Ambiance Matchmaking’s monthly book club creates a space for our community to learn, grow, and discuss new ideas centered around self-development and dating. May’s book of the month is Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John & Julie Gottman from The Gottman Institute.
This month’s pick is Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John & Julie Gottman from the Gottman Institute. For anyone not familiar, the Gottman Institute has over 40 years of scientific research from more than 3,000 couples on the topic of marital stability. Keep in mind, no matter if you’re single and just beginning to date, if you’re already on your dating journey, or if you’re already in a relationship, this book is gold.
They believe every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners, and that a happy relationship isn’t the result of having lots of things in common — as we often think. It comes from knowing how to address your core differences in a way that supports each other’s needs and dreams.
This book offers what they believe to be the 8 most important conversations to have in your relationship — including sex and intimacy, growth and spirituality, and work and money — and how to have those conversations which are just as important as the conversations themselves. Alright, let’s dive in.
Proust said, "The journey of discovery lies in not seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with fresh eyes.” I believe this also applies to relationships. We’re all going to have many relationships over the course of our lives, however, someone of us will have them with many people and some of us will have them with the same person. The key to sustaining a long-term relationship is being able to see your partner through a new lens, or with fresh eyes. Taken from Gottman’s book, I’ve selected the following passages as tools we can use to craft a new kind of lens and see our partner with fresh eyes while entering into these eight essential conversations.
Tool #1: Be curious
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Tool #2: Have an open heart and mind
“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, and 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.”
Tool #3: Search for a shared purpose
“(Successful couples) 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. — on couples who have successfully stayed together.”
Tool #4: Maximize the positive
“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.”
“The words you choose matter. Your tone of voice matters. Even your facial expressions matter.”
“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.”
Tool #5: Listen
“The questions provided for each of the eight dates are specific and open-ended, but these questions are only half of the equation. Listening is the all-important other half. It requires a special kind of listening. It’s where we listen to understand, without judgment or defensiveness, or the desire to rebut. It is an accepting form of listening. Listening is an action; you have to commit to it. And you can’t do that if you don’t get out of your own head. If you stay inside yourself, the voice you hear will be your own, and not your loved one’s.”
Make a conscious effort to cultivate these priceless and lifelong skills. You will reach for these tools along your dating journey, in your committed relationships, and in your relationships with friends and family. Next, we will discover the eight essential dates provided by John & Julie Gottman. We have selected what we believe are the most important concepts and ideas from each conversation. The following chapter highlights are direct quotes from the book.
Date 1: Trust & Commitment
Summary: Commitment is a choice. We can show our commitment to our partners and build trust on a daily basis through small but impactful actions. Rather than look for what’s missing in the relationship, nurture gratitude for what you have. If necessary, voice your concerns to your partner rather than fantasizing about another relationship or complaining to someone else.
“In a relationship, commitment is a choice we make every single day, over and over again. We choose it even when we are tired and overworked and stressed out. We choose it no matter what attractive person crosses our path. We also choose it every time our partner makes a bid for attention and we put down our book, or look away from the television, or up from our smartphone, or stop whatever it is we’re occupied with to acknowledge their importance in our life.”
“Rather than nurturing gratitude for what we have with our partner, we nurture resentment for what’s missing. When something is bothering us about our partner, rather than talking this over to get our needs met within the relationship, we fantasize about another relationship and how we might receive what is missing from our current relationship with this fantasy partner. These Negative Comps become a dangerous way of dealing with our negative feelings within the relationship.”
“If things aren’t going well in your relationship, voice your concerns to your partner instead of complaining about your partner to someone else.”
Date 2: Addressing Conflict
Summary: Mutual understanding is the healthiest and most productive goal of all conflict.
“I almost look forward to our conflicts now, because we always seem to come out of them understanding something new about each other and it brings us closer and closer. I don’t go looking for fights, but I don’t run away from them anymore either. I love that feeling when we get through a hard time together.” - Quote from participant.
“In creating compromise we have to understand each other’s core needs on the issue we’re discussing, as well as each other’s areas of flexibility.”
