Welcome to the third week of our progress in the Gottman 8 week couples challenge!
Quick recap: Joella and I have decided to read and participate in the activities featured in the Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman, Julie Gottman, Doug Abrams, and Rachel Carlton Abrams and then share some of our reflections on the experience. Last week, we addressed conflict in our intimate relationships. This week, the topic moves on to addressing sex and intimacy.
Administratively, week three registers at twenty pages of reading. It was very quick and got right to the point, while still making and admirable effort to be inclusive, including vignettes that represent a variety of couples. The authors are transparent about the lack of research to support any recommendations for transgender couples and make a call for more research in this area. About 20% of the content of this week’s chapter was dedicated to giving actual guidance and advice on how to make this date happen for couples.
This might just be my therapist attitude toward life… but this chapter made me realize how difficult it is to write about sensitive topics. I’m certain that I could write a book about how to cook gluten free biscuits that would be very helpful and informative for some with food sensitivities, but would infuriate a large percentage of my fellow native Carolinians (that’s not a real biscuit!!!), or might induce some to try a recipe that would be ultimately unsatisfying (if you can still ride the gluten train).
Food examples aside, I want to emphasize that this chapter and the last chapter about conflict could be distressing for some readers or couples, based on their lived experience. Joella and I agree that these books were written for a very specific audience, namely couples who are looking to improve the quality of their relationship. If a reader with a history of sexual trauma or intimate partner violence, or grew up in an environment where violence or control dynamics between partners was common, these topics would probably be better discussed with the guidance of a qualified, skilled and experienced therapist. This is one of the main reasons that we insist on doing an in-person consultation before we take on couples clients. It helps us identify whether some clients may need an opportunity to work through specific primary concerns or challenges in order to be able to safely benefit from all that couples work can offer. This is not a criticism of the book, it is just a reflection on its targeted audience.
Most of the information shared in this chapter is similar to themes from other Gottman publications. They encourage developing open communication around sex and intimacy, creating rituals in the relationship that foster intimacy, highlight some of the most common “Sex and Intimacy Killers” that invade our relationships from time to time. They share some of the findings of their research about sex and intimacy, which has spanned nearly four decades. For example, that married couples have sex more frequently than unmarried couples, or that couples that are able to talk openly about sex have more sex, and that the women in these relationships have more frequent orgasms.
I appreciated their efforts to normalize the individuality of our sexuality. They define normal levels of desire for sex or intimacy as “Whatever frequency is comfortable for you…” Not everyone is on the same page, and not everyone will be able to get on the same page. Learning to navigate that in a open, curious and connected way is the formula for creating a more satisfying relationship. The Gottmans and Abrams/ Carlton Abrams return to that theme again and again, whether the content of the chapter is sex, money, conflict, etc.
The specific recommendations for the date on page 109 are highly detailed and well thought out, and I would be comfortable handing it out as a verbatim homework assignment for some of the couples that we work with. It is a great way to close out this chapter and practice the research-based principles. I especially like the affirmation at the end of this chapter. These affirmations are designed to be recited together in order to cement some of the principles of connection that this work espouses. It’s a great way to develop the habit of using rituals to enhance connection because it is something special that you only share with your partner.
We hope that the readers are finding these reflections useful and we welcome your comments and reflections of your own, whether you are reading the book, participating in the online (e-mail based) Gottman 8 week couples challenge, or just browsing the blog. Let us know what you think or if you have any questions.
Next week the program dives into work and finances and we are eager to dive in!