How to Keep the Spark Alive: Secrets from 40 Years of Love Research with Drs. Julie and John Gottman

Love. What makes it work? And, keep working for life?

That’s where we’re headed in today’s conversation with legendary co-founders of the Gottman Institute a/k/a the “Love Lab,” Julie and John Gottman. Drawing upon Julie’s decades of clinical observations and John’s 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples, they’ve developed stunning insights into what makes relationships work and last.

Julie and John lead The Art and Science of Love and many other workshops in Seattle and Julie has also co-designed the national clinical training program in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Between them, they’ve written a number of bestselling books on love and relationships, the latest of which, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, integrates their decades of collaboration into a prescription for couples to make eight dates that will bring them together and keep their relationship vibrant.

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Episode Transcript:

John Gottman: [00:00:00] In a great relationship. Even during conflict, the ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions was 5 to 1, five times as much positivity as negativity. But in unhappy relationships, it’s like negativity is like one of those whirlpools that just spiraled down and people can’t dig out of it. They’re caught in this trap, this whirlpool of negativity. But in good relationships, they have so much of a cushion of positive emotion that they easily escape. When negativity hits, they can exit as well as enter. And in unhappy relationships, they can’t exit. They can enter, but they get sucked into it and they can’t get out.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:44] So when you think about the experience that so many people pretty much say makes life worth living, the word love tends to come up pretty often, and a ton of questions tend to follow. How do you find it? How do you keep it? Can you keep it? Is staying in love something that is mythical? You only see it in the movies and TV. Is it a skill set that you develop? What are the things that tend to trip people up, and what can you do to really build beautiful relationships that allow you to stay in love for life? Is that even possible? That is where I go in my conversation today with John and Julie Gottman. They are sort of luminaries in the field of relationships and love, founders of something that has become known as the Love Lab, where for decades they have studied relationships successful, disastrous, and really been able to deconstruct and figure out what are the things that go into creating and sustaining extraordinarily beautiful in love, deeply committed relationships for long times. They have a new book out called Eight Dates as well, which is really fantastic. It is eight dates and how to have them that cover eight different topics that are super important. For pretty much anyone who is in a relationship or who is looking to find that person to explore, we dive into all of this. We dive into their personal journeys, their individual research. They both started out in psychology one, though with a very experimental mindset and the other with a very clinical mindset and came together to create not just a fantastic relationship and marriage between them, but also incredible professional collaboration that has benefited now millions of people. So excited to share this best-of conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.. I am so fascinated by you individually and by the work you’ve done together and and your latest work as well. Why don’t we start with you, John? You’re out there in the world building your career, but with a focus on the the experimental side, on love, on relationships.


John Gottman: [00:03:02] And on children.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:04] Tell me more about that part of it.


John Gottman: [00:03:05] So I, at the University of Wisconsin, I got to study with some of the great developmental psychologists in the country, Ross Park, Mavis Hetherington, people who were focusing on families. And I was very interested in the study of interacting systems, families, organizations, parents and children interacting and really focused on child clinical for a postdoc, I did, and so I’m oriented much more toward development. And, uh, and of course, that’s a really great strength at the University of Wisconsin, looking at families, looking at interaction. And that became something I got trained to do. Right.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:49] So when when you move on from the universe, Wisconsin, and you start to actually build your own thing, what becomes the central focus.


John Gottman: [00:03:57] Observation, really observing moment by moment, what’s going on in two people interacting with one another, or parents interacting with children or interacting with infants and kids in classrooms. So I started studying kids peer social relationships in classrooms and kids friendship studying. Well, how do kids make friends and why do they reject one another? And what are the consequences of peer rejection and bullying and things like that? So, you know, something that I was very interested in, sort of interacting systems, social interaction. And then I teamed up with, uh, my best friend Bob Levinson. And we combine studying emotion not only by observing, but also looking at physiology and people’s internal experience of emotion as well. So that was my focus.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:49] What were some of the big AHA’s that came out of that collaboration?


John Gottman: [00:04:53] One of them was that in a great relationship, even during conflict, the ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions was 5 to 1, five times as much positivity as negativity. Bob and I had gone from one disastrous relationship with a woman to another, and I know in my relationships I would have been happy if there was as much negativity as positivity. Not, you know, overwhelmingly more negativity. But here in great relationships it was five times as much positivity as negativity, even when they’re conflicting about something. So a great relationship was something I’d never experienced before. I hadn’t met Julie yet, but you know.


Julie Gottman: [00:05:36] Let’s make that one perfectly clear.


John Gottman: [00:05:38] That’s right.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:41] What – tell me what you mean by positivity and negativity, though. Well, all the.


John Gottman: [00:05:45] Positive emotions like interest in one another, amusement, shared humor, empathy, understanding, kindness, compassion, calming a partner down, reassuring your partner all kinds of things that people do to be nice to one another. Kindness and generosity. All those positive emotions, including joy and ecstasy and things like that which we rarely observe in a laboratory, and all the negative emotions like hostility and belligerence and domineering and anger and disappointment and sadness and hurt feelings and all those negative things, and those come out in conflict as well. But in unhappy relationships, it’s like negativity is like one of those whirlpools that just spiraled down and people can’t dig out of it. They’re caught in this trap, this whirlpool of negativity. But in good relationships, they have so much of a cushion of positive emotion that they can easily escape. When negativity hits, they can exit as well as enter. And in unhappy relationships, they can’t exit, they can enter, but they get sucked into it and they can’t get out. So that was a real surprise. In a way. Those findings are really very simple and describing the differences between happy and unhappy marriages. Um.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:05] So to think that we need five of these positive experiences for every negative experience to reach, you know, like however we describe healthy.


