By Doug Abrams
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Strengthen and deepen your love with a fun, ingenious program of eight life-changing conversations—on essential topics such as money, sex, and trust—from two of the world’s leading marriage researchers and clinicians.
Navigating the challenges of long-term commitment takes effort—and it just got simpler, with this empowering, step-by-step guide to communicating about the things that matter most to you and your partner. Drawing on forty years of research from their world-famous Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman invite couples on eight fun, easy, and profoundly rewarding dates, each one focused on a make-or-break issue: trust, conflict, sex, money, family, adventure, spirituality, and dreams.
Interactive activities and prompts provide motivation to stay open, stay curious, and, most of all, stay talking to each other. And the range—from the four skills you need for intimate conversation (including Put Into Words What You Are Feeling) to tips on being honest about your needs, while also validating your partner’s own emotions—will resonate, whether you’re newly together or a longtime couple looking to fortify your bond. You will discover (or rediscover) your partner like never before—and be able to realize your hopes and dreams for the love you desire and deserve.
Welcome to Date Night
The Conversations That Matter
Every great love story is a never-ending conversation. From the first tentative questions we ask as we get to know one another, to the nail-biting discussions of trust and commitment, to the most profound heart-to-heart explorations of our love, our pain, and our dreams, it's the quality of our questions and our answers that allow us to continue learning and growing with one another through the years. And when conflict comes, as it inevitably does when we weave two lives together, it's our commitment to being curious rather than correct that allows us to turn toward instead of away from one another in the moments of disagreement. Whether you and your partner are talkative or quiet, the words that pass between you, as well as the expressions and gestures that accompany those words, will define and determine your relationship. A true love story isn't a fairy tale. It takes vulnerability and effort. The reward is that you love your partner more on your fiftieth anniversary than you did on your wedding night. You can stay in love forever.
It can seem as if the success or failure of a marriage or long-term relationship is no more certain than a coin toss. In the United States, we hear that more than half of all marriages end in divorce. In Portugal, the number is 70 percent. With second marriages in the US, the divorce rate rises to
65 percent, and for third marriages the divorce rate climbs to 75 percent. Those are bad odds. And those are just the folks who call it quits. What about the couples who stay together in a state of quiet desperation, discontent, and dullness? Before you throw your hands up in despair, know that there is also hope.
While the expectations for marriage and partnership have never been higher, and the challenges have never been greater, it isn't a coin toss. It's not chance. It's choice.
We now know what couples can do to improve the odds. For 40 years the Gottman Love Lab has been studying how to win at love. In the lab in Seattle we have obtained synchronized observational, self-report, and physiological data from couples, and we have analyzed our data using advanced mathematical methods. After observing thousands of couples, we now know the areas in a couple's life that cause the most struggle. We can tell you with confidence what separates the masters of relationship from the disasters. And we can lead you through the eight essential conversations that will give you the best chance at creating your own happily ever after.
Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts. A lifetime of love is created every single day you are together. Getting to know your partner doesn't end the minute you return the moving van and are sharing dresser-drawer space, or the minute you say "I do." It never ends. You can spend a lifetime being curious about the inner world of your partner, and being brave enough to share your own inner world, and never be done discovering all there is to know about each other. It's exciting. It's daunting. And it's one of the greatest life adventures you can take. Trust us, we know. We've been married a long time; more than 30 years for John and Julie, and more than 25 years for Doug and Rachel, and we're still discovering new things about each other, still surprising each other, and more in love than we've ever been. That doesn't mean our relationships are perfect. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we're rude or insensitive. Perfection is not the price of love. Practice is. We practice how to express our love and how to receive our partner's love. Love is an action even more than a feeling. It requires intention and attention, a practice we call attunement.
And the big secret to creating a love that lasts and grows over time is simple. Make dedicated, nonnegotiable time for each other a priority, and never stop being curious about your partner. Don't assume you know who they are today, just because you went to bed with them the night before. In short, never stop asking questions. But ask the right kind of questions.
