7 day plan that can divorce proof your marriage!
7 day plan that can divorce proof your marriage! As prescribed by the ‘Einstein of Love’ and his wife, who’ve decoded the science of relationships after studying 40,000 couples
- For 50 years Dr John and Dr Julie Gottman have put love under the microscope
- With 40 books between them John has even been called ‘the Einstein of Love’
- The couple have now curated a seven day plan that will divorce proof marriage
For the past 50 years, we’ve been putting love under the microscope. Together we are probably the most famous love and marriage experts in the world, with more than 40 books between us and a hatful of academic posts and awards.
John has even been called ‘the Einstein of Love’. All our working lives, and today at our world-famous research centre, the Love Lab in Seattle on the west coast of America, we have focused on one question: what makes love last?
Why does one couple stay together for ever, while another falls apart? And is it even possible to quantify any of this with data — to use the tools of science and mathematical modelling to predict whether a couple will live happily ever after? The short answer is: yes — to all of that.
As psychologists and authors, we’ve studied more than 40,000 couples, some for as long as 20 years. We’ve watched countless hours of tape. Aggregated millions of data points. And what we’ve discovered is that there are universal factors that make or break a relationship, that predict whether a couple will stay together or not.
For 50 years Dr John and Dr Julie Gottman have put love under the microscope. The couple have now curated a seven day plan that will divorce proof marriage
There is a science of love. Like the Large Hadron Collider smashing apart an atom, we’ve isolated its building blocks. After all this time, love is no longer such a mystery. The great news is that it is possible to take what we’ve learned and use it to build a love that lasts for you. In our new book we’ve devised a bite-sized, seven-day action plan.
Over the course of the next week, you can shift the culture of your relationship for the better — and you can do it in small, immediately actionable steps. Over seven days, we’ll ask you to learn seven new habits. They’ll be easy. They’ll be quick. They’ll be fun. There will be no grand gestures and no big, hard conversations. They can be done while you put away the dishes, while driving in the car. There’s nothing to buy, or do, or prepare.
These practices will help you if you’re dating and wondering what’s next, or if, like us, you’ve been married for 35 years. By making and sustaining these small changes, you can make your love last for ever. This is for any age, any stage. It is our kit for a great start, a restart, or a course correction. All you need to begin is a willingness to try.
The No1 tip: Turning towards
When one person attempts to initiate a small connection with the other by making a bid — it could be physical or verbal, overt or subtle — and their partner then responds in one of three ways. Either they turn towards that bid, turn away from it, or turn against it.
One of the most significant discoveries over our 50 years of study is something we call ‘bids for connection’. That’s when one person attempts to initiate a small connection with the other by making a bid — it could be physical or verbal, overt or subtle — and their partner then responds in one of three ways. Either they turn towards that bid, turn away from it, or turn against it.
What does that look like in practice? Say your partner, looking at his newspaper, remarks, ‘Oh, this is an interesting article’. That’s a bid for connection.
Here are your possible responses:
a. You look up and say: ‘Oh yeah? What’s it about?’ Which is turning towards him.
b. You keep typing the email you’re working on while staring at your screen. That’s turning away.
c. You say: ‘Be quiet! Can’t you see I’m trying to work?’ Which is turning against.
In the lab (and in real life), no couple ‘turns towards’ 100 per cent of the time. But whether you turn towards a lot or a little matters. A lot. When we look back at the data, we find couples who get divorced respond to their partner’s bids 33 per cent of the time, while couples who stay together turn towards each other 86 per cent of the time. How people react to their partner’s bids for connection is, in fact, the biggest predictor of happiness and relationship stability.
Turning towards puts money in a couple’s emotional bank account. Think of every act of turning towards your partner’s bid for connection — even one as fleeting as responding to a smile with a smile — as dropping a coin in your love piggy bank.
Be on the lookout for small bids for connection you can engage with. These may include:
- Eye contact.
- A smile.
- A sigh.
- A direct ask for help or attention.
- Saying good morning or good night.
- Asking for a favour.
- Reading something aloud to you: ‘Hey, listen to this…’
- Pointing something out: ‘Look at that!’
- Calling your name from another room.
- Seeming sad or down.
- Physically carrying something heavy by themselves.
