What if you could have eight powerful dates that could totally transform the most important aspects of your relationship with your partner? Whether you’re in a new relationship and trying to figure out if someone’s right for you, or have been with your partner for decades and trying to figure out if your partner is STILL right for you, today’s conversation will help jump-start your curiosity and lead you into deep connection with your partner. This week, our guests are John & Julie Gottman, the founders of The Gottman Institute. They are the co-authors, along with Doug Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, of the new book “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”. World-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. They have published over 200 academic journal articles and written 46 books that have sold over a million copies in more than a dozen languages.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of ‘Relationship Alive’. This is your host, Neil Sattin. One of the most important things that you can do for your relationship is something that we’ve talked about occasionally here on the show, which is to have a date night with your partner, to have something regular that’s on the calendar, that’s about connecting, and honoring your relationship. And yet, there’s more to it potentially than that. Certainly, there’s something good for just the regularity and the dedication, but what if you want to actually enhance your connection, enhance your understanding of your partner, and have a series of dates that actually leads you to someplace deeper, someplace more connected, and someplace that really gives you something to offer each other in terms of how you share your futures together. So, it’s not just more of the same, but it’s a springboard to something even more rich in your connection.
Neil Sattin: In order to find out more, we have the pleasure today of being joined by Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, and also Dr. John Gottman, who are the co-authors, along with Doug Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, of the new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. They are here today to talk about this book and explore exactly why it’s so important to come together with your partner with some intention to understand each other more deeply, and not just for the purpose of bringing out the ways that you’re the same, but in particular, coming to understand your differences. And we’re going to get more into that in a moment. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to download it, you can visit neilsattin.com/gottman4, that’s Gottman and the number 4. And you can also just text the word “Passion” to the number 33444, and follow the instructions, and that will also get you to a page where you can download the transcript for this week’s episode with the Gottmans. So I think that’s a good enough start. Without further ado, John and Julie Gottman, thank you so much for joining me today here on ‘Relationship Alive’.
John Gottman: Thank you, Neil.
Julie Gottman: Thanks, Neil. It’s great to be here.
Neil Sattin: And we were chatting briefly before we got started. Julie, it’s especially a pleasure to have you here. We’ve gotten to listen to John ramble on here and there, but it’s nice to have you both here together. And I’m looking forward to hearing more about your connection, and I know that my audience is really excited to learn from the two of you together.
Julie Gottman: Oh, thanks so much, Neil. That’s really kind of you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s start with maybe a softball question, which is, where was this book born from, the “Eight Dates”, which each cover such an important area of relationship, and a way to steer into knowing your partner more deeply?
Julie Gottman: Well, initially, what happened is that we were privileged to be part of a think tank about relationships, and how to really support relationships nationwide. And we met our friends, Doug and Dr. Rachel Abrams at this think tank. And together, we were talking about how can we really help to deepen connection with couples through a book that would really give people a fun way to connect with one another, give them different types of dates, different kinds of opportunities to really get to know each other better, whether at the beginning of a relationship, or all the way towards the end of a relationship in age, any way we can enhance their connection, deepen their connection, so that people really keep up with who the other person is, how they’re changing, how they’re evolving over time. And so, the four of us together sat and talked for days on end, recording everything, including our own personal dating experience, which was kind of hilarious, especially before we met each other. And really sharing stories, as well as, what kind of dates would particularly be great for relationships. And then we decided to do some research about it. So we crafted 12 dates and recruited 300 people…
John Gottman: 300 couples.
Julie Gottman: 300 couples.
John Gottman: Yeah.
Julie Gottman: Thanks love, he’s always accurate with the numbers. To take these dates and see what they thought about the dates, to really experience them. And then we recorded their conversations, the dates that they had, and we learned that out of the 12, several of them were complete duds, they were terrible, people were completely bored, they ended the conversation after two and a half minutes, and then they went to the movies. But there were eight dates that, in particular, people really loved, and we created the book from those.
Neil Sattin: Great, great. Yeah, and we’re going to get into the stellar dates in a minute, but I’m curious, do you remember what any of those duds were?