Julie Gottman: [00:07:17] Well, that’s only during conflict. Okay. During Non-conflict it’s 20 positives to one negative, right.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:25] What’s the how do you define conflict versus non-conflict.


Julie Gottman: [00:07:28] Conflict is when you’re trying to solve a problem and you have a disagreement okay. That’s what we mean by conflict. So you’re discussing a problem. You have different points of view about it. And you’re trying to figure out how to solve it. That’s how we’re defining conflict. So during that phase of discussion, the good couples 5 to 1 positive to one negative. And when you’re just going about, you know, your everyday interaction, you’re cooking in the kitchen, you’re, you know, just having fun with the kids, you’re hanging out together. That’s 20 positives to one negative.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:07] You see, that sounds so counterintuitive to me because how so? Because to me it sounds. You know, I would seem like okay, so when you’re in it, when you’re like when it’s, you’re in the conflict that the potential to go into that downward spiral of so much higher that you would need a higher ratio of positive to negative rather than when you’re just kind of every day things are good, but you’re going about your life that you would actually need four times that number of positive to negative, it seems.


Julie Gottman: [00:08:36] Well, here’s why we’re looking for the good enough relationship, okay? Not the perfect relationship. So any you know, disagreement typically is going to bring forth negative emotion. Right. So it’s less likely that you’re going to have a huge number of positive emotions expressed or positive interactions compared to negative. But if you can at least succeed at 5 to 1 that’s doing really well, it’s much easier to elicit the positive interactions during non-conflict times. Got it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:15] That makes sense. Now I get it. Okay, good. I’m a little slow on the uptake.


Julie Gottman: [00:09:20] No, not at all!


John Gottman: [00:09:21] Or when you’re just hanging out. Right. And your partner tries to get your attention and the other person really, you know, doesn’t respond. It seems like a small thing, but it kind of hurts when people are trying to connect, you know, and just say something like, oh, Jonathan, look out there. You know, that looks like that’s a hawk, isn’t it, on that ledge. And there’s no response. It hurts a lot more because you expect nice interaction when you’re not conflicting. So when there’s a turning away, you know, during one of those moments, it’s much more painful.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:59] Yeah, that makes sense to me. And I guess that also introduces this concept, um, from the work that you do of bids, tell me more.


Julie Gottman: [00:10:09] Um, so John and I created on the University of Washington campus, an apartment lab, and in this little apartment, we created a room that was very much like A, B, and B, so people stayed there for 24 hours. They were, you know, bringing groceries in. They would make meals. There was a TV and so on. And we watched them for 24 hours. So it was just like A, B and B, except that we had three cameras bolted to the walls. We took their urine, we took their blood, you know, but other than that, it was a perfect B and B experience. Right. And what we noticed in all of the tape we were watching was that people would make these little tiny bits for connection. So at first, you know, we couldn’t figure out what were the differences between the successful couples and the ones who didn’t do well, because we were following these couples for years after they came to the apartment lab. And finally, John and a colleague of his figured out that there were these little bids for connection, meaning you might just call your partner’s name and see if your partner said, yeah, that’s a good response to a bid for connection.


Julie Gottman: [00:11:36] Or one person would look out the window because there was a beautiful view outside and might say, wow, look at that fantastic boat going by. And the other person could do one of three things they could either turn against, which looked like, stop interrupting me, I’m trying to read. Or they could turn away. Meaning? Nothing, there’d be no response whatsoever or they could turn towards. And that would just look like this. Huh? Wow. That’s all it took and it made a huge difference. We found that when we followed these couples, the successful couples turned towards each other’s bids for connection 86% of the time. 86. That’s a lot. The disastrous couples who ended up really unhappy or divorcing turned towards each other only 33% of the time. See that difference? 53% difference in whether they turn towards or turned away or against. So we saw that this was an incredibly powerful factor in what made relationships successful or disastrous.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:57] How much of. How much of the result of success versus failure was due to the turning towards the act of turning towards versus the response to. So like the act like to me, I guess my curiosity is how much of it was about simply noticing that there was a bid being offered and acknowledging it, versus the nature of the response to the bid, like, was that something that was even reconstructible?


John Gottman: [00:13:31] No. Not usually. I mean, basically the unit was the attempt to connect and the response to it. So it’s a kind of interaction unit rather than. But it was true, interestingly enough, that in couples where there wasn’t much turning toward, there was also not very much bidding. It was not very much attempt to really connect as well. But of course, you know, in all of these findings, these are correlational findings. So we don’t know what’s causing what right is it the happy relationship that’s causing this. So we had to do experiments. And it turns out when you increase the amount of turning toward noticing bids, you know, which is an important part of that and the willingness to really meet the need that’s being expressed, sometimes non-verbally expressed, then a lot of other good stuff increases. So we could really measure and assess whether these things were causally related or just correlations of being in a happy relationship. So it turns out that these things really are skills. If you build the skills, you’ll change the nature of the relationship. That’s what Julie and I discovered when we first started working together. Julie from her, you know, really huge amount of experience doing therapy with the most distressed people. My experience measuring things. Put that together. And we created a theory with hypotheses about causal connection. And then in 23 years of working together, we could test those out. And mostly we were wrong. So the data were informing both of us. But it was the combination of her clinical experience, her sensitivity for people in pain, and my training in measurement and mathematical modeling of relationships and statistics combined together experimentally, that could create a theory that could help people.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:33] Yeah. It’s like the, the, the super skill of of observation, the super skill of coding, sort of like together creates this near magical. Yeah.


