John Gottman researched marriage and relationships for many years. He observed many couples and found out what makes a relationship tick. At the heart of his work is the “Sound relationship house” – 7 habits that make the difference. This is the summary of his key thoughts (also on Amazon Video).
1) Build love maps
The metaphor is simple: each of us develops inner realities. Likes, dislikes, facts and feelings. Knowing the love maps of your partner forms the base for friendship and intimacy. Basically, you take time to explore what is going on in the mind of your partner. Friendship is maintained and this is the basis for a good marriage.
Gottman offers sets of questions, even games and apps to get the love maps going again. Here are some samples (answer in your mind first, then check with your partner if you know that about him/her):
- Name my two closest friends.
- What was I wearing when we first met?
- Name one of my hobbies.
- What stresses am I facing right now?
- Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.
- What is my fondest unrealized dream?
- What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
- What is my favorite way to spend an evening?
- What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed?
- What is my favorite getaway place?
- What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?
- What are some of my favorite ways to work out?
- Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
- What would I consider my ideal job?
- What medical problems do I worry about?
- What was my most embarrassing moment?
- Name one of my favorite novels/movies.
- What is my favorite restaurant?
2) Share Fondness and Admiration
Fondness and admiration for each other have enormous long-term payoff. They carry a marriage through stress and conflict. Test yourself on how you are doing. Fondness is about thinking and expressing positive sentiments about your partner. Gratitude adds an uplifting atmosphere and acknowledgment.
3) Turn Towards Instead of Against
There is a simple logic to most interactions – either they work or show that something is amiss. The three options are: 1) turning away. Simply letting the other talk, not engaging, not responding, being absent – both mentally and physically. 2) turning against. Responding with anger and agression, or more subtle with cynism and closedness. 3) turning towards. Acknowledging the other person, following their words and actions, engaging with their current state of mind.
Relationships work to the degree the partners turn towards each other. Whenever turning away or turning against override, the relationship is going downhill.
4) The Positive Perspective
Taking a positive view to the other person means looking and expressing the positive. When you are first in love, everything is great. Later in a relationship, the eye can easily be fixated by negative things. The ideal ratio is 5 positive things to 1 word of criticism.
5) Manage Conflicts
Conflicts are unavoidable. Gottman says that over the course of a life, 68% will never be resolved. So, you have to find a way to deal with them. Without destroying each other. Gottman mentions five things to master: 1) learning to soften startups (don’t blow the fuse too quickly), 2) learning to repair emotional damage (learn to make up, to express regret, to share appreciation and ask for reconciliation), 3) learn to self-sooth (de-escalating emotions and calming down), 4) learn to understand your partner’s point of view, 5) learn to accept the influence of your partner.
6) Make Life Dreams Come True
We all have dreams of what we want to in life. A good relationships learns to know the dreams of your partner, and is supportive in making them happen.
7) Create Shared Meaning
Finally, a good relationships learns to build emotional connection and shared meaning. Gottman calls this “rituals of emotional connections”. A cup of coffee together, a walk around the block, sports, a car ride – there are many options. A relationship needs time to connect and learn about each other.
Also, a common set of goals or purpose glues a relationship together. These might be kids, doing God’s work or contributing to a certain cause.