BLOG

Eight Dates Challenge Week Six – Play with Me, Fun and Adventure

The Basics:

This  chapter is a bit longer than the last, weighing in at 24 pages.  Despite the added length, I found this chapter to be a very quick read, and most couples should be able to work through it very easily in a week when sharing a single copy of the book.  The date recommendations included in this chapter might require an extra step or two of planning together, so if you are planning on a Friday night date, I would recommend that  both partners complete the reading by Wednesday so that you can dedicate some time to planning the date together on Thursday.

Reflections:

This chapter quickly sets a different tone compared to last week’s chapter.  Rather than building rapport by offering vignettes that make the topic seem personal, the authors dive right into the research, offering findings from a variety of both published and unpublished works.  Having attended a live workshop myself on the importance of play last week, I imagine that the authors intended to immediately address some of the barriers that spring up when trying to convince the average adult American that play is critical to daily life.  These barriers come up frequently when Joella and I are working with couples, and I believe that any couple who has deliberately worked through this chapter together will have an easier time working through these barriers in their couples therapy sessions.

As I read through the first few pages of the the chapter, I have to admit that it sparked some tangential thoughts about the society and culture we live in.  For example, why on Earth do we need intellectuals to rigorously make the case for the benefit of trying to seek out some joy in life and in our relationships?   It reminds me of being a fourth grader, experiencing the first unpleasant symptoms of strep throat, trying to convince “responsible” adults that I felt too ill to have lunch with the other children.  Joella and I both work with people who have experienced years of hardship and emotional struggle because they have been waiting for an authority figure to give them permission to express their legitimate human needs.  So, my soapbox comment is that you don’t really need anyone’s permission or validation to seek joy in your own life and relationships.  But, if you still feel like you do need the cold, hard facts to justify your own laughter, this chapter clearly explains the benefits of seeking out fun and adventure as a couple and the risks of letting this part of life’s garden go untended. A few examples include the positive effects on brain development across the lifespan as well as increased levels of reported marital satisfaction in couples that dedicate time and energy into seeking out fun and novelty together.

I really appreciated how much of the vignette content in this Chapter was pulled from the Gottmans’ own personal relationship experiences.  These vignettes highlighted how they have drastically different ideas about fun and adventure.  Despite these differences, they have developed ways of taking part in their partner’s enjoyment without having to physically take part in the actual activity.  They also showed ways in which they were able to develop some mutual fun activities that really foster a sense of appreciation of novelty and whimsy.  They provide a great example for how a couple can coordinate to balance both the dreams and fears of both partners.

The chapter moves on to provide some very simple self-assessment  questions that can help the reader gauge their own perceptions and behaviors around this topic.  This self-assessment really turns the focus of the chapter into ways that you can begin to change your behavior in your relationship to make room for fun and laughter, which the authors assert is critical to relationship satisfaction. They really continue to emphasize that both members of a couple need not experience or seek out adventure in the same way in order to have high levels of relationship satisfaction. 

Common ground is easier to find than some may imagine.  I really like the some of the recommendations/ examples such as deciding to turn your cell phones off together for an entire day. “You just have to bring a spirit of play into whatever you are doing.  Play needs to be a priority.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that after all the work is done, then you will play together.  It won’t happen.” (page 171) 

The authors provide practical examples of how to include this mindset into typical daily tasks in ways that might seem a little odd at first, but hold the promise of injecting moments of fun and joy into moments that most couples often come to dread or avoid.  I can imagine that there are significant second and third order benefits to many other aspects of the relationship beyond what is discussed in this chapter.  For example, if  the couple learns to inject fun and playfulness around monthly budgeting, that could lead to more productive financial habits within the relationship.

The Date:  

The authors provide the readers with some preparatory materials that you will need to review before going on the date.  The preparation involves doing some guided self-reflection on the things that you find adventurous, playful, joyful, etc.  I like the way that the book provides some ideas or suggestions, but leaves space for you to come up with your own ideas.  Spoiler alert: In case any of you were wondering, yes… shark cage diving is included in the list of possible activities that you might find inspiring.  