Julie Gottman: [00:15:44] Let me also point out that because we studied over 3000 couples, what we could do is look at the successful couples, see exactly what they were doing, because there were really very clear patterns about what they were doing to make their relationship successful. Then we could create exercises and interventions to help those who were distressed to do the same things in their relationships that the successful couples were doing. So we very carefully analyzed what were they doing, created exercises, tested those exercises to see if they actually worked. And sure enough, they did. And then we began teaching those to couples who came to our workshops. Who came to therapy.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:35] Yeah. So it’s almost like if John, as you described the when you noticed in the the problematic relationships that there were just very low level of bids happening in the first place, and then you do the the research to figure out causation versus correlation, then you can start to understand maybe this is actually more of learned helplessness that you just give up. Right. And then if you can see that you reverse it, say, okay, if people are learning helplessness, well then maybe they can also relearn exactly to be constructive together.


John Gottman: [00:17:06] Yeah, exactly.


Julie Gottman: [00:17:07] Beautifully, beautifully put Jonathan. What we were really trying to do is create the safety for those couples to actually make more bids for connection so that they could slowly build trust and teaching the other partner how to respond to those bids. It didn’t take a lot. It was just a small little. Tiny response like, yeah or uh.huh. That’s all it took. And they could change the whole course of their relationship over time, which.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:43] Seems so, almost so counterintuitive. You know, it’s it’s it’s that hard yet that easy.


Julie Gottman: [00:17:48] Exactly. Yeah. You’ve got it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:51] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. You at some point along the way. Also, I know in in the work that you did, you identified these things that you call the Four Horsemen. I think it’s the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, right, right, right, right. Can you sort of like, walk us and walk me through those a bit? Sure.


Julie Gottman: [00:18:11] So we found very clear patterns of negative behaviors, negative emotions and how they were expressed that were the big problem. It wasn’t the emotion that was the problem. It was how they were expressed. So let me talk about each one. Criticism is when you put the blame for a problem on a personality flaw of your partner, right? So an example of that might be something like you’re just too lazy. There’s the criticism. You’re too lazy to clean up the kitchen. So the emotion is frustration that the kitchen is dirty. Right. You’re blaming a personality flaw. Lazy. You’re blaming the problem on that personality flaw of your partner. You’re too lazy to clean up the kitchen, so it’s.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:07] Like an identity-level thing.


Julie Gottman: [00:19:08] It’s a character thing. Okay. Yes. Okay. So there’s a character trait that you’re seeing in your partner that’s very negative, very bad. And all problems come back to that particular flaw in your partner, okay? You’re too selfish. You know, you’re so thoughtless. You’re so inconsiderate. Those kinds of words are criticisms. And when you express your anger, your frustration, your resentment, and so on, by describing your partner negatively that way, that doesn’t work. It creates defensiveness. Defensiveness is the second one. Defensiveness. Um, looks like I did to clean up the kitchen. So it’s kind of righteous victimhood, right? Don’t don’t get mad at me. I’m such a good person. So that’s one form of defensiveness. Another form of defensiveness is counterattack. So you say something like, oh, yeah, well, you didn’t pay the bills, right? So you’re attacking back. All right. So defensiveness doesn’t work. You’re not taking any responsibility for the problem at all. You’re just saying, no, it’s not me or no, you’re bad. I’m good. Right? Right. All right. The third is contempt. And contempt is the worst. It’s like sulfuric acid on a relationship. So contempt is when you’re also criticizing your partner, but you’re doing it from a place of superiority, of moral superiority. And contempt manifests through sarcasm, through mockery, sometimes through a facial expression. Like, if any of you have teenagers, right? And you see that roll of the eye, you know, or the, the, you know, left cheek, left lip corner going up, you know, like with an eye roll, that is contempt and contempt makes the other person feel ashamed. It shames them. It’s saying, you know, you’re you’re so disgusting to me that I can barely look at you. That’s contempt. And not only does contempt create demise in the relationship, it’s also been found in our research to really destroy the immune system of the listener. So the number of times a listener in a relationship hears contempt correlates with how many infectious illnesses they’ll have. Wow. In the next year, this is a.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:59] Whole psychoneuroimmunology thing happening.


Julie Gottman: [00:22:01] Yes. That’s right. So it’s really hurting the immune system. The other person is probably secreting cortisol and adrenaline when they hear that contempt which erodes the immune system. So that’s the third.


Jonathan Fields: [00:22:15] So contempt literally, quite literally causes physical harm. Yes. To the other person in the relationships.


Julie Gottman: [00:22:21] Psychological harm and physical harm. You’ve got it. That’s right. So the fourth horseman is what we call stonewalling. And it looks exactly like it sounds. The other partner turns into a stone wall and doesn’t give any response whatsoever to what the speaker is trying to say. Now, we found out because John and Bob measured physiology in the lab. We found out that stonewalling, which typically happens more in men than it does in women, is a way that that person is trying to go inside and self-soothe. What we found is when that stonewaller was actually really questioned later on about their experience, they felt like they were facing a saber tooth tiger who was attacking them, and their heart rates would jump above 100 beats a minute. Even though they were sitting there quietly listening to their partner, they’d be aerobically escalated. They’d be in fight or flight because they felt so attacked and powerless at the same time.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:38] So. And but my guess is, while internally, they’re just trying to hold on for dear life, externally it probably presents as something which is disrespect, you know, as something which is you’re not even hearing me. You’re shutting down like, you know, and it’s it actually probably exacerbates the problem.


