On this episode of Unlocking Us
Think you can’t make relationship changes in a week? Drs. John and Julie Gottman say, yes, actually, you can—and they have 40 years of breakthrough research on marital stability and divorce prediction to prove it. The Gottmans are back, by popular demand, and they’re here to talk about their new book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy. In this first of a three-part series, we talk about their work, their findings, and some huge hacks that were mind-blowing for me. This book feels so hopeful because it’s direct, it’s really honest, and it’s so actionable.
Listen to the episode
The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy, by John Gottman, Ph.D., and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D.
“What Makes Love Last” Unlocking Us podcast episode
Brené Brown: Hi everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: Welcome to a three-part special with Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Whoo
Barrett Guillen: Damn.
Ashley Brown Ruiz: I’m telling you.
BB: I’ve got my sisters here. So let me tell you how this is going to work. We’ve got two parts with the Gottmans, and we’re going through their brand new book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days. This is for couples, or two people who are trying to grow more intimacy, connection, and joy. And I’ve interviewed the Gottmans before. We had them in February of 2021 to talk about what makes love last, and I can tell you that we’ve been talking about that conversation since we recorded the podcast. So, this is again, their new book, The Love Prescription. It came out yesterday. We’re excited to talk to them about it. So first two episodes, me with John and Julie, and then third episode, me, Ashley, and Barrett breaking down what we learned, what we thought was hard, what I’m too scared to do. [laughter] It’s just too scary. So, we’ll have a sister’s reaction episode as the third episode. I’m glad y’all are here.
BB: Before we jump in to this first episode, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Dr. John Gottman previously served as Executive Director of the Relationship Research Institute, and is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, where he founded the Love Lab. He is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. Has conducted 40 years of ground-breaking research with thousands of couples. His work has earned him numerous major awards, and he was named one of the top ten most influential therapists of the past quarter century. He is the author of many books, including several that we’ve talked about here. Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is president of the Gottman Institute and co-founder of Affective Software. She is a highly respected clinical psychologist. She was named Washington State psychologist of the Year and received the 2021 Psychotherapy Networker Lifetime Achievement Award. That Lifetime Achievement Award, I’m telling you right now from Psychotherapy Networker, no joke.
BB: She is the author and co-author of many best-selling books, including Eight Dates, Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, The Man’s Guide To Women, and Baby Makes Three. These folks are very serious. They talk like therapists. We can really understand what they’re saying, but their stuff is so grounded in data. Let me just start by saying this. They can predict, with 90% accuracy. This is based on work done in the Love Lab. They can predict with 90% accuracy whether a couple will stay together or not, and if the union will be a happy one. Just by observation, like how people talk to each other, how they engage with each other, how they relate to each other, 90% accuracy. And it’s a 15-minute observation.
ABR: I’m like, “So don’t go to their house for dinner.”
BB: Alright, let’s jump into the first episode. Okay, two of my favorite people. Welcome to Unlocking Us.
John Gottman: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Julie Schwartz Gottman: Thank you. Thank you, Brené. It’s a great opportunity to talk to you again.
BB: Wow. The Love Prescription.
JSG: Indeed. [laughter]
BB: What? I mean, this gives the saying, “Tiny, but mighty,” brand new meaning.
JSG: I hope so. It’s a little teeny-weeny book that everybody can peruse and hopefully, share some knowledge.
JG: Yeah, I agree.
BB: So, I talked a lot about your careers and your backgrounds and your education in the introduction. Why this book right now? I’m so curious, what… About the story that led you to, I make up, looking at each other lovingly and saying, “Let’s write this book.”
BB: I don’t know. What happened?
JSG: Can I take that one first, John?
JG: Sure, baby.
JSG: Yeah, so I think COVID happened actually, Brené. COVID happened, politics happened, polarization happened. Our culture split into two with a lot of lack of love, shall we say, lack of compassion, empathy, care. And all we really know about the most are relationships in the home, and we really feel like changing our world, changing our society begins at home. So, what we wanted to do, in the face of how much hatred there is out there, antipathy, is to create the opposite, to help couples at home, also couples who may still be struggling with COVID, to connect with one another in a deeper way, to create better friendships, more intimacy, more love, because we really believe that, that ripples out into our world.
