Don’t Let “The Bird Test” Clip Your Relationship’s Wings

3 min read

The “Bird Test” has fluttered into public attention, through a TikTok trend I previously wrote about here. Despite its playful guise, it’s crucial not to overstate its significance in forecasting the fate of a romantic relationship. The test should be considered merely a single piece of a larger relational puzzle, not a definitive forecast of compatibility.

At its core, the test involves one partner pointing out a bird and noting the other’s reaction. This act draws upon the “turning toward” principle from the Gottman Institute’s research, emphasizing the importance of responding to connection bids. However, these are only momentary glimpses into a relationship’s health.

Relationship science, including the Gottman Institute’s findings on connection bids, is intended for insight rather than judgment. Mutual attentiveness and responsiveness are essential for relationship satisfaction. When unchecked “failures” to connect invalidate a relationship partner, that is when it is most predictive of downstream relationship outcomes. These findings illuminate the mechanisms that can make relationships either falter or thrive—mechanisms that can be cultivated both individually and collectively by couples.

Should a partner “fail” the bird test, it’s not a conclusive failure but a signal to delve deeper into the relationship. It provides a chance to better understand one another’s communication styles and to enhance responsiveness. Success in this test is no assurance of overall relationship success; relationships are a continuous process of mutual learning and interdependence.

A Road Map for Relationship Development

The outcome of the “Bird Test” could potentially be used to develop self-concept clarity, the degree to which someone knows who they are. Campbell et al. (1996) have shown that high self-concept clarity can enhance relationship quality, as it enables individuals to communicate their needs more effectively. The bird test might prompt a conversation about needs, fostering understanding and potentially reducing conflict.

Moreover, discussing one another’s results can illuminate aspects of emotional intelligence (EI), which Mayer and Salovey (1997) and others have identified as critical for romantic relationships. Recognizing one’s “pass/fail score” may encourage couples to develop their communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as their emotional attunement, as Brackett, Warner, & Bosco (2005) and so many relationship therapists recommend.

Empathy, a crucial element of emotional intelligence and a known factor in relationship satisfaction (Davis & Oathout, 1987), can also be developed by interpreting your own, and your partner’s, “Bird Test” response. What may be going on within your partner, or your partner’s life, that inhibits them from looking at the birds in your own life? Empathizing, as well as asking whether your empathy is aligned and validating for your partner, is a much better habit to get into than administering one-item tests—and worse, dropping out of school because of a single failed test.

In summary, as a relationship scientist, Christian, and husband, I humbly recommend the “Bird Test” score be viewed as more of a diagnostic instrument that informs a customized relationship enhancement plan. Regardless of whether one passes or fails, the test should be a motivator for both parties to cultivate self-concept clarity, emotional intelligence, and empathy—key elements for responding to one another’s needs and building a robust partnership. By interpreting the “Bird Test” as an opportunity for growth rather than a critical assessment, couples may apply psychological principles to foster a relationship characterized by empathy and emotional intelligence.

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