My spouse just returned from nine days on business, plus a golf trip. After 25 years together, we both enjoyed the space. After all, to paraphrase Rilke, protecting each other’s solitude is the counterintuitive key to staying together.
Any second now, though, things will go back to “normal” — swept back into the busyness of life and not necessarily prioritizing working on the relationship. Maybe that’s because we figure “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which leaves a wide berth.
However, anyone in a close relationship — be it romantic or platonic — can up-level their connection through a simple hack taught by John and Julie Gottman, renowned relationship experts and authors of the new book, The Love Prescription: 7 Days to More Intimacy, Connection and Joy. You just have to take a turn for the better.
Calling Dr. Love
A bit about the Gottmans: happily married since 1987, they run The Gottman Institute, working with couples and therapists that are certified in their methods. The pair claim it only takes them 15 minutes of observing a couple’s interactions to predict up to 90% accuracy whether the union will be happy and last.
Through decades of research, the Gottmans are confident in making broad statements like that and others; for example, 69% of relationship issues don’t get solved. They also qualify the four communication styles that sabotage a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
These are all part of what couples therapist Terrence Real calls “normal marital hatred.” Left unchecked, they can also be contributing factors to a gray divorce. The Gottmans assert to stay together, you must counteract the lamenting with some love.
Turn Around Bright Eyes
The good news is a little injection goes a long way. The Gottmans use a tea analogy to explain:
A relationship is a cup of tea that you can flavor how you want. You can use salt, or you can opt for sugar.
Their #1 relationship hack is to “turn toward” your partner when they reach out. Sounds easy in theory, but it’s not so simple when the dog pooped in the house, you just got back from taking your kid to get his wisdom teeth out, you’re on a work deadline, and your partner makes a “bid for connection” by trying to tell you about, say, a golf trip.
Just a random example.
You have three response options: ignore (turn away), react negatively (turn against), or acknowledge positively (turn toward). As it turns out, even the slightest response, like a nod, touch, or “uh-huh,” counts as “turning toward.”
And if that’s all it takes to improve your relationship, I say do it. (If I did, so can you 😉) After all, I do is what got you here in the first place.
How Long Does It Take to Fix a Marriage? Give the Gottmans 7 Days. (New York Times)