John Gottman: We had one date that was just about work, and how people felt about work, and that was pretty boring.
Neil Sattin: Right.
John Gottman: We had to really re-shape that date and change it. And by the way, we had… 37% of the couples of the 300 couples were brand new relationships, and so the dates were really very important for people in very new relationships to find out who they were dating and see if that relationship had any potential. But the overwhelming majority were couples who’ve been in relationships for some time, and they found it really did enhance the quality of their intimacy.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, what I really love about this book, among many things, was that it feels like, in many respects, it’s a crash course in curiosity. And so, whether you’re in the initial stages of a relationship where you can kind of throw curiosity to the wind, it can sometimes feel like, you’re on that dopamine-fueled high of just enjoying everything about your partner, or if you’re 20 years into a relationship and you feel like you just know everything there is to know about your partner. I love the way that this book gives people a structure to actually support deeper questions, and to discover how there may be these places where they actually don’t know each other, in the case of a long-term relationship. Or yeah, I love that model for new people who are getting to know each other, to really have an opportunity to flesh things out before they’re deep, deep down the rabbit hole.
John Gottman: Right.
Julie Gottman: Yeah. You know, when you think about some of your earliest dates, oftentimes they are so awkward. Everybody’s on your best behavior, you’ve spent maybe six weeks planning what you’re going to wear, and you meet each other, you’re nervous, you’re awkward, you’re anxious, and that can last for a while, several dates in perhaps. So, people aren’t quite sure how to proceed in getting to know each other, and what aspects should they get to know about in terms of this individual when they’re considering the possibility of having a long-term relationship. So, what we really wanted to do was to help people with clear ideas about what fun things they could do in the setting of the date, and then give them, again, these very particular questions to discuss together. And it’s not an interrogation, we don’t have the big shining light in the parking space as they were answering these questions. Instead, it’s really people discussing them together and sharing at a deeper level what their values are, what their history is, what their needs are a bit. Nothing that makes them over the top vulnerable, but something more about where they really live inside, as opposed to the more superficial aspects that people tend to focus on in the beginning.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I’m… And I noticed that you started… Like, date number one is with trust and commitment.
John Gottman: Right.
Neil Sattin: And obviously this is an important topic in a long-term relationship, and it’s one that I thought was curious, it wasn’t… There wasn’t much of a warm-up there. It’s like, here we are talking about these deep things, and particularly for a long-term couple, they’re probably at a place, I would guess, where there have been a lot of assumptions about trust and commitment, there have potentially been betrayals of some sort, hopefully just minor ones. But I’m curious if you can set the stage for that conversation in a way that really helps keep people safe as they have the trust and commitment conversation?
Julie Gottman: God, that’s a wonderful question, Neil. Well, first of all, what we really understand about relationships after learning about relationships for over 40 years, is that the one question that people have with their partners is, “Can I trust you?” That is one of the most important questions. That’s what they’re focused on, really, right from the beginning.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Julie Gottman: And so, shoot, why not start where people really live, right?
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Julie Gottman: And so, that was part of our decision. And in terms of staying safe, we’re not asking, “Are you going to commit to me? Are you going to be somebody I can trust?” It’s not about that. It’s more, “How did your parents show that there was trust between them if in fact there was? Or if there was a lack of it, how did you see that? How did you witness that? What does trust mean to you? Is it important to you? Is it not? Is commitment important to you? Is it not? What makes it important to you?” So again, you’re talking a little bit more in the abstract about people’s history that doesn’t necessarily involve maybe some mistakes they’ve made. They’re talking about what they witnessed in their own life, what they experienced in their own life. And sharing that with one another, so that each partner can just kinda get a snapshot of, “Do we both think about trust and commitment in the same way or do we think about it very, very differently? And if so, does it make sense for us to proceed in our relationship?”