JG: Yeah. Also, another motivation was, we know how to get people to change, but part of it is that it seems like it’s so hard to change your relationship. So we wanted something that people could do in just one week, a little bit at a time. So that they can get the ball rolling, and once you get the ball rolling. Then you’re on a different trajectory in life.
BB: I have to say that, coming out of COVID, and I’ve talked about this before, during the pandemic, the absolutely most challenging season of my 35-year-long relationship with Steve. This book feels so hopeful to me because you just address things head-on. There’s just very little bullshit. There’s actually… I’ve got a pretty good bullshit meter. There’s no bullshit. It’s really honest, and it’s so actionable.
JSG: Yeah, that’s exactly what we were trying to create. So thank you so much for that summary. We too, realize that it takes baby steps to change your relationship. You can’t go tell people to be more loving, be more kind, be more compassionate, just go ahead and do it with your partner. What does that mean? What does it look like? So, I personally have the kind of brain where I’ve got to have everything be very concrete, otherwise I can’t visualize it, I can’t know how to move my body, how to transform my language, what direction to take with my partner, unless those concrete steps are in place. And so that’s really what we wanted to create, something that is doable rather than abstract and maybe even obsolete at this point.
BB: Yeah, no, I mean, I study those words for a living. I just wrote a book on the definition of those words and what they mean, but if you were to say to me, or my therapist says to me, “Try more this.” I’m like, “What exactly does that look like?” If you’re directing a movie and you want an actor to do this with another actor, what is the physicality of that step? What exactly do you say? Where does your right arm go? You know why? Because it feels like I just keep screwing it up, and there’s nothing more painful about trying to connect and seeing it in my eyes and his eyes, but missing in every time.
JG: Yeah. We need a cookbook and that has the recipes in it, and tells you just how to do it, and that’s what we try to do, is create a cookbook. I love to cook, and I’m learning how to bake bread now and how to make better sauces, and how to use the clay cooker better, and so I really like cookbooks and… Well, we need a relationship cookbook too, and that’s what we wrote.
BB: Yeah. And I want to say this though, because of the complexity of relationships and the complexity of the human experience, this is what I think is remarkable about the entire body of your work, is I am so leery of a cookbook for anything that has the complexity that we have as humans. So, in order to write a cookbook or to write something that’s instructive and tactical and practical, you cannot do that without a breadth and depth of data, because… You know what I mean? You cannot just bullshit your way through that, because then what happens is, you get something that’s like, “This doesn’t resonate with me, I don’t feel this in my bones.” But when y’all put it together, it’s hundreds of thousands of pieces of data and stories, and… So, it’s not a lake. It’s not a cookbook, that’s a lake that’s a mile long but two inches deep, nor is it a lake that’s five feet across and six miles deep, this lake of data, of research, of experience, clinical and research is 10 miles long and 10 miles deep.
BB: Yeah, it’s incredible.
JSG: That’s really what we’ve attempted to do with all the thousands and thousands of hours of data that we’ve collected. What we have to do as human beings, within ourselves, is to integrate our emotions with our thoughts, with our behavior, and if you don’t have data collected from couples who are successful in all three spheres, you’re in trouble. So, you’re only going to describe one portion of what you have to do, but it will lack, for example, the emotionality of a very important step and without noticing the emotion, paying attention to that in what you are prescribing, then you’ve got something empty and shallow, just like you described in the lake. So, we really needed that data as the kind of the bottom line of what we were providing for people. Otherwise, it’s useless.
BB: Actually, I think it’s almost… This is a personal opinion, not reflecting of the Gottman’s opinion, but it is worse than useless, it’s hurtful, because then you think you can do it and it’s supposed to be easy, when really it requires a nuance, and you capture that. Here’s what I want to do with these two episodes, and we’re actually going to do three episodes, we’re going to do an episode where my mind was blown in the first 15 pages, you take no time busting through some terrible myths that I was clinging on to lovingly like a little life preserver in a sea of hostility. You just jump right in. So, what I want to do is I want to talk about… For all the listeners, let’s get going, let’s go. Let’s get into the meat of this. And what we’re going to do is one episode where we talk about the setup, some huge hacks that I think we’re kind of big and mind-blowing for me, then we’re going to talk about kind of the seven day journey, and then Ashley, Barrett, and I are going to talk about our reflections of trying to implement some of the work and talking through it, and what the challenges are when you don’t see this growing up. And you actually don’t see it on the Hallmark Channel either, because it’s not trite.