Ask a big question
John and Julie say that you have to ask questions not only to create love maps but also to update them
In our work with couples, we talk about creating love maps. By ‘love map’, we mean an intimate knowledge of your partner’s inner world. Their hopes and dreams. Their beliefs; their fears; their desires. You have to ask questions not only to create love maps but also to update them.
Most conflict in a relationship is not ultimately about personality, or about whose turn it is to do the dishes, or about how much money we have (or don’t have) in the bank. It’s about dreams, values, meaning, history.
Yet as time goes on, we stop asking each other about these big things and instead ask only the little questions: ‘Have you taken the bins out?’ ‘Has the dog been to the vet?’
Dreams change. Bucket lists evolve. Any relationship is a process of meeting each other, again and again, over the years. To understand your partner, it’s important to keep those ‘love maps’, as we call them, updated.
Ask them something meaningful. Consider these questions to get you going:
- What are some unfulfilled things in your life?
- What legacy do you want our children to take from your side of the family?
- How have you changed in the past year?
- What are some of your life dreams right now? A big question can also be fun:
- If you could change into any animal for 24 hours, which one would you choose and why?
- If you could design the perfect house for us, what would it look like?
- If you could wake up tomorrow with three new skills, what would you pick?
Say thank you
Research found that in general, people were being nice to each other — they just weren’t noticing the nice things their partner did
For a long time in the field of couples counselling, therapists assumed that unhappy couples were unhappy because they weren’t being very nice to each other over the course of a typical day. They’d prescribe ‘positivity days’ to practise increasing acts of kindness to each other. Pretty quickly, they gave up this idea because it didn’t work.
It turned out that, in general, people were being nice to each other — they just weren’t noticing the nice things their partner did.
Couples who were unhappily married missed 50 per cent of those positive things. It wasn’t that the happily married couples were doing more for each other than the unhappily married ones — they were simply better at seeing their partner doing them.
As life goes on, it’s easy to fall into the opposite trap of only seeing what they’re not doing or doing badly. Shrinking the sweater rather than doing the washing; forgetting the rosemary rather than buying the lamb chops.
Change your default setting and look for what’s right. It’s incredible how quickly the dynamic between you both will improve.
Step one: Be an anthropologist. Keep a close eye on your partner today. Write down everything he does that’s positive (he cleaned up the breakfast, made you coffee and fielded calls all morning) but don’t write down the negatives (he ignored a pile of washing on the stairs). Notice how your partner shows kindness, generosity and encouragement.
Step two: Say thank you for something routine. Something they’re doing right, even if it’s small, even if they do it every day — in fact, especially if it’s small and they do it every day! Tell them why this small thing is a big deal to you.
Give a real compliment
Couples who stay happily together are easily able to name specific qualities they love and appreciate about their partner. They are able to compliment their partner
Data from 3,000 couples we followed in the Love Lab, some for as long as two decades, showed that couples who stay happily together are easily able to name specific qualities they love and appreciate about their partner.
The masters of love don’t have fewer flaws than the rest of us. They don’t sail through life without ever running into challenges or conflict, never getting annoyed with how their partner chews or never getting frustrated that their partner isn’t better at managing money.
But what they’re great at is seeing their partner’s good qualities. They are highly skilled at holding in the front of their minds what they admire. That becomes impenetrable armour against the forces that break down a relationship, the most potent of which is contempt.
Contempt emerges from a pattern of negative thinking and criticism of your partner and is the No 1 predictor of divorce.
Step one: If you were to paint a verbal portrait of your partner, which words would you choose? Circle three to five choices: Warm / Funny / Generous / Calm / Creative / Passionate / Intense / Vivacious / Thoughtful / Spontaneous / Adventurous / Fun-loving / Playful / Astute / Perceptive / Nurturing / Sexy / Intelligent / Talented / Affectionate / Competent / Charming / Wise / Loving / Considerate / Attractive / Dependable / Flexible / Supportive / Curious / Interesting / Kind / Brave / Open / Easy-going / Sensitive
Step two: Today, anytime you are together, notice the ways your partner embodies those qualities.
Step three: Express it! How often do you communicate to your partner the key, essential things you love and appreciate about them? Do it more.
Ask for what you need
We all have valid desires. But we don’t say them. We drop hints. We suggest. We hope our partners will ‘just know’
Here’s what happens in distressed relationships, over and over again: We all have needs. We all have valid desires. But we don’t say them. We drop hints. We suggest. We hope our partners will ‘just know’. We tell ourselves a story about why they should be able to work it out without us having to say it (‘It’s obvious! It’s just common sense!’).