John Gottman: Yeah, that date, Neil, turned out to be the most powerful date of all the eight. And couples liked it the most too. So, one of the things that we did was, we had some webinars with the couples in our sample, and they could ask questions and give us feedback. And that date was really, really… It went deep. It was very powerful. And they were able to talk about other relationships they’d seen where people had violated trust, and where people had really demonstrated that they weren’t quite committed to the relationship, and the other person didn’t know that. So they could talk about how to avoid disasters about trust, how to avoid future disasters of commitment. And what had been the history in the relationship of that, showing that they were trustworthy, that they were committed. So it turned out to be a really fascinating sort of conversations that people had. And I don’t think anybody felt alienated in that date from one another. They felt actually reassured and safer with their partner after this date.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I want to just point out to our listeners that your book does a great job also of setting the stage not only for the date itself but also for someone to ask themselves these questions first. So there’s a certain amount of self-exploration that you do before you’re out on the date, so that you already are starting to get your own perspective on this, and can bring that to your partner.
John Gottman: Right.
Julie Gottman: Yeah, that’s one of the beautiful things that I really love about this book. You know, as we all experience, Neil, we are so caught up in the minutiae of our daily lives, and running from task, to task, to task. Sometimes paying attention to the news, sometimes not, sometimes trying not to. And at the same time, do we give ourselves those hours of really looking in the mirror and saying, “Who am I now? How has experience changed me? What are my values now? What do I believe now?” And so, in a way, it’s… As you pointed out, the book really gives the opportunity to meditate on who we are as individuals, so that when we do come together in a date to share that, we can do so with more clarity, and maybe humor too.
John Gottman: Yeah. I want to mention, there was a study done at UCLA by the Sloan Center, and they put microphones and cameras in couples homes, and they studied 30 dual-career couples in Los Angeles, and they had young children. And their wives had really become kind of an infinite to-do list, and they never went out on dates, they spent less than 10% of every evening in the same room with one another, and they talked to one another an average of 35 minutes a week.
Neil Sattin: Wow.
John Gottman: All that conversation was about, who’s going to do what when. But they never had a date that was a romantic date, that really built on intimacy. So they basically were carrying on with life and work and really ignoring their relationship.
Neil Sattin: I’m wondering if you could speak to that a little bit on a personal level in term… Because both of you are very active in your careers and have… You had a family together. How have you managed honoring that commitment to date night? And is that something you had all along or was it just kind of discovery along the way, and you were like, “We better do that. It’s working for everyone else, we should do that too.”? Or, how have you negotiated and navigated that for yourselves?
Julie Gottman: Well, one of the things that we used to do when we were living in Seattle, where we are not currently, but we used to not have all that much money. John was a professor, I was a clinical psychologist, private practice, and we were spending money on schooling for our child. And so we discovered the most beautiful hotel lobby in all of Seattle. There was this great hotel, and it had this gorgeous stone fireplace, dark lighting, beautiful soft couches, and we would go on our date night, commandeer a couch and not let anybody else sit there, and we would order one glass of wine, and we would pretend we were guests in the hotel. And we would sit and talk for hours and ask each other these big open-ended questions, similar to the ones that we address in the dates. And John would always bring a yellow notepad to take notes about what I said, which was always a worry because it meant it was definitely going to show up in the book later on. And so, it was kind of like, “Oh my God, I better watch my wording here.” So those were our initial dates, which were really, really fabulous. And now, with our busy lives, we are talking all the time because we work together, we are talking on planes as we travel somewhere, we’re talking over dinner, we’re talking about work, we’re talking about the news, we’re talking constantly. So…
John Gottman: Yeah, but tell them about our annual honeymoon.
Julie Gottman: And our annual honeymoon, okay. So, we found that because our schedule is so erratic, it’s really, really, hard to have a weekly date, we don’t have a schedule like that, because we’re always somewhere doing something. So, when our daughter was about eight years old, she went away to camp for three weeks for the first year during the summer and did so every year after that for a while. And we decided, “Hey, she can go to camp, let’s go to camp, too.” So, we decided to take ourselves to camp, which was specifically this beautiful B&B up in Canada, on one of the islands close to Vancouver BC, called Salt Spring Island. And we would go there for about 10 days and do nothing but talk, we would just talk. And we called it our annual honeymoon, and we’ve been doing it ever since, every year.