BB: It’s like it’s real and just because I know the neurobiology research… This is real at every research level I’ve ever looked at. So, the first thing I want to talk about is your definition of love. I’m on page Roman numeral 16, if I can remember how they do Roman numerals, [laughter] which is like, you know, comes and goes y’all. Y’all know, how that goes. But actually, I’m at the top of Roman numeral 12. You write, love is a practice. It’s more than a feeling, it’s an action. It’s something you do, not something that just happens to you. And you need to give and get a daily dose to maintain a healthy, thriving relationship.
JSG: Right. Right. Our point there was that we’ve all been sold the fantasy, the myth of Sleeping Beauty and the Prince waking her up and gosh, she’s in love immediately, and you’re in love for the rest of your life, and you may live in a castle. Well, love is not like that. At first, we have chemistry, sure. And we sometimes mistake that for love, that’s called falling in love or lust. But once we are living with somebody, we smell their breath in the morning, poor John has to deal with… I don’t know, me needing to go to the bathroom immediately. So, when you’re living with somebody, they develop clay feet, they’re a human being, so are you. And so, you’re facing a human being.
JSG: Now, how do you love them? How? The word how suggests behavior. It suggests action. So, we like to say that love is a verb, it’s not a noun, it’s a verb. And it’s something that you have to facilitate and nourish every single day. Like a tree that’s growing and thriving with both of you nourishing that tree, the tree is your relationship. So, what we wanted to do is with the understanding that you’re loving a whole human being. You’re not loving a two-dimensional image that looks pretty or handsome, you’re loving a person with cracks, flaws, their own humanity, their own challenges. Can you love them despite those cracks and flaws, as well as the beauty and the heart of that partner of yours? Can you love them? And how do you show love? And how do you receive love? People have sometimes as much trouble receiving.
BB: Oh yeah.
JSG: As they do giving, because if they were raised without people recognizing their needs and fulfilling their needs or addressing their needs, they think they have no needs. And thus, if somebody is giving to them, their immediate response is “I don’t need that.”
JSG: Like, ooh, but actually it’s uncomfortable because there’s so much anxiety around accepting something that you were taught you weren’t supposed to accept. That didn’t exist and you weren’t supposed to have a need, you’d get punished for a need. So this person addressing your need, means you’re a bad person, because.
BB: Yeah, it feels so vulnerable, so cringy.
JSG: It does. That’s right, because the person giving suggests that you must have a need they’re trying to fulfill despite your best intention to hide that need. Well, let’s remember, we’re all pack animals, we have to connect with one another, we have to accept and give to one another in order to build a survival of all of us.
JSG: We have to connect. So that’s part of what this love is all about.
BB: I want to address a myth that you address in the book right up front that I think is like when you use the tree and nurturing the tree daily. And I think for many of us, maybe I could go as far as say, most of us who have parented, without question, acknowledge that it’s a daily source of nurturing and a daily source of giving. But then when we get to our relationships… I’m going to include myself in this, it’s like, “How many hours a day do I need to be pruning and watering [laughter] and fertilizing this damn tree?” I don’t have time for the tree maintenance every day. My real tree maintenance people come to my yard once a month, is this not good enough? But you bust a myth about time investment.
JSG: Yeah, that’s right. Because all you need are little tiny moments, small moments. Let me give you an example. One of our most powerful findings in our research that we translated into a chapter in this book, “Giving What You Can Do,” is what we call turning towards. Turning towards.
BB: Oh yeah. Oh.
JSG: And that is one of the most powerful connectors there is… So, let’s say what it is. Turning toward means, how do you respond to your partners bid for attention, bid for connection, and it doesn’t have to be a big bid. Somebody can be looking out a window and see a beautiful blue jay and turn to their partner and say, “Wow, look at that blue jay, it’s incredible.” Then what does the partner do? Well, the partner can say, “Wow, that’s fantastic. It’s really big.”
JSG: That’s turning towards. Turning away is saying nothing, ignoring what your partner said. Turning against is a hostile response. Like, “Would you stop interrupting me, I’m trying to read.” Now, let me ask you, how much time did it take to go, “Wow, that’s fantastic”?
JSG: I’m counting maybe one second, two seconds. And yet, what we found in our research is that couples who were successful, turn towards their partner’s bids for connection 86% of the time, just little tiny moments like that. Couples who were not successful, 33% of the time.
