When couples come in for marriage counseling, the actual issues vary, but it usually involves falling out of love or not being able to communicate. Words used to describe the situation include phrases like; “we have nothing in common anymore, he/she doesn’t listen to me, he/she doesn’t care as much about me as (blank), or all we do is fight.” Many marriage counselors will try to fix everything with communication skills. Unfortunately, this misses the root issue, which is lost connection. Dr. John Gottman describes this connection through seven principles that successful couples use (whether they know it or not), in his book, “the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.”
While Dr. Gottman’s principles include a couple’s friendship, fondness and admiration for each other, shared purpose, and handling conflict effectively, the core is still connection. If you think connection is something that you just have with someone and should not have to work on, you are not alone. Unfortunately, you’re also not correct. Over time, keeping connection strong, whether it’s intimate, friendship, or simply respect, inevitably requires effort. Dr. Gottman discusses how married individuals are always making “bids” for attention, affection, humor, or support, while the partners respond by turning towards, turning away, or ignoring the bid. As life gets stressful, married couples often shift their attention towards career, parenting, and other duties. When one or both partners deprioritize the relationship and those opportunities (bids) for connection fade, the couple’s friendship, admiration for each other, and shared meaning can fade as well if they don’t communicate through the changes.
Dr. Gottman shares tools to help any couple grow deeper in their connection. Whether you have been married for one year or thirty, here are a few you can try:
- Daily 30 Minute Stress-Reducing Conversation. The goal is understanding and validation, not fixing (unless asked).
- Weekly One Hour “State of the Union” conversation. The structure of this meeting is:
- Talk about what has gone right this week in the relationship
- Give one another 5 appreciations each
- If a problem exists use the Gottman- Rapoport Intervention to discuss the problem
- Ask one another the question, “What can I do next week to make you feel loved?”
- Weekly Date: At least one hour for talking and checking in emotionally with one another. Try the Gottman Card Decks app
- Daily Cuddle Time: Spend some time cuddling every evening; touching one another, putting arms around one another, holding hands, and kissing while you either talk, or watch TV, or a movie.
- Rituals about sex. The book The Normal Bar found that couples who reported a satisfying sex life had a weekly date, kissed every day, said “I love you” every day, gave compliments, surprise gifts, and cuddled. Make courtship a priority.
Chris Guzniczak, LPC
Flower Mound Counseling