John Gottman: We bring our kayak.
Julie Gottman: Yup.
John Gottman: And we ask each other three questions: What did you hate about last year? What did you love about last year? And what do you want next year to be like? And then we talk about that for 10 days, and really evaluate the year, and then make plans about how next year will be different.
Julie Gottman: And the reason we always go to the same B&B, it’s been 20 years now, is that there’s a restaurant in this little town that serves schnitzel, which is John’s favorite. And we have schnitzel every single night for 10 nights. [laughter] It’s not only the annual honeymoon but the annual schnitzel fest.
Neil Sattin: That’s good. Well, it’s schnitzel every night, and then maybe the rest of the nights of the year you get to indulge in other delights as well.
John Gottman: Right.
Neil Sattin: Well, I did want to mention that Maine has some lovely places to kayak. So, if you’re ever in this neck of the woods, make sure you bring your kayak with you.
Julie Gottman: Yeah, we would love that.
John Gottman: Yeah. And Rachel and Doug also found that, when Rachel was in medical school and doing her residency, that date night was just absolutely essential for maintaining the relationship, and not ignoring it, not making it the last thing on a very long to-do list. So, they kept passion and romance alive that way, and also the emotional connection. So, date night has been important for all four of us.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I like the idea, too. When I envision Doug and Rachel’s story, which they talk about in the book, and I love that, that we get a window into your lives together. I think that’s… Maybe we’ll even talk about that a little bit. I think it’s so curious for everyone, right? Where they’re like, “Well, they have all the answers, but what’s their life really like? Are they really doing all this stuff?” So, it’s helpful to hear. And I also like this idea that if you’ve prioritized it, and you’ve shown in so many ways how important it is, families with young kids, families who are… A relationship who’s getting older, and why it’s important to honor each other that way, and the connection that way. Yeah, I can imagine people triangulating, and just being like, “Alright. This is important, we’re committed to how important it is. And this is the one hour that we have in a week where we can find ourselves in the same place, at the same time, without all those other responsibilities,” and being willing to be committed in that way, to the process with each other.
Neil Sattin: I realize we haven’t gone really beyond that trusting commitment chapter in our conversation, but I’m also thinking about… You mentioned the anecdote of John working with a couple who he has this realization that they were never even really committed to each other, they’d always had a foot out the door. And when they got that reflected back at them, that became an opportunity for them to reflect on what commitment really was. And as much as they thought they were committed, were they truly committed to each other? Which is probably one reason why that first date is so powerful for people.
John Gottman: Yeah.
Julie Gottman: Exactly.
John Gottman: Yeah, that couple, every time they had an argument or things got stressful, they were each thinking, “I can do better than my partner.” They were thinking about their exit strategy, rather than, “What can I do to get closer and more committed? How can I get past this period? It’s stressful.”
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I think you mentioned that as a harbinger of doom in not your classic Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, but the negative comparisons, and how the impact that that has. Can you talk about that a little bit, so that our listeners understand what that means?
Julie Gottman: Sure. There was a fabulous researcher who studied the antecedents to betrayal. What is it that led up to people having affairs? And what she discovered is that, in particular, an individual in a relationship would always be comparing his or her partner to some better alternative, another person who they thought was better than the partner they currently have. And we call that a “negative comparison,” or a “negative comp”. And we found in our own research that when people continually make those negative comparisons, always finding their partner wanting, always seeing the negative side of their partner, rather than being grateful and cherishing what their partner does provide for them, then that often leads to crossing the lines into developing relationships with someone else, perhaps beginning with a friendship, and then perhaps deepening into a possible betrayal, whether it’s an emotional affair or a physical affair, or both. And so, the whole idea of not making negative comparisons with your partner and someone else, but instead trying to see the good in what your partner is, who they are, what they do give you, what they are beautiful in, is a way to really keep the relationship stable, keep the relationship loving, warm, really a treasure for you.
