8 dates built to nourish relationships
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.
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A new book spells out dates every couple should go on and the conversations that should transpire.