John Gottman: [00:23:58] Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:58] If these are the, the four things that are massively destructive, what can we do about them?


John Gottman: [00:24:05] Well, we when we look at the masters of relationship, we see we get additional information. So instead of criticism, most of the time the masters are reassuring their partner and pointing their finger not at their partner, but at themselves and having a very gentle beginning to the conflict discussion where they say. Hey, Jonathan, don’t get upset about this. You know I love you. You’re a great guy. I love this relationship. You know, we’re. You know, we’re doing fine. It’s just that every now and then at dinner, you know, you’ll be doing your email and that kind of that kind of makes me feel unimportant. And I wish you wouldn’t do your email during dinner. So positive. Need a positive need is there. You know, it’s what you’re asking for. You know, let’s have conversation during dinner instead of you doing your email and us being disconnected. So very gentle startup. But even when the partner was critical among the masters, they would be communicating, okay, you know, that makes sense. Sometimes I am kind of selfish. Sometimes I am really thoughtless. You’re right, you know. Tell me more about what you feel and what you need. They’re taking responsibility for the problem, unlike defensiveness, where they’re pushing it back and accelerating, you know, and counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim, they’re saying, you know, you’re probably right. There are times when I’m not a very good listener, at times when I’m not a very good partner.


John Gottman: [00:25:37] Tell me more. I want to hear more. I want to know what you need a totally different reaction than defensiveness creates. And then instead of contempt in the apartment lab, we saw them in very small moments, building respect and affection, saying things like, you know, you really look sexy this morning I’m having all these lewd thoughts about you, or thanks for getting me the butter, or thanks for doing the dishes. Or I enjoyed the conversation at dinner. They’re doing that. And when they do get physiologically aroused, they’re talking about what they need and what they feel. Okay, so they’re repairing effectively when things aren’t going well rather than stonewalling. So it’s a whole different kind of configuration where they’re communicating to their partner. You know, when you’re upset, the world stops and I listen. And I’m not defensive. I try not to be defensive. So that was kind of what we learned from the good relationships. And part of our research strategy was to oversample unhappy couples and oversample happy couples. So we had enough power statistically to describe what they were doing. And you get all these wonderful recipes that can be useful in therapy from these good relationships. It’s not just that they’re not doing the Four Horsemen, it’s that they’re doing additional things that actually build that positive climate of acceptance, understanding, shared humor, all those kinds of things that really work to make understanding much more likely.


Julie Gottman: [00:27:14] Let me add a little bit more to that. So for both criticism and contempt, you know, typically there’s anger and resentment, there’s sadness and so on. There’s typically a need that’s going on, okay, that they’re trying to express, but they’re doing it the wrong way. So we saw there was a formula actually, that John is describing. Here’s the formula I feel something I feel upset, I feel stressed, I feel angry, I’m worried. I’m threatened. I’m frustrated, I feel I feel about what they describe the situation objectively. I feel angry that the kitchen is a mess. I feel frustrated that there’s a new dent in the car. Then they say. Here’s what I need. And when they express their need, they’re expressing it positively. So they don’t say what they don’t need, what they don’t want. I don’t want you leaving the kitchen a mess. That’s a negative need. The positive need. They flip it on its head. They say, I would love it if you would wipe down the counters after dinner. They tell their partner what their partner can do to shine for them. You see. And that’s a whole nother message. Doesn’t make the person feel defensive. They’re describing themselves. They’re feeling then the situation and the positive need that can help the partner shine for them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:07] Mm.


Julie Gottman: [00:29:08] Now another thing about stonewalling that’s very important is that when somebody is what we call physiologically flooded, they stonewall and that flooding means they’re in fight or flight, that just overwhelm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:23] At that point, they’re overwhelmed.


Julie Gottman: [00:29:25] Their heart rates are high. They’re in fight or flight and physiologically inside they feel awful.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:32] You probably can’t even hear or see what’s really going on at that point.


Julie Gottman: [00:29:36] Exactly. That’s exactly right. All you perceive is attack. So what really needs to happen when somebody is stonewalling is that they need to take a break. They need to take a break. They need to call for a timeout. You know, just like sometimes we give our kids a timeout. They need to give themselves a timeout. And the best way to do that is to say to the partner, you know what, I’m flooded. Then they need to say when they’ll come back, I need to take a break. I’ll be back in an hour. And typically a break should last at a minimum 20 to 30 minutes. No longer though, than 24 hours. So they tell their partner when they’ll come back to continue to talk, because the partner will feel, you know, abandoned. Right. And then when they go away, a really important thing to do when they separate is don’t think about the fight. Don’t figure out what you should say when you come back. Because if you keep thinking about the fight, you’ll keep yourself around like you’re.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:50] Stewing and it defeats the whole process. Yeah, that’s exactly you’re like, you just keep yourself in fight or flight until you come back and it’s probably even worse. You got.