John Gottman: And another thing that this researcher, her name is Caryl Rusbult, R-U-S-B-U-L-T, Caryl Rusbult found was that when conflict happens, these couples, instead of giving voice to their complaints and talking about their needs, they’d talk to somebody else about how miserable they were in the relationship, and confide in someone else, not in their partner. And so, part of what this book talks about is, one of the dates is about how to deal with conflict. And the other thing about the book is that it tries to teach the skills of managing conflict well in the relationship, and having intimate conversations.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, I’m wondering… Just a quick little footnote on the negative comps; is that an intervention that you suggest? So, if I’m someone who notices, “Oh, I do that all the time, I’m always thinking, ‘Oh, if I just were with so-and-so, or, the grass is greener.'” And I could even see that being a bit of an addiction for people. And I’m using that term loosely, but that kind of like, “Oh, I could just escape this, and… ” What is a way that…
John Gottman: Yeah, it’s kind of a mind…
Neil Sattin: Go ahead.
John Gottman: It’s kind of a mindset.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Julie Gottman: There are two things that need to be changed with a couple where that’s going on. One is that the individual who’s making the negative comps needs to be thinking about what do they need that is not being met in the relationship, and bring that up with their partner, not talk to somebody else, as John mentioned, but to bring it up with their partner. To really think about, “Okay, what’s missing for me, what is it that I’m feeling? Am I feeling lonely? Am I feeling starved for affection? Am I feeling criticized, or put down all the time?” What is it that they need? And taking their need, and expressing it in a positive way. We call this “Expressing a positive need.” Which means if something feels bad, flip it on its head, to think, “Okay, what do I want in place of that negative thing?” For example, if you feel criticized all the time, “I would love to hear appreciations from you. I would love to hear some compliments from you about how funny I am, or how I look, or what a great human being I am,” in general of course. So, flipping that need on its head and giving a positive need to it. What is it you do need, rather than don’t want or need? That’s one thing.
Julie Gottman: The other thing is looking at your partner with different eyes. And this, again, takes a whole mental shift. What is my partner doing right? Not, what are they always doing wrong, but what are they doing right? For example, John and I have been together for 32 years, and every single morning he makes me coffee. Anybody who makes me coffee is my hero.
Julie Gottman: for life upon life. And so, John has been doing that every single morning, and he makes the best coffee in the world. And so, I always thank him every morning for making coffee, seeing the good. I could take it for granted and say nothing, but that’s not helpful in a relationship. And I do appreciate it.
John Gottman: Hey, you do.
Julie Gottman: Right.
John Gottman: Well, you can think about the fundamental problem in relationships is that we are actually attracted to people who are very different from us. And that’s why the dating websites are really… Have a broken system of match-making. Because they’re matching people and saying, “If you date somebody who is just like you, you’re going to really like each other.” But it really doesn’t work. Okay, Cupid, for example, will pair 50,000 people, and 200 marriages result from that pairing. So, they’re 96% ineffective for people to meet who like each other. So, it turns out, we really like people who are not like us. We don’t want our clone. And then, when we’re attracted to this person, we have this asymmetry. But that we have to act as a couple, we have to create symmetry. And the worst way to do that is to try to get your partner to be like you, to try to criticize your partner for not being like you. And that’s the fundamental problem in relationships, that’s not the way to do it. Really, you have to accept your partner for who they are. And they are different and cherish those differences. Julie, for example, is very different from me. She was a downhill skiing racer in college, she went downhill 50 miles an hour. Her idea, her dream was to go to Mt. Everest base camp, number two with 10 other women. And I’m very different, my dream was to study differential equations.
John Gottman: I sit in my chair to do that. And so, she’s an athlete and an explorer, and I’m just the opposite. I call myself an indoors man.
John Gottman: So, we have these really big differences. But the ways in which she’s different from me, really are quite wonderful, and I love them and cherish them. And if she, on the other hand, said, “What’s wrong with you, why can’t you have more of a sense of adventure like me?”, then she’d be trying to turn me into her, which really doesn’t work. And if she was successful in turning me into her, she wouldn’t be attracted to me.
Julie Gottman: And the other side of that is that John has failed miserably in trying to make me either a mathematician or a physicist.