“Our research has shown that most relational conflict is not resolvable (69%).”
“There are conflicts that can be deal-breakers as we mentioned in the introduction—one of you wants children and the other doesn’t, one refuses treatment for a substance abuse problem or addiction, domestic violence—but for the most part, problems are either perpetual problems (they can’t be solved and will never be solved) or they’re solvable problems…
And the great gift is that within these conflicts, within these perpetual problems that you can’t ever seem to resolve, lie the greatest opportunities for growth and intimacy. When you discover what lies beneath those problems, you uncover something that is at the core of your partner’s belief system or personality.
Problems that cannot be resolved are problems that center on fundamental differences you have in your personalities or lifestyle preferences. Recognizing a perpetual problem for what it is leads to accepting and valuing how each of you is different.”
“If you find that the two of you get more and more polarized, more extreme, and more uncompromising, you’re gridlocked. Eventually, this will lead to emotional distance between the two of you, and this is the real relationship killer—not anger, or arguments, or conflict in general—but the distance you let it create between you.”
“Couples who have been married for decades have learned to see their partner’s shortcomings, quirks, and personality differences as more amusing than frustrating. When we truly love someone, we love all of them, and accept them just as they are.”
“Approach your differences with curiosity rather than correctness. Have a genuine desire to understand the stories that are underneath the issues.”
Date 3: Sex & Intimacy
Summary: Couples who have great sex lives are able to openly talk about it (outside of the bedroom) and make it a priority in their relationships. Men, in general, like to have sex to feel emotionally connected, and women need to feel emotionally connected to have sex. Sexual desire for women is a barometer for how the rest of her world is going. Checking in on your partner’s interior world will help your sex life flourish. Kissing passionately for no reason at all is one universal key to a great sex life, along with verbally expressing your appreciation and fondness for your partner.
“In a study of 70,000 responses from 24 different countries, Christianne Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte, in their book, The Normal Bar, reported the results of their extensive survey about love and sex. Couples who have a great sex life:
- Say “I love you” to their partners every day, and mean it
- Buy one another surprise romantic gifts
- Compliment their partner often
- Have romantic vacations
- Give one another back rubs
- Kiss one another passionately for no reason at all (85 percent who love sex also kiss passionately)
- Show affection publicly (hold hands, caress, kiss)
- Cuddle with one another every day (only 6 percent of the non-cuddlers had a great sex life)
- Have a romantic date once a week that may include dressing up, dinner out, massage, and lovemaking
- Make sex a priority and talk to one another about sex comfortably
- Are open to a variety of sexual activities
- Turn toward bids for emotional connection
Furthermore, the more couples do these things, the better their sex life is. The champion countries were Spain and Italy.”
“The important thing when you’re talking about sex with your partner is to focus on what you like and what feels good. “I like it when you touch me here. . . . It feels so good when you do . . .” This is especially important for women to feel comfortable doing, because research shows that men need and want some guidance. Men want to bring their partner pleasure, they want to satisfy them sexually, and they want some direction.”
“Men in general like to have sex to feel emotionally connected, and women need to feel emotionally connected to have sex. We refer to this as women having more prerequisites for sex than men do. Women’s prerequisites aren’t always limited to emotional closeness; sometimes they are about feeling exhausted, distracted, not rested, or not good about herself or her body. Sexual desire for women is a barometer for how the rest of her world is going.”
“If there is a lack of physical affection, flirting, and intimate connection apart from sex, your sex life will suffer. If there’s emotional distance or intense conflict, like we discussed in the previous chapter, your sex life will suffer. If there’s a lack of physical or emotional safety, or if one of you doesn’t feel appreciated, it can affect both the quality and quantity of your sex life. Checking in on your partner’s interior world will help your sex life flourish.”
“Kiss often — When you kiss passionately, you set off a chemical cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that release dopamine and increase oxytocin, both of which make you feel good."
