Bid, and Bite, everyday affections.

The flip-side to last week’s post about giving time and space, I would like to take the time this week to address the “bait and bite” of comfort-seeking behaviour in relationships.

In CBT this behaviour is referred to simply as “validation”, although it’s not exactly what we think of when we generally hear the term. In relationship psychology it’s called a “bid”. And it goes a little like this.

One member of the couple experiences something.

They feel an urge to share it with their partner.

Their partner acknowledges the vocalization and the experience.

It seems simple, and it is, but it makes an enormous difference.

When we reach out like that, regardless of whether we are pointing out a cute dog, explaining what went wrong with our work day, discussing something we read or looking for confirmation that what we witnessed did, indeed, happen, we are comfort testing our partners. We are saying “this is my life experience, and I want you to also experience it”. We are saying “please see what I have seen and tell me it is valid to you as well”. We are saying “this is what matters to me right now”.

And all we need is for our partner to acknowledge what we said and acknowledge our experience. That’s it. They don’t need to agree with us, to share our emotions, to continue the conversation. All they need to do, in essence, is say “yes, I can see the dog”, “I’m sorry your work day was bad”, “that book sounds interesting/not my thing”, or “I saw it too”. It’s that simple.

We “bait” our partners with actions that are designed to captivate attention and words to draw their attention to things around us. If they “bite” and acknowledge the bait, however minorly or however personal or weird their reaction is, we feel acknowledged, wanted, respected and loved. If they ignore us and react passively or dismissively, we feel insecure. It’s the ultimate comfort test and all humans do it, introvert or extrovert, male or female. It also directly correlates with relationship longevity.

Example of positive, comforting “bait and bites”:

Him: “Wow, look at that truck.” “Look there.” “Truck ahead.”

Her: “Pretty cool.” “It’s red.” “Is that a toyota?” “Not my thing.” “Where?” (Typically with some emotion in voice or on face, turning to look at what he is pointing out.]

All acknowledge what he has seen, what he is saying and establish some sort of personal connection. On the other hand, a negative, worrying “bait and bite”:

Him: “Wow, look at that truck.” “Look there.” “Truck ahead.”

Her: “Huh.” #silence# “Wait one moment.” “I’m busy.” “Sure.” (Typically in a flat tone, whatever is said, without turning her head to the truck.]

None acknowledge what he has seen, all refuse to share the moment or indulge in a personal moment, all focus entirely on her.

It isn’t about talking more, or forcing yourselves to talk about your day or to do things together. It’s more about the responsiveness percentage when you share information with each other. The more bait goes unbitten, the more detached a couple become. The more bait we bite, the longer the relationship lasts. So skip the candlelit dinner or the relationship adviser if you want to revive the spark. Perhaps first try and look at your partner, respond to their comments, and invite them back into your world.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How often would you say you make a bid of your partner? How often to they bite the bait? How often do you respond to their bids? If you’re not sure, try and keep a “bid diary” for a bit and tally up how much you share each other’s world.


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How To… economize language and not express neediness.

A common feature of modern human speech is obvious neediness. Perhaps because of the pervasive culture of offense we live in, perhaps because of the steady insecurity that comes with editing and revising emails and comments online, perhaps it’s simply because we communicate more and feel more and more intimidated by the people around us.

Whatever the reason, most people communicate in a way that is needy, insecure and desperate for approval. And this isn’t healthy. We shouldn’t always speak and write as though the audience could sentence us to death.

1: Start with the basics.

Don’t try and build up or lead up to everything you say. Don’t pad it. Consider the difference:

“I am sorry to bother you right now and I know you’re busy and I don’t know if you can help. But I just wanted to ask whether you had a few minutes to help me move the bookshelf so I can clean and repaint the wall behind. I don’t want to be a bother but it really needs doing and the shelf is so heavy. I won’t need you to move it back, I can walk it in myself, but I’m scared of it tipping when I move it out.”

“I know you’re busy, but if you have a minute today could you help me move the bookshelf so I can get behind it. I can move it back on my own. Thanks.”

Which one is clearer about your intent? Which one is more likely to be listened to? Which one would make you an uncomfortable recipient? Which one makes you sound whiny and needy?

2: Identify the basics.

If you don’t know what the basics are, ask the following questions:

Who? The friend and you.

What? Move the shelf.

When? Today.

How long? A few minutes.

Why? So you can clean behind it.

All other details are irrelevant. Likewise for any other situation. Don’t say more than you need to be clear and concise.

3: Extra information.

Sometimes a situation is emotional or a person is involved and they would like to know more about it.