Julie Gottman: We accept each other’s differences. I do listen to John when he describes some latest discovery in physics and math. I try desperately to understand. I don’t, but I nod my head. And so… [chuckle]
John Gottman: But you actually do understand a lot.
Julie Gottman: Okay. So we make it work. We make it work.
Neil Sattin: I want to point out that at the back of your book, you have lots of great suggestions for people to help them identify ways they actually do cherish their partner. So, if you’re listening and thinking, “Well, I’ve kinda lost touch with that.” Or, “It’s just like I can appreciate them for the same old thing. I’ve been appreciating their coffee making for 32 years, but I’m not sure what else to appreciate.” Then, it can be helpful to have some prompts in that regard, to help you reflect upon all the different ways that your partner shows up for you. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about… Because this is another, in a way, a pre-requisite for the book, although I have a feeling that as you go through each of the dates, you will cultivate this as well. And the question is making the mental shift around developing understanding, and embracing your differences, the way you were just talking about, versus that sense of judging your partner’s differences. It’s one thing to say, “Listen to your partner without judging them,” and then it can be a totally different thing to actually put that into practice.
Julie Gottman: Right. So, you’re asking how do you work on accepting your partner’s differences, yeah?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, what is that… Well, I think I’m just highlighting it for one thing, because it’s so key to how to have these conversations, I think, is just to realize like, “I’m just trying to understand this person who’s sitting across from me, or next to me.”
Julie Gottman: That’s really a wonderful question. We have a particular way of people doing that, which is, first of all, asking each other things like, “What’s the history in your family about that particular characteristic or value that you have. Where does that come from for you? What’s the background to that that led you to either value this particular way of being, or has led you to love this particular dream?” So, asking about background is important. Also, asking things like, “Well, what does it mean to you to have this particular passion, or this particular love, or this particular characteristic? Is there some underlying purpose to living by this value? What does it mean to you?” So, you’re carving out kind of a subterranean region, where you’re discussing both more personal history, that may be good, maybe not so good, as well as the more existential piece of who you are, how you’ve arrived at some particular set of values or characteristics that have meaning and purpose for you.
Julie Gottman: Now, the other thing though, is that there’s always going to be either lifestyle preferences, or just personality characteristics that you don’t know where they come from, they don’t have particular meaning. But they are who your partner is. And so it’s not necessarily that you’re going to absolutely love and cherish those differences, they might drive you crazy. John and I have characteristics like that. He calls himself “Charmingly sloppy,” and I’m obsessively neat, a little OCD.
Julie Gottman: Okay, so that’s a big difference, right? So I’m not going to adore the fact that there might be piles of books everywhere. However, however, you create almost ways of coping with those differences that are not necessarily conflict, they’re simply, “Okay John, it’s been four weeks. I’m now at risk of my life when I make the bed because the pile books next to the bed is so high that I may trip over them and be buried in an avalanche. So, can you please move the books?” It kinda looks like that. So you accept those differences in each other and cherish the ones that really have some purpose and meaning to them.
Neil Sattin: Yes, in the very second date night that you talk about is how you work with conflict.
John Gottman: Exactly.
Neil Sattin: And probably no chance, it’s not just a total happenstance that that comes second after trust and commitment.
Julie Gottman: [chuckle] Yes, indeed. Because that is what most couples struggled with. We are a culture that has a lot of trouble expressing emotion. We’ve all been taught that, for example, it’s not okay for men to express fear, sorrow, vulnerability, anxiety, fine for them to express anger, but the more vulnerable emotions, not so much. And women are taught that they’re horrible human beings, with the B word, if they express anger. So, how then do you have conflicts where there are these constraints and fences around what you express or don’t express? So, what we believe is that it’s incredibly important for people to express all of their emotions, whether it’s anger, or sorrow, or frustration. But that chapter, in particular, really focuses on how do you express those emotions, especially if they’re negative ones, and how do you respond to them with empathy when you hear them, rather than just defensiveness, which takes you down the wrong path. That’s that chapter.
