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‘Magic 6 hours’ could dramatically improve your relationship

 When John Gottman talks, I listen.

Actually I’ve never heard him talk, but when he writes, I read.

So when a newly revised edition of his best-selling “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” (Harmony Books) hit my desk this week, I cracked it open immediately.

Gottman is a psychology professor at the University of Washington and the founder/director of The Gottman Institute, a marital research and counseling center in Seattle.

Maybe you’ve read about his theory on “master couples” versus “disaster couples.”

Co-authored with Nan Silver, “Seven Principles,” which has sold a million-plus copies, was first released in 1999 — before Tinder, before Facebook — heck, before some of us even had cellphones.

The updated version (out next week) offers tips for dealing with digital distractions, including Gottman’s suggestion to agree on rules of tech etiquette: How much are you comfortable with your partner sharing on social media? When is texting/posting off-limits (mealtimes, date nights)? Do you create cyber-free zones in your home?

Most compelling of all, though, is Gottman’s “magic six hours” theory, based on interviews with couples who attended marital workshops at The Gottman Institute.

“We wondered what would distinguish those couples whose marriages continued to improve from those whose marriages did not,” Gottman writes. “To our surprise, we discovered that they were devoting only an extra six hours a week to their marriage.”

If your first thought is, “Only? Where am I going to find an extra six hours in my week?” — I hear you.

If that was not your first thought, forget I said anything.

Anyway, back to the winning formula.

Couples who saw their relationships improve devoted extra time each week to six categories.

First up: Partings

“Make sure that before you say goodbye in the morning you’ve learned about one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day,” Gottman writes. “From lunch with the boss to a doctor’s appointment to a scheduled phone call with an old friend.”

(Two minutes per day for five days, for a grand total of 10 minutes per week.)

Second: Reunions

Gottman recommends greeting your partner each day with a hug and kiss that last at least six seconds and ending each workday with stress-reducing conversation that lasts at least 20 minutes. (About 1 hour and 40 minutes per week.)

Third: Admiration and appreciation

Spend five minutes every day finding a new way to communicate genuine appreciation for your spouse, he says. (35 minutes per week.)

Fourth: Affection

“Show each other physical affection when you’re together during the day, and make sure to always embrace before going to sleep,” he writes. (Five minutes per day, seven days a week: 35 minutes.)

Fifth: Weekly date

For two hours once a week, Gottman recommends one-on-one time, during which you ask each other open-ended questions. “Think of questions to ask your spouse, like, ‘Are you still thinking about redecorating the bedroom?’ ‘Where should we take our next vacation?’ or ‘How are you feeling about your boss these days?'” (2 hours per week.)

Sixth: State of the union meeting

Spend one hour a week talking about what went right that week, discussing what went wrong and expressing appreciation for each other. “End by each of you asking and answering, ‘What can I do to make you feel loved this coming week?'” he writes. (1 hour per week.)

All of it adds up to six hours per week.

Some of these suggestions sound a tad awkward. “What can I do to make you feel loved this coming week?” reminds me a little too much of the last time I bought a car. (“What can I do to earn your business today?”)

But I like to think of marital advice like the food pyramid: You’re not going to adhere to it every day, but it’s an instructive guide to shape your habits around.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-improve-relationship-in-six-hours-balancing-20150430-column.html

There’s No Such Thing as Equal Parenting

I have a feminist marriage, except I also don’t.

I’ve been meaning to write this piece for weeks, but I’ve been too busy parenting. In fact, I’m only starting this after the dog’s been walked and fed, the baby’s had some food placed optimistically in front of him and been convinced to go to sleep, and the dishes have been (mostly) done. There’s a pile of clean, unfolded laundry in the hamper and another wet one festering in the washer, but I’m choosing to ignore both. I know that if I take those five minutes to put the damp clothes in the dryer and another 15 to fold the dry ones, it’ll somehow be 30 minutes before I’m back at my computer, and this sliver of nighttime quiet is precious, precious time.

