Maintaining a loving, positive relationship can be hard work. Occasionally, those in relationships can become overwhelmed by negativity and conflict, which can erode the positivity that used to be found in the relationship. It is important to actively work toward staying connected and happy with one another. One method that might assist couples that wish to enrich their relationships is the Gottman Method, which is an evidenced-based therapy approach that can help couples learn how to enhance their relationships, manage conflict, and stay more connected with each other.
The Gottman Method, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, is a form of couples therapy that is based on hundreds of scientific studies performed on over 3000 couples. This method is grounded in the Sound Relationship House Theory which is the basis of the Gottman Method, where a house is a visual representation of a secure relationship. The house has seven floors where each floor holds a strategy that the couple can use to enhance their relationship, as well as two “wall” strategies which ultimately hold the couple’s relationship together (trust and commitment).
This blog post will focus on simple strategies that can enhance the first three floors of the Sound Relationship House, which are known as the “Friendship and Intimacy” levels. Strategies focused on this level involve changing the way the couple thinks about both each other and their relationship by increasing fondness and admiration, changing the balance of “turning away” from each other to “turning towards each other”, and learning how to enjoy and appreciate their partner’s world (which includes understanding their values, hopes and dreams).
Activities to Implement in Your Relationship
6 Second Kiss
Before leaving your partner in the morning, spend two minutes talking with your partner to find something exciting or interesting that will take place for them that day. Then, say good-bye with a kiss that lasts six seconds. Repeat in the afternoon.
Spread Admiration and Appreciation Each Day
It’s important to not only think positively about your partner, but also it is crucial to let them know the things you admire and appreciate about them frequently. You can do this by sending them a text in the middle of the day, sticking a note in their lunch, or being explicit about giving a compliment. Acknowledge the positive aspects of your partner’s personality. Think about adjectives that you admire about your partner and an incident that demonstrates each characteristic of them and share it with them.
The Stress-Reducing Conversations
Set aside 20-30 minutes each day to discuss a current or upcoming stressor in your life that is outside of the relationship. Each person will take a turn, with one person being a speaker and the other person being a listener. The goal of this exercise is to focus on the emotional connection and help manage stressors without jumping to problem-solving, which typically makes the other person feel misunderstood or unheard.
The speaker talks about their stressor for a designated amount of time.
During this time, the other partner will focus on responding to their partner in specific ways.
Rules for the Listener:
- Show genuine interest by maintaining eye contact and asking questions such as “what is most upsetting to you?” or “What is this like for you?”.
- Communicate understanding by empathizing with what they are saying.
- Take your partner’s side, even if you don’t agree with their perspective.
- Take a “We” against “Others” approach by focusing on what the partner is feeling and demonstrating solidarity with their partner that they are in this together.
- Express affection (either through words or actions).
- Validate the emotions being expressed.
- Don’t offer any unsolicited advice (unless the partner asks for it)
- After following all the above steps, you can ask your partner, “Do you feel understood” and if the partner says yes, then ask “are you interested in receiving advice or problem-solving”.
Then, the listener and speaker switch roles.
Build in Date Nights
Make a commitment with your partner to spend at least two hours together weekly on a date. This can be in or out of the house, depending on logistical constraints, but having time together just for the two of you is crucial to be able to foster the connection between you both. Consider spending some time having each of you write down date ideas on a slip of paper, putting them in a jar, and picking one out for your weekly date.
Update Love Maps During the Dates
While on your weekly date, use this time to update your love maps for each other. This means having each partner understand the other person’s likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, challenges, worries, and stressors so that you can each support each other in all ways possible. These love maps are constantly in need of updating because we are all constantly changing. Focusing on love maps can help strengthen the foundation of friendship in the relationship. Spend time asking each other questions on future dreams, likes, dislikes, desires, and wishes.
Consider having the family come together at meals and eat together. This can be a wonderful time for each person to share about their day and discuss stressors and positive things that happened. Avoid all conflict during dinner time if possible in order to foster positive feelings.
After-meal coffee time or snack time
After the meal, consider setting aside a time for the two of you to talk and spend some time together. If you have older children, this can fit neatly into your schedule while the kids are getting ready for bed or doing homework.
Create your own rituals when you go to sleep that involves a check in, physical affection, and cuddling. Don’t forget your 6-second kiss!
What if I feel like my relationship needs more support?
If you would like more support on how to implement these practices and how to make lasting positive change in your relationship, please reach out to me, Dr. Hannah Gilfix. Using the Gottman Method, I can work with you and your partner to strengthen and rebuild the friendship in your relationship, learn how to handle conflicts that seem to never go away, and be able to build a greater sense of meaning together.