We are not talking about yes-or-no kinds of questions. The questions we are talking about are called "open-ended" questions. These questions are invitations whose answers aren't just a word or two. They are how you generate intimate conversations that let your partner share what is really on their mind and in their heart. These conversations will let you understand why your partner believes what they believe, does what they do, and is who they are. Open-ended questions lead to conversations that will make you fall in love, or help you decide to make a long-term commitment, or keep you in love with the person you have chosen to spend your life with. This book will show you how to have the conversations that lead to intimacy, to awareness, and to a deep and meaningful understanding of one another—the ways you're the same and the ways you're different. This is what will allow you to be a relationship master, and not a disaster. We've organized those conversations into the eight topics that matter most to relationships—trust and commitment, conflict, sex, money, family, fun and adventure, growth and spirituality, and dreams. We've structured these into eight dates for you to go on, and provide step-by-step exercises and open-ended questions to ask one another on each date.
These dates are a template, and yes, we want you to go on all eight dates, but we also want you to make dating each other something that never ends. We want you to be 95 years old and still going on a date—even if it's just to the living room. We don't want you to ever stop exploring your partner and your relationship, your beliefs and your fears, and your hopes and dreams for the future.
We don't want you to ever stop talking with each other, and learning, and growing.
Decades of research show that the great relationships—the masters—are built on respect, empathy, and a profound understanding of each other. Relationships don't last without talk, even for the strong and silent type. This book will help you create your own love story by giving you the framework for the eight conversations you and your partner should have before you commit to each other, or once you've committed to each other, as well as throughout the years, whenever it is time to recommit. That might happen when you have a baby, when one of you loses a job, during a health crisis, or when the relationship has begun to feel stale. Because this is for sure: Happily ever after doesn't mean there are no challenges or conflict. You can't be in a relationship and not have conflict. Not if you're doing it right. Life always shows up with all its stresses and strains and crises, and how you manage these together can ultimately make or break you (which we'll explore more in the conflict date). Happily ever after simply means that both partners are known, valued, accepted for who they are and who they are becoming. The goal is to be able to love your partner more deeply each and every year you're together.
Never Too Early or Too Late
We wrote this book because very few couples receive guidance on how to create a lasting and loving relationship. We met and became friends as part of a relationship education think tank—a consortium of experts in the fields of science, psychology, and sexuality. It's clear that most couples don't get any training in relationships, and often they don't learn how to communicate with each other until they go to therapy, and that's often too late. We initially thought the book would be for couples who were just setting out on the path of committed relationship, but when we asked for volunteers—couples who would be willing to test these eight dates and conversations—we were surprised that couples at every stage of their relationship wanted to go on the eight dates. Couples deciding whether to commit, couples who had just moved in together, recently engaged couples, and newlywed couples all loved the dates, but so did couples who had been married for years and who wanted to deepen an already great relationship or refresh a relationship that had lost some of its shine. Life takes its toll on all relationships as careers, children, and crises can pull us away from each other. The ideas behind these eight dates and the commitment to deep listening help us come back together.
If your relationship is new, and you're wondering if this person you're dating is "the one," we encourage you to take the time now to talk about the subjects that'll ultimately determine your happiness (or misery) later. And if they help you decide that you're not right for each other, you'll save yourselves years of heartache. Or these dates may help you understand your differences and prevent conflict down the road over "perpetual problems" and unchangeable differences. And if you're in a long-term relationship, these dates will help you have the conversations that'll strengthen your relationship and reduce conflict. They may even help you get to know each other all over again, and return to those times when you would stay up all night talking and couldn't wait to learn more about each other.
When it comes to romantic attraction, a recent study again revealed that there is nothing we can measure about two separate individuals that can predict if they'll like one another, or be romantically attracted to one another. This recent study, conducted by psychologist Samantha Joel of the University of Utah, measured over 100 variables such as self-esteem, goals, values, loneliness, what they wanted in a partner, and so on. Nothing predicted how they would feel after a short date.
This isn't new information. All the algorithms for matching people are mostly worthless. Why is that the case? Well, one explanation is offered by the classic German study by Claus Wedekind, called the T-shirt study. Women smelled T-shirts worn by various men for two days and picked the ones they thought smelled the best. Wedekind discovered that women preferred T-shirts of men who were the most genetically diverse from themselves on the major histocompatibility complex of the immune system. So, we're definitely not looking for our clone. We are, in fact, attracted to many kinds of people who are very different from ourselves. In a 2006 study conducted at the University of New Mexico of 48 couples, women in couples more genetically diverse from one another reported having a higher degree of sexual satisfaction, while those women with similar genes reported having more fantasies about other men and were also more likely to cheat. So, it turns out that all those algorithms for dating websites are no better than just pairing two strangers at random.
