Cultivating a Lasting & Loving Relationship
Many people do not associate scientific inquiry with the stability of a loving marriage. Therapists John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, creators of the Gottman Method, make that association and have been providing a compassionate and healing response to the challenges of achieving and sustaining a healthy relationship. Here they share three exercises you can do with your partner to improve both your relationship, as well as your friendship with one another.
Strengthen Your Love Map
The Love Map, is a road map of one’s partner’s inner psychological world. It involves the couple knowing one another and periodically updating this knowledge. Allocate “cognitive room” for your relationship and the world of your partner. Can you answer these five questions?
- Who was your partner’s best friend in childhood?
- What are some of the important events coming up in your partner’s life and how does he/she feel about them?
- What is one of your partner’s favorite ways of being soothed?
- What is your partner’s fondest dream, as yet unachieved?
- What is your partner’s favorite way to spend an evening?
Our research shows that happy couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity. In other words, as long as there are five times as many positive interactions (showing interest, asking questions, being empathetic, etc.) between partners as there are negative (displays of criticism, hostility, contempt, etc.), the relationship is likely to be stable. Building up the positive, which we call making deposits into your Emotional Bank Account, will come in handy during times of stress and conflict. From the list below, choose three items that you think are characteristic of your partner:
Loving, Sensitive, Brave, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Generous, Loyal, Truthful, Strong, Energetic, Sexy, Decisive, Creative, Imaginative, Fun, Attractive, Interesting, Supportive, Funny, Considerate, Affectionate, Organized, Resourceful, Athletic, Cheerful, Coordinated, Graceful, Elegant, Gracious, Playful, Caring, A great friend, Committed, Involved, Expressive, Active, Careful, Reserved, Adventurous, Receptive, Reliable, Responsible, Dependable, Nurturing, Warm, Virile, Kind, Gentle, Practical, Witty, Relaxed, Beautiful, Handsome, Rich, Calm, Lively, A great partner, A great parent, Assertive, Protective, Sweet, Tender, Powerful, Flexible, Understanding.
For each item you chose, briefly think of an actual incident that illustrates this characteristic of your partner. Now share your list with your partner! Let him or her know what it is about these traits that you value so highly.
Have a Stress Reducing Conversation
The stress-reducing conversation is for handling stresses outside the relationship. It is guided by the motto: understanding must precede advice. Take turns sharing with each other about your day. Make sure to follow these rules:
- Take turns. Give one another the chance to talk for 10-15 minutes uninterrupted.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice. Don’t try to fix the problem. Simply listen to understand.
- Show genuine interest. While your partner talks, stay focused on him/her by nodding, smiling, and asking questions.
- Communicate your understanding and empathize.
- Take your partner’s side by being supportive.
- Express solidarity. Let your partner know that he/she is not alone.
- Express affection. Hold, touch, or embrace your partner.
- Validate your partner’s emotions. Respond to your partner in ways that confirm his/her feelings are important to you.
© The Gottman Institute. Used with permission.