Julie Gottman: [00:30:58] It? Yeah. That’s right. So what makes better sense is to do something that’s self-soothing, something that takes your mind off it. So you can read a magazine, you can watch TV as long as it’s not one of those 6000 murder TV shows, you know where people are getting killed and killing each other. You can take a walk, you can meditate, you can do yoga. You can listen to music, play music, all those things that are self-soothing for us and come back at the designated time. If you need more time, that’s okay. Come back at the designated time and ask for more time and say the second time you’ll come back.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:38] Mm.


John Gottman: [00:31:39] Also, there’s a different goal for the Master’s in conflict. The goal for the Master’s is mutual understanding. For the disastrous. The goal is to win.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:51] That’s huge. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that shift alone


John Gottman: [00:31:55] right


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:55] Seems like it’s everything.


John Gottman: [00:31:56] It’s everything.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:57] Yeah. Because one of it is adversarial and the other is collaborative.


John Gottman: [00:32:02] Right.Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:03] Yeah.


Julie Gottman: [00:32:04] Not only is it collaborative, but it’s curious. It’s cooperative, and it’s compassionate. You’re trying to understand with compassion where your partner’s coming from with their…


John Gottman: [00:32:18] Accept your partner as they are.


Julie Gottman: [00:32:21] With their position on the issue.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:24] Yeah. It occurs to me that all of these are as as you both described. These are skills. They’re learnable skills. But it also seems like there is a meta-skill which has to be there before any of this works, which is awareness, you know, for any of this, for you to have the ability to recognize any of the things that we’re talking about and then respond intentionally rather than reactively. You’ve got to have the bigger skill of awareness, of being able to actually zoom the lens out in a moment and say, oh, what’s actually happening here? Like, what am I feeling internally? What is this other person like showing me they’re feeling and what’s happening between us? Which is a skill which I don’t think many of us are trained in.


Julie Gottman: [00:33:17] You know, Jonathan, I, I beg to differ a little bit. Let let me try to explain. Um. You know, out there today. There’s a lot of emphasis, of course, on awareness and mindfulness and so on, which I think tends to make people feel like, gosh, I’m not healthy enough. I’m not aware enough, I’m not, uh, mindful enough to be able to have a decent relationship. I’ve got to develop all that stuff first. I’ve got to be healthy in order to have a good relationship. And the reality is a little different. You know, again, back to the research. One of the things that was discovered in the research is even neurotic people, highly neurotic people, can have great relationships. And so I went, yes, I was really excited.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:15] Kind of cuts right through the whole awareness thing as the necessary thing.


Julie Gottman: [00:34:18] I was really happy about that. Yeah. So you know, the all, all that you have to do really is to know how to do two things to recognize when something doesn’t feel right. You don’t have to necessarily know what you’re feeling exactly. You just have to sense that something doesn’t feel right. And most people have that. They have that, you know, instinct, that something doesn’t feel right. It’s part of our self-preservation. Right. So notice that things don’t feel right. And then. Be curious what the heck is going on? Be able to ask questions. What is going on here? Something’s wrong. I don’t like it. What’s going on? And pause. Breathe. You know, if you can sense when something is wrong and you can breathe at the same time, that’s really a good thing. Hmm. That’s all it really takes. And then, you know, the the skills can kick in, right? Then you can learn, you know, the skills.


Jonathan Fields: [00:35:37] Yeah. I mean, and that makes a lot of sense to me. The, um, I mean, I think part of the struggle that I have with the idea, it’s not even a struggle. It’s just maybe an observation or what’s coming up in my mind is, is to sense when we feel something’s not right. I feel like so many of us are moved through life almost entirely disembodied, you know, like we’re living from the head up. We’re living cognitively, not in a sensory way. And I feel like so many of us have become disconnected from the physiological signs that our body gives us all day, every day. That would let us be like, oh, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, but something’s not right. And, uh, like and I’m sure you’ve Julie, you’ve seen this, um, especially with, uh, people who’ve been through trauma. Like one of the first things that happens, you, you disconnect from that. And, but that also shuts off all the good signals that would let you know something’s not quite right. Um hum.


Julie Gottman: [00:36:34] You’re absolutely right about that. So, you know, when folks are really suffering from trauma and a lot of people are, they try to disconnect from their physical sensations, from their emotions, from their fear, from everything. However, the thing that I’ve noticed with people in trauma, it’s interesting, is that the signals are still going on. They still have those signals in their bodies. All they have to do is turn slightly to the right and there they are right there. So it’s simply a matter of listening. It’s just listening to their body, listening to themselves. And you know, this brings up another point, which is maybe a little tangential, but here we are sitting in New York, right? And there’s a whole lot of concrete around us, tons and tons of it. And I guess I, you know, coming from the northwest where there’s forests, there’s mountains, there’s water and so on, I think there’s a way in which people have cut off from their bodies and their emotions because they’ve been cut off from nature, from their own.


Jonathan Fields: [00:37:55] So agree with that natural habitat.


Julie Gottman: [00:37:58] Right. And so. You know, in Seattle, where we’re based, certainly you see some of that cut-off, especially in the tech industry and so on, where people are really compelled to think black and white, you know, very cerebral, but not as much because people are still connecting with nature.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:23] Mhm. Yeah I completely agree with that. And it’s funny you bring that up. Where we are right now is, is strategic specifically for that reason. Because we are three blocks from Central Park, which is the size of some small cities and two blocks from the Hudson River. And because I’m so aware of exactly what you said, and I’m also I’m somebody who really I’m very tuned into my need for nature and how it affects me when I don’t have my hit that like we are, we are where we are. Because every day I’m either walking in the park or I’m walking down by the water because I just, I don’t need to be. I just need to have that as it’s my reset. It allows me to go in. I don’t need to talk to people. I’m just to get back into that, to breathe it in, you know, to breathe a little bit of the salt water from the Hudson River or just like the greenery and smell the foliage in the park is so important to me that even living in this massive city, I don’t think that I could live here without having access to both of those things on a regular basis.


