Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Eight Dates
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Published: 2/5/2019
Strengthen and deepen your love with a fun, ingenious program of eight life-changing conversations—on essential topics such as money, sex, and trust—from two of the world’s leading marriage researchers and clinicians.

Book Summary - Eight Dates by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD

What You’ll Learn

  • How to plan memorable and life-changing dates.
  • How to make date night into a place for communication about easy-to-avoid conversations.
  • How to bring fun, creativity, honesty, and openness back into your relationship.

Who Is This For

  • Longterm couples who don’t feel on the same page as their partner and are looking to reconnect.
  • People looking to start acting on their deepest dreams as a couple.
  • Couples trying to get to know each other deeply and intimately.
  • Anyone interested in learning about the common pitfalls in any partnership.

Key Insights

Psychological researchers John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, a married couple themselves, found that those relationships that dedicated time to important conversations found lasting love and avoided the emotional drifting that happens between longterm couples. They propose a series of eight dates to address the essential conversations any couple needs to have from money to sex to dreams. By the end of the dates, they argue couples will regain a sense of connection and intimacy and be prepared for a life-long partnership.

Key Points

Before starting, figure out a way to make date night routine and ready yourself by opening your mind and heart.

Although a regular date-night sounds great, in reality, life gets in the way. Whether you have to find a babysitter or struggle coordinating available nights, it can be hard to find time for them alongside work and family life.

However, the authors argue that date nights deserve to be a priority too. By setting aside time to work on your relationship and connect with your partner, you’re helping to maintain the love at the center of your life.

You may be tempted to block out an hour to silently watch television on the couch with your partner, but the authors emphasize that there are much better ways to make use of this precious time. A date worth having is one where there’s ample opportunity to connect, explore, and remind you why you’re sharing a life together. It is important to take them seriously.

As you embark on the following eight dates, think of them as a first date: a chance to get to know your partner anew. Most importantly, make sure you’re going into them with a genuine interest, open heart, and curiosity. The authors advise mentally preparing for each date by reminding yourself of the importance of each conversation and reviewing some questions to keep the dialogue flowing.

On the first date, get on the same page about trust and commitment.

Commitment and trust are arguably the most important part of any relationship. Commitment means choosing another person regardless of the circumstances and finding a way to express this choosing effectively. On this date, the authors explain how you can learn more about your partner’s ideas on the subject and in turn, how to meet their needs.

Before the date, prepare by thinking about what commitment means to you. How do you know if someone is committed? How do you know you can trust them? Think back to your family growing up. Did this affect your idea of commitment? Also, consider things your partner does that make you feel they are committed and trustworthy. Maybe they always show up on time to meet you or follow through on their promises.

The authors give the example of Ben and Leah, young lovers who had different experiences of commitment with their families when growing up. Leah dealt with her parents’ divorce and never felt attentiveness from them. Trust for her meant feeling someone was listening and always there. Ben, on the other hand, grew up with married but religious parents who rarely spoke to each other. For him, trust was about maintaining communication.

After explaining this on their date, they realized that their ideas of trust and commitment were different, but that they both understood that speaking truthfully and regularly was extremely important to the other person. By doing these small acts on a regular basis, they could build that foundation of trust and safety together

For the date itself, consider arranging a date built around the theme of “trust”. Maybe surprise them by telling your partner to arrive at a secret location, or blindfold them as you walk to your spot. The authors suggest finding a place with an elevated location and a great view, ideally in a peaceful place with enough privacy to have a long and honest conversation.

During your conversation take turns answering questions such as “what does trust mean to you?”, “Can you describe a time where you didn’t feel you trusted me and what could I have done to fix the situation?”, “what do you need from me to trust me even more?” and “how are we similar and how are we different when it comes to trust and commitment? How can we accept these differences?”. At the end of the conversation, affirm your relationship by expressing that you commit to choosing this person every day and that they will remain your priority.

On the second date, it’s time to talk about fighting and conflict.

All couples fight— conflict is a natural part of any relationship. The authors explain that conflict can be a useful opportunity to better understand your partner's wants and needs and a chance to discuss your differences.

There are two types of conflict that couples experience: situational conflict without much deeper meaning and conflict that reflects deep-seated differences between people in a couple. On this date, you have an opportunity to think about these perpetual issues and learn how to accept and accommodate your differences.