If the situation is an emotional one, then add an acknowledgement of their feelings or a mention of yours. You still don’t need to go on about it, justify your feelings or anything of the sort. Just explain as simply as possible and leave it at that. Compare:

“I’m so sorry and I’m sure you’re angry at me and I wish you weren’t. There isn’t anything I can do and I don’t want this to come between us or hurt you. Please forgive me.”

“I know you’re angry, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

If the situation is one where they’re very involved they may want more details. But even so, these details only need to be mentioned, not explored and repeated. Compare:

“I was thinking we should repaint the walls in green, the same as the kitchen, we have a bucket left and everything should go with it. But perhaps blue would work as well, only the curtains don’t quite match. What do you think?”

“I’m torn between the green we used in the kitchen and a blue. We still have some green. What do you think?”

Even when elaborating or emoting, you can be clear and concise and eliminate neediness or anxiety.

4: Wait for questions.

If anyone wants more details, generally they will ask. Offloading everything you know about something won’t give them the information they need, it will just confuse them and make you seem nervous, needy and insecure. Compare:

“Sorry I’m late, but I ran into Sam. We got caught up talking about the elections and our favourite show. Apparently the show will be very good this season and I’m really looking forward to it, if you can let me have the TV to myself on Sunday. We just stood there and talked and before I knew it we had been there for two hours. I tried to leave but Sam just kept talking so I stayed a bit longer.”

“Sorry I’m late, I ran into Sam and we had a chat. By the way, my favourite show is back on Sunday and I’d like the TV to myself if possible.”

Then, perhaps the person you’re apologizing to will question the three or more hours you were missing. And you can explain after that “I got caught up, I noticed after two hours but it was hard to leave.” But preempting someone’s questions could annoy them and leave them without the information they actually want.

5: Emotions and offense.

A big reason why we overwork our words is because we want to elicit or prevent a specific response. And we get so caught up in it that, even when it would have been possible, we can make it worse.

The first step to tackling this problem is to acknowledge that emotions are unreasonable and therefore, no matter how much information or of your own emotions you throw at them, some people will feel differently, some people will be offended and some people will overreact. Nothing you do will ever stop someone from feeling.

However, when someone is open to change and reason, often a little goes a long way.

Don’t assume you know exactly what they’re feeling. Ask.

Don’t try and argue against their emotions.

Don’t get caught up in a battle over who got offended or hurt.


“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: You can’t be angry. That’s not at all justified. What is there to be angry about? I’m unhappy, but there’s no reason to be angry.”

“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: There’s no reason to feel that way.

Person1: Well I do and it’s your fault.

Person2: How is it my fault?”

“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: That’s how you feel. That’s fine but it doesn’t concern me.”

In all three cases person1 is looking for a response and person2 feels that the anger is over the top and an apology isn’t warranted. However only in the third example does person2 achieve what they want: end the conversation having made their side clear.

6: Stop yourself.

When you catch yourself getting caught in an argument, going on and on or expanding on something endlessly, you need to stop.

Stop talking. Take a deep breath. Think of the most concise way to sum up your point and finish on a summary. You don’t need to finish the ramble first!

7: Move on.

Sometimes a remark may fall awkwardly, or something may need justifying. If you’re making yourself uncomfortable and trying to talk your way out of awkwardness, don’t carry on, just stop and change the subject.

Awkwardness only gets worse the more you speak or justify. By stopping you make the moment less memorable and by moving on you can make yourself comfortable again.

8: Use plain words.

People use all sorts of euphemisms and fancy terms when they feel they are in society that’s too polite for common language.

But every layer of higher language, euphemisms and extra description you add makes it harder for you to be understood, meaning you need to talk more to explain what you were saying. Being vague when giving commands isn’t the same as delegating. Compare:

“Would you let the dog out through the conservatory into the small garden for a moment?”

“Please let the dog out in the back garden.”

“I need something starchy and sweet, some greens to go with it and please be back before five or we won’t have anything to eat.”

“Bring sweet potatoes, some greens and be back before five for dinner.”

You don’t need to use complicated language, euphemisms or vagueness to make yourself sound more distinguished.

9: Think rather than feel.

This starts just as how you express yourself. Thoughts and statements need less justification than feelings and opinions. So swap…

“I feel…” for “I think…”

“In my opinion…” for “I find…”

“I believe…” for “As far as I’m aware…”

Essentially, step everything up in terms of certainty and clarity. Communicate what you know and understand above what you feel.

After a while you will also start thinking in terms of what is certain and clear, rather than in terms of what you feel and sense. By doing this you make your communication clearer.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with explaining… when asked, feeling… when it doesn’t run your mind, or expanding… when the information is necessary.

