Seattle residents Drs. John & Julie Gottman have many feathers in their caps—they are leading research scientists on marriage and family, authors of the million-copy bestseller ‘The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work’ and founders of the world-renowned Love Lab.
With their recently released book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love, co-authored by Doug Abrams & Rachel Carlton Abrams, the power duo is enabling couples to set themselves up for a lifetime of love and companionship.
The book was written in an easy conversational style and provided honest and practical solutions to every day relationship issues without being preachy or too philosophical. The book really resonated with me when it urged partners to be open, non-judgemental listeners. Sometimes, lending a willing ear is the most effective thing you can do to strengthen your relationship. Simple but effective.
The book is a fun read that stimulates thought and sub-consciously makes you evaluate your own relationship from a detached point of view. The Gottman’s explore eight important topics that can make or break a relationship like trust, family, spirituality, and intimacy. Whether you are looking to understand how relationships work better, or at making an existing bond even stronger—then this is the book for you. It is also a great gift for your partner, so both of you can be on the same page. You can buy the book here.
We caught up with Dr. John Gottman for a conversation on Eight Dates, relationships and love…
Seattleite: In what ways could a couple keep the spark in their relationship alive?
Dr. John Gottman: They have to make the relationship itself a priority. That means that they provide time for romance, sex, play, and adventure for just the two of them. They have to prevent having their relationship devolve into a long to-do list. A recent study at UCLA by the Sloan center of 30 dual-career couples with young children found that most partners spent less than 10% of their evening in the same room, and a researcher I talked to on this project said that they talked to one another only 35 minutes a week! and most of that talk was about errands, not very personal. check with your partner periodically, connecting emotionally. just ask: “How is the world treating you, baby? What’s on your heart and mind?”
Seattleite: What are the basic, building blocks of a happy marriage?
Dr. John Gottman: It’s about (1) maintaining friendship and intimacy, (2) dealing with conflict constructively, (3) creating shared meaning, and (4) building trust and commitment. also, it’s about accepting differences between partners, rather than criticizing your partner and trying to turn your partner into you.
Seattleite: What are the best ways to resolve conflicts and arguments?
Dr. John Gottman: There is too much emphasis on “resolution.” 69% of conflicts never get resolved in a relationship. We have three blueprints for dealing with conflicts. Not eliminating conflict but managing it. We need conflict to keep knowing how to love one another better as we get older and change.
Three blueprints for conflict. One is a blueprint we call “Gottman-Rapaport.” It’s based on the work of Anatol Rapaport in international conflict. Its basic principle is to postpone persuasion until each person can state their partner’s point of view to their partner’s satisfaction. That is, understanding must precede advise and problem-solving. the second blueprint is for dealing with past regrettable incidents or bad fights, reprocessing them. It has 5 steps: (1) feelings, (2) perceptions, (3) triggers, (4) taking responsibility, and (5) constructive plans. The 3rd blueprint is for gridlocked perpetual conflicts. It is called the “dreams within conflict” blueprint. It is designed to get at the underlying existential meaning of each person’s position on the issue. All blueprints are available on our website.
Seattleite: In the age of social media – How could couples strengthen their communication with each other?
Dr. John Gottman: Don’t have emotional communication using text or email. Greet one another face-to-face warmly upon reunion with a hug that lasts at least 20 seconds or a kiss that lasts at least 6 seconds.
Seattleite: What are the little things couples can do to enliven things this valentine’s day?
Dr. John Gottman: The most important thing is to have the motto: “when you’re upset, the world stops and I listen.” Welcome your partner’s negative emotions and listen actively without judgment or defensiveness, and with empathy.
Seattleite: How did you come up with the concept for eight dates?
Dr. John Gottman: We were addressing two concerns:
One, the science of partnering people is at its weakest. the match-making system online is broken. For example, out of 50,000 pairings on OkCupid, 200 marriages result. That’s a 96% failure rate. The problem is we aren’t looking for similarity (the algorithm most matching websites use); We just aren’t attracted to our clone. We want exciting diversity. Also, most dates are disasters, and they tend to be superficial, so we thought, let’s help design some dates that are interesting, fun, and go deep. Then you can know if this is the right person for you.
Two, we realized from the Sloan study (mentioned above) that in long-term relationships people don’t take the time to have weekly romantic dates and connect emotionally, so these long-term relationships could also benefit from our designed dates.
But—because we are scientists—we had to test the dates.
So we did a study with 300 couples who recorded all their dates. There were heterosexual couples, and gay and lesbian couples, and 37% were new relationships, but 63% were long-term relationships. Both groups loved these dates.
We also realized that our book had to teach some very basic social skills, like a basic conflict blueprint and the 4 components of having an intimate conversation, which are: (1) put your feelings into words, (2) ask open-ended questions exploring your partner’s feelings and needs, (3) explore those feelings more deeply and actively, and (4) empathize and validate your partner’s feelings and needs.