Relationship Minute: Make time for date night

2020 has been a weird year so far. Many of your routines, plans, and even concept of time may have gone out the window.

But we’re still going to encourage you to make time to spend together, with intention, even if a “date” doesn’t look the way it used to.

What do you consider a date? It’s probably more than just time spent together in the same room. Make some agreements with your partner around date time. For example, maybe phones and distractions are put aside. Or maybe you agree that some conversation topics (work, the pandemic, or finances) are off-limits.

Set the intention to invest your time in turning toward each other and enjoying each other’s presence, and plan for what that means to you if you can’t physically be together or go out to your favorite date spots right now.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Differentiation

It can be hard not to take things personally, especially within a conflict discussion. The risk of feeling personally wounded may cause some couples to become conflict-avoidant.

As Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., explains in this interview, conflict avoidance is a function of fusion—when one partner attempts to “merge” with the other.

“One way of doing this is becoming more like your partner in hopes of being loved. There’s a deep fear that says, ‘If I express my needs and have different needs than my partner, I’m going to be abandoned.’

The other conflict-avoidant stance is loving your partner at arm’s length. The fear in this stance says, ‘If I become more open and vulnerable, I’m going to get swallowed up and lose my sense of self.’” 

The opposite of fusion is differentiation— first acknowledging that you and your partner are two, separate individuals with different identities, and then developing a secure way to relate to each other.

The more differentiated you are, the less likely you are to take things as personally. You can still empathize, but don’t feel the burden of identifying with your partner’s feelings and can separate how you feel. This also keeps you from expecting your partner to take ownership of your individual feelings.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Sharing to heal

Social connection strengthens your resilience, which lowers stress. One way to increase your connections is to share what’s on your mind, even if it’s scary to do that.

To put something out in the open, subject to examination, is to separate it from the power you’ve been giving it in your head. It could be that the thought or feeling itself isn’t so scary, once it’s stripped of the shame it’s been feeding off of.

Maybe you’ve been stewing over something your partner said or did. For example, let’s say they noted that a dish you cooked was too salty. That idea then grew, over the course of several days, into, “my partner thinks I am the worst cook in the world.” It’s an extreme assertion, but one that you can probably rationalize if you don’t release it by sharing it with your partner.

If you keep the damaging, shameful thought inside, you deny your partner the opportunity to shine the light on it with loving truth.

Of course, in order to share you need to feel safe doing so, and that begins with creating a feeling of safety for others. That means listening as non-defensively and non-reactively as possible, and having a shared goal of understanding one another, rather than being “right.”

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Bottling or brooding

In this interview with Susan David, Ph.D., David describes two characteristic ways of dealing with difficult emotions or experiences: bottling and brooding.

“Bottling is essentially pushing the emotion down. For example, you’re upset with a person. You’re feeling angry because you feel exploited, and what you do is you tell yourself, ‘I’m just not going to go there, and I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got all this other stuff to do.’

And what you are doing is pushing the emotions down. Often you do this with very good intentions. You feel at some level that emotions are locked up in a bottle, and you have all of this other stuff that you can’t do, so you continue to push the emotions into a bottle, per se.

Brooding is when you are so consumed with the emotions you’re feeling that it becomes difficult to do anything else. When you’re brooding, you’re dwelling on the emotions, you’re analyzing hurt. You’re thinking, Why am I feeling what I’m feeling? It’s like you can’t let go and you obsess over the hurt, a perceived failure, or a shortcoming.

Brooding has some very good intentions—one of which is to try to deal with emotions effectively. So both bottling and brooding are done with good intentions [… but] we know from research that it tends not to work.” 

Avoidance (bottling) and hyperfocus (brooding) can both be damaging to your physical and emotional health. Do you tend to push challenging emotions away, or clutch them too tightly? What would a more balanced approach to your emotions look and feel like?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Know thy self-care

“Self-care” is everywhere. It’s trendy and, as a concept, it’s extremely vague. The words “self-care” may conjure up images of bubble baths, mud masks, or anything involving essential oils.

But what if bubble baths don’t do it for you?

Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about treating yourself well. And that looks different for everyone.

So what relaxes or soothes you? What makes you feel good in your body? What’s an experience or activity that makes the world slip away?

What did you enjoy doing as a kid? What about that activity or experience did you enjoy most?

Maybe your version of self-care is going for a run, or maybe it’s watching a favorite episode of a show you’ve already seen. Maybe you like to get immersed in a jigsaw puzzle or a novel—or maybe self-care means lighting all the candles you own, singing at the top of your lungs, and cleaning the toilet.

What does self-care look like for your partner? How is it similar to your version of self-care? How is it different? How can you create moments that facilitate self-care for each of you?

When you tune in to the things that light you from within, you are better able to share your light with others.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Disagreements

Sometimes it can be challenging to “agree to disagree,” especially if the disagreement is with your partner or feels fundamental.

Maybe you have held onto the belief that you and your partner need to agree on everything to have a good relationship. Then a disagreement arises and threatens to completely deflate you, leaving you to wonder if you have any shared values at all.

But this is your partner, not your clone, and you’re bound to see the world differently from time to time. What’s important is separating your self from your views.

Even if you don’t agree with your partner’s views, can you still see, value, understand, and accept them as a human being? What do you know about your partner that might inform these views?