What's the alternative? The answer is that we discovered that once two people interact together we can actually predict if that relationship is destined to work out, or if it'll be a source of continual misery. So now we can offer you a set of eight guided conversations to have with a potential partner, and, based on your feelings about these conversations, we can suggest if this relationship will be fulfilling or not, and—if you're committed to this person—what work the two of you need to do to make your love last. As usual, we started with data. Couples volunteered to go on these dates and agreed to record their most intimate conversations and upload the recordings to a secure site. For the couples whose stories and conversations we share in this book, we have changed their identifying details and kept them anonymous. The conversations in this book are brave and vulnerable conversations, and we're grateful for those couples who agreed to record and share their most intimate discussions. The participants ranged in age from 21 to 67. Twenty-five percent of the couples were dating, 11 percent were in a committed relationship but not planning to marry, 32 percent were engaged or planning to marry, and 32 percent were married. We collected hundreds of hours of recordings from heterosexual and same-sex couples while they were on their dates, and we discussed the dates with many of them in follow-up webinar sessions.
We all want to have a relationship that's healthy and happy, intimate and passionate, and that lets us thrive as individuals, as a couple and, for many, eventually as a family. We want a partnership and a collaboration—to know that this other person will be there at our side for all that life brings—the good and the bad. It's never too early or too late to have these conversations. These conversations will deepen your understanding of one another, and the history and cultures you bring to your relationship.
The conversations we're going to be guiding you through aren't all going to be easy. Staying in love takes a level of vulnerability that isn't always comfortable. Some people have trouble talking about sex and intimacy. Others struggle to discuss growth and spirituality. Some find it difficult to discuss money matters. You might worry: Will the conversations lead to a fight? What if we don't understand each other's point of view? What if we have doubts about our differences? All of this is okay. We're going to teach you how to ask open-ended questions and really listen to each other's answers. We'll give you clear guidelines about how to make the conversations creative and not combative.
For newly committed couples, we want to emphasize that conflict will happen in any relationship, but if you avoid conflict now, you're guaranteed to have a lot more conflict later. The early part of a relationship, besides the fun and infatuation, is about establishing trust and a shared future. Inevitably there will be bumps in the road as you try to navigate two different lives, two different childhoods, two different family histories. Listen and learn, share and invite. If you have an open heart and mind, your dates will go much better, and your life together will, too. As couples that have been married a long time, we know what it's like to face issues that are difficult to discuss, to fail to understand each other, even to question our marriages. This is all normal, and by bravely tackling these conversations head-on, you will enter into a marriage or relationship that's strong and resilient.
Here's the news flash: Differences are the norm. Ultimately, your differences can enrich the relationship if you can understand and accept them. As you have these conversations, remember that most couples are more dissimilar than similar. That's okay. It's not about finding your idealized mate, your other half, or your alter ego. Our partners don't always have to think like we think. That's what makes life interesting—it would be boring to be married to yourself. In fact, that's called being single.
Of course, many couples have core values that they share, but there are inevitably areas in which they're different. These differences attract us at first, and yet we can find ourselves in relationship trouble when we try to change these differences later. Learning to understand and accept the ways in which you're different is key to creating lasting connection and enduring love.
One of the great gifts of relationship and marriage—and there are many—is the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person, intimately, deeply, profoundly, in a way we're almost never able to do with another human being. If you approach the mystery that is your partner with curiosity, your relationship and your life will be immeasurably enriched.
The Science of Love
About 45 years ago, John and his colleague Robert Levenson created a small laboratory at Indiana University (and later at the University of Illinois, the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, and now the Gottman Institute in downtown Seattle). At the University of Washington, John's lab looked like a tiny studio apartment, but it was actually an innovative research facility devoted to uncovering the truth about marriage and divorce. Here are the fundamental research questions that John asked: Can we predict who will get divorced and who will stay married, happily or unhappily? And what actually makes relationships work well?
