Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: We’re back this week with Episode 2 of our conversation with John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. The Gottmans are incredible clinicians and researchers who’ve been studying couples and relationships for decades. We’re talking about their new book The Love Prescription, and again, this is Part 2 of a part three series. Part 1 was kind of the first half of the book. Part 2, we’re getting into the meat of it. And then Part 3 will be a sisters’ reaction podcast with me and Ashley and Barrett talking about what sounds too scary to do and what we’re willing to try. Glad you’re here.
BB: Before we jump into the episode, let me just give you a little bit of reminder about who we’re talking to. Dr. John Gottman previously served as the 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 and has conducted 40 years of groundbreaking research with thousands of couples. Julie Schwartz Gottman is President of the Gottman Institute and co-founder of Affective Software. She is a highly respected clinical psychologist and was named Washington State Psychologist of the Year and received the 2021 Psychotherapy Networker Lifetime Achievement Award. She has co-authored many books with John. Let’s jump in. Alright, welcome back, John and Julie, I’m so glad you’re here.
John Gottman: Thank you, thank you for having us, yeah.
Julie Schwartz Gottman: We’re really happy to be here. Brené, thank you.
BB: Okay. I want to start as we are working on, as the Unlocking Us collective is working on recognizing bids for connection of not only being helpful and supportive but being appreciative when our partners are helpful and supportive, great homework from last week. It seems to me, and I’ve noticed this in my relationship for sure, that sometimes what we’re talking about is not what we’re talking about.
BB: Can you tell us the cabin story?
BB: Yeah, it just, if I’d ever been motivated to tear pages out of a book and sleep with them under my pillow [laughter], it would be the cabin story.
JSG: Oh, the cabin story. Okay. So, I’ll tell the cabin story. It starts with both of us as kids. As a kid, I was raised in a home that was a mess, but I was so lucky to live about two blocks away from one of the country’s largest wild forests. So, I would sneak out of the house and go sleep in that forest overnight many, many times as a kid. And that’s where I got my sustenance and my soothing. Okay. So fast forward to adulthood and what I’m really wanting, since John and I live in the city of Seattle, is a little place I can call my own out in the forest, just like I had the perfect tree to sleep in when I went out to my park. Well, John didn’t want that, said “No, forget it.” And I didn’t know why he was saying forget it. So we fought about it for, gosh, I don’t know, maybe three, four years, something like that. And we finally decided, this is ridiculous. And this is before we started all of our intervention work together to create a therapy. We went to couple’s therapy to resolve this issue. And it so happened that the therapist was the most, I don’t know, little bit biased, I suppose. She loved John. She didn’t love me so much. She loved John.
JG: I thought she was a great therapist.
JSG: Oh, you did, that’s right.
BB: I don’t believe you.
JSG: That’s right. And at the time, she in one session, and after about five sessions said to John, you know what, John, you can simply say no to her. You don’t have to fulfill her request, you can just say no, and that’s okay.
JG: Yeah. She was all about creating boundaries, and she said relationships are about creating boundaries between one another. And I thought, that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t want a relationship where I create boundaries that Julie can’t cross. So, I asked Julie, “Do I sound like her?” And Julie said, “Yes, you do.” So, we left, and we fired the therapist, and we started talking about why is this so important to Julie?
JSG: So that’s right, we had a conversation in our living room that night that went on for hours, where we decided before we resolved this issue, we really needed to understand what was beneath it. We were talking about a cabin, yeah, but what dreams, what history, what feelings, what life purpose was underneath the request or the denial for a cabin.
BB: So almost in your language from this book, almost asking the other person to reveal the map, that map you talk about is understanding each other’s inner world.
JSG: That’s right.
BB: So instead of talking up here about a cabin, you needed to make this about John’s inner world and your inner world, and those bigger questions. Is that what I’m hearing?
JSG: That’s exactly right. And that’s what we addressed that night. So, I asked John, what is it about having a cabin that is so uncomfortable for you? Is there some history to this, some childhood history or something to your position on this? And John gave such a clear answer. He said, sure, “I was a refugee. I was born in the Dominican Republic because my parents, who were Viennese, had to flee Austria to escape the Nazis in 1938 and 1939. And then eventually came to the Dominican Republic, and that’s where I was born. And not till 1945 did we come to the United States. So, what I learned from my family was don’t accumulate anything. Nothing, because you can’t take it with you, and you never know when you’re going to have to run from fascists.” Right?