Let’s use this disagreement as an example: You think Fozzie Bear is the best Muppet; your partner strongly favors Kermit.

What do you know about your partner that could help you understand why they hold this belief? Maybe they have always felt drawn to frogs, or have a special childhood memory attached to “The Rainbow Connection.”

Just because you understand does not mean you have to agree.

You could say, “I can see why you think Kermit is the best Muppet. He has many admirable leadership qualities and he did some good reporting for Sesame Street, so I really understand why he appeals to you. And I still think Fozzie is the best—Wocka Wocka for life. Even though we don’t agree on this, we can agree that we love each other.”

Change the goal from agreement to understanding.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Weekly check-in

Having a meeting once a week for your relationship can make a huge positive impact. Scheduling a conflict conversation may seem absurd at first, but it can prevent minor spats from popping up throughout the week if you have time set aside to be more thoughtful and intentional as you approach what is causing conflict.

We call this weekly constructive conflict hour “The State of the Union Meeting” but if that feels too formal, you can think of it as a weekly check-in.

Agree that the goal of these conversations is to get on the same page and increase the feeling of being each other’s teammate. If it helps, set an agenda.

This meeting has three vital sections: 

  1. Warm-up. Start the conversation with appreciation for each other and celebrations of what’s going well. This sets the tone for the rest of the conversation, which will be about conflict so it’s important to start from a positive place. 
  2. Understanding. Before you come up with solutions, you have to understand each point of view and agree on what problem you’re solving together. Take turns as Speaker and Listener. Resist the urge to persuade your partner of your viewpoint, as it is generally counterproductive. 
  3. Compromise. Now that you understand your partner’s perspective, you can solve the problem together. If you bring a perpetual problem to the meeting, try to find a temporary compromise and agree to revisit it later. 

Important note: Take breaks if you find that you and/or your partner are becoming flooded. A positive (win-win) outcome is much more likely if partners aren’t overwhelmed in the process.

Be gentle with each other and ease into it, especially if you don’t already practice regular check-ins. Start with an approachable issue to build the habit—don’t tackle your biggest, most raw conflict up top.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Is that right?

Listening to your partner, whether it’s during a Stress-Reducing Conversation or any time, is a great opportunity to practice attunement, empathy, and understanding.

The key is to keep yourself from making assumptions. Maintain curiosity.

Let’s say, for example, that your partner says, “I saw the most annoying thing on Facebook today.”

You could make an assumption and interrupt them with, “Oh, did your aunt post another Minions meme? You should unfollow her.”

Or you could get curious: 
You: “What was it?” 
Your partner: “It was a compilation of gender reveal videos.”You: “Oh! What was annoying about that to you?” 

Your partner:“They were all for the same baby.”
 You: “Wow! I could see how that would be annoying. So you saw this video and you felt agitated because multiple gender reveals feels indulgent? Is that right?”

Your partner: “Not quite. I just think you don’t get to call it a ‘reveal’ after the first one. And they were acting surprised every time.” 

You: “Ah, so it was performative and that was annoying?”

Your partner: “Yes, and they were all really elaborate.” 

You: “Do you think it was a waste of money?” 

Your partner: “Yeah! So maybe that’s why it annoyed me, too.” 

Get curious. Dig deeper. Confirm your perceptions with your partner.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Love Map time travel

You may feel like you know your partner pretty well—what they like to eat, their favorite movies, and what their face looks like when they’re upset. But what about some of the stories from the archives?

Do you know who your partner’s best friend was when they were 12?

What about their first crush?

How did your partner learn to tie their shoes? How do they draw a star?

Try picking an age, and inviting your partner to share a story about themselves at that age. For example, “Tell me a story from when you were 10,” or, “What were you like at 17?”

Even if you knew them at the age you pick, you might not have heard the story. Approach it like a journalist—get details, ask follow-up questions, and be curious!

Have fun with it. Take turns picking the age and telling stories. You might be surprised by what you learn about your partner.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Practicing non-defensiveness

Responding and listening without getting defensive takes practice. It’s difficult! For so many, defensiveness is just a knee-jerk reaction rooted in the need to protect the idea of yourself as a “good person” with the right intentions. And it’s good to assume positive intent, especially when you’re interacting with your partner.

So it’s important to practice taking a step back and making sure you understand the situation before jumping to your own defense.

In the last Relationship Minute, we used this example:

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” 

So before you counterattack, respond with righteous indignation, or default to innocent victimhood, try taking a step back to assess.

I feel defensive because I did not remember to get toilet paper. Am I being criticized or am I perceiving this as an attack?
My partner isn’t criticizing me but I perceived an attack because I’m sensitive to the implication that I am lazy/forgetful/careless. Can I overlook that to keep this conversation on track? 

If you can’t overlook it, that’s fine, too. You could say, “I’m feeling defensive. I feel like you’re implying that I’m careless.” Then they can help clarify and together, you can get the dialogue back on track and the toilet paper back in stock.

Be patient with yourself as you practice. You may catch yourself reacting defensively often, but it’s catching yourself doing it that matters. If you note it soon enough, you could even ask your partner for a do-over.

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?”
“Who are you, my mother?! …Actually, can I try again?”
“Sure.”
“I forgot. I can get some tomorrow if we’re not down to our last square.”

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.