I feel like the authors put in extra effort to help the readers set up a date that includes the principles from the chapter and makes adequate space for the readers to engage mental muscles that that have been weakened or atrophied by today’s daily rush of nonstop electronic stimulation.  I recommend really looking into the date troubleshooting section on page 180.  The recommendations there seem to be very well considered and would be helpful to help most of the couples that we have worked with avoid getting caught up in the feedback patterns that can suck the life and joy out of once fulfilling relationships and activities.

After working with couples for a number of years, I feel that this chapter may be one of the most powerful tools in the whole book.  If you can take the basic principles from this date and apply them to your daily relationship patterns, you will be well on your way to making sure that love an connection are are daily part of your future, even when faced with adversity.  Let me restate that more emphatically… especially when faced with adversity!

Please join us next week as we allow the authors to help us look into the spiritual side of life in Chapter 7.  Thanks for reading!

 

Eight Dates Challenge – Week Three – Sex and Intimacy

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.

WEEK THREE

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.

REFLECTIONS

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!

 

 

 

Eight Dates Challenge – Week Two – Addressing Conflict

Welcome to the second 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 trust and commitment.  This week, the topic moves on to addressing conflict in our intimate relationships.

WEEK TWO

This week’s reading assignment was lighter than the first, with a total of about 21 pages or total reading (including the practical exercise and week two date guide).  Reading time is a factor that many couples don’t consider when they get on board with a plan like this. If you and your partner are thinking about participating in this, or a similar program, remember that you will need reading time scheduled in addition to your date activity.  Luckily, the authors of Eight Dates are efficient at communicating the underlying principles and how these principles impact our relationships.  This makes the reading prep time very easy to plan and complete.

TAKEAWAY

As we started into week two, I really appreciated the vignette that kicks off the chapter.  Without getting too deep into gender narratives or biases, I think that most readers (myself included) would benefit from reading the introductory vignette and then taking a few minutes to reflect on how the dynamics around conflict affected each of the partners.  From the language that I hear couples use in therapy, I have deduced that many of us have been trained to adhere to the “might makes right” philosophy… but I often notice that many of the couples that we see in couples therapy have been trained in the even more destructive philosophy of “right makes might.”  Simply put, they seek out correctness, winning arguments or being right as the primary goals in all of their relationships.   This chapter does a great job of showing where this path leads, and how to change direction and reshape the way that conflict occurs in the context of committed relationship.

I agree completely with the position that they take from the very beginning… that discussing conflict with your partner should not be attempted in the midst of conflict.  This chapter provides a brief guide for how to navigate the challenge of this date without getting bogged down in a “meta-conflict” regarding how they discuss handling conflict. This it is bound to happen for a number of couples… if you find yourself in that situation,  follow the instructions and stick to the program!

I feel like the most powerful perspective that came from this chapter was how it guides couples to begin the process of learning to perceive conflict as an opportunity to get to know your partner more deeply, and opportunity to try to understand the world as they experience it.  In my opinion, this is a critical skill and the couples who actively work on it experience much greater relationship satisfaction.

There is also a focus on one of the Gottmans’ core principles from previous books, which basically asserts that the majority of conflict in an intimate relationship is unresolvable, meaning that the partners will continue to disagree on the specific matter for as long as they are together.  They appear to have the research to back up this assertion and Joella and I definitely see this at work in our own lives and in the lives of the couples with who we are lucky enough to work.  It really drives home the importance of being able to reframe these unsolvable problems into opportunities for intimacy!

My favorite part of the chapter was the practical exercise called “We All Have Issues.”  in this section, the authors outline 25 common topics that can lead to conflict in a couple… and all of them are spot-on!  Each one of these is well-thought out and can lead to deeper understanding and intimacy if discussed in an open-minded state of curiosity about your partner’s experience.  That said, I do think that some of these topics might be easier to discuss in the presence of a therpist (or two in the case of our couples work).

I really appreciated the way that this second week’s date allowed us to use conflict (past, present and future) in order to increase intimacy and feel closer than ever.  This is a valid skill for all couples… even the married therapists!

Stay tuned for week three, where the book dives into Sex and Intimacy!

