Relationship Minute: Me vs. We

“So, how did you two meet?”

In his research, Dr. John Gottman found that how you tell this story and all the stories about your relationship history (more specifically called “the story of us”) says a lot about you as a couple.

In a healthy relationship, your “story of us” includes all the good stuff like humor, fondness, admiration, and a sense of togetherness.

For example, when you recall your first date, do you complain about your partner letting the car run out of gas so you had to walk or do you emphasize that lovely chat you had on that walk? Do you mostly talk about how tough the early years were for you or do you remember how you both learned how to work as a team to solve problems?

How negatively or positively you view your history can tell if you’re in this together or it’s all about an individual. Your story can be full of negativity and everything your partner does wrong or it’s the epic tale of two people joining forces to overcome obstacles as a couple. As Dr. John Gottman asks, “Is it I, me, mine, or is it us, our, we?”

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Are You Listening?

The concept of “active listening” can be challenging to apply, especially in conflict or a tense conversation. It’s not mindlessly saying “mmhm” or “oh wow,” and it’s not chiming in, interrupting, or talking over.

Active listening is all about engaging with your partner, and it’s a skill built over time. Here are some quick tips for better listening.

DO: 

  • Tune in to what the other person is saying. Stay curious. 
  • Make understanding a goal. Confirm what you heard with the speaker to see if you have it right. 
  • Repair if you interrupt, get distracted, become defensive, or misunderstand. 
  • Ask clarifying questions. 
  • Inhabit the role of a passenger on the speaker’s train of thought. Follow their journey, at their pace. 
  • Be aware of how much time you spend talking in the conversation. 

DON’T:

  • Spend your time planning what you are going to say next/waiting for your turn to speak. 
  • Try to “fix” things or offer unsolicited advice. 
  • Split your focus between the speaker and your phone or something else. Multitasking is a fallacy. 
  • Try to finish or anticipate what the speaker is saying. 
  • Take what the other person is saying so personally that you become defensive and unable to hear their side. 
  • Completely shut down your own reaction to what the other person is saying. Your feelings and reactions are valid and it’s good to pay attention to what comes up for you. 

Next time you have a conversation with your partner, or even a friend, family member, or colleague, think about how much time you spend talking/sharing and how much time you spend listening? What might you implement to bring more balance to that?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: “3 Things I Love About You”

Make a list of three things you truly admire about your partner.

The list might include qualities they’ve had for as long as you’ve known them (such as being a great listener or how they make you laugh), something they display in small moments (such as how well they sing or remember special occasions), or something they did in the last 24 hours (such as doing the dishes last night or making you coffee in this morning).

Does your partner do anything that inspires you or makes you go “Whoa! You’re amazing”?

Then, make a list and share it with them.

If you want to go the extra mile, make a new list every day for a week and leave it in notes around the home. See how it influences your relationship.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: How to Have Difficult Conversations

If you need to have a difficult conversation with a loved one or process conflict in your relationship, preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.

Here are questions to ask yourself before you get into difficult conversations: 

  • Am I ready to have this conversation? According to Dr. Julie Gottman, “processing” means talking about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again. 
  • Am I calm enough to have this conversation? Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? 
  • Am I willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of my own? 
  • Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade? 
  • Am I willing to ATTUNE to the feelings of others and what the event meant to them? 
  • Can I be fully present for this conversation (am I in a space with limited distractions)? 

Most of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Taking a pause to prepare yourself before the conversation begins will allow you to go into it with mindful intention. Come ready.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Nonverbal Bids for Intimacy

Sending and recognizing nonverbal bids for connection are collectively an important part of your relationship. Bids can range from subtle to obvious and always signal the need for attention and connection. It’s good for you both to know them when you see them and accept the invitation to turn towards each other.

So, what does it look like when your partner makes a nonverbal bid for intimacy? Do you know their go-to move? Is it a smile from across the table? Do they cuddle close at bedtime? Also, how do you initiate? Are you sure your partner knows what you’re asking for?

In “What Makes Love Last?” Dr. John Gottman notes that these types of bids work, but only “as long as you are both clear about what message you’re sending or receiving.”