JSG: That’s part of why we live close to the Canadian border right now. So, I then told my story of how there was no nurturing at home, there was no love ever expressed, there was no interest, no turning toward, but when I went into the trees, I heard the voices of trees beginning about six, seven, and eight and they nurtured me. They kept me from massive depression. They were the love that I needed. So John understood that having roots in a wild place for me was the equivalent of feeling love from the wildness and the nature around me and how important that was, and by exploring those bigger questions before we tried to resolve the surface issue, we felt much more understanding and compassion for each other, so that when it came time to work on compromise, we did, and we ended up getting a little cabin if I agreed to keep a kosher home, a kosher kitchen, which honored his, and mine actually, our Jewish heritage. Very important to him. So each of us told each other our dreams and honored those dreams of each other as a result of talking at this deeper level.
JG: Yeah, and it was so enriching for me because for me, nature was taking a subway to Central Park and putting a blanket down on the grass and having a picnic… That’s the extent of nature… Then wipe off the nature when you come home.
BB: Yes, I love that line. Wiping off the nature when you get back to civilization. Yeah.
JG: Right. But then I started learning how rich a gift nature was for Julie, and I started loving it too, and we would canoe to this little restaurant with our daughter sleeping in the canoe, and we’d come back, and we’d take hikes in the woods, and I really learned how to love nature in a way I never had before because of Julie.
BB: When I read that story, I was very tearful reading it because both of your stories, like many of our stories, were connected to survival.
JSG: That’s right.
BB: You survived in the woods, right?
BB: Julie, you survived in the woods. And then, John, your parents saying to you, don’t invest in property, don’t invest in things that people can take away, invest in your education because they can’t take that away.
BB: And so, it’s like these are encoded in us, and I think a lot of times when I find that Steve and I get to this level of story, we’re not even aware of it until we articulate it to each other for the first time. Like I don’t know why I don’t want that cabin, but I know I’m going to just lay my life on the line to not get that cabin, and I don’t even know why until we start talking about it, and then there’s grief, and it’s hard, and then we love each other through that, but this whole idea of… I’m so keenly aware of the inner world right now, just because I have a 17-year-old and a 23-year-old, and they have these just vibrant growing inner lives that for the first time are private, and it’s a privilege to be invited in or shown, and so that concept of an inner world, which I think for kids probably starts around fourth or fifth grade, where it’s to be invited in is incredible, but also in a couple to knock on the door of it and want to see it is such a turning toward moment.
JSG: That is exactly right, Brené. When we show interest in who our partner is and how they are evolving over time, how their experience is changing them, by asking them big questions that say, “Who are you now? Now that you’ve been at the university for 10 years, how has that changed you? Now that you’ve gone through COVID for two years, how has that led to prioritizing or re-prioritizing your life?” And for the person who is hearing those questions, what they’re also hearing is, “I love you so much that I want to know you every minute, I want to know who you are, I want to know how history is changing you, I want to know the person I’m with here and now by asking those questions that are big.”
BB: Yes, and I think the mistake that we all make… Or let me say, the mistake that I make is thinking that we can extrapolate those answers from the freaking daily to-do list.
BB: Do you know what I mean? Like, your inner map is not a reflection of dry cleaning, groceries, and what time does the game start, and are you bringing the camera to the game or am I bringing it to the game, and how’s graduate school going for this. There’s no way you piece that shit together and come up with an inner map.
JSG: Very true.
JG: Yeah. I keep thinking of the Sloan Center study at UCLA that my colleague, Tom Bradbury, was involved with where they put microphones and cameras in couples’ homes, dual career couples with young children, and they spent less than 10% of an evening in the same room, and they talked to each other an average of 35 minutes a week. That’s all. And all of the conversation was about the to-do list.
JG: Logistics, and they never really said, “How are you? Are you having fun? Is there enough adventure in your life? Is there enough playfulness? Is there enough humor? Joy? What do you need? What are you all about?” And they didn’t have those conversations, and so they just ignored the relationship and worked hard, looked at the children, tended to the children, got the to-do list done, and drifted further and further apart.