Before the date, consider the areas of conflict in your relationship. What are the biggest differences between you and your partner? Does this cause you to butt heads? Think of ways you could potentially accommodate their differences and ways they could accommodate yours.

When choosing a location for the date, opt for somewhere secluded, considering the potentially inflammatory nature of the conversation. The authors suggest somewhere peaceful and beautiful: a secluded picnic, beach, or backyard for example. A meal at a restaurant might not be the best choice— you want enough privacy to hash out any disagreements that arise.

During the date, take turns hearing each other out as you go through the differences one by one. Brainstorm together different compromises, and why each difference is important to you. Ask “what is the story of how this issue is important to you?” and “is there a deeper purpose or goal for you in your position on this issue?”. Don’t make anyone the bad guy here— you’re here to accept the other person just as they are. Ask questions like “how do you feel about anger? How was it expressed in your family growing up?”, “How do you like to make up after a disagreement?”.

It’s possible that the date could escalate into a fight itself, but the authors point out that you can use this opportunity to learn about the nature of your arguments. When cooling off, explain to each other how you felt during the fight and try to understand what started it. Consider how you could handle the next night better, using the techniques decided on during the date. At the end of the date, commit to accepting your differences completely and seeking to understand the feelings and point of view of the other person during a conflict, and vow to seek repair after a fight.

On the third date, tackle sex and intimacy.

According to the authors, a minority of couples actually discuss their sex life openly. But this lack of communication can lead to less than ideal intimate encounters. Statistically, couples who talk more openly about sex end up having better (and more) sex in general, fueling their relationship with romantic and passionate intimacy.

Talking about sex is hard and awkward, so take the opportunity on this third date to review your experiences. Prepare for this date by coming up with ideas about what could improve the passion in your relationship. What sorts of things do you like that you’re not receiving? Can you imagine creating any rituals around sex and physical connection? Acknowledge what things seem difficult to talk about and be ready to explain why. Being brave and vulnerable is key here.

For this date, consider a location that is highly romantic like a candlelit dinner or a private beach cove— after all, all this sex talk may lead to a steamy night. The authors also recommend something like a dance class or yoga class where you’re both in touch with your bodies. Try dressing in a way that makes you feel attractive or something your partner finds sexy. This is an opportunity to tune into your physicality and check in with your body on every level.

During the conversation, be as specific as you can when describing what turns you on or off. Make sure your partner elaborates too, using specific anatomical words. Also, make sure to keep an open mind. Everyone has fantasies that are difficult to voice, and you should not judge your partner for whatever those may me.

Ask each other questions like “What are some of your favorite times we’ve had sex? What made it your favorite”, “what turns you on?”, “Where and how do you like to be touched?”, and “is there something sexually you’ve always wanted to try, but have never asked?”. At the end of the date, say an affirmation together. Commit to creating new romantic rituals for connection and more passion outside of the bedroom to express love and affection for each other. Commit to discussing, exploring, and renewing the sexual relationship.

On the fourth date, it’s time to discuss work and money trouble.

It may come as little surprise to know that money causes a lot of conflict between couples. Despite shifts in the labor market over the last century, households still struggle to feel satisfied with the division of labor in the house. For example, one partner may believe they’re doing a lion-share of the work by being the bread-winner, while the other may feel overwhelmed by constantly cooking, cleaning, and doing housework. To be sure, non-paid housework could cost up to 90,000 a year if outsourced out.

The authors explain that it’s important to discuss how to improve shared housework. When surveying happy couples, they found that sharing housework was an important part of a lasting relationship, just after things like staying faithful and having a fulfilling sex life.

Meanwhile, spending all day working and feeling expected to do a lot of housework after-the-fact may be a difficult thing to ask. Work is a massive commitment in our lives, demanding a lot of time and energy, and it’s important to find a way to have it work in harmony with a marriage.

On this fourth date, the authors give you an opportunity to finally discuss whether you’re striking a balance between earning money and keeping the house in shape and whether money issues are getting in the way of a thriving relationship.

Before the date, think of three things that you appreciate about your partner’s paid or unpaid contribution to the wealth or well-being of the family. Next, consider whether your family’s history with money has affected your ideas about work and money. Did your parents have savings? Did you go on regular vacations? Finally, consider what money means to you specifically. What is it a means for? Do you wish to save more or spend more?