JSG: Big difference. That’s why the little things make such a big difference, we learned it from the data.
JG: In the moment, turning toward in those small moments, turns out to have a big impact on conflict itself, because couples who increase their turning toward wind up having more of a sense of humor about themselves when they’re disagreeing with one another, when they’re in conflict.
JG: Yeah. How do you get people to laugh at themselves when they’re fighting? Because that reduces physiological arousal. Well, the way to do it is really simple, it’s really those small moments where you turn toward one another, and if you increase the turning toward which just requires some awareness, then automatically you get this wonderful gift of a sense of humor about yourself when you’re disagreeing. So, you can laugh together, and that reduces physiological arousal, and makes people more logical and rational when they’re disagreeing rather than raising their voice to be more persuasive.
BB: I’ve got to think about this for a second because this is so like… Okay, so is it because… Let me just start spit-balling some reasons in my head about this, and then you can say yes or no. Is it because if I have developed a habit… And a lot of these things in this book, Steve and I are getting ready to go through The Seven Days together, and a lot of the things that we were talking about is almost awareness of opportunity that we might be missing, and also habit-building. But the big one for me is making up stories. So, I want to talk about The Cabin in a little bit, because that’s such a… I was like, “The Cabin is my life.” So is one reason why we can laugh at ourselves and emotionally regulate better and be more productive in arguments, if we have a habit of turning toward, is that because habitually, we’re building connections, so problems are not between us, but in front of both of us, because we’re kind of connected in this mutuality of toward-ness. [chuckle] I know these are not words, but…
JG: Exactly, you got it.
BB: Is that what’s happening?
JG: That’s exactly right. We’re shoulder to shoulder, facing a problem instead of being antagonists.
BB: On two sides of a long table, yeah.
JSG: Let me break that down a little bit. If you’re making bids for connection, if I was making a bid to John, and John was turning away from me and not saying anything time after time, I’m going to start to feel invisible, unimportant, if I’ve got some worthlessness feelings in there, they’re going to start to pop up and disturb me. I’m going to feel un-loved, I’m going to feel just unimportant, like I’m nothing, I’m a little piece of dust. So resentment, pain is going to be… Being created inside me from those moments, all those moments add up. And we know…
JSG: Right, loneliness and negative feelings are much more powerful actually than positive feelings in their impact on us, right. So we have this resentment building inside of us, and then it’s time to talk about how we should parent our two-year-old, what’s the best way? Well, I’ve got so much resentment about my partner turning away from me that I don’t want to listen to them. I would feel like they haven’t listened to me, so why should I listen to them? So you start responding with hostility, with criticism, anger through the side door of yourself.
BB: That dang side door.
JSG: That’s right. From that central feeling of being unloved and invisible.
JG: Well, we actually had this as a problem in our relationship just recently, right Julie?
JSG: Yeah, yeah.
JG: You would say something, just a simple thing like, “I’m wondering if that house we got is really the right house for us,” and I wouldn’t say anything back, and I would just hear it and I’d go. Well, it doesn’t require a response because she’s just kind of thinking out loud. But then you pointed out that if I say, “That’s interesting,” or “Tell me more,” that that makes a huge difference. So I tended to get silent and think, “Well, I’m listening, I heard her. Why do I have to show that I heard her?” But then when you told me that made a big difference to you, I started really trying to change that. And so you’d say something and I’d say, “Oh interesting.”
JG: That’s a very small thing, pretty small change, and I didn’t realize that I was just not responding.
JSG: Right, and I was trying to be understanding because you wear hearing aids in both ears, and sometimes the hearing aids may be turned down a little bit because of background noise or something, so when I would say something and there was no response, I wouldn’t know whether you simply didn’t hear what I said, or you heard it, but you chose not to respond to it, I didn’t know. So, it was also confusing to me. But eventually I knew you were hearing [laughter] me, and something was going on, I didn’t know what it was. Like, what the heck? After 35 years all of a sudden, you stop listening. Did I change? Have I been saying terrible things? What’s the story?
JG: No, it was… Yeah, right.
BB: Let me just tell you, I’m looking at my sister right now.
BB: “They’re not perfect. They still have to check in about these things.”
JSG: You bet.