"If you really mean it when you kiss, your blood vessels will dilate, your brain will receive extra oxygen, your pupils will dilate, and your cheeks will flush. Lips are our body’s most exposed erogenous zone and are associated with a disproportionately large part of the brain. The brain literally lights up with a good kiss, and kissing activates 5 out of 12 cranial nerves. More important, though, for those 6 seconds when you leave each other and when you return to each other, you are disconnecting from the world outside and reconnecting with your partner and the world you are creating together. In just 6 seconds you tell each other that you matter, and you choose each other all over again."
"The largest study of love on the planet, with 70,000 people in 24 countries, found that in all great relationships, kissing passionately for no reason at all was one universal key to a great sex life. Sheril Kirshenbaum, in her book The Science of Kissing, cites a ten-year German study that found that men who kissed their wives before leaving for work lived five years longer and earned 20 percent more than men who “left without a peck goodbye."
"Another key way to keep passion flowing is to express your fondness and affection and appreciation of each other verbally. You can’t just think positive things about your partner, you need to verbalize them to your partner. Appreciate their efforts, their attractiveness, their intelligence, their work, their skills, their sense of humor, and whatever else about them you love and admire.”
“Take time to date each other, to get to know each other day in and day out, and create your own rituals for connection. Making love to each other is something you do with your minds and your hearts—whether the body is involved or not. And trust us when we say, these types of loving gestures and romantic rituals will make your desire for each other grow over the years.”
Affirmation (say to your partner while maintaining eye contact):
“I commit to creating our own romantic rituals for connection, and creating more passion outside of the bedroom by expressing my affection and love for you. I commit to having a 6-second kiss every time we say goodbye or hello to each other for the next week. I commit to discussing, exploring, and renewing our sexual relationship.”
Date 4: Work & Money
Summary: What matters most is not the number in your bank account but how a couple talks about their financial disagreements. When two people with two separate histories with money get together, they must face the challenge of merging those two histories—or deal with the consequences of not addressing them.
“Whether your bank account is robust or you’re living paycheck to paycheck, money is one of the top five reasons couples fight. Research on a sample of 4,574 couples shows that, of all the issues married couples fight about, financial arguments were the single best predictor of divorce. The other four issues that couples get into conflict over the most? Sex, in-laws, alcohol or drug use, and parenting.”
“For most couples, the arguments around money tend to fall into three distinct categories: different perceptions of financial inequality, different perceptions of what it means to have financial well-being, and different perceptions about the nature of how they argue about money. Of all the three, the nature of the arguments was the best predictor of whether a couple would break up. What this means is that conflicts over finances don’t need to be a “make or break” issue. What matters most is how a couple talks about their financial disagreements.”
“Each partner comes to the relationship with their own history and relationship with money and their own set of feelings connected to money. We all have a legacy about money—a story that is handed down from generation to generation about what money has meant to our family.
"Our own personal history with money can affect our relationships in surprising ways. It’s important to explore what your family legacy is about money, generosity, power, and wealth. What emotional history and thoughts do you have about being poor, about being dependent and independent, about being strong and being weak, about philanthropy, civic responsibility, luxury, and pride of accomplishment? When two people with two separate histories with money get together, they must face the challenge of merging those two histories—or deal with the consequences of not addressing them.”
Date 5: Family
Summary: When most couples get married and have children, they put the baby first and the marriage second. However, when you put your marriage first and the child second, you are setting an example of what a strong marriage is for your children, and when your children leave the house and it’s just you two again, you will have maintained your intimacy and connection.
“Today’s family is ethnically, politically, sexually, and religiously diverse.”
“Statistics show that for a child born in the United States in 2015, it costs an average of $233,610 to raise that child through age 17. This is if you’re a middle-income family, averaging approximately $60,000 to $100,000 a year in income. If together you make over $105,000, then your average cost to raise a child to age 17 is an astonishing $407,820. Now multiply this amount by the number of children you want to have. And this is without any of the costs of college being factored in.”