When our partners fail to fulfil those needs, we feel resentful. We begin to believe our partners don’t care, are thinking only about themselves, are too busy for us, or no longer value the relationship. And so we criticise them. When we store up resentment and criticism instead of just asking for what we need, at some point, the dam has to break. It’s like a reservoir of bad feelings, getting fuller, until all it takes is one jostle and the whole thing comes crashing down.
But all of this can be headed off by doing this simple thing: ask for what you need.
Step one: Reflect. What do you need or want? Think about what you’ve been wanting from your partner. Are you longing to spend more time with them? Do you need help with housework? Do you need to feel more supported in pursuing your career? Do you need to hear ‘I love you’ more often?
Step two: Describe yourself. Always ask for what you need by talking about how you feel.
‘I miss you. Can we spend time together tonight, no phones and no TV?’
‘I am swamped this week. Could you take something off my plate?’
‘I’m feeling so tired today. Would you do dinner, so I can rest for a few minutes?’
‘I love being held by you. Give me a hug.’
Practise the mini touch
It’s not unusual for women to begin to lose their sex drive as they age. Touch is key here too — positive, intimate, relaxing, non-sexual touch is great for us all in so many ways
There is no magical number, no set data point, on how much sex you should be having in order to have a great, fulfilling and long-lasting union. What we do know is that successful couples are the ones who most often use the power of touch to keep the fires of love alive. They touch when they’re cooking, cleaning, talking about the weather.
It’s not unusual for women to begin to lose their sex drive as they age. Touch is key here too — positive, intimate, relaxing, non-sexual touch is great for us all in so many ways, including stirring up the heat of a libido that may be in a new and less active phase. For many men (though not all), sexual desire leads to contact. For many women (again, not all), contact leads to sexual desire.
It’s about creating as many moments of physical connection as possible. How many of these can you pack in during the day?
- Kiss — for six seconds.
- Hug — for 20 seconds.
- Hold hands for as long as you like.
- Trade a ten-minute massage. One person sits on the sofa, the other on the floor. Then swap.
- Cuddle on the sofa.
- Put an arm round your partner.
- Touch each other’s hand or arm while you’re talking.
- Put a hand on your partner’s shoulder if they’re stressed.
- Touch foreheads.
- Touch feet under the table.
Set up a date fortress
Having time together is an antidote that works. It’s not about where you go — so many of us immediately think ‘restaurant’ — or about going anywhere at all
Let’s talk about loneliness within marriage. It sounds negative but it’s a fact of life for many couples. We can spend years or decades together, raise children and occupy the same space but, instead of sharing a life, we live parallel lives.
Having time together is an antidote that works. It’s not about where you go — so many of us immediately think ‘restaurant’ — or about going anywhere at all. It’s simply about a non-negotiable date in the diary to focus on each other with no distractions.
Many couples make a plan to start doing a regular date night, then work or chores or life logistics get in the way. So let us make it easy for you: this time together is a requirement. Picture us writing you a doctor’s note, a prescription signed and dated, which must be urgently filled for your health.
Making a firm commitment to spend time together, is like setting up a fortress for the two of you against the constant onslaught of the world — all the demands and deadlines and to-do tasks; the churn of chores and errands. This time is not extra. It’s not a bonus or a reward. It’s an investment.
Declare a date time, no excuses, with these ground rules:
- No screens: no phones. This is real-life, human face time.
- Don’t drink too much! Bonding over a glass of wine is just fine. But don’t imbibe to the point where you’re not yourself any more.
- Make sure you’re both on board with the plan.
- Don’t assume it’s going to end in sex. Too much pressure.
- If one person needs to vent and talk about what’s stressing them out, be open to that. Tonight does not have to be perfect or go in any particular way.
- Don’t make it a social engagement. Make sure it’s just the two of you.
- Nervous because you haven’t really talked to each other in a week, a month, a year, um, a decade? Do it anyway!
Adapted by Alison Roberts from The Seven-Day Love Prescription by Dr John Gottman and Dr Julie Gottman (£9.99, Penguin Life), out on October 27. © John Gottman PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman PhD 2022. To order a copy for £8.99 (offer valid until October 24, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
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