For one of the lab's major studies, 130 newlywed couples checked in to the apartment, dubbed forever after as "The Love Lab," so they could be studied around the clock as they went about their day doing exactly what they would be doing if they were home—eating, watching television, talking, listening to music, reading, cleaning, and so on. It was all perfectly normal except there were three cameras mounted to the apartment walls that tracked their every move, and each person wore a specially devised monitor that tracked their electrocardiogram physiology. Plus every time they went to the bathroom, a sample was taken to check the amount of stress hormones in their urine. John and his team of researchers studied each couple's body language, monitored their vital signs, and coded every facial expression (to a hundredth of a second). The morning after a night in the Love Lab, the team took blood from the couple to check their hormonal and immune functioning.
Another key part of their research in the lab was asking couples to tell the story of their relationship during a two-hour oral history interview. John asked how they first met and what their first impressions were of each other. Then he asked them what they recalled about dating, how their relationship progressed, and what they enjoyed doing together in the early stages of their relationship. He asked them to reflect on how their relationship had changed over the years. Hard times that they had been through were covered, too.
Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as the really hard times in your relationship?
What helped you stay together?
How did you get through these difficult times?
What are your ideas about how to get through difficult times?
Then he asked the couple to explain how their relationship is different now from when they first met, and other questions about how they chose to be together.
Of all the people in the world, what led you to decide that this was the person you wanted to marry (or commit to)?
Was it an easy decision or a difficult decision?
What was it like to fall in love?
He also asked about the wedding or commitment ceremony, the honeymoon, their first year together, what stood out as the really good times, and their idea of having fun together. He and his colleagues also explored the couple's beliefs about relationships. They asked them to think of a couple they knew who had a good relationship, and another couple whose relationship wasn't so good, and what was different about these two relationships.
How would you compare your relationship to each of these couples?
How are your parents' relationships similar and different from your own?
Then John asked them about the history of their relationship—its major turning points, ups and downs. Finally, he asked them about how much they currently knew about their partner's major worries, stresses, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
How do you stay in touch with each other on a daily basis?
What are your routines for staying in emotional contact with one another?
Meanwhile, throughout these discussions researchers monitored each person's tone of voice, their words, their gestures, and their positive and negative emotions. Finally, John also asked each couple to discuss with each other a current conflict they were having in their relationship while he just watched.
It was painstaking, methodical, and thorough research. The final result was the ability to determine with 94 percent accuracy who would stay married and who would eventually divorce. (After these results were published, John and Julie received far fewer invitations to dinner.) Of the couples who stayed married, John was also able to predict the marriages that would be happy and those that would be unhappy. John and Robert followed these and hundreds of other Love Lab couples for decades, and in the end watched, recorded, and learned from over 3,000 relationships.
Positive or Negative
After a decade of analyzing the data from the Love Lab, John discovered that one set of variables determined whether a marriage would succeed or fail: Were the couples being positive or negative during the interview? There was very little gray area. Either they emphasized their good times together and minimized the bad times, or they emphasized their bad times together and minimized the good times. Either they emphasized their partner's positive traits and minimized their partner's more annoying characteristics, or they emphasized their partner's negative traits and minimized their partner's more positive characteristics.
What we've learned is that the couples who are most likely to have happy marriages show the following qualities and characteristics when they talk about their relationship:
Fondness, Affection, Admiration: Either verbally or nonverbally, the couple expresses positive affect (warmth, humor, affection); they emphasize the good times; they compliment their partner.
We-ness versus Separateness: The couple emphasizes their ability to communicate well with each other and their mutual unity and togetherness. They use words like "we," "us," or "our" as opposed to a lot of "I," "me," "mine." They don't describe themselves as separate.
Expansiveness versus Withdrawal: The couple describes memories about their shared past vividly and distinctly, versus vaguely or more generally with an inability to recall details. They are positive and energetic talking about their relationship, versus lacking energy and enthusiasm in recalling their past. They express intimate information about themselves, rather than staying impersonal and guarded.