BB: This starts on page five of the book, this whole turning toward, turning away, and turn against and these bids for connection. I think when I make a bid for connection and someone turns against, it’s so excruciating, it’s so painful, it can feel shame-y. But then I can also turn against. And sometimes I feel like I turn against, because when you say, “Hey, look at that Blue Jay,” I’m like “Evidence?” Not respecting my work, not respecting that I’m focused in on my work. And so it’s like, if you can’t say, at least at this point my relationship with that shoulder-to-shoulder thing, “Hey Babe, that was a bid for connection, I need you to admire the Blue Jay for 1.6 seconds.” But that’s where I get what you’re saying about the turning toward gives us a sense of humor, because it gives us a sense of confidence about our togetherness.
JSG: Oh, beautiful, beautiful, Brené.
BB: Does that make sense?
JG: Well said, yeah.
JSG: Yes, that totally makes sense. Our connection that’s built through turning towards and really responding to each other builds this feeling of, “We exist on the same planet.” [laughter] We’re still together here facing a world that is less than perfect by a long shot. Here we are as a team, “I’m not alone.” And I know for a fact, and our research as well as that of others, has shown that the best stress reliever in the whole wide world isn’t solving somebody else’s problem, giving them suggestions for what to do. It’s simply listening, showing interest, and showing empathy, which helps the person who’s stressed feel less alone. And feeling less alone is what drops the stress. Because there’s nothing worse than feeling alone in the face of stress.
JG: Yeah, you know, I really took a look at myself this morning, because yesterday I didn’t respond to my daughter’s bid. She wanted to show us her garden, and I’m in the middle of reading a book on my Kindle, and I’m not very interested in gardening. And so, I decided to just read my book rather than go look at her garden. And Julie went out and looked at her garden, and this morning I was thinking, “I really missed that opportunity to get closer to my daughter by not going out there and seeing what that garden meant to her and the work she put into it.” And then she actually cooked something [laughter] from her garden for our dinner, and I didn’t really appreciate it. And so, I have to take a look at myself in the way I turn away and miss opportunities for getting closer to the person I love, probably the most of anybody on the planet. I have to really look at myself and see why do I make those choices? And become more aware of making bad choices.
JSG: Oh, sweetheart. You know, one thing I love about you is the humility with which you think in all of your relationships. And, aww, bless you for that, honey.
JG: Yeah, I screw up a lot.
JSG: So, do I. So do I, so do I.
BB: Oh God. I don’t, but it’s nice to hear that you all do.
BB: I actually have this…
JSG: Hello there…
BB: Shit nailed, but…
JSG: She’s a goddess.
BB: Oh yeah. Let me ask you this question, and it’s… I’m asking for a friend.
JSG: All right.
BB: And I’m just relating to you, John, and I make up the story. Are you an introvert?
JG: Well, no, I’m an extrovert. But you know, the older I get…
BB: Are you?
JG: The older I get, the more I value solitude. And playing the flute, playing the banjo, reading, thinking about human nature, and I didn’t value it as much when I was younger. I do still like interacting with people a lot.
BB: Yeah, I just wonder sometimes if I miss some of the… I’m on a lot for work, this doesn’t feel on, this feels like dinner at your house. I would be eating your sour dough and something from Julie’s garden, so I’d be very happy. But do you have any data on that or even anecdotal? I’m in my own world a lot, I love to just think and be complex and be reading or listening to a book, and I have to come out and sometimes it’s effort to be receive a bid.
JG: Right. I read the New York Times every morning, and they’ve been having a series on talking to strangers and how when people do a commute in the morning or even on the train, they prefer to stay inside their own minds or they’re listening to music, and that people who make the choice to talk to strangers find it immensely rewarding. “This person is really a lot like me.”
JG: And it’s really interesting how they see things so differently, and so as we get older, it takes more of an effort to really do things like talk to strangers and find out who they are. But then when we do that, we create a little community, and that community of caring really makes a huge difference in our own well-being and our own health.
JG: So… Yeah, I see that tendency in myself too, Brené, where, I don’t want to bother. Why should I turn towards Julie’s bids? I’ve done enough, I want to read, I want to play the flute, I want to play the banjo, [laughter] and I stay in my own little world. Why should I look at my daughter’s garden? I want to read this novel and really this guy’s a good writer, I want to finish that Michael Connelly novel because I love Michael Connelly so much. But then I miss something, which is a real golden opportunity, and I keep myself isolated, I live more in a vacuum in my own mind, and that’s not good for me.
JG: It’s not good for those around me either.
