Happy Valentine’s Day Reddit!

John and Julie Gottman here from The Gottman Institute. We built the "Love Lab" in Seattle where we observed more than 3,000 couples—some for as long as 20 years—to understand how to predict relationship success in 15 minutes with 94% accuracy. In addition to writing the New York Times bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, we recently published our newest book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which is available now.

Ask us anything.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/ufYYY8p

UPDATE: We’re out of time, everybody. Thank you for these deeply intelligent and honest questions. We appreciate your participation and welcome you to reach out to us on our website or social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

Comments: 594 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

nacholibra7556 karma

I keep meeting potential partners who are great on paper, but I don't feel a spark. Should I keep holding out for that special feeling?

gottmaninst1294 karma

A lot of time, on first dates, people are really nervous. They’re awkward, they’re on their best behavior, or they’re anxious. When people are anxious, you often don’t get to see who people really are. They get tongue-tied; they can’t think very well. So it’s difficult to know whether or not you can feel a spark with that person.

Try going on two or three dates with somebody who even seems mildly attractive to you and then see what happens. Hopefully the nerves will subside, you’ll get a chance to see the real person—or at least catch a glimpse of them—and maybe see that actually they’re funny—even hilarious—and kind.

throwaway5456784446 karma

My husband and I participated in pre-/post-marital counseling for a few years and a lot of the work that we did was based on your work, so first, thanks for the help!

Question: we talked a lot about the Four Horsemen and how to avoid falling into those patterns and, instead, finding more productive ways to manage conflict. We're pretty decent at staying respectful and empathetic, but sometimes it's just really hard to avoid getting heated in the moment. Do you have any advice for keeping a cool head when emotions are running high?

gottmaninst664 karma

When you’re dealing with a topic you know may get heated about, it’s a great idea for the listener to have a clipboard or a notebook and take notes of what the speaker is saying because the process of writing things down keeps you cool. Otherwise, if you do get heated, it’s always great to:

  1. Take a break.
  2. Telling your partner when you’ll come back to talk again (so they won’t feel abandoned).
  3. During your break, don’t think about the best retort for what you heard your partner say. Instead, get your mind off the discussion so your body has a chance to cool down, get calm, and you, in turn, can feel soothed.
  4. Then return at the designated time to talk again.

Another idea is the following: when you just start getting warm, let alone hot under the collar, slow things down a little. Make a repair by saying something like:

“This is getting a little too heated for me. Can you say what you need in different words, please?”

Sparkeys376 karma

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, thank you so much for doing this AMA! My girlfriend and I unknowingly bought each other a couple of your books for Valentine’s Day, and we’re looking forward to reading them!

One question that we have that hasn’t been covered in the literature we’ve read so far is how did you know you found “the one?” Does “the one” even exist, or is it more about attempting to build a relationship out of mutual respect and friendship?

gottmaninst902 karma

John: I would say that there always are a range of “ones” that you can actually have a very good life with. It’s not just one person. But to tell whether this person is right for you, I think you have to really see whether there’s a sense of respect or affection between the two of you and an ease in being together.

Julie: One of the most important things to look for is: is your partner a good listener? Do they listen to you when you’re sad, angry, joyous, down? If that person is willing to be there for you in lots of different circumstances—not perfectly, mind you—but the majority of the time, then you’ve got one of the ones that can work for you.

mzfayya302 karma

Do techniques you recommend only work for partners who have healed their individual wounds, before entering a relationship, and are in a relatively healthy place themselves? If not, what will it take for partners (e.g. survivors, people with mental illness, etc.) to begin addressing how trauma may affect their ability to practice these techniques?

gottmaninst732 karma

Julie: Definitely not. It is a myth that you have to have healed your childhood wounds in order to have a successful relationship. In fact, there is a research study that shows that people who are diagnosed as “neurotic” can have successful relationships too. I was thrilled to hear this.

Treat your childhood wounds or your abuse history as a third party in the relationship. It will sometimes show up like a bucket of cold water that is thrown on both of you. Be aware of when these times occur and talk to each other about what you need when that happens. That way, the two of you can be a team dealing with that childhood trauma together, rather than being on opposite sides.

coryrenton249 karma

what is the most interesting relationship experiment you've thought about or considered but had to drop due to ethics concerns?

gottmaninst869 karma

John: OkCupid paired 50,000 people and only 200 long-term relationships emerged out of that. I would like to know if random pairing would do better than that. That is something that would be hard to do and maybe unethical.