BB: Yeah, it’s so weird because… When I think about that, what I think about is that your relationship, at least in my case, can be fueled for X amount of time on kind of the foxhole of that. Of that like, “Oh, baby, this is… Goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight. And wow. See you tomorrow at the dance recital and pick up at 3:00, and groceries.” The foxhole, shared foxhole experience can fuel your relationship a tiny bit through that, but then when you get to be my age, I’m in my mid-50s, all of my friends’ kids are going off to college and their marriages are crumbling. And I’m sure that part of that transition for me and Steve in this difficult season is not just COVID, but the pressures of COVID, taking care of parents, kids transitioning into independent lives. And then all of a sudden, there’s nothing worse than looking across the table and realizing we’re both in foxholes, but now we’re in different foxholes. You know?
JSG: Right, that’s such a sad description, and the way I visualize it is the bridge between the two of you has crumbled. But what we are doing, in this book, is helping you to create a new bridge.
JSG: John and I, for example, almost every day, ask each other one simple question, “What’s on your mind and heart today?” Most of the time…
BB: God! That’s good.
JSG: Yeah. Most of the time, “What’s on your mind?” “Well, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.” But what’s on your heart? That’s a whole other matter. That takes you down into your inner world with…
BB: That’s the map.
JSG: That’s right. With what’s on your heart? What are you worried about, sad about, joyous about, anticipating, grieving about. Who are you right now? That simple question, if asked every day, re-builds that bridge.
BB: So beautiful. But I have to say this, it’s vulnerable. It’s what you’re asking is really vulnerable. It feels really like… I think it’s very easy to be cynical about it, to laugh about it, to dismiss it, but it’s very vulnerable.
BB: Yeah, just to go to turn toward Steve or someone to turn toward their partner and say, “Here’s The Love Prescription: Seven Days To Intimacy, Joy, and Connection, and I want these things. And will you do this with me?”
JG: Um hum.
BB: Feels like a giant ass bid for connection, like a very risky bid for connection.
JSG: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. If you say, “All it’s going to take is 10 minutes a day, would you be willing…”
BB: That’s better.
JSG: Yeah. Little bit better. “Would you be willing to contribute at least 10 minutes a day to our relationship? Would that be okay? Would you be willing to do that? 10 minutes a day.” That’s not so hard. That’s not such a big deal.
JSG: You can do that over breakfast. So it’s the small moments that build that bridge. All it takes is those little tiny moments, becoming aware of them, and learning just what is most effective. What are the bricks that will really hold that bridge up rather than building it of paper.
JG: Yeah, well said.
BB: Yes. Beautiful. I think one of the things that my friends and I often talk about is like the who wants to go first in terms of saying… [laughter] In terms of saying, “I really like you. I know we could keep doing this for another 30 years, but I think we could have more.” You know?
BB: And it’s scary to know like it’s always like… I remember one time going to my therapist, and this is just individual counseling and saying, “I don’t want to talk about what I need to talk about, so I’m just going to bring flash cards,” and she said, “That’s fine.” So, I just would hold out a flash card that said, “I’m really scared about this. This is not going well.” You know, and so…
JSG: That’s great.
BB: But it’s like… It is really hard. I just want to acknowledge for everybody listening and for myself, and the people whose work I really respect so much in this area, probably the most, and what I lean into the most is that this is a courageous and vulnerable thing.
BB: To love somebody, to ask to be loved, to see people, to want to be seen, and to talk about that. And I think to show your inner map is vulnerable. I think to ask to see someone’s, is vulnerable. So, if it feels like it’s hard, it’s because you’re being brave, right? You’re being brave with your heart.
JSG: Yes, yes. That’s so well said. You’re absolutely right. When you ask what is on your mind and heart, you can imagine cracking open your chest, and: “Here’s my heart. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s what’s inside it. Go ahead. Take a look.” And you’re right. It is very, very vulnerable. But the reality is, if you don’t want loneliness, if you want deeper connection, deeper connection implies heart, spirit, emotion. So if you don’t show yours, you’re going to stay lonely.