 

 

Eight Dates Challenge – Week One – Trust and Commitment

It almost never fails that when Joella and I are introduced to new people and they find out that we are both Marriage and Family Therapists either one of two lines will follow.  Either, “You guys must have the perfect marriage… I bet you never fight.”  or “Wow, I bet you guys can really duke it out!”  This always highlights for me that we live under the impression that relationships are either “good” or “bad”.  That either partners get along, or they don’t.

I believe that this oversimplification is what keeps a lot of couples stuck in a state of continual co-isolation and distress.  Couples therapy, the way we see it, often revolves around undoing that oversimplification and helping couples see the vast array of ways that we “couple.”  And yes… I’m using couple as a verb!

Joella and I had been considering using the Eight Dates to help couples build some of the principles into their daily lives.  But over time, we’ve developed a personal and professional value that we don’t ask clients to do things that we wouldn’t do ourselves.  So we’ve decided to do the series first, blog some of our reflections on the experience.  We believe that it is certainly worth purchasing the book, so we will refrain from getting too in depth regarding the specific exercises and keep it to a summary of our own experience.

WEEK ONE

LOGISTICS:

Week one required about 37 pages of reading on the introductory principles behind the work.  This primer is very helpful and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Like a good therapist, it explains why it is important to do the work, and fleshes out the “how” on what it actually looks like to incorporate these practices and teaches some basic communication skills.  Once you complete the intro, you move on to the Chapter One that outlines the theme of the first week’s date, which is “Trust and Commitment”.

TAKEAWAY:

The most important thing that I took away from the first week’s Trust and Commitment Topic was that creating the habit of going on dates is a practical way to incorporate the practice of commitment and trust.  In order to even go on a date, you have to block out time on the calendar in order to prioritize your relationship, you have to select a location, you prepare yourself and then you show up.  Any guesses what gets built when you repeatedly create time and space for someone, intentionally prepare and actually show up?  It’s simple… Trust!

This date gave us an opportunity to review the ways that we had learned about the meaning of commitment and trust from our families-of-origin, from our education and from our life experience.  When you create space to review things like that, you have the opportunity to ask yourselves the question, “So we learned it that way… is that working for us now?  Is that the way we want to keep doing it?”

The first date also touches on a theme that we’ve been highlighting from the very first days of our clinical training and continue to say over and over again in session after session.  Commitment is more than the words you say at a ceremony.  Commitment is something that you make  choices about every day.  Effective commitment is the process of choosing your partner every day… choosing the life that you build together.

As Gottman, Gottman, Abrams and Abrams (2018) said in the first chapter,

“We choose it even when we are tired and overworked and stressed out. We choose it no matter what attractive person crosses our path.  We choose it every time our partner makes a bid for our attention and we put down our book, or look away from the television or up from our smartphone…to acknowledge their importance in our life.”

If I had to choose a single thing to frame from this chapter it would be the previous quote.  If we were unable to choose commitment on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances, it would be very difficult, if not downright impossible to build trust, or put together any of the pieces of the relationship puzzle that the rest of the Eight Dates book covers.

Even as an experienced couples therapist, I still enjoy being reminded that many of the events and dynamics that seem to perplex us in relationships can be traced back to choices that we make on a daily basis.  Holding on to this perspective shift really puts us in the driver’s seat in our own lives and relationships.

Speaking of driver’s seats… Next week, in the disagreement chapter, I get to learn how to take ownership of the fact that I drive way too slowly and that can be stressful for my partner 😉

See you all next week!

 

Eight Dates Challenge – Week 5 – Room to Grow – Family

The Basics

This chapter delves into a crucial topic on how to communicate about your idea of what type of family that you want to build as a couple.  It is a very quick read for such a deep topic, at 13-14 pages.  This one is very easy to read through and hand off to your partner.  So, if you get to your planned date and you haven’t read the chapter yet, it would be pretty easy to get caught up on the reading before engaging the topics.  And yes… I am recommending that you actually read the chapter before engaging in the discussions!