This is an opportunity for a cheap date that costs little to nothing. If your income has increased over time, think of the dates you went on when you had less. Maybe you could go to a cheap restaurant where everything on the menu is affordable or cook dinner at home and eat it on a picnic blanket. The point is to remember that money isn’t everything, and that you can make conscious decisions around it without impacting the quality of your bond.

Remember, the most important thing to remember is that this conversation isn’t going to be about budgeting or the numbers themselves. Instead, try and understand your partner’s relationship with money and how you can commit to continue discussing money and work in the future.

On the date, share the things that you appreciate about your partner’s contribution to the wealth of the relationship and discuss your own analysis of your relationship with money. Ask them, “how do you feel about work now?”, “how do you imagine your work changing in the future”, “what is your biggest fear around money”, “what do you need to feel safe talking about how you spend money or how you make money?”, and “what are your hopes and dreams about money.” Towards the end of the conversation, affirm to each other that you commit to respect each other’s values around money and work and that you vow to work together toward a shared financial future.

On the fifth date, talk about family and whether you plan to grow yours.

Deciding to have children is a huge decision for any family and needs to be carefully and thoroughly discussed. The authors explain that according to studies, many couples experience a large drop in happiness after having children, a suffering that doesn’t decrease until the child has moved out. How can couples avoid this disconnect as the family grows?

In the long run, the happiest couples are those that are equally as involved in raising the children. The father needs to be involved in the pregnancy and intimacy needs to be prioritized as dependents enter the picture. It can be easy to stop communicating throughout the stress of child-rearing, so planning ahead is essential. The authors also note that family talk doesn’t have to just mean children— it could mean discussing the relationships with in-laws or friends instead. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what sort of idea of family needs to be brought into the picture.

Before the date, think of any ideas you have about what family means to you and what you’d like your partner to know about your goals. Do you want children? Do you want to visit your parents more?

For the date itself, choose a location near a lot of families or children. This could be near a playground, family-friendly restaurant, or amusement park. Find a spot where you can observe the families, but where you can also engage in a private and intimate conversation. By observing these families, you’ll be surrounded by inspiration for the sort of family you’d like to create together.

During the date, ask your partner questions like “what is your idea of a perfect family? Does it include children? How many?”, “What sorts of problems do you anticipate when raising children? How can we prevent these problems?” and “what are the ways in which your parents did not appear to maintain their closeness, love, and romance after having children?”. For those that don’t plan on having children or whose children are grown ask questions like “how are we going to create a sense of family?” and “who do you consider our closest family (this can be friends and relatives)? What do you want to do to deepen our relationship with them?” By the end of the conversation, commit to creating a loving family and avoiding destructive conflict, making the relationship a priority.

On the sixth date, revisit the fun and adventure in your lives.

Play is an important part of our lives and should be sustained throughout a lifetime. It makes us feel young and spontaneous, showing us the world through a child’s eyes, and delivering a rush from the brain’s reward system. These pleasurable experiences can make for the most joyful memories, but we often forget to build play into our busy lives.

Can you remember the last time you and your partner did something adventurous? How about laughed and fooled around like kids? This sort of play creates trust, intimacy, and flow between couples. Most people feel that they wish they had more of this in their lives. On this date, you discuss with your partner how you can make play a priority again and bring adventure into everything you do.

Before the date, think about how you like to play and whether there are any adventures you wish you could go on together. How could you change your life to play more in the future? Make a list of things you’d like to do.

For this date, choose a place you’ve never been before or explore a familiar place in a new way. Maybe you sit on your roof, or visit a new beach, or drive to a new city together. Maybe you can find adventure in your own backyard by climbing a tree or finding a fun corner of the house, like the bathtub. Keep an open mind and be curious and spontaneous. Play is all about going with the flow and staying creative.

During the date, talk extensively about what adventure means to you. Consider the last thing you can remember doing that was fun and exciting. Take turns exchanging the things on your bucket lists— what adventures do you want to have before you die? See if you have any shared activities on your lists. You may notice that your partner’s list is similar or quite different from yours. Try and imagine trying what they find exciting. This could lead to the best experiences.

Ask questions like “what does adventure meant to you”,” how did you like to play when you were a child”, “what’s the most fun you’ve had playing over the last few years” and “what are you most excited about right now?” At the end of the date, take turns affirming to each other that you will commit to playing and having an adventure together in the next two weeks. Come up with three things you promise to do together, and vow to commit to building more play into your life going forward.