BB: I’ll tell you this, y’all will really appreciate this moment, I wish people could see. I’ll try to describe it. I was getting ready to give a talk, maybe it was the American Sociological Association, and they had someone signing in American Sign Language, and I always talked to them very quickly before I go on to thank them, and also tell them, “Here are some words that are going to come up often.” And she said, “Oh, vulnerability, we have two signs.” And the first sign is she put her hand flat, and then she made the P symbol, then put two fingers on her hand like she was… Like legs, and she bent them. And I was like, “Like, weak in the knees?” And she said, “That’s one sign for vulnerability.” I’m like, “God, do you have an alternative?” And she goes, “Yeah, but it’s tough.” And I was like, “What is it?” And she put both of her hands over her chest and then opened them up like she was exposing her heart.
JSG: There it is.
BB: And she said, “This is the other side.” And I made a real mistake that day, because I said, “Oh, for sure, vulnerability is opening the heart.” And I actually told that story when I went up there. And what I’ve learned since then is you rarely open your heart without feeling weak in your knees.
JSG: [chuckle] That’s great.
BB: They’re both pretty accurate symbols. You just need them both together.
JSG: Right, right.
BB: So, let me go through the seven-day action plan. I want to just go through it quickly. And I’ll ask a couple questions for each one. Number one. So, we know turning toward, we know that this is a time plausible thing. It’s very easy. I mean, you’re basically… What I would say to everybody, what I’m experiencing in my own life is, you’re just using the time you already have in a more meaningful, different way. Do you know what I’m saying?
JSG: True enough. Mm-hmm.
BB: So, the first one is, make contact. What does that mean?
JSG: Well, it means realizing that there’s a full human being beside you, that you hopefully still love and want to know even better and want that person to feel more loved. And perhaps you too want to feel more loved. So, the very first step is making contact. And of course, the best visualization of that is ET, right? [chuckle]
BB: Yes. Yeah.
JSG: With the fingers together. It’s ET and they’re touching. So, there’s the willingness to do that, to make contact.
JG: It’s overcoming the inertia of being solitary and…
BB: Oh, no. Stop. No, no.
BB: Oh no. Oh no. Overcoming the inertia of being solitary. I like solitary. [chuckle] It’s so safe and I can be mad at everybody, and I can tell this… Yeah.
BB: Wow, wow. Okay. Overcoming the inertia of being solitary, ET. Okay. Number two, ask a big question.
JSG: So, asking a big question takes you away from the checklist for the day, takes you away from the errands. Asking big questions is your journey of knowing who your partner is, seeing clearly who they are, and allowing yourself to be seen also. Those big questions like, “What’s on your heart today?”
JSG: Or, “What characteristics of your family do you want our kids to be raised with, or not?” Questions like that, that open up your partner’s value system, your partner’s spirituality, your partner’s feelings about their own history and what legacy they want their kids to inherit.
JG: It’s really sending an invitation.
JSG: That’s right.
BB: It is. And you know what’s scary about it? Just let me speak up as the vulnerability researcher here. Although I would feel like all of your work is grounded in vulnerability, I have picked one to do. It’s scary. It would not be scary for me to ask a stranger on a plane, but it’s scary to ask Steve, because as he unfolds the answer, I have to get away from, “How does this impact me, how does this impact me, how does this impact me? Where is this about me?” If I say, “What are some of your life dreams right now?” or, “If you could build the perfect house for us, what would it look like?” Like, “Well, I don’t like that, and I want a different closet.” And so, this is such a listening and understanding exercise, it feels like.
JSG: Yeah. That’s really true. It doesn’t have to lead to conflict. Even if you ask what your partner’s dream is for the next three years, and it’s your nightmare, first, you’ve got to understand, where is that dream coming from?
BB: The cabin.
JSG: Why is it so important? Sure.
JSG: Why is it so important to the other person? What’s the underlying purpose for having that dream honored?
JG: What’s the story of it? Yeah.
JSG: Right. What’s the history behind this? So, you don’t have to make any decisions when you ask big, open questions.
JSG: You just have to learn. [chuckle] Just learn and be learned, see and be seen.
BB: You know what I thought of when I was reading about this? It’s so… It just made me so… I don’t know, it took my breath away a little bit, is I thought about Mary Oliver’s “What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?”