AngelusLilium234 karma

What makes for the healthiest and long lasting relationships?

gottmaninst739 karma

John: In healthy relationships, people have the model that when their partner’s upset, the world stops and they listen.

Julie: A great thing to practice is look for what your partner is doing right and share your appreciation, rather than always focusing on and telling them what they’re doing wrong. Turn towards your partner when they make bids for connection.

For example, your partner says “Gosh, I’m really feeling tired tonight,” and it’s their turn to do the dishes, take that as a hint. Get up and and say, “I’ll do the dishes, dear,” and then go do them. You’ll get hundreds of brownie points for that.

Finally, at those inevitable times when you say or do the wrong thing during a conflict, as we all do (nobody is perfect), go back and make a repair. Talk to your partner about what was going on for you during the communication and listen to your partner’s narrative as well, so that the two of you can gain some understanding of the times you each may get triggered and hopefully avoid that situation in the future.

throwaway73282199 karma

How do you decide when a relationship is not salvageable?

gottmaninst609 karma

John: When admiration has irretrievably turned to contempt.

Julie: When you search yourself and can find no corner inside where you feel love for this partner.

twinned189 karma

In your new book, you talk about essential conversations. Does the opposite exist, topics of conversation that couples are better off never discussing?

gottmaninst612 karma

Yes. That conversation is: Do I look fat in this dress?

MaebyFunke42172 karma

Aside from an AMA, what has your Valentine's Day looked like today? What's your most memorable Valentine's Day? I'm curious how a world renowned, relationship psychology powerhouse couple celebrates.

gottmaninst550 karma

By waking up at 4:30 AM to do seven hours of back-to-back radio interviews. One partner at the neighbor’s house, the other at home, because both sets of interviews needed landline phones. Then, one partner walking home in the snow and ice because there are no snow plows on Orcas Island and the roads were too dangerous to drive. Coming home, saying hi, giving each other a kiss, forgetting that it’s Valentine’s Day, but kissing because we always kiss, and then sitting down to do an AMA where we are now, eating our favorite cookies and fighting over the last bite. How’s your day going?

Francis8619165 karma

How important is physical attraction in a long term relationship?

gottmaninst372 karma

Very important, if you’re someone who values sexual intimacy. Some people are asexual or interested more in emotional than physical intimacy. For those people, physical attraction doesn’t really matter.

So think about your own needs—what you imagine you’d love to have in a relationship—and that will give you the answer.

Mytheri159 karma

in your research you mentioned that in heterosexual relationships, only 35% of husbands accept influence from wives and that without accepting influence the marriage has an 80% of imploding. Yet, even in unhappy marriages, women tend to accept influence more readily. What are some of the root causes of this imbalance between genders?

gottmaninst387 karma

John: I would say males tend to be socialized to think that being strong means that you stand alone and don’t need anybody. But the truth is that we all need people. Males as well as females. Everywhere on the planet, people who are alone die earlier. And smart males learn that the only way to be powerful in a relationship is to be capable of being influenced.

Julie: Women also accept more influence because for millennia, men have had the right to beat them if they did not. Women feel that history in their bones and, consequently, are less likely to say no if asked for something by their partner.

imyoursponge131 karma

What is your advice for individuals with partners who are unwilling to "buy in" (read the books, go to counseling, even have a conversation in the ways you've laid out in your books)?

gottmaninst257 karma

Try this. Preface any remarks or questions about the relationship with:

“Honey, I do not want to criticize you. This is not about blame. In fact, I deeply appreciate all the ways that you’ve been there for me. Can I tell you about those?”

Start with that. Give your partner a positive experience of talking about the relationship which reinforces their trying it again in the future. Slowly, but gently, you can try bringing up the things that you might like to change. After all, the worst four words someone can hear are, “We need to talk.”

donald_derp126 karma

In your opinions, do you think that monogamous relationships are going to continue being the nuclear relationship? The family structures have altered considerably in the last 100 years, infidelity is a strong causation in relationship/marriage break downs.. So I'm wondering... Do either of you think that open relationships / poly-amory is going to become a common stance amongst future generations?

gottmaninst273 karma

John: It’s kind of dangerous to answer this, but what I’m thinking is that more and more people, as we live longer, will start to see the benefits of a long, committed relationship that is monogamous. David Buss’ relationship research shows that jealousy is endemic to all deep relationships. But I don’t know what’s true, really.