But if you can economize your language just a little bit and make yourself just a bit clearer, more secure and more decisive, then you will come across as more secure, more confident, more reliable and more sensible.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

7 Reasons You Should Just Tell Him.

Women are often cryptic in how we speak. Even a relatively masculine woman like myself can say something in “girl code”, brush a matter aside or drop a flimsy hint. And it will happen from time to time regardless of our efforts.

That said, we also often speak cryptically when we know we’re doing it and when we can prevent it. And here are six reasons why we shouldn’t.

1: He can’t read your mind.

Here’s the thing: men aren’t telepathic. They don’t have a wire that taps right into our brains.

Yes, humans engage in nonverbal communication. But male and female nonverbal communication is a little different and, even if it wasn’t, why are you relying on someone guessing every element about you? You wouldn’t ask an interviewer to guess why you want the role, so why would you expect your husband or boyfriend to guess where you want to go for dinner?

2: But he knows something is wrong.

Although nonverbal communication is different for men and women, one thing we absolutely share is the ability to detect distress, pain, anger and fear in others. Even psychopaths, who otherwise lack natural empathy, have this ability. We need it to survive.

So don’t assume that just because you haven’t said your head hurts or you’re angry, he won’t know. He will know and dismissing it doesn’t work.

3: He wants to help.

If he loves you and can sense that you are in any way distressed or upset, he wants to fix that. He wants to be your hero and beat up all the bad guys. So when you don’t tell him who or what is hurting you, he worries and could go into overdrive trying to fix your life until you’re happy.

4: He wants to know if he can’t help.

Sometimes there’s nothing he can do. Maybe you’re going through a period of existential depression, you hurt your foot or work is just very stressful lately. Guess what? He still knows you’re unhappy and he still wants to help. At least let him know when there’s something wrong and when you don’t want or need any help he can offer.

5: Stress builds up over unspoken matters.

Again, just because he knows you’re upset doesn’t mean he can read your mind and guess why you’re upset or who you’re upset at. He could decide that you’re angry at him, or feeling hurt by something he did. If you don’t say why you’re upset and he doesn’t confirm that he is or isn’t the source of the problem, then tension and stress may build between you.

6: Shared experiences are bonding experiences.

On the flipside, living life for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, together at all times, can really bring you together. By sharing your hardships and your pain you’re opening a very vulnerable part of yourself to him. Perhaps he will reciprocate and show his vulnerability and ask for your help. Perhaps he will strive to make your life easier until you’re back on track. Or perhaps it will just put his mind at ease about your suffering. However it works out, you will be drawn closer by sharing rather than hiding.

7: Honesty leads to better results.

Finally, we need to kill our expectations and selfishness in relationships, but that doesn’t mean we want nothing from them. After all, relationships are transactional. What does he do when he wants you to grab his coat, make him dinner, answer the door, get him something specific for his birthday or listen to him? He asks you. That way he either gets what he wants or gets a (hopefully good) reason for your not doing it. You need to try and do the same. Think he’s letting himself go? Say so before it gets out of hand. Want him to pass the salt? Ask. Have a specific idea of what you want for your birthday? Tell him what it is.

The worst he can do is say no.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

What situations have you been in or seen where noncommunication caused a problem? And where communication prevented a problem? I’d love to hear some anecdotes on the matter! 🙂

“What We Really Mean Is…” or How To Listen for Code.

-Code: A sentence that has a hidden meaning the listener must infer. Metaphors and innuendo are both examples of this.

Everybody speaks differently. It’s thought that our mindsets, beliefs, cultural expectations and even our personalities are a mixture of the five to ten people closest to us. Many more can leave an impression. Therefore, no one person will speak the same way. Even two sisters living in the same home, with equal interaction from both parents will speak slightly differently to each other based on their unshared friends and teachers. However, whilst actual languages can obviously cause barriers, we are generally able to communicate with people who share our culture, language and dialect without much difficulty. Someone may ask us to visit and we understand that they mean for us to see them soon, only when we need them or they’re just being polite. Someone may ask us to tea and we know whether they mean the meal or the drink. Someone may offer us chips and we know whether they mean hot fried potato sticks or cold fried potato slices. The more groups we belong to, the more our individual code gets jumbled. For example, women and men in the West are raised to speak different code. Women use more code and require more inference than men. Therefore, a woman who is generally friends with women and generally talks to women will use a lot more code than a man who is generally friends with men and generally talks to men. Or a doctor who is very absorbed in their career may spend a lot of time talking to patients, other doctors, nurses and pharmaceutical staff and reading about their favourite subjects, resulting in an deep knowledge of medical jargon, which can cause them to use overly complex or overly simple language with people who do not share their interest or knowledge. Furthermore, a woman such as the one described above is more likely to get along with people who use her own code and a doctor like the latter is more likely to enjoy conversation with someone at their own level. Therefore, your use of code can choose your social groups for you by making it easier to speak with people whose language most resembles your own.