JSG: Oh yes.
BB: Our partners have one wild and precious life also. And so much of my inner life is thinking about my one wild and precious life, and I don’t really share it with anyone, but I would love to know what Steve’s one wild and precious life would look like. And it doesn’t have to match mine, but I want to know it. So, it’s interesting. Number three, say thank you. And we talked about this a little bit, about just appreciation, right?
JSG: Right. Yeah, that’s right. As human beings, and loving human beings, hopefully, we do a lot for each other. And real love means thinking about what’s going to benefit your partner, what’s going to do good for them, what’s going to show them that you love them? And are they going to see the love within the action? Are they going to see the love within your emptying the dishwasher? [chuckle] But will they see your effort? We all need our efforts recognized and our love recognized. We want to be seen as loving, trustworthy people. So when we hear “Thank you, I see the love, I see the beauty of you in what you gave me,” it’s a great feeling to hear thank you.
BB: It’s the best.
JG: One of the amazing things about building a culture of appreciation in the relationship is that it changes you.
JG: Suddenly you see that there’s so much to be grateful for, everyday things, very small things, but they’re huge, really, when you notice them. And suddenly you go, “Wow, I’m loved. Somebody really loves me.”
BB: Yeah, it’s… Yeah. Give a real compliment. What gets in the way of this? And what do we do instead? That’s my question here.
JSG: Okay. What gets in the way of it are all the stupid messages we got as kids, a lot of us, “Don’t get a swelled head, don’t give your partner a swelled head, they’re going to become insufferable.” [chuckle] And it doesn’t do that at all. The message of, “Oh, I’m not supposed to be boastful. I’m not supposed to think too highly of myself, so if I get a compliment, I’ve got to dispense with it. I’ve got to say, “Oh no, not really,” because otherwise, I’ll get a swelled head, my mother said. So we have to walk around those messages, there they are in one voice. But you’ve got to build another voice that says, “No, we need to have mirrored for us our own beauty, and our partner needs that as well, our own beauty inside and out. We need to know that we’re worthy of love,” and those compliments show us that we are.
JG: Yeah, I want to say one thing about that, which is that the largest study ever done on love was done with 70,000 people in 24 different countries, and they just had the question, “What’s different about the people who say they have a great sex life, and people who say they have an awful sex life?” And it had to do with… Not with what goes on in the bedroom. The people who have a great sex life say “I love you” every day and mean it. They kiss each other for absolutely no reason whatsoever, passionately. They give compliments, they give surprise gifts, they cuddle with one another regularly. They’re affectionate even in public, and these simple things make the difference between having a great love life and having an awful love life. And it was a very surprising set of studies, and it was true everywhere on the planet, every place: Argentina, China, Spain, Italy, Canada, even parts of New Jersey.
BB: Let me ask you this though, you know how we can’t get to causation with people, but we can get with correlations like what you’re talking about. Temporally, what came first? Great sex and then these things or these things and then great sex? Or is it a slow stacking of both?
JG: Yeah, we don’t know.
BB: Oh, yeah.
JG: So, the randomized clinical trial study has not been done. The controlled study has not been done yet.
BB: Got it.
JG: But if you contrast that set of findings with the Sloan Center study which we mentioned earlier where people are ignoring their relationship and not having fun and play and adventure and affection and romance, then you can kind of think that it’s a really good guess that there’s a causal relationship there.
JG: Great sex comes from emotional connection, from compliments, from saying, “Thank you,” from asking big questions, from making contact and being affectionate, being kind and generous.
BB: Yeah, it’s so beautiful. We talked already about asking for what we need, and I think, Julie, you did a great job reminding us in the first episode, very hard for us… For those of us who are shamed for having needs and that being low-maintenance and never needing anything was praised, and having needs was shamed, really.
JSG: That’s right.
BB: It was belittled, it was pathologized almost in some cases.
BB: And so, we talked a little bit about that, reaching out and touching, what does that mean and what does it not mean?
JG: Can I go back to that asking for what you need for a moment?
BB: Yeah, please.
JSG: I want to also.
BB: Oh, good.
JG: Because the basis of a lot of conflict is from feeling like your partner doesn’t meet your needs and doesn’t want to meet your needs when you actually haven’t articulated what you need.