“We’re husband and wife but we’re also best friends. It’s funny because a lot of people, when they have kids, they put the baby first and the marriage second. That works for some people. For us, I find, we put our marriage first and our child second, because the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage.” - Featured couple
“Eventually, if everything goes according to plan, those children will leave the house. And when it’s just the two of you once again, your relationship is going to be lacking if you haven’t maintained your intimacy or your connection.”
“If you’ve decided to have children and you want to have a successful partnership, then you both need to have two main goals: (1) Both partners should work to stay involved during the pregnancy and birth of children, and (2) maintain intimacy and connection.”
Date 6: Fun & Adventure
Summary: When we fall in love, we experience dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine (PEA). Our bodies develop a tolerance to PEA (just like it does to caffeine), and rather than mistake this occurrence for falling out of love, we need to recognize it’s a normal part of relationships and take action to reactivate these love hormones through fun, play, and adventure. You both also must realize that you might have different viewpoints on what constitutes fun. The main goal is to discover a new shared experience that involves learning, growing, exploring, and supporting the natural curiosities you both have.
“Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, says that play is “an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time.” Brown believes that “nothing lights up the brain like play” and that “we are designed to play throughout our whole lives, not just as children.” So what does this mean in terms of our relationships and our quest for happily ever after? Brown says, “Play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship; some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are: humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, and the enjoyment of mutual storytelling. These playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and a more rewarding relationship—true intimacy.”
“For a couple, play and adventure is all about learning together, growing together, exploring together, and supporting the natural curiosity you both have. Adventure always involves the unknown, and as such, there is a hint of danger to it. Some people can tolerate more danger than others. Explore the ways you’re the same, explore the ways you’re different, and find your common ground.”
Case Study John & Julie: On the topic of differing definitions of fun and adventure:
“In relationships, the issue comes when two partners get this brain-prize (dopamine) in different ways. Julie can’t sit on the couch and read books on physics and satisfy the seeking system of her brain. John can. John’s brain (the brain of a man who can easily think of ten ways you can die at a picnic) will not get the same rush of pleasure that Julie gets from skiing at breakneck speeds down a mountain. “In the end,” John continues, “I had to face the fact that this woman, the love of my life, is very different from me. She is an athlete, an explorer, and a true adventurer. Adventure for me is studying quantum mechanics and differential equations from the safety of my chair. (So,) we created a new shared experience and that has helped us to remain in love year after year of marriage.”
“Scientists know that the part of the brain where we experience fear—the right amygdala—is linked to the part of the brain where we experience sexual arousal."
"There is also a hormonal factor at play when we embark on a new or exciting adventure: a little cocktail of dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is the chemical cocktail that results in the natural high you feel when you fall in love. It’s what makes you capable of staying up all night talking instead of sleeping. PEA levels are also increased by high-intensity activities like skydiving (also by taking certain drugs and consuming large quantities of chocolate). Often we will lament the loss of those lovestruck days and nights when our energy for each other had no limit, but our bodies develop a tolerance for the effects of PEA (much like it does to caffeine and other substances) that is often mistaken for the end of love. It’s not. And by committing to understanding our need for adventure and continued exploration with our partners, we can reactivate the hormonal love cocktail at any time.”
“When our lives are infused with play, we’re able to see the absurd in the serious and find excitement in the mundane. A relationship without play is a relationship without humor, without flirting, without games, and without fantasy.”
Date 7: Growth & Spirituality
Summary: You accommodate growth and change in a relationship by making it safe for your partner to share the unfamiliar and by being truly curious about the growth they’re experiencing. When individuals grow, relationships grow. When individuals transform, relationships transform.
“There is no doubt that spiritual change, or change of any kind, can be a source of conflict in relationships. But in relationships, conflict is the way that we grow, and we need to welcome conflict as a way of learning how to love each other better and how to understand this person with a very different mind than our own. When we get to that understanding, we have both individual growth and relationship growth.”
“The goal isn’t to try to make the other person be like you. The goal is to learn from them and to benefit from the ways you’re different.”