BB: No, and not good for… We know the data now, not good for physical health, emotional health, neurobiological health.
BB: So, turning toward, you write, is the number one relationship hack.
BB: So, let me ask this next question, and this is where I was like, “Whoa, I wrote all on the side of this.” Can I really make a difference at all in my relationship in seven days? What have y’all learned?
JSG: I really believe you can. And the reason is that if you do the little exercises that we ask people to do, they’re very short, very simple, for seven days, by the end of that, we think you’ll be experiencing just enough of a shift, just enough, a small little angle of a shift. Let’s say you’re a rocket going up, up, up, up, and if you go straight up, you’re going to turn at the top and land straight down, but if you make a little tiny correction at the bottom as you’re just starting to go up, that little tiny correction grows bigger and bigger and bigger.
BB: Oh yeah.
JSG: As you move up into the sky.
BB: Compound change. Yeah.
JSG: It’s not that The Seven Days is going to create permanent change forever and ever, no. What it is, is it’s a little change, a little change each day, each day, noticing that you feel different, how interesting to hear compliments about you every day, how interesting to hear thank you, when you’ve never heard, thank you for all the stuff you do. Hearing thank you is huge. Suddenly you feel seen. You feel like you’re doing enough. You’re feeling appreciated. Which is a wonderful feeling. Interesting. The next day, the next day. So all we’re trying to do is give you a taste of how things can change, but what we know is that if you continue the practices we’re giving you long-term, it’s going to make a huge, just huge change in the trajectory of your relationship, where that relationship is headed.
JG: Yeah, one of the things that we learned about turning toward that is really such a surprise, is that turning toward leads to more turning toward. [chuckle] You sort of enter this loop where if you do it a little bit, it feels good, then you do it more, then you do it more, so you can have very low standards about where to start because it just gets better and better over time. And just a simple thing like folding the laundry, I know Julie does the laundry, but she doesn’t like folding it, and she told me that once, and so I started folding the laundry and we fold the laundry together now. And we have this ritual where we’re often folding laundry and watching English people getting murdered or…
BB: That is my favorite pastime.
JG: Yeah, me too.
JSG: Ours too.
JG: And we’re folding the laundry, but we’re really spending time together. The laundry is not even important, right?
JG: But a little bit of turning toward leads to more turning toward and more turning toward, so you can really have very low standards and you find if you do it for a week, you want to do it more because it feels good to be appreciated, to not be so alone, to be seen, to not be invisible.
JSG: Yeah, the other thing too, about turning towards is if you’ve made a bid for connection in some way, and your partner responds to it in a affirming way to say, “Thank you, I notice that you’re doing something for me.” That is incredible, that is really important.
JG: And you did that yesterday. You said, “Since I told you about, you’re not responding when I say something, now you’re doing it and it feels really good.” And I was glad.
JSG: Yeah. That’s right.
JG: You saw the effort.
JSG: That’s right. I sure do. I sure do. And the appreciation that you receive when you turn towards your partner is part of what keeps you wanting to do it more and more, rather than pointing out what your partner is doing wrong, it’s really important to point out what your partner is doing right.
BB: Oh, yeah.
JSG: What are they doing right and say thank you for it. We’ve seen in other people’s research, Robinson and Price did a study where they noticed that couples who were distressed and unhappy only noticed 50% of what they were doing for each other as counted by an independent observer.
JG: That’s right.
JSG: Successful couples notice the other’s actions in giving towards them almost 100% of the time.
JSG: And that’s a huge difference.
JSG: So, the more we can see what our partners are doing right and turning towards us and to say thank you, the more turning towards will increase in the relationship.
JG: Yeah, that Robinson and Price finding is so important because initially when psychologists started designing couples therapies, they thought, “Unhappy couples are not nice to each other, that’s the problem. They have to have love days where they really express more love.” Well, that wasn’t the case at all. It’s that they weren’t noticing that the love was actually there and getting expressed. Imagine missing 50% of all the positivity your partner does in an evening, just not seeing it and then feeling so deprived. [laughter]
BB: Yeah. So, this is interesting because this connects to something from the Love Lab.