My husband and I didn’t give much thought to what would happen when our careers ran up against the challenges of having a child. We had muddled through the domestic stuff fairly decently until then―or at least that’s how it seems in retrospect. And then we dropped a kid into the mix and what seemed like occasionally uneven scales tilted dramatically in one direction. I don’t mean to imply that my husband doesn’t help. He’s a modern, enlightened, all-around good sport who is especially receptive when handed to-do lists, although he often greets them with an “I’ll do my best”―a phrase I’ve come to loathe for its impervious good intentions.

Man washing dishes

But the truth―and he would not contest it―is that I do more. Once, in a fit of peevishness, I tracked every minute he and I devoted to household work and tallied the figure at the end of the week. I had done over 12 hours, my husband just over five. I accounted for our totals for a few more weeks and then gave up because of―what else?―lack of time. Was this tabulating ungenerous and shrewish? Probably. Did that make its conclusions any less annoying? No.

The disparities are augmented on nights like tonight when he’s across the ocean tending to business, and I’m at home white-knuckling it on my own. Because of some combination of social, professional, and financial pressures, he travels more for work, works longer hours, and when, in a few weeks’ time, we have our second child, I’ll take about 12 weeks of leave from my job and he’ll take two.

We are far from alone, although we are, in many ways, on the extremely fortunate end of the spectrum. We have a babysitter who works pretty much full-time Monday through Friday, allowing us both to have careers, and local grandparents who help out with childcare. We’re able to pay someone to clean our apartment every now and then and someone to come fix cabinet doors that won’t stay shut. All this means that we spend less time than the average American woman or man on household work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: She clocks in at 2.6 hours a day; he logs 2.1. (Childcare, in the BLS’s metrics, is broken out as a separate category, but women still exceed men in those responsibilities.)

WAS THIS TABULATING UNGENEROUS AND SHREWISH? PROBABLY. DID THAT MAKE ITS CONCLUSIONS ANY LESS ANNOYING? NO.

But all that good fortune doesn’t stop me from harboring resentment about the disparity in our household labors and wondering if the dream of an egalitarian marriage―hell, even the honest attempt―inevitably collapses under the responsibilities of child-rearing, when social pressures amplify and leisure time diminishes. Because, I thought in some subconscious section of my brain that I’d married a Marty Ginsburg (husband of Ruth Bader) or an Andrew Moravcsik (husband of Anne-Marie Slaughter), a man with ambition and drive but also a willingness to put his own career on the back-burner when his wife’s was taking off.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg being sworn into the Supreme Court
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with her husband in the background, as she’s sworn into the Supreme Court.

40 Date Night Questions

Forgo the dinner and a movie and go straight to really connecting with your spouse. Love is not self sustaining but requires constant maintenance. We can often get stuck on surfacey conversations but need to work hard at diving deep in to heart level conversations. Don’t talk about this kids soccer schedules, your crazy boss, or your never ending to do list.  Instead take these questions with you on your next date night and take turns answering them. Spend the time listening to your spouse’s heart and soul.

What is your favorite memory as a child?

What’s my best physical feature?

If you could change one thing about your looks, what would it be?

What is your favorite memory of us dating?

Which of your parents are you most like?

What are your top 3 strengths?

What’s a new hobby you’d like to try?

How often do you prefer sex?

What was the first thing you thought of me?

If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

What do you like most that I do in bed?

How would you describe an ideal day?

What is something I can do to make us feel connected even more?

What do you think we need to work on the most in our relationship?

What can I do to make sure you feel safe with me?

What’s the happiest you’ve ever felt?

What do you want to do when you retire?

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?

What’s another career that you think you’d love?

If you could go back in time, what age would you be?

Are you an optimist, pessimist or realist?

What was your favorite date night you’ve ever had with me?

What can I do that best says, “I love you.”?

In what areas are we the same?

Tell me a time when you felt really close to me?

How are we different?

Who do you know that has the best marriage? And what can we do to get there?

What’s your biggest regret in life?

If you bought a boat, what would you name it? 

When did you first know you loved me?

How have I succeeded in our marriage this week?

What fears do you have?

What brings you the most joy?

How can I show you love this week?

If you gave money to charity, which one would you pick and why?

What turns you on?

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

What things do I do for you that refresh you the most?

What’s a question you’ve never asked me?

http://marriage365.org/40-date-night-questions/