John Gottman: Yeah. We learned that behind every one of these negative emotions, there is a longing, and in that longing, there is a need and a recipe for solving the conflict. So, we have blueprints that we can offer that make conflict really constructive, so it doesn’t alienate people, it actually brings them closer together, and creates that understanding that you mentioned earlier.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. That reminds me of, I think, it’s the ‘Dreams within Conflict’ exercise that we’ve mentioned here on the show before, and I think, if it’s okay with the two of you, I’ll offer it here as well, that if you download the transcript for this episode, we can also include that ‘Dreams within Conflict’ exercise, which touches, maybe not ironically, two of the dates. It touches that conflict piece, but also the very last date is all focused on your dreams, and what you aspire to as individuals. And it just feels like such a powerful addition, because I want everyone to know who’s listening, it’s not all trust and commitment, and addressing conflict. You get those out of the way, the very next one is being able to talk about sex and intimacy. And in there is play, and fun, and how you foster that in your relationship, too. So yeah, go ahead.
Julie Gottman: Right. So, a lot of people think that “Well, if you solve all of your conflicts, your relationship is going to be just dandy.” But we found in our research that that really wasn’t true, that you do have to focus on how do you create a more positive experience in the relationship. We all work so darn hard that we forget how important fun is, how important play is, how important a sensitive venture is. And the fact that we can share those with each other is part of the wonder, the beauty, of having a terrific committed relationship. You’ve got a playmate, you’ve got somebody you can do all of that with. You can have wonderful sex, you can have intimacy, but you have to be able to talk about what it is that you love, what brings a sense of adventure and fun to you, ways that you would prefer to have an intimate connection. How do you want to do that? What’s going to feel great for you? So, it’s very important to be talking about all of that as well. That’s part of this book.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I love, too, how because the focus is on developing that shared understanding with that, as opposed to trying to make your partner like you or trying to just figure them out so you can get past all your conflicts somehow, I think what it actually does is it opens up this huge resource for you, of energy, and ways that you can bring more variety and connection into your life. Like each of these dates strikes me as a seed for so many different other experiences that could come from that understanding that you’re building with your partner.
Julie Gottman: Exactly. That’s a lovely way to say it.
Neil Sattin: I’m wondering if, and you can say no, you can pass on this question if you like, but I’m wondering if you’d each be willing to share what you think the most valuable skill for you has been in your relationship. What is the thing that… And I’m sure there’s more than one thing, but when you think about what being together for 32 years has been like, what has been something that you fall back on, something that not only is reliable for you in terms of helping you in your connection, but also you’ve had to maybe revisit it again and again, as like being reminded like, “Oh yeah, this is something I’m working on, and I have to bring that attention to my own work and growth in order to make this connection work.”?
Julie Gottman: I love that question. I’ll start, yeah? [chuckle]
John Gottman: Yeah, go ahead.
Julie Gottman: Okay. So, I think what I’ve had to work on the most is kindness, without question. Kindness, and keeping in my mind a fixed picture of who my husband is. So, I’m a person who really reacts quickly to things, impulsively to things, I would have been a great emergency doc.
Julie Gottman: You have a response to stuff, and can respond well, or perhaps not so well. And so, I’ve really had to work on my tone of voice, what words I use, patience, and remembering that… I’ve had this vision… I’m going to embarrass John now, Neil.
Neil Sattin: Uh oh.
Julie Gottman: But, yeah. But I really see John as a genius. You can’t say anything. And when you are living with somebody with the kind of mind that he has, then there’s going to be unbelievable gifts that you get to share as that person shares their ideas, shares their creativity. And all of those gifts I have been privileged to experience with John. And so, when he’s not perfect, when he doesn’t clean the counter the way I want him to, see, there’s the OCD, the books pile up or whatever, it’s like, “Okay, he’s writing a grant,” or, “Okay, he’s working on a book, and he’s completely immersed in that.” “Okay, he gets up at 3 O’clock in the morning because he’s just had an idea come to him, and he’s gotta go write it down, and he’s going to wake me up with a flashlight in my face.”