Glorifying the Struggle: In a relationship people build a whole life together, filled with values, purpose, and meaning. In "glorifying the struggle," the couple expresses pride that they have survived difficult times, versus expressing the hopelessness of their hard times. They emphasize their commitment to the relationship versus questioning whether they should really be with this partner. They are proud of their relationship versus being ashamed of it. They talk about their shared values, goals, and life philosophy. They have intentionally created a sense of shared meaning and purpose, even in the way they move through time together. And they create intentional traditions in their relationship for connecting emotionally. We call these "rituals of connection." Dates are an example of rituals of connection.
If a couple starts by expressing negativity toward each other in the interview, whether in words, facial expressions, or body language (cynicism, sarcasm, eye-rolling), then it signals that a negative switch has flipped, and it almost inevitably predicts a relationship that will decline over time. If the couple expresses disappointment in the relationship, feeling disillusioned, as if marriage isn't what they thought it would be, or if they are depressed, hopeless, and bitter about their relationship, divorce is likely. Mind you, negative events and regrettable incidents are inevitable in all relationships. The positive switch is all about how couples positively interpret their negative events and their partner's character, and whether in their minds on an everyday basis they maximize the positive and minimize the negative (in their partner and in their relationship).
What it boils down to is that an overall perceived negativity will quickly erode a relationship. And every successful marriage and relationship has, at its foundation, a deep and close friendship—partners who really know each other and are, at the heart of it, on the same side, part of the same team. This is why the conversations in this book matter. The words you choose matter. Your tone of voice matters. Even your facial expressions matter.
Of course we all get it wrong sometimes. We miscommunicate, and when we do we need to make repairs. Expecting no communication snafus in a relationship is like expecting a hole-in-one every time you hit a golf ball. Happy relationships aren't relationships where there is no fighting. They are relationships where repairs are made after regrettable incidents happen—and where a couple connects with each other day to day. Happy couples are not so very different from unhappy couples; they are simply able to make repairs to their relationship easier and faster so they can get back to the joy of being together.
In the end, a big part of the success or failure of your relationship depends on the conversations you have with each other. We sent over three hundred couples on the dates in this book. They did the exercises, recorded their conversations, and shared their stories. New couples, celibate couples, same-sex couples, and long-term married couples all found that these conversations brought them closer and helped them see each other in new and exciting ways. They became better friends, and they fell in love all over again.
You can, too.
The Bigger Picture
The quality of our closest relationships, more than any other factor, determines our physical health, resistance to disease, and longevity. Satisfying close relationships also improve various dimensions of each partner's mental health. Happy marriages or long-term relationships can significantly reduce depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, and antisocial behavior, and reduce incidents of suicide. In addition, many studies have shown that ongoing unhappy relationships can damage the cognitive and emotional well-being of children, while happy relationships can strengthen children's school performance, peer relationships, and emotional intelligence. Clearly, your relationship matters in your own lives, in the lives of your children, and in your larger community.
John and Julie have conducted scientific and clinical research and have practiced couples therapy for decades. They have also done randomized clinical trials that show that the marital interaction patterns they've observed don't just go hand in hand with relationship results later. They cause them. They are still conducting this research today. Rachel is a medical doctor who counsels couples in her practice and sees firsthand the direct health impact of a good or bad relationship. She sees, too, that it is substantial. Doug has had the privilege of working on a number of books with visionary authors, including several with Rachel, on sexuality. Together, we're colleagues, friends, and four people deeply committed to the idea of creating love that lasts a lifetime. We want this in our own lives and yours.
“[A]n instant hit… If you’ve been married forever and think this book isn’t for you, (dates??), think again.” —Oprah.com
“Whether you are already in a long term committed relationship or are just starting one, Eight Dates is an essential guide to building and maintaining true and lasting love. Based on decades of scientific studies and clinical wisdom from our world’s leading visionaries in romance, this fabulous book will enable you to engage in fun and constructive conversations to nurture a love that can grow for a lifetime!” —Daniel J. Siegel, MD, New York Times bestselling author, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence
"Brilliant" —The Chicago Tribune
2019 Nautilus Book Award -Gold in the Communications Relationships category —2019 Nautilus Book Award
- On Sale
- Feb 5, 2019
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Workman Publishing Company