BB: That’s hard, that’s so frustrating.
JG: You expect your partner to read your mind and respond, and if they don’t, then it leads to conflict. Your partner doesn’t care, your partner doesn’t love you. Well, you can short circuit all of that by having people regularly say what they do need. “This week, what I need from you is, I’m going to be working on this hard thing, could you make dinner every day this week? I know I usually cook. Could you make dinner every day this week, and bring me a cup of tea every now and then? Because I’m going to be buried with work this week.”
JSG: Right, can I just add one thing to that?
JSG: You have to realize that when you tell your partner what you’re needing, you are showing your partner, you’re giving your partner the message that you are the one that is trustworthy, you are their hero. Because you’re asking for something you need just from them. You may not trust anybody else. You’re asking it from them, so you’re making them feel important.
JG: Good point, yeah.
BB: That’s hard, yeah.
JSG: You’re making them feel important, feel valuable…
JSG: Feel needed, feel heroic. You’re the special one that I trust.
BB: What happens, I’m just curious from y’all’s experience, clinically, observationally, what’s the outcome when we hold people accountable for meeting needs that we have not articulated?
JSG: What happens… I’ve seen that a million times. And what happens is, the person who is holding back the needs but expects the other person to fulfill them begins to feel resentment, angry, depressed, unimportant. They’re mistakenly thinking their partner sees their needs but doesn’t want to fulfill them. And therefore, their partner is withholding, their partner is selfish, their partner’s narcissistic. All this judgment gets dumped on the partner who has no idea that their person needs something at all, [chuckle] so it creates this big, deep well of negativity when the partner who should be hearing the need is in the dark, doesn’t hear anything.
JG: Personally, I want to know what she needs, and if she tells me what she needs this week, I know what to do, and I’m off the hook. [laughter] I just have to do those things. And whenever I ask her what she needs, I always get a list. [laughter] And I’m very grateful to have a list.
BB: I have such a quick therapy story. When Steve and I first got married, we were in counseling, and I was seeing my own therapist and Steve did not make a big deal. It was our first year together, married, when my birthday came and I woke up that morning and there weren’t balloons or surprises everywhere, and that’s kind of what happened in my family growing up, that we made a big deal about birthdays. And so, she said, “Did you tell him that birthdays were important to you, and this is what is really exciting for you?” And I told her, I said, “If I need to tell him what I need, it’s not worth it.” [laughter] And she looked at me, I’ll never forget it for as long as I live, and she said, “I’m wondering if you’re not willing to tell him what you need, if you think you’re worth it.”
JG: Sure, sure.
BB: I was like, “You’re fired.” [laughter] I was like, “What the heck?” But then I told him. I was like, “This is what we did. This means a lot to me. This is what I’d like.” And this is all within two weeks. And the next day, I came home, and the house was decorated and there was balloons. I’m going to cry when I tell this story, and there was a package… And we were so broke. I was in graduate school. He was in residency. No, he was still in medical school. We had no money, and he had pawned his guitar and bought me a skirt that I had seen at the mall that I really loved, that we couldn’t afford…
BB: That was like $50 bucks…
BB: But it was like $50 bucks we didn’t have. And I was like…
BB: I know. I couldn’t believe it.
BB: Yeah, and he was just like, “I didn’t know. And to know how important it was for you, and that that was a thing… ” I didn’t even say anything about the gift. I just said the little notes and stuff like that, for my birthday, but it was just such an example of how asking for what you need really has to come from a place sometimes of self-worth and self-respect, to say, “It’s okay that I ask for this.”
JSG: That’s right.
JG: It’s like that story, where she cuts her hair…
BB: Oh, my God!
JG: So that he can have something for his watch.
BB: The chain for his stopwatch.
JG: And he pawns his… He pawns his watch so he can buy her a comb for her long hair.
BB: We talk about that story all the time, because every now and then we’ll do something, I’m like, “Oh, shit! I bought you a barrette.” He’s like, “I bought you a chain for your watch.”
JSG: Oh, beautiful.
BB: So, reach out and touch and declare a date night, let’s hit on those really quickly. Reach out and touch.