Julie Gottman: [00:39:27] That totally makes sense. Totally makes sense to me. 


Jonathan Fields: [00:39:32] Yeah.


John Gottman: [00:39:32] Well, Jonathan, one of the reasons that we wrote this book, Eight Dates, was because. Many long-term relationships. People get so busy in their lives they get so absorbed with the. The minutia of career and children that their lives turn into this infinite to do list, and they’re not making time for one another. And so we wanted to write a book that would create eight dates in which people could connect with one another, and we could rekindle curiosity in one another. And that’s what these dates are for. They’re for really talking about, you know, what do you need in terms of play, adventure, fun? You know, what’s intimate? Connection, sexuality. What about money? What do you feel about money? What’s enough money? Why is money so important? What’s the history of your family with money and your own life with money? So these eight dates are designed to reconnect people. And some of that is about nature. It’s about sense of meaning, about life, dreams, shared purpose, children, community, family, all those kinds of things.


Jonathan Fields: [00:40:43] Yeah. And what’s interesting to me about, I mean, the book is fabulous, by the way. It’s called Eight Dates. And we’ll certainly we’ll mention it in the show notes as well. Um, it was interesting to me that, that you wrote this book. Also, initially it sounds like for people who are looking to find love, like, here are eight days that you can go on and eight really important things to talk about and explore with a sense of openness and curiosity to find out. Are you with somebody who may be compatible, you know, long term, but it also seems like along the way, you know, like you you both realize, oh, this isn’t just for, you know, like exploring new love. This is for people who have been together for, for potentially decades to go back in and not only revisit conversations, but maybe have conversations that you’ve never had, even though you may be together for, you know, like a very long time, which I thought was really interesting.


John Gottman: [00:41:41] So we feel tested these days with 300 couples, um, you know, we we like to be empirical. These, these couples or gay couples, lesbian couples, heterosexual couples. And they agreed to to audiotape their dates so we could listen to the dates and make sure they worked.


Julie Gottman: [00:41:59] Right. So, um, you know, what we saw was also coming from a lot of our clinical work, which is that couples can be together for decades, just like you’re pointing out. And because their lives are so busy, as John was mentioning, they haven’t stayed in tune with each other. Right? So each individual is evolving over time, over the years, but they’re not staying in tune with how that other person is changing, how they’re evolving, how their values may have changed, how their experiences are turning them in different directions. So with each chapter, we focused on something that is really important in relationships. That’s what we’ve learned from our research. And each date is constructed so that, um, you prepare for the date by thinking about this particular topic and addressing some questions individually, then coming together. And we describe some fun activities you can do on each date and discuss particular questions we’ve laid out that really take a deeper path into understanding each other. So questions like, you know, for example, the chapter on money, how did your parents show that you either had enough money or not enough money? What did money mean in your family? Did it mean freedom? Did it mean power? Did it mean security? And what do you want it to mean in this relationship? How much money is enough? What are your values around money? How much money do you want? That would leave you feeling what? Secure, powerful, etc..


Julie Gottman: [00:43:58] Why is money meaningful to you? So we have chapters on money, family, sex and intimacy. What do you really like sexually? How did you learn about sex when you were a kid? That’s a hilarious part of the conversation. Um, most people didn’t. Or they learned through pornography or something. Who the heck knows? Also, chapters on dreams. What are your dreams? Did your family when you were growing up honor your dreams? Did you even get to voice them? And what are your dreams now? And how can I support you with those living those dreams? Your underlying purpose for being on this planet as well as spirituality? Some people have developed spirituality. Some people have lost it. Some people are not interested in it. So who are you regarding that topic? So the conversations are all very deepening of the relationship. We even have one on conflict. But it’s not about okay, let’s have a fight. It’s not that at all. Instead, what it is, is so what’s the style in which you feel most comfortable discussing a problem? How did your family handle conflicts and how do you want to? It’s more like that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:25] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. I mean, it’s really interesting. Also, um, my wife and I are about to become empty nesters.


Julie Gottman: [00:45:35] Woo.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:36] And so it’s fascinating.


Julie Gottman: [00:45:38] you’re not Old enough for that, Jonathan.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:40] Oh, I am. 


Julie Gottman: [00:45:40] You’re Like, you know, 30 years old


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:42] My hairline clearly reveals I’m old now. Um, so it’s interesting to me because when I think about even if you’ve had these conversations or some variation of them very early in the relationship, so many people, when they become parents, then all of a sudden all the focus goes to the children, the family, the family unit becomes the center of everything. Everything happens on behalf of the family and very often the kids. What’s best for the kids. And then, you know, you go about life and then if you’re fortunate and and, you know, the kids grow up and at some point they move out and you find yourself in this place of, oh, it’s just us again. You know, but it’s been probably decades since it’s been just us. This is such a fascinating set of exercises to revisit and sort of it’s almost like saying, and who who are we now? You know?


John Gottman: [00:46:37] Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:38] Yeah.