We also use many ways to tell when someone may be using different language to us. An accent could indicate that the language is not their first, or that they come from a different region. Clothing tells us whether they come from our culture or not. Mannerisms, body language, names and, of course, them telling us that they speak our language secondarily or come from elsewhere, will remind us to exercise caution when using local dialect, archaic words, sarcasm or humour. In short, we avoid speaking in our cultural code when we aren’t sure we will be understood.

However, rarely do we account for individual code. We may be careful not to call our recently-migrated Indian friend “our boy” or a “basic b****” unless we’re ready to explain it to them. But we assume that those who speak English as a first language, who have our accent, who come from our region and who share our culture will understand what we mean by it. In short, we assume that because they share our language, dialect and culture, that they must also share our code. This, in and of itself, is not a problem, but we’re missing the final factor.

Sometimes, there are things we don’t want to discuss. Sometimes there are lies we tell: little white lies, lies of omission or overt lies, that are actually open for the reading of someone else. And sometimes we talk a certain way around our friends, family, partner or colleagues for so long that we forget what code we use for whom, what we discuss with whom, what language we use with whom. How often have we heard or used a sentence along the lines of “What I meant to say was…” so as to avoid blowback from a sentence or even a word that caused confusion? This is why. We used code that they interpreted literally, sometimes taking great offense to. This is how most misunderstandings happen, from someone getting you the wrong drink to someone believing their partner never wants to hear from them again. When we notice them, when someone else calls us out on our use of language or declares offense, we correct or explain ourselves, usually apologizing in the process. And all is well. However, people don’t always mention when they’re offended, or when they’re confused. And sometimes they will interpret something one way, it will make sense to them, they won’t be offended or think to challenge it and will act on their inference. And when the relationship with this person has a lot at stake, then we’re more likely to be greatly affected by the consequences. Someone honest and straightforward dating a person who is unusually flighty and uses a lot of fairly contrary code will find it hard to enjoy the relationship. Someone who uses jokes and sarcasm negotiating with someone who doesn’t appreciate the first nor understand the latter could lose business. Someone faking disinterest in someone who is looking for overt interest and consent could lose a chance at a friendship or a relationship. Someone taking a sentence at face-value could be led on by someone who prefers it when others read and don’t hear their intentions.

Of course, I can’t offer a solid solution on an individual level. If you choose to avoid all code, not only are you likely to fail, but when interacting with someone who uses a lot of code, they will be operating under the assumption you’re using it. If you try and analyze all code, you’ll find that for one person “yes” means “yes and don’t ask me again”, for another it is gentle dismissal, for another it means “I’m not sure” and for another it means “yes”. Even in the same context, with the same tone, a single word will vary in meaning depending on who’s using it and be interpreted differently depending on who’s listening. On a societal level, if we could abandon all code we would probably be  happier. Yet on an individual level we must simply learn to live with it and work around it.

And here is where listening and paying close attention comes in. We must always assume that someone we’re talking to, especially someone we’re talking to for the first time or outside our closest social circle, will be speaking different code to you or your friends. They may not at that particular time, or their code may be similar, but our world and culture are too jumbled to make that assumption. Where you read a certain sentence or word one way, ask yourself whether that is the common language meaning or the code meaning. Ask yourself, or even them, what exactly they meant. Eventually, once you’ve heard enough people talking, you start to notice when they are using code, which parts of your language are universal “Let’s go and have dinner at that new Italian restaurant.” and which parts are heavily coded “Let’s get some drinks.” Then you will be able to communicate using clear, universal language, adapting to use your conversational partner’s code, reading them as easily as they intend you to.

Furthermore, when you learn to look out for and interpret code you also learn to spot the secret languages people use among small social circles or to themselves. Those words and sentences that have a hidden meaning understood by one or five people, that are obviously coded, but undecipherable to the layman. When a girl calls you a “Mikey” to her friends, or a coworker suggests to the secretary that you need to “Slow down with the speed up.”, you may not be sure what they mean. Is it good or bad? In what way does it affect your relationship with these people? How does it alter any future interactions you’ve planned? Some are easy to identify, some are harder. But once you start working out code you start realizing how there are certain types of people, and each type uses code in a particular way and eventually you work out what people’s private code means. You spot their lies, their in-jokes, their manipulation.

And who wouldn’t want to communicate better with people whose intentions are good for you and better detect and use people whose intentions are bad for you?