Julie Gottman: That’s the way it is. And again, the privilege and the honor of living with somebody with whom I will never, ever be bored, ever, is such a gift, that add the little stuff as trivial. And so, I keep that impression and image of who John is in my mind as a fixed picture, and remember the gifts of that, and try like crazy to be kind and to be patient. And believe me, I do not succeed a lot of the time, but… And thank God he’s patient with me.
Neil Sattin: Thank you for your honesty about that, Julie.
Julie Gottman: [chuckle] Right. You’re welcome.
John Gottman: Well, my big problem is defensiveness. And I have to learn over and over again that when Julie is feeling something very strongly, it’s time for the world to stop, and me to listen without being defensive, even if she’s disappointed in me, or angry with me, or I’ve done something to upset her. And I do a lot of things that are thoughtless, and often I ignore her because I’m so involved in a paper I’m writing or something like that. And when I concentrate, a lot of times I don’t hear her calling my name even, because I really literally don’t hear it. So I do things that really hurt her, and I need to listen. And for me, that’s very hard, because the first thing I’m thinking is, “Why is she so negative? Just appreciate everything I do, and just come to me when she’s really happy.” So I had to learn when she’s upset about something, the world needs to stop, and I need to listen without being defensive, and try to understand what she’s feeling. And usually, when I can do that, it rapidly diffuses the situation. She feels listened to and understood. Even if I’d hurt her, we can repair the relationship and figure out what to do. So that’s my constant struggle, I think.
Neil Sattin: And do you have a particular way that you remind yourself of that when you feel the defensiveness coming on?
John Gottman: I carry a notebook in my back pocket, and I take it out and I take out my pen, and I tell her, “Okay, I’m listening. Slow down, let me write down everything you’re saying.” And as I’m writing, I get less defensive. I’m thinking, “Boy, why does she have to go into that? What’s wrong with this woman?” And then, as I’m writing, I go, “Well, that’s a good point.”
John Gottman: “Yeah, she’s right there.” And pretty soon I’m really paying attention and listening. So, for me, having that notebook and writing down what she says, and slowing her down, really helps me to be less defensive.
Neil Sattin: I love that. And that really reminds me too of your dates together and the notebook that comes along on the dates. So I could see it kind of being a little reminder of like, “Right, we have a connection that transcends this whatever-it-is that’s causing conflict right now.”
John Gottman: Yeah. I probably have about 400 notebooks that I’ve filled in the 32 years we’ve been together. [laughter] And they’re all piled on my bureau.
Julie Gottman: And I’m going to burn them. [laughter]
Neil Sattin: Won’t that be a lovely ritual for the two of you. [laughter]
Neil Sattin: Well, John and Julie, it’s been such a treat to have you here with us today on ‘Relationship Alive’. Your new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, is so rich, and I think obviously has a lot to offer couples, no matter where they’re at in a relationship. And I think, even if you’re single, going through the prep work questions would be really helpful as a way of just understanding who you are and how you operate in a relationship. If you want to get more information about the book, there’s a website that is devoted to the “Eight Dates” book, which is eight, the number eight, datesbook.com. You can also visit gottman.com to find out more about Julie and John’s work, the work they’re doing through the Gottman Institute. And they’re going to be on a book tour to support the “Eight Dates” book, traveling all over the country, so you may be able to catch them in your community. And I definitely encourage you, if they’re anywhere nearby, go check them out. You’ll have a chance to ask questions, I’m sure. And as you can tell, they’re delightful people. So I encourage you to go and find them when they’re in your neck of the woods.
Neil Sattin: Other than that, if you want the transcript to today’s episode, neilsattin.com/gottman4. And as you might get, that’s because we’ve had John on a few times before, so you can go to Gottman, Gottman2, Gottman3, and you can get your dose of Gottman, and it’s so sweet, Julie, to have you here with us as well. I’ve loved your contribution today in this conversation. Thank you so much both for joining us, and I look forward to having you here again on ‘Relationship Alive’.
Julie Gottman: Thank you so much, Neil. It was really fun. Thank you.
John Gottman: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Julie Gottman: Okay.
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