Julie: Today, people are certainly more open-minded about polyamory than they ever have been before. It’s always exciting to try something different and to experiment. The jury is out as to whether polyamorous relationships can last a lifetime. There is very little research on them. However, what we do know is that infidelity has existed as long as mating has existed and the only statistical increase in infidelity is that amongst women. Once women re-entered the workforce in the 1970s and gained access to other partners, the numbers of women committing infidelity increased. We also know that most humans long for deep bonding with another individual and that sounds like monogamy.

fulwilerm123 karma

What was the most surprising finding from your research?

gottmaninst534 karma

John: The most surprising finding was that for good relationships, you need a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions during conflict. That exceeded any relationship that I’ve ever had.

Julie: Of course, before you met me.

itsalizlemonparty105 karma

My husband and I have been together for 10 years, married for 5 and have a pretty solid relationship. We are expecting our first baby in a few weeks and I’m worried about the transition. I know marriages can suffer when having a baby. What is something we could do now and something we should do once the baby arrives to help each other and keep our relationship strong?

gottmaninst112 karma

Get our book, And Baby Makes Three, or take a workshop we developed called Bringing Baby Home. It was designed exactly for this purpose.

twinned88 karma

Hello, Dr. Gottman2!

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this AMA! I have a few questions.

  1. Have you found any interesting cultural differences that affect relationship success? Ex. arranged vs. western marriage, etc.
  2. What have you learned through your research that affected your approach to your own relationship?
  3. Frankly, I'm a huge fan of your work, have a passion for the subject. I aim to follow in your footsteps and obtain a PhD in psychology, focusing on relationships. What would be the best use of my time between undergraduate and graduate school?

I'm looking forward to reading your new book!

gottmaninst127 karma

  1. It’s really difficult when a culture is emotion-dismissing and another partner’s culture is emotion-accepting.
  2. Just about everything.
  3. The best thing you can do is get out there in counseling in any way, shape, or form, because relationships are all about people connecting with one another. In order to understand relationships, one needs to deeply understand individuals as well. Good luck!

Mytheri86 karma

When there is a large imbalance in self-awareness, emotional regulation etc. between a couple, (e.g. differences in ratio of a partner who becomes emotionally dis-regulated, bids negatively, where the other partner is the recipient of this say 80% of the time), can you prevent resentment and or contempt from building? If so, how?

gottmaninst192 karma

Julie: First of all, be aware that all of us always have more awareness we need to develop—no matter who we are. One person may be further along that path than the other, but that isn’t necessarily a reason to judge the person who’s moving along their own path more slowly. If your needs are not being met in the relationship and resentment is turning into criticism, try talking to your partner about your own feelings and needs and the loneliness you feel. Try also of thinking of small ways that the person can shine for you. And be very aware of any attempts they make to do so. Then reinforce them for that. Express appreciation and gratitude to them for even the small little steps that they’re taking and be mindful of the big steps every single one of us needs to take everyday.

John: Unless you’re Batman. In which case, dump this person. At least you’ll always have Alfred.

knumbknuts66 karma

What couple surprised you the most by not getting divorced and why?

gottmaninst150 karma

I would say before we understood volatile relationships, we were surprised by them—that they relished debate and disagreement so much. But when we went back and analyzed the data with our Specific Affect Coding System, they also had a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. So they fit the pattern, but they really relished arguing and disagreement.

TMA9065 karma

Hello Drs. Gottman! Thank you for answering questions today. My question concerns religious conflict in a relationship. This seems to be a conflict we cannot solve because it cuts to the core of who we are and what we value. Do you have any advice for a couple dealing with a serious differences in religious beliefs? When we married, we belonged to the same religion but over the last 25 years, one of us has moved away from the religion that initially brought us together and was the core of our relationship. Thank you again!

gottmaninst126 karma

As I’m sure you know, religion is a private and individual journey. It is a relationship between you and what you feel is sacred/real/the truth. It is sad when people change over time and what was once a bridge between them is now a chasm. However, it is best that you not judge each other for your own divergent beliefs. Instead, look for community within your own religious framework so that you can share your beliefs if you wish. Our partners never fulfill every need of ours. Look for the bridges between the two of you and be grateful for those, even if they don’t include religion.

LT_Starbuck875759 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

I have an amazing partner who always puts our children and myself first in his priorities. We have been together 20 years but married 13. We still have a great sex life and truly enjoy each other's company. The problem in having is universal in that while he is the main breadwinner he kinda cops out when it comes to the responsibilities around running our home. I work less and earn less but Im still working and it's becoming a real bone of contention. Whenever we talk about it always ends with an argument.