BB: So, you watched countless hours of tape, aggregated millions of data points, and what you discovered was that there are universal factors that make or break a relationship that predict whether a couple will stay together happily or not. First, the couple has to stay curious about each other. Second, the couple needs to share fondness and admiration. And third, the couple needs to turn toward each other instead of turning away, which we’ve been talking about, the bids for connection. So, one of the things that’s really interesting to me about this and you address it, it’s like every time I’m like, “But what about this, Gottmans?” Then the next paragraph is, “I bet you’re thinking, ‘What about this?’ Well, here’s why.”
BB: It was nuts. I was like, “No, no, no, no. There’s something missing here. What about conflict?” And then the next paragraph says, “You might notice a few things conspicuously absent from the above list, most notably conflict.” I was like, “Dammit.”
BB: So can I read what y’all wrote?
BB: This is so good. “Of course, conflict is a part of any close relationship, but when a relationship is on the rocks or even just cooling off a bit, a major conflict is the last place you want to start. We’re not saying that you should ignore your problems, we’re just saying it’s not the place to begin. We know from the lab that the best relationships aren’t built on partners mostly telling each other what’s wrong, they’re built on partners mostly telling each other what’s right. So, whether you’re going through a rough patch or just starting out or wondering what points of friction lie ahead, one thing we’re not going to do here is have you sit down at the table and work on your conflict management skills or workshop your BIG ISSUES.” I love how you put big issues in caps.
BB: “We’re going to tell you to first go out and… ” Well, you use an analogy of, “Make a mud pit and have some fun,” because you talk about a really uptight couple that was assigned to have a mud fight, which I loved. Wow, this is like… I as someone who works in leadership and organizational development, I know this like I know my name. It’s like, “Stop catching people doing things wrong and start catching people doing things right.” Because it’s so much better to compound those great behaviors by catching people doing things right, even when you’re using their strength to turn around another behavior.
BB: So why is there such a mythology in addition to, “I have to be laying and snuggling the tree every day for six hours if I’m going to nurture it.” In addition to the time myth, why is there… Is it just early psychology that, “If we’re going to do important couples work together, it’s just going to be brutal conflict, put it all out on the table, tell each other how much we hate things about each other?” Where did that mythology come from? Because it seems very dangerous.
JG: One thing I think is that Americans have gotten a lot more irritable.
BB: Oh my God, 100%.
JG: Over time, a lot more irritable. And so when you’re irritable, the last place you’re going to look for an explanation is yourself.
BB: That’s right.
JG: You’re always going to say, “I’m irritable because of the way other people are driving. I’m irritable because in that checkout lane where you’re only supposed to have nine items, this lady’s got 20 items. I’ve only got nine and I’ve got to wait for her. So I’m irritable because of other people’s mistakes.”
BB: That’s right.
JG: But really, if you take a look at yourself first and see that you’re irritable because you’re not noticing all the positivity around you, that 50% that Robinson and Price talked about, if you start noticing, there’s a lot of really good stuff going on in your relationship, and then you’re not so irritable anymore. So, then you go, “Wow, Julie’s doing all this stuff for me. I can’t nurse a grudge against Julie because my mind is saying, ‘Yeah, you want to nurse a grudge against Julie.’ She’s the one who took care of you when you were sick two weeks ago.” So, I think that’s a big part of it.
JSG: I think another part of it is that as children, most of us have been raised with criticism. Criticism is used oftentimes to control a kid’s behavior.
JSG: “Stop doing this, stop doing that. Don’t take extra cookies, keep your clothes clean. I don’t like it… I don’t have to clean your grass stains.” So, we’re all used to criticism, and what happens then is that we internalize the voices we’ve heard throughout our childhood that are critical and we end up criticizing ourself all the time. Not being good enough, not being perfect enough. It’s rare that I encounter somebody who isn’t self-critical and I own I’m incredibly self-critical. So sometimes what I’ll do is because I’m looking for what I’m doing wrong, that’s what I’ve learned to do, and try to correct it, I do that for everybody else because that’s my natural way of talking to myself. So, I’m going to just project that out there. That’s my language.
BB: Oh, yeah.
JSG: Right? So, if I talk to myself in a certain way, I’m going to talk to my husband or partner in that same way, and by golly, it really doesn’t work.
BB: Okay, we’re going to stop this episode here. We’re going to come back and talk about making contact, asking big questions, say thank you, giving real compliments, asking for what we need, reaching out and touching, and declaring date nights. [laughter] Before we go, I want one thing that listeners can work on just for a week around turning toward just one kind of assignment from y’all until Part 2 of the episode. What can they do in terms of their efforts to terms, what can we do? Not they. No they, I’ve got it all figured out. Remember? But no. What can we do for a week in the turning toward effort?