John Gottman: [00:46:38] So, you know, we wrote the book, uh, to be an experience. I mean, how often is a book an experience other than reading it? But you go and have the experience of rekindling curiosity in your partner. None of the dates are confrontational. They’re all fun and exploratory. Yeah, that’s the idea.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:58] One, you brought up a bunch of different topics that the dates are about. One of them kind of jumps out that I want to explore a little bit more, and that’s the date around sex and sexuality. Um, especially because very often that, that and money are like the two huge sources of both tremendous joy and connection and tremendous pain and separation. Mhm. Um, so if we talk about, you know, potentially just quickly about each one of them, but sex, you know, it’s, it feels like a topic that even more than money can be the source of great unhappiness. And people just don’t want to talk about or address how, how important is sex really over the long-term success of a relationship? Can it actually stay alive and healthy for decades and decades and decades? And how does that conversation unfold? To a certain extent.


John Gottman: [00:47:50] Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think, uh, Helen Fisher at Rutgers University has written a lot about this. She studied this idea of being in love. And a lot of people have said, well, being in love has a shelf life of about 18 months. Beyond that, you can’t sustain it. It’s too exhausting, you know? And then you love your partner, but you’re not in love with your partner. That turns out to be a myth. You can stay in love with your partner forever. There’s no shelf life to being in love. And again, science has helped us understand what’s involved in that. And the answer is it’s not very complicated. It’s not rocket science. A study of 70,000 people in 24 countries, recently done found that couples who have great sex life are really different from couples who say their sex life is not alive anymore, and they’re different in very simple ways. They say, I love you every day and mean it. They’re affectionate even in public. They give compliments to their partner. They cuddle, I found, find time to cuddle. They have a weekly romantic date. They they pay attention to their partner. They continue to play and have fun together. And that’s really vital. So our data play, fun and adventure is very important. And analyzing 40,000 couples about to start couples therapy that I’ve done, 80% of those couples say that fun has come to die in their relationship. And that’s so sad. So fun. Play adventure, uh, touch, affection, sexuality, emotional connection. They’re all one fabric and they can stay alive forever.


Julie Gottman: [00:49:32] Um, one of the other things that is really important. In couples, um, sexually. To keep that passion alive is being able to talk about sex. You know, a lot of times when we listen to couples clinically talk about sex, you have no idea of what they’re talking about. You know, they’ll say things like, well, you know, when you did that thing, that thing last night, it was really great. But, you know, it wasn’t quite right. And so I would like something else. And it’s really hard to put into words, you know, they’ll say things like that and you have no idea what they’re talking about. They may be talking about what they had for dinner. Right. So people need to learn how to talk about what their sexual needs are. They need to also be able to refuse sex if they need to, if they want to, without crushing the other person’s ego. You know, a lot of times when people bring up what their sexual preferences are, the other person hears it as criticism. Somehow that other person believes they should read the person’s mind and body and know exactly what kind of touch they want, what where they want to be touched, how hard they want to be touched, what’s going to feel right for them, what the tempo of the sex should be? Well, how can they know all of that without really being able to talk about it? So in this chapter, you know, it starts with kind of those fun questions of how did you learn about it? But then it goes into, well, what is it that you would prefer? What do you like sexually? What kind of intimacy do you really prefer? Where do you like to have sex? How often? When do you like to have sex? What’s your favorite time for it? In what ways would you like to be touched? What would you like for foreplay? Things like that, so that people can be really clear and on the same page and feel comfortable having sex. Feeling safe enough because they know what their other partner likes to. Simple as that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:51] I think it’s really interesting also to, um, to do this as an exercise, because in this particular date, you lay out a set of questions that serve as prompts that don’t come from either partner. So it’s almost like somebody else is telling us that these are the questions. These are the things that we, you know, we have to talk to each other about. Um, and it almost says, well, I’m just I’m, I’m just following the instructions of this particular exercise rather than the uncomfortable thing of, like, here’s my checklist of things that, you know, like in a weird way, I think that probably feels more comfortable to people, right? One of the things that that popped into my head when I was sort of thinking about this also, is that we live in a world right now where anxiety runs rampant, where sort of like there’s a heightened state of anxiety in so many people. It’s causing stress, it’s causing a lot of psychological angst. And my curiosity is, how does that how have you seen that affect people and their desire for sex, the way that they interact around sex? And with that being such a part of the culture these days, how do you have that conversation?


Julie Gottman: [00:53:05] Mm, God. I love that question. Well, okay, a couple of things. First of all, the millennials went through, you know, at a very critical age, usually adolescence. They went through 2008, the big economic crash. They as teenagers were not able to get jobs. They were seeing their parents lose jobs. They might have lost homes. They might be on the streets. You know, that’s the worst case. And as a result, there’s a ton of performance anxiety going on that generalizes into the bedroom. So that’s one thing. Um, and so there’s a lot of emphasis on, oh my God, I have to have a career. I’ve got to have, you know, a job relationship. Well, maybe that’ll come later. So. Still they have sexual desire. So what crops up? Tinder? Or Bumble, where there’s sexual connections going on that are impersonal, that are not built on deep intimacy, deep connection, that don’t have anything, if you will, of of the sacred in them. Or, you know, that deeper layer of intimacy and passion. They’re more for physical reasons sometimes. And there’s performance anxiety involved in that because you don’t know the partner at all. And so what does sex become? But can I reach the goal? Right. So it becomes performance. Am I going to score a touchdown here? So you know that’s a very painful thing to see out there. The other thing is that there’s so much pornography that people are using almost in, in, in some cases in an addictive way to relieve their stress, relieve their tension, their anxiety. But unfortunately, the porn out there, um, sets them up to have, again, very impersonal sex in which they are the ones controlling it all. There’s nothing about porn, that is. What would you like? What? They’re not saying that to the screen image. Right? So it’s non-relational. Then they go into a real situation. What do they do? Well, it’s not necessarily going to be emotionally intimate and really interactive except on a physical level. So, you know, that’s one manifestation that we’re seeing out there of all the anxiety or people just shutting down and not having sex because they’re afraid that if I have sex, does that mean I have to commit? Does that mean I have to have a relationship? I’m scared to have a relationship. I’m not ready for a relationship. My parents divorced. I don’t want one. So people are reluctant. To really engage in a deeper sexual connection.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:30] Hmm.