I know this fight is universal as so many of my friends have the same complaint. How do I best deal with this?

It's a running disagreement over the past 10 years. It's not just the lack of shared responsibility it's the message it sends. It makes me feel like he doesn't care about me.

gottmaninst132 karma

Choose a time when you both are not exhausted, are feeling fairly good, and you have some privacy. Tell your partner what you’re feeling about the division of labor in the home. And that does not mean saying:

“You’re not doing your share.”

Instead, try saying:

“I’m feeling very tired and overwhelmed by the work I’m doing outside and inside the home. It would mean so much to me if you would please give me a little bit more support. Are there any tasks that you’d be willing to take on in addition to all the great things that you are already contributing to our family?”

ishaan130356 karma

Does long distance have a effect on relationship? And if so what should we do? Me and my gf are in long distance relationship from last 1 year and at this point we feel like somehow we lost that connection which we had before.

gottmaninst109 karma

Unfortunately, yes, long distance relationships are definitely difficult. Technology has been incredibly helpful as we can now see each other as we’re talking. We still can’t smell each other or touch each other and be together with the warmth and affection that comes with physical presence. Yet, long distance relationships can work if there are times when the two of you can be together physically in order to rekindle that connection you had before.

Francis861952 karma

How do you know if wedding anxiety is more than normal cold feet or a potential red flag? Is there any research on this topic out there?

gottmaninst193 karma

Julie: First of all, think about if there are any particular characteristics or patterns of behavior that your partner has that are attached to your anxiety. For example: are you afraid they drink too much? Or are you nervous because sometimes you feel bullied by them?

If you can’t find any good reason for your anxiety, then your feet are probably just ice cubes. Put them in a pan of warm water and enjoy your wedding.

John: I didn’t have any anxiety. Julie did all of the work. Childbirth was easy for me, too.

Chtorrr51 karma

What would you mist like to tell us that no one ever asks about?

gottmaninst115 karma

John: The mathematics of a great relationship. (See my TEDx talk)

absolutedoglover51 karma

How do you maintain a healthy relationship when your partner has an addiction?

gottmaninst186 karma

You can’t. Here’s why. The addiction creates a mask over your partner’s face. As a result, you’re not relating to the person, you’re relating to the mask that the toxicity has created. However, if your partner is willing to at least admit they have an addiction that they’re struggling with, perhaps you can slowly encourage them to consider couples therapy—even during their active addiction—as a way for them to realize the price their addiction is causing them and to begin thinking about recovering.

flancat_48 karma

Hi John and Julie! Been a huge fan of your research for a while now. I read somewhere that your relationship also had signs of these "disasters' behaviours" before you learned to communicate better and implement the masters' way of resolving conflict. If you two, the experts on relationships, had these problems then we're not doomed? In other words, if the four horsemen are present in my relationship, but we're both aware of it, can we still succeed as a couple and work towards changing that?

gottmaninst131 karma

John: You absolutely can change that. Here’s a blueprint for changing it: postpone persuasion until each person can state each partner’s point of view to their partner’s satisfaction.

Julie: Also, when you’re bringing up your point of view about an issue, describe yourself, your feelings, and your needs. Don’t describe your partner, which will typically lead you into criticism.

Leesmom110436 karma

Does martial counselling ever work in abuse situations?

gottmaninst121 karma

It depends on how you are defining abuse. If the individual is being hurt by mean words or contemptuous words, that in fact is treatable. However, if there's physical abuse involved where there's a very clear perpetrator and a clear victim and nothing the victim can do stops the abuse, there is no successful treatment that we know of. The victim needs to get out in as safe a way as possible.

Mytheri25 karma

Can you say more about the individual being hurt by mean or contemptuous words? How treatable is that?

gottmaninst50 karma

The hurt individual may be suffering from some PTSD. In which they are hypervigilant, watching out for their partner’s anger, being troubled by memories of words that have hurt or that come unbidden, and perhaps feeling very depressed, jumpy, and anxious—particularly when they’re around their partner. PTSD is treatable, but not if the abuse keeps happening. Couples therapy is very much needed here.

youtookmebysurprise30 karma

Hi, Gottman team! My question is more about professional aspirations.

What advice do you have for someone interested in family and marital counseling as a career (especially someone worried about emotional burnout due to work)?

gottmaninst146 karma

Julie: It sounds like you’re a deeply empathetic person who’s afraid that you’ll take on so much of the emotion in your clients that you won’t be able to shed it at the end of the day. I think over time, one learns how to do that. It’s almost intuitive after a while, but it takes practice.