For the seventh date, it’s time to talk about growth and spirituality.

Everyone experiences growth and changes over time. The authors give an example of Erica who met her husband Jake in her teens. As she grew older, she realized she wanted new things from her life, specifically to live a life that felt meaningful and spiritually fulfilling. She decided she needed to switch from her lucrative tech job to live as a painter. In order to uproot her life, she and Jake had to make sacrifices together and find a sense of shared meaning in Erica’s transition, but eventually, they began to live more happily than they ever had.

The key takeaway is that change is inevitable, and couples must learn to weather these changes of meaning and interests together. If they can do it successfully, they can become happier than they’ve ever been.

For this date, consider discussing the ways you’ve both grown since the start of your relationship. Have you changed spiritually? What do you find meaning in? Are there any specific rituals you wish you had in your relationship? Has your transformation changed the relationship in any way? What are goals your share with your partner and does your partner respect them?

Plan the date somewhere you both consider beautiful and sacred. It could be a place of worship or somewhere peaceful and outdoors. Be prepared for some keep and philosophical conversation.

On the date itself, bring an object that honors your partner. Maybe it’s a childhood photo or a meaningful object. Ask questions like “what do you consider sacred? Why?”, “what gets you through difficult times?”, “how do you find a sense of peace and what is your source of peace?”, “how do you feel you’ve grown the most and in what areas?”, and “how can I support you on your personal journey?”. At the end of the date, affirm to each other that you commit to growing, learning, and seeking meaning within your relationship together. Brainstorm three ways you can incorporate rituals for connection and commit to them.

On the last and final date, be clear about your dreams and how you will honor your partner’s dreams.

In today’s age, it’s difficult to find the time to work on achieving your dreams. By this date, you’ve likely understood a lot about what sort of things might be missing from your lives. On the eight-date, you can finally plan ways to move towards your greatest dreams together as no one should sacrifice their dreams for the sake of a relationship.

In preparation, list out all the dreams you have for yourself. What are the stories behind them? How could your partner help fulfill them? Specify which dreams you’ve already shared and how you can move forward with them. The authors recommend creating a picture that illustrates the importance of your dreams. Draw a circle and name up to three dreams that sit in the center of the circle. These should be the dreams that matter the most to you. Draw a circle around that and write another dream that is important to you but not as important as the inner circle, and then the third circle around that with a comparable dream. Be ready to explain the importance of each level of dream.

The date should be somewhere dreamy itself. Consider places that are important to a dream you share— if you plan on opening a bakery, head to a bakery, or consider stargazing or watching the sunset together. Go somewhere that’ll make you feel brave and assured in your ideal life.

On the date ask questions like “did you have any dreams when you were a child?”, “do you think your parents fulfilled their dreams?”, “why is your greatest dream so important to you? Does it relate to your childhood history in some way?”, and “How would it feel if this dream was fulfilled and if it wasn’t?”. At the end of the discussion affirm to each other that you commit to exploring and understanding dreams and to do one thing in support of them in the next six months.

The Main Take-away

On these eight dates, you will slowly learn more and more about the most important features of your relationship and as two parts of a couple. The purpose is to find yourself on the same page and understand how to continue growing and evolving in the most efficient and understanding way. Start with trust and commitment and work your way through conflict, sex, money, family, growth, spirituality, and dreams. On each date, be curious and open-minded and come prepared with questions and explanations. Make these dates a chance to brave and venture outside of your comfort zone, divulging your greatest fears, weaknesses, and hopes— there is no use hiding any parts of yourself on these dates. If you put in the effort now, your relationship will thank you.

About the Author

Dr. John Gottman is a psychological researcher of stability and divorce prediction. He has conducted 40 years of research on thousands of couples. He is one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter-century according to Psychotherapy Networker and the author of over 200 published academic articles and more than 40 books. He is Professor Emiritus of Psychology at the University of Washington where he founded the “Love Lab”

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is the co-founder of Affective Software Inc. is the Executive Director of the Relationship Research Institute. She is a highly respected clinical psychologist and an expert advisor on marriage, sexual harassment and rape, domestic violence, gay and lesbian adoption, same-sex marriage, and parenting issues. She creates The Art of Science of Love weekend workshops for couples. She has a private practice in the Seattle area.

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