John Gottman: [00:56:31] Are there cultural differences in America, too, that are really important? And a lot of times people don’t have access to the subcultures in America that actually do sex very well and do romance very well. So in a very large study that we did with the Reader’s Digest, where the Gallup poll did all the work, we were able to ask about sexuality. I learned that in Hispanic and Latino cultures in the United States, actually, you don’t feel like a man unless you know what turns your woman on. You don’t feel like a woman unless you know what turns your man on. So inquiry is a very important part. And when children come, it becomes even more important in Hispanic and Latino cultures to really emphasize sexuality. It’s not the last item of a long to do list. And with gay and lesbian couples we studied in our laboratory, they’re much more comfortable talking about sex in a non-defensive way, using humor and really listening to one another and being able to talk about it comfortably. Compared to the European cultures, the African cultures in the United States that really are much more uncomfortable talking about sex and where it’s seen as a test of your masculinity or femininity.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:48] Hmm. Yeah. And I never really even thought about the the idea that there’s a cultural overlay to all of this. So I want to start to come full circle with us. Um, but I thought I’d share a comment. What, um, what our listeners can’t see is, as we’ve been sitting here, we’re in a little triangle. Um, and as you’ve both been talking, I’m watching a dance happen between you, which is. Which is fascinating and beautiful. Um, it’s this I mean, literally, you know, what our listeners can’t see is you’re you’re sort of like, you keep tossing the ball to each other, there’s a knowing glance like this is you, and then like. And you and you and there’s this, like, really graceful dance that’s been going on at the same time. So, um, is that natural or have you guys been practicing all of these things for a lot of years?


Julie Gottman: [00:58:38] Ah, well, let’s see, I you know, I think it, um, has evolved over time. So yes, we have practiced we have practiced, uh, and reached agreements and we also because we know each other so well, we know who’s strong in what topic. And so, you know, we’ve now got signals I signals to each other. But that’s kind of evolved over time to more naturally as to, okay, that’s your topic. I have no idea of how to answer that. Right? Um.


John Gottman: [00:59:25] And I have to learn not to interrupt. You know, there are times when I get real enthusiastic about something Julie is saying, and I want to add something to it. And I have to learn how to be quiet and just wait for her to finish. And I make mistakes.


Julie Gottman: [00:59:40] We both do. But, you know, part of the thing is that’s funny, speaking of cultures, is that, you know, John is from New York, so he’ll talk fast. And, you know, I’m from Oregon, where we talk really slowly. And so poor John is stuck, you know, having to wait and wait and wait, uh, being a New Yorker and also the other thing, you know, that is so true, both of us are Jewish is that, you know, interruption in argument is Jewish love. So, you know, we have to slow things down a little bit.


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:18] That’s too funny. It’s funny. Yeah. I’m in Portland at least a few times a year. And. 


Julie Gottman: [01:00:22] Oh, neat.


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:23] It never it never stops to amaze me that wherever I go to get a cup of coffee, I’ll step up to the counter and the person behind the counter just look at me and say, hey, so, so what are you up to today?


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:35] And I’m like, we don’t do that in New York. We don’t ask, we don’t answer, we don’t want to know. And it’s so it’s like it’s this perfect or like just that one moment really demonstrates the difference in the way that we, we exist from the two different coasts.


Julie Gottman: [01:00:51] This is true.


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:52] So as we come full circle here, uh, the name of this is Good Life Project, if I offer out the phrase to each of you to live a good life, what comes up?


Julie Gottman: [01:01:01] Oh. Well, um, what that means to me, uh, is keep living your purpose. So. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what’s my purpose when I was in India. The problems there that I witnessed were so overwhelming. But eventually, as I wrote and wrote and wrote in my journal, I realized if I could just help one person, uh, to heal, by golly, you know, it would never offset all the luxury. I grew up with all the advantages and privileges I grew up with. But, you know, I’ll try by reaching out and trying to help other people. That’s my purpose. So live a good life for me means continuing to do what I do and throwing a little nature in there every now and then.


John Gottman: [01:02:04] Well, for me, uh, I think one of the really big realizations is that a really good love relationship is your best guarantee of health, longevity, happiness, success in life. And the emphasis is always so much in love relationships on getting the love you want. But I think what you really gain in a love relationship is you gain the ability to love. The joy is the opportunity to love fully, and that emphasis is what makes for good living. I think that ability to love your children well, to love your partner well, and that’s what you get.


Julie Gottman: [01:02:48] Hmm. Can I just modify that phrase to fit what you’re saying? Which is give the love you want. Right?


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:57] Mm. Thank you both.


Julie Gottman: [01:02:59] Thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [01:03:01] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you will also love the conversation we had with Eli Finkel about the self-actualized marriage. You’ll find a link to Eli’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.

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