One of the things that really helps me is the belief that ultimately I’m not a savior. It’s not my mission to fix anyone. I’m just there to be a caring witness for the journeys of my clients. Often, that’s all it takes for people to heal themselves.

Mytheri29 karma

I attended one of your couples weekend workshop where you both shared (quite vulnerably) the big fight you had re: your daughter that led John to sleep on the couch. I could tell it was quite palpable and still emotional to everyone that witnessed it. How often do these types of big fights happen for you? Is this something that happens once a year, or more often? There have been numerous of these types of fights, averaging maybe once every two weeks. There doesn't seem to be resolution even when we try to talk about it, we seem to be unable to observe from the balcony stage. How can one cope with the frequency of this?

gottmaninst51 karma

The couples workshop doesn’t help everyone and if you’re having a lot of frequent fights that you’re not getting over, it’s really time to seek a very good therapist. You can actually find a Gottman-trained one on our directory here.

Natalie201928 karma

Hi Gottmans! Thank you John, for visiting Vroman's in Pasadena the other night. It was great to meet you and get a copy of the newest book.

Obviously you two are experts about marriage, what to do after "I do" has already been said. I'm wondering if you two have any thoughts on the justification of the institution of marriage on the macro level. With studies and anecdotal evidence pointing in both directions (some say married people are happier than singles, but divorce rates are also high), it's hard to know whether marriage is actually what's best for us as a species. Any thoughts?

gottmaninst86 karma

There’s a field called social epidemiology that shows that being in a happy relationship—marriage or not—grants a longer life, greater health, faster recovery from illness, greater wealth, and your children do better emotionally and academically and have fewer chronic illnesses in middle age. These are the benefits of a longterm, happy, committed relationship.

idkm8027 karma

What's the solution if your partner does something you're not okay with being done, but they like doing it?

gottmaninst55 karma

Tell your partner what you feel about it, rather than criticizing what your partner is doing that you don’t like. See if your partner would consider changing their behavior. Sometimes, your partner may just say they like doing something, but may be actually an addiction they’re struggling with. If you’re worried about that, try asking them if they’d consider not doing the behavior for a month and see what happens.

Also, encourage your partner to please be honest and transparent with you. Tell your partner you will not judge them if they’re unable to stop the behavior for that long. That will help them to be aware of what a grip that behavior has on them. The first step towards recognizing the problem is more serious than they thought. Then talk about it again with compassion and support.

Mytheri15 karma

How does your teachings/philosophy for couples counseling differ from Susan Johnson's EFT or other schools of thought like Terry Real's relational life institute? Can you recommend how a couple can assess which method may be most effective for them?

gottmaninst29 karma

There is some overlap between EFT and our model for couples therapy, in that both methods focus on the importance and centrality of emotions—both understanding them and expressing them.

However, our method relies more on the couple learning healthy communication methods for resolving their own conflicts at home that are based on John’s observations of over 3,000 couples—hundredth of a second by hundredth of a second—to see what successful couples do in managing their conflicts. Our method also considers very important what is going on inside the body of each partner physiologically, as well as what is going on between the partners and helps couples to be aware of when their physiology is imploding their discussion and what to do about them. In addition, we also work on the ways of enhancing friendship and creating a shared sense of meaning and life purpose for a couple, which is also essential in what makes us human.

We—Susan Johnson and us—both collect data to assess how effective our therapy methods are. Dr. Real does not. So no one knows whether or not his methods are successful, except anecdotally.

Ccstriker7715 karma

Is cheating a normal behavior? What causes this to happen in relationships?

gottmaninst72 karma

Again, it depends on how you define cheating. There is lots of cheating that goes on, though it doesn’t happen in the majority of relationships.

What typically causes cheating to happen is a long cascade of one partner turning away from the other partner, not responding with appreciation and gratitude. Eventually this leads to one of the partners looking elsewhere to individuals they think might satisfy their needs better. It can begin as a friendship, but eventually, that partner begins to complain about their relationship to that “friend” and friendship can quickly turn into romance. That’s how cheating typically develops.

A_Feathered_Raptor0 karma

Why am I single?

gottmaninst15 karma

John: If you prefer not to be single, get out there and build a database by dating a lot of people without judgment. Eventually, an outlier will emerge. When they do, you’ll know it.

Edit: I did this before I met Julie (she was the outlier).