8 dates built to nour­ish re­la­tion­ships

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY -

I’m just go­ing to say it. I can’t imag­ine most cou­ples — in­clud­ing my hus­band and me — fol­low­ing “Eight Dates: Es­sen­tial Con­ver­sa­tions for a Life­time of Love” to the let­ter.

I have mad re­spect for the au­thors, world-renowned mar­riage ex­perts and Gottman In­sti­tute co-founders John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. To­gether with their co-au­thors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carl­ton Abrams, they bring decades of sci­en­tific and clin­i­cal re­search to the ta­ble. Their work is solid.

Their new book, out in time for Valen­tine’s Day, spells out eight dates ev­ery cou­ple should go on and the con­ver­sa­tions that should tran­spire.

“Re­la­tion­ships don’t last with­out talk,” they write. “This book will help you cre­ate your own love story by giv­ing you the frame­work for the eight con­ver­sa­tions you and your part­ner should have be­fore you com­mit to each other, or once you’ve com­mit­ted to each other, as well as through­out the years, when­ever it is time to recom­mit. That might hap­pen when you have a baby, when one of you loses a job, dur­ing a health cri­sis, or when the re­la­tion­ship has be­gun to feel stale.” Bril­liant.

Still. I have a hard time imag­in­ing meet­ing my hus­band’s gaze across the ta­ble, tak­ing a sip of wine and say­ing, “I com­mit to cre­at­ing our own ro­man­tic rit­u­als for con­nec­tion and cre­at­ing more pas­sion out­side of the bed­room by ex­press­ing my af­fec­tion and love for you.” (Pause for more wine.) “I com­mit to hav­ing a six-sec­ond kiss ev­ery time we say good­bye or hello to each other for the next week. I com­mit to dis­cussing, ex­plor­ing and re­new­ing our sex­ual re­la­tion­ship.”

And yet, there it is. On Page 112. “Take turns read­ing this af­fir­ma­tion out loud to each other. Main­tain eye con­tact while recit­ing.”

The au­thors sent more than 300 cou­ples — mar­ried, un­mar­ried, het­ero­sex­ual, same-sex — on the sug­gested dates and asked them to share their ex­pe­ri­ences. The cou­ples re­ported be­com­ing bet­ter friends and fall­ing more deeply in love.

I be­lieve it. But I be­lieve it the way I be­lieve eat­ing raw kale for lunch ev­ery day will keep me health­ier. I’ll eat some raw kale. But I’m also go­ing to eat tacos.

And maybe that’s the way to ap­proach “Eight Dates” — as a menu. You pick and choose what your re­la­tion­ship is hun­gry for and leave the rest for an­other day.

No. 1: The “lean on me” date: This one’s in­tended to get you talk­ing about trust, com­mit­ment and what makes you feel safe and cher­ished. With­out blam­ing or ac­cus­ing, ask each other:

How did your par­ents show their com­mit­ment to each other? How did they show a lack of com­mit­ment to each other? What do you need from me to show that I’m com­mit­ted? What ar­eas do you think we need to work on to build trust?

No. 2: The “agree to dis­agree” date: This is in­tended to help you ad­dress, rather than flee from, con­flict. Be­fore you head out, the book sug­gests an ex­er­cise that asks you and your part­ner to con­sider some of your dif­fer­ences — in neat­ness, punc­tu­al­ity, want­ing time apart ver­sus want­ing time to­gether, how you so­cial­ize. With the recog­ni­tion that not ev­ery con­flict can (or needs to be) re­solved, talk about how to ac­com­mo­date those dif­fer­ences and ask the fol­low­ing:

How was con­flict han­dled in your fam­ily grow­ing up? How do you feel about anger? How do you like to make up af­ter a dis­pute?

No. 3: The “let’s get it on” date: In which you dis­cuss how sex and pas­sion should/will look in your re­la­tion­ship. With an open mind and a will­ing­ness to be vul­ner­a­ble, ask some of the fol­low­ing:

What are some of your fa­vorite times we’ve had sex? Is there some­thing you’ve al­ways wanted to try, but have never asked? What can I do to make our sex life bet­ter?

No. 4: The “cost of love” date: Work and money are the themes here, and the au­thors pro­vide a ques­tion­naire to com­plete be­fore your date. How well off were your par­ents? Did your fam­ily take va­ca­tions to­gether when you were grow­ing up? What is your most painful money mem­ory?

Ar­rive at the date pre­pared to dis­cuss your an­swers, and ask each other some of the fol­low­ing: How do you feel about work now? What is your big­gest fear around money? What do you need to feel safe talk­ing about how you spend money or make money?

No. 5: The “room to grow” date: Here’s where you talk about what fam­ily looks like to each of you. The con­ver­sa­tions on this date vary, ob­vi­ously, de­pend­ing whether you’re a newish cou­ple or mar­ried with kids.

For cou­ples with­out kids, they sug­gest: What does your ideal fam­ily look like? Just us? Kids? What prob­lems do you think we might have main­tain­ing in­ti­macy in our fu­ture fam­ily?

For cou­ples with kids: How did (or didn’t) your par­ents ap­pear to main­tain their close­ness af­ter chil­dren? How will we?

No. 6: The “play with me” date: Be­cause shared ad­ven­ture and fun breed hap­pi­ness, this date en­cour­ages cou­ples to think of new things to try to­gether. (Go fish­ing! Rent Seg­ways!)

Show up for the date with a list of things you’d like to try, and talk about the fol­low­ing af­ter you share your lists: What ad­ven­tures do you want to have be­fore you die? What’s a one-day ad­ven­ture you could imag­ine us hav­ing to­gether?

No. 7: The “some­thing to be­lieve in” date: Growth and spir­i­tu­al­ity are the top­ics here. The key, on this one, is ask­ing ques­tions be­fore as­sum­ing you know what your part­ner be­lieves.

They sug­gest ask­ing: What car­ries you through your most dif­fi­cult times? How have you changed in your re­li­gious be­liefs over the course of your life? What spir­i­tual be­liefs do you want to pass on to our kids?

No. 8: The “life­time of love” date: Talk about your dreams. Not the one where you keep show­ing up for the his­tory fi­nal naked. The one where you find out what your part­ner wants most out of life: To travel the world? To com­pete and win at some­thing? To fi­nally ask a par­tic­u­lar per­son for for­give­ness?

Again, there’s a ques­tion­naire to fill out ahead of the date. Again, there are ques­tions to ask on the date. On this one, though, I want to high­light the af­fir­ma­tion you’re sup­posed to tell each other out loud:

“I com­mit to fully ex­plor­ing and un­der­stand­ing your dreams and to do­ing one thing to sup­port one of your dreams in the next six months.”

How beau­ti­ful is that? I feel like that state­ment alone, said with sin­cer­ity, could launch and sus­tain a life­time of love.

Join the Heidi Stevens Balanc­ing Act Face­book group, where she hosts live chats ev­ery Wed­nes­day at 1 p.m.

AR­TUR DEBAT/GETTY

A new book spells out dates ev­ery cou­ple should go on and the con­ver­sa­tions that should tran­spire.

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