Reflections

I really appreciated the vignette that is the lead-in to the chapter.  It clearly demonstrated how the topic of family could easily become a wedge in a relationship.  As a couples therapist, I clearly saw familiar themes in this example and I feel that many couples would resonate with the discussion between the couple.  I was grateful that the vignette took the couple beyond a disagreement on how many children that they would prefer and dived into an exploration on how each partner arrived at their own personal answer.  The exploration included taking the time to try to understand your partner’s experience within their family of origin and how that may lead to their current stance.  In my opinion, this is a critical skill for all couples and is a foundational theme in the pre-marital work that Joella and I do.  It is summed up very well on page 145, “However you define family is up to you and your partner.  What’s most important is that you talk about what family means and what you both want your family to look like and be like.”

A second theme that caught my attention was how some dominant themes in our culture covertly influence how we interact, value and connect with our partners once children have come into the picture.  This covert influence often leads partners to allow distance to form in their relationship as they both work to make sure that the kids come first in all areas of life.  The authors highlight that many parents who choose to continue to prioritize and cultivate their own relationship end up feeling passively shamed, and may be perceived as less-than-ideal parents.  I applaud the authors in dismantling this myth and how they use their own research to demonstrate that one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your children is a satisfying relationship with you partner that creates space for flexibility and humor and focuses on involvement with one another and a commitment to continued intimacy and connection.

The Date

I found that the recommendations for the date itself were very simple, clear and made a lot of sense.  The first two questions that it recommended for discussion could easily lead to several hours of discussion that would generate opportunities for connection… even on topics that often lead to feelings of disconnection.  I also liked how the recommendations for location of the date were tied into the overall theme of the chapter.

We hope that you enjoy this particular date, and that you are able to find deeper connection through this topic!

I am personally looking forward to next week’s topic – “Play with Me – Fun and Adventure”, and I am excited to share my reflections!  Until then, happy dating!

Eight Dates Challenge – Week 4 – Work & Money

Welcome to week four of our progress in the Gottman’s Eight Week Challenge!

In case you were keeping track or read our previous blogs, you might be wondering to yourself “wasn’t week three of the challenge in April ?” Clearly we have not been able to keep up with the eight week challenge as it was laid out. Life presented us many personal and professional obstacles for us to overcome. So just as we teach our clients, it is always ok to come back to things. Let’s dive in!

WEEK FOUR

This chapter on work and money felt like a lot to cram in one chapter since work and money are such large parts of our lives. The chapter broke the subject into a couple of sub-themes such as time management and gender roles which helped. As evidenced in the book, there is a lot of research that when couples talk about money it isn’t just numbers, it is also topics like family of origin, values, and the distribution of household duties that are no longer absorbed by women. I appreciate that they included all these layers.

REFLECTIONS

I appreciated the vignettes the authors provide. Couples some times get so bogged down in the content of their discussion (in the chapter’s example whether or not to save or travel) that they miss the important root of the discussion. Each of us comes to a relationship with values and ideas about money, none of which are stagnant. Our individual interactions with money and meanings about money change with development, maturity, health, children, work, etc. It is no wonder it is one of the top reasons for divorce… we can hardly track our own meanings let alone someone else!

The book suggests that budgeting is one of the top ways to begin to find clarity with one another, along with discussions about family of origin and how time is spent. As a therapist, I can’t agree more. Having one of these pieces without the other seems to create imbalance. It really is all of it together. I hear myself suggesting (to individuals too!) to budget and keep track of your time. These objective measures can tell us a lot about ourselves and our relationships.

The questionnaires provided in the book, the research to back it up and the wide variety of meaning about money outlined in the examples make this an excellent guide for any couple to discuss meaning. When couples shift their focus from the numbers to meanings and experiences, it becomes much easier to set goals and work together as a team.

Let us know if you have done this date and what you thought in the comments below or in an email on our Contact Us page!

Eight Dates Challenge

At Cascadia Family Therapy, when we begin to work with a couple, an essential task we ask couples to engage in during the course of therapy is date night. Not only are dates an important part of a healthy relationship, they also become time set aside with intention to discuss therapy.

It is exciting that the Gottmans have now written a book on this topic. Dr. John Gottman is an incredible researcher who has the ability to take the softer topics of therapy and put it together with hard science.

Check out their new book or try out their Eight Date Challenge!

Gottman’s Eight Date Challenge

Michael and I will be trying it out and blogging along the way!