“A study showed that when people felt that the sex between them was sacred or it was sanctified by their religion as sacred, then they had more sex, better sex, and longer lasting sex, plus they had higher marital satisfaction. It’s interesting to note that a difference in religious beliefs isn’t a huge cause of marital conflict. According to Pew Research, shared religious belief is less important than shared interests, good sex, and division of household labor.”
“So how do you create meaning in your relationship? How do you hold your relationship as sacred? We do this by creating shared meaning and by creating our own rituals for connection. The rituals you create in your lives together are important and will keep you connected. One of the rituals we hope you’ll create is, of course, a date night every week. You can also create mini-rituals for when you part from each other and return to each other—like the 6-second kiss. Think about ways you can celebrate the triumphs in life both minor and major. What will be special for the two of you? Think about ways you can create rituals around loss, setback, bad luck, fatigue. How can you best support each other? Think about community rituals with friends and rituals for birthdays and other celebrations.”
“You accommodate growth and change in a relationship by making it safe for your partner to share the unfamiliar and by being truly curious about the growth they’re experiencing. When individuals grow, relationships grow. When individuals transform, relationships transform.”
Date 8: Dreams
Summary: Dreaming uncovers your innermost desires and your true essence. When you’re able to openly dream, and you allow your partner the same freedom, you help each other achieve the best versions of yourselves while creating more passion and aliveness in each partner, and ultimately, in the relationship.
“Dreaming together is one of the most profound acts you can do in a relationship with each other. And honoring your partner’s dreams is a potent way to express your care for someone, because it shows a profound love.”
“When each partner honors and supports the other’s dreams, everything else in the relationship gets easier, because each person feels supported in being and becoming who they need and want to be.”
“Everyone makes sacrifices, but you can’t surrender your dreams. You can’t suppress them. That can lead to bitterness, resentment, and loss of passion and desire, and create enormous distance in a relationship. As partners we must help each other find a way to channel and pursue our dreams, whether vocationally or recreationally. This keeps passion and juice and aliveness in each partner and in the relationship.”
“Respect and honor your partner’s dreams, even when they’re different from your own. If your partner dreams of climbing Everest, don’t talk about how much time and money it’ll cost. Be curious about why they have that dream. Ask them what that dream means to them. Ask them how they will feel when they fulfill that dream. There is a story within every dream you have and within every dream your partner has. Listen to each other’s stories.”
The following are questions you can ask your partner to discover his or her dreams:
- How do you see your work changing in the future?
- What do you find exciting about life right now?
- What are your biggest worries about the future?
- How do you think we could have more fun in our life?
- What things are you missing in your life?
Conclusion: Cherish Each Other
I will quote directly from John & Julie Gottman since I couldn’t have said it better myself:
“Your relationship is a great adventure. Treat it as such. Be curious. Be vulnerable. Be willing to venture outside your comfort zone. Learn to listen. Be brave enough to talk. Share your hopes, your fears, and your dreams. We started this book with trust and we’re going to end it with trust as well. It is absolutely central to the success and failure of all relationships.
Don’t part in the morning without knowing one interesting thing that will happen in your partner’s day. Kiss each other goodbye. Kiss each other hello. Play together. Take time to talk about your day with each other. Know what is stressing your partner out. Know what they are looking forward to. Honor each other’s dreams. As we’ve said, couples who are happiest in their relationships express positivity. Couples whose love lasts have a ratio of 5 to 1 positive to negative interactions during a fight or conflict. When they are just hanging out, they have a ratio of 20 to 1 positive to negative interactions. That means for every negative thing you say to each other, you have 20 positive things to say or do.
Your love will also be a role model for other couples. Our marriages and families are nothing less than the very building blocks of our society. When our relationships are happy and healthy, so is our society. You can take the skills you’ve learned in this book—how to ask questions that matter, how to listen, and how to understand and embrace differences—and use them in your relationships with friends, with extended family, with coworkers, and even with strangers. We all have so much to learn about one another.”
Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie Schwartz; Abrams, Doug; Abrams, Rachel Carlton. Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (pp. 218-219). Workman Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.