JSG: One thing I would recommend is pay attention to all the times your partner might be saying, “Honey, would you do this? Would you please do that? Would you please go to the grocery store?” Just little things. Notice how many times you’re doing that, or your partner is doing that. And if your partner is asking you for something, try just saying, “Okay.” Just say, “Okay.” Just try that.
BB: Wait a minute. What about the “Why me? I’m really busy this week.”
JSG: Right. So, there you are turning against. How selfish of you to be asking me to do something when you know I’m really going to be busy. So instead, if you are really busy, because most of us are, say Okay, but I may not get to it until the end of the week. Is that all right?”
BB: Okay. You be the person asking.
JSG: Okay. So Brené, I really need the dry cleaning to be picked up and I just haven’t been able to do it. Would you do it? Please?
BB: I’m happy to do it. I will not be able to pick it up until tomorrow afternoon. Does that work?
JSG: Oh fabulous. Thank you very much. That’d be great.
BB: Okay. Versus “What? Have you got a flat tire?” [laughter] Yes. Okay. Yes. Yeah.
JSG: Come on. I’ve got 17 children I’ve got to take care of. Can you please pick up the dry cleaning?
BB: Okay. So be reasonable. So just try. “Sure.” God, that’s such a good habit to do because like when my kids interrupt my work or something, because I work from home, which has been like the source of so much conflict with all the couples I know. I’ve really learned to say, “Oh, I’m really excited about that. I want to hear all about it. I’m going to need three minutes to finish this up.”
JSG: Right Perfect.
BB: But you know, I got that from one of your books. [laughter]
JG: One thing I would recommend, and this is simpler, is to just observe your partner for a week. Don’t try to turn toward your partner, but just notice these bids for connection. See if you can notice your partner trying to get your attention, trying to get your interest, trying to have a conversation with you, trying to get support from you. Just be a good observer and you will notice that the air is filled with attempts to connect with you and think about what an enormous compliment that is that your partner thinks you’re important enough [chuckle] to actually reach out multiple times to connect with you and to ask for something from you. That’s how important you are. So just try to observe these bids for connection and I think you’ll be really amazed and flattered by how important you are to your partner.
BB: Okay. I’m going to do both of these things for everybody listening, let’s try to do both. Let’s try to raise up our mindfulness and awareness about bids for connection. Just recognizing them because I think that in itself is a skill that most of us were not raised with. And something that I’ve had to teach my kids when they had their first girlfriends or boyfriends. Like “I wonder if she’s saying that because she’s hoping for this?” “Well, how will I know?” And then “What if that’s not what that means. And then what do I do?” “You may have to ask.” So just awareness about what a bid looks like and stay aware of them. And then if asked to do something, I’m going to say, “Okay,” or “Sure,” or “I got it,” and then I’ll just put a reasonable parameter on it if I can’t do it right then and I’m just going to see what happens. Like I have to say, I’m married to someone, Steve, if I ask him to do something and I don’t appreciate this enough, 99% of the time he’ll say, “Got it, got you” or “No problem, I’m on it.”
BB: And the 1% of the time he’ll say, “You know what? I can’t, but could we do this instead?” Or you know, But I don’t. I think I just I’m like, that’s expected and not, Wow. But me doing that in turn will really make me aware of it, I think. So, I’m going to do both. I’m going to be aware of the bids and I’m going to just say “Sure” or “Yes” when there’s a request. I think that’ll work. Okay. We’ll be back for Part 2 with the amazing Doctors John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. So grateful that you’re with us on Unlocking Us, and thanks for coming back for a second episode.
JSG: Thank you so much.
JSG: Yeah, thank you.
BB: This is such a good book. I’m so excited to be talking. And this is Episode 1 of three. The next episode is we’ll get further into The Love Prescription book and our third episode will be me, Ashley, and Barrett really doing our reaction episode and what we think and what we’re going to do and what we’re going to try to do, but probably won’t work. And what we’re not going to do, because we’re too scared. You can find their book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy, wherever you like to buy books. You can also find a link to it on our episode page on brenebrown.com. We’ll be back, stay awkward, brave, and kind. Unlocking Us is a Spotify Original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristin Acevedo, Carleigh Madden and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil. And music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.
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