Take time today to talk about your nonverbal bids for intimacy. Start with recalling past lovemaking encounters. How did they begin? Who initiated and how? Did either of you ever offer a bid that was missed?

Learning to send and receive bids effectively depends on you both getting on the same page in and out of the bedroom.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute.

Relationship Minute: What Can You Promise Your Partner?

In “What Makes Love Last?” Dr. John Gottman notes that emotional repairs are more effective than cognitive attempts because emotional repairs lower tension by acknowledging the feelings of both partners.

One approach to an emotional repair is making promises—more specifically, agreeing to a positive change in the future.

This can look like any of the following: 

  • “From here on out, I will listen to you more.” 
  • “I can work on my tone in future conversations.” 
  • “Next time we have an argument, I will take a break when I see you’re flooded.” 
  • “No more phones at the table during dinner. I want to be more present when we’re together.” 

Responses like this, especially during conflict, allow you to take responsibility for your behavior and show your partner that you consider them and their feelings.

When it comes to repairing, what can you promise 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: Your Code Word for Repair

It’s tough to find the right words after a fight. Consider coming up with an agreed-upon word or phrase that signals to you both that one of you is attempting to make a repair.

Dr. John Gottman notes, “Formalizing repair attempts by using these scripted phrases can help you defuse arguments in two ways: First, the formality of a script ensures that you will use the type of words that work well for putting on the brakes, and second, these phrases are like megaphones—they help ensure that you pay attention to a repair attempt when you’re on the receiving end.”

This can be silly and random like “pineapples” (in fact, levity is a great tension-breaker), or something stronger such as “How can I make this better?” or “Tell me what you need from me.” Whatever you choose, be sure you both agree that, when one of you says this code word, it means you want to restore your connection.

During a neutral time, ask your partner, “What’s our code word for repair?”

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: Isn’t “I’m Sorry” Enough?

Have you ever apologized to your partner after a fight, but it didn’t seem to make a difference?

The Gottmans believe the effectiveness of making repairs after a conflict depends on the state of your relationship. If you’re fundamentally unhappy together, the perfect apology will still fall flat. This is related to “Negative Sentiment Override,” when you no longer see each other’s good traits and only see the bad. Once a relationship is in this phase, repair attempts can be doomed from the start.

The good news is you can “buck the system,” as Dr. John Gottman says. “You don’t have to wait for your marriage to improve before you start hearing each other’s repair attempts.”

When the next conflict occurs, be intentional about looking for your partner’s attempts to repair. Whether they say, “I’m sorry” or “Let’s start over,” recognize their effort to bridge the divide and see where you can meet them halfway. It’s the starting point towards breaking the cycle of negativity.

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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: Did You Just Miss a Bid?

In “What Makes Love Last,” Dr. John Gottman states, “In a committed relationship, partners constantly ask each other in words and deeds for support and understanding.” That gesture is called a bid, and it signals that your partner needs to connect with you.

But what does a bid look like in everyday life?

Your partner can reach out in any number of ways, both verbal and nonverbal. The spoken bids are easier to recognize. They may sound like:

“Look at this funny video.”

“Honey, what’s on your mind?”

Nonverbal bids are trickier, but Dr. Gottman breaks them down to include: 

  • Affection (a kiss, hug, or shoulder rub) 
  • Facial expressions (a smile or glance) 
  • Playful touching (a light tickling or gentle bump) 
  • Affiliating gestures (opening a door or handing something over) 
  • Vocalizing (laughing, sighing, groaning, etc.) 

Be on the lookout for any variation of these examples. Your partner may be trying to get your attention.

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: The #1 Couple

If there was a competition involving all the couples you know, what award would you and your partner win? In what areas are you #1?

Best at sharing fondness and admiration?

Best at romance?

Best repairs after a fight?

Whether you navigate conflict like a pro or have a mastery of active listening skills, there’s something that you as a couple do best—something that you’re better at than anyone else you know. Can you think of what it is?

Talk to your partner today about what aspect of your life together makes you want to brag. Come up with the name of your own award. It’s time to celebrate your relationship with a pat on the back.

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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.