JSG: Alright, so touch, we’re talking about physical touch here, and what we do know, from lots of research, especially by a woman named, Tiffany Field, in Florida, is that touch is as essential to our well-being as food, water, staying warm, staying dry. Touch is something we desperately need. And as babies, in fact, if we’re not held and touched a lot, it’s been shown in orphanages when babies are not held and touched, they’ll die, and they used to call it failure to thrive. But basically, it was that they were starving for touch and not getting it.
JSG: So, we think, “Well, as adults, we shouldn’t need what kids need,” but the reality is, that’s totally wrong. We have that infant, that child, that young adult, big adult, all inside of us and all of them need touch. So, it’s one of the most soothing things to be touched, it lowers stress. It lowers anxiety, it improves depression, and I’m not necessarily talking about erotic touch here, but affectionate touch. It’s fabulous. We saw in a study of ours, with new parents who were having babies, that 15 minutes of a husband massaging the shoulders of a wife reduced postpartum depression in the women who were massaged. It was incredible. So, we need touch. We got to give touch. That’s the moral.
JG: Yeah, I want to tell the story of the research of one of my colleagues, Paul Zak, who wrote a book called The Moral Molecule, which is about oxytocin. And if you spray oxytocin up people’s nose, they’re more trusting, they’re more generous, they’re more giving. Well, it turns out you can get that effect with a 20-second hug.
BB: Oh, yes.
JG: You don’t need to give the chemical. The 20-second hug will do the same thing. It increases trust between people, increases cooperation. Makes people more giving, it reduces adversarial interaction during conflict in couples, it’s very powerful. A 20-second hug will do it, or a six-second kiss will create that oxytocin that builds trust. So, touch builds trust between people, it’s really powerful.
BB: I love that. I mean, it is… We’re just a social species.
BB: I know we want to be more different, but we are emotional beings, and we’re a social species. It just… The needs are the needs are the needs. Alright, last one. Declare a date night.
JSG: Alright, so we go back to the Sloan study of talking to each other 35 minutes a week.
JSG: Isn’t that incredible?
BB: I’ve been there. I’ve done it.
BB: No, I mean, I get it.
JSG: Yep, yep. We all do Brené. This is absolutely the norm out there in our culture, so declaring a date night is creating sacred time for the two of you to grow…
JG: Oh, I love that.
JSG: Your love. The two of you to remind each other how much you love each other.
JG: Sacred time.
JSG: That’s right. And it’s also for having fun, having adventure, capturing the exquisite joy that we experienced when we first fell in love, that’s what date night can do.
BB: Is it okay if it’s awkward at the beginning?
JSG: Sure, sure, because you’re not used to it, and anything that you haven’t done, normally in your life is always going to feel awkward until it’s so integrated into your life that it finally feels natural. That’s true for all of the skills in this book as well, all of the tools, are going to feel weird…
JG: Cuddling, yeah.
JSG: And false and phony, “I don’t want to do this. This doesn’t feel like me.” Well, like you may be not working in the relationship, like you is something you’re wanting to change.
JG: I want to say a word about being in love, being in love. And Helen Fisher who studies people in love has found that there is no shelf life to being in love. If you do these things, you stay in love with one another forever. I’m just as much in love with Julie as I was when we first met because we make this special.
BB: Like the coffee shop feeling?
BB: And I still remember the coffee shop.
BB: And your leather jacket.
JSG: Yes, yes, yes.
JG: Right. That’s right.
JSG: And his leather hat. Oh my God, there it was. Yep, my vision of perfection. There he is. He still wears the same hat.
BB: He’s still here!
JG: I’m so old now.
JSG: No, not at all honey.
JG: But it doesn’t matter.
BB: Well, let me just tell you that I could not be more grateful, to both of you, not just for the incredible research and all the clinical work and the empirically-based interventions and all of those things, but I know what it takes from my own work to do that work and then translate it in a way where to democratize heavily academic and clinical work is a whole new set of work. It’s not like there’s the bucket of doing the work, but then there’s a whole other bucket of work to make it accessible and applicable and real for people because on average seven people read an academic peer-reviewed article. It’s not. And I have to say that I’m going to give this book to both of my kids and my daughter will tear through it because she’s getting her PhD in emotion studies and she’ll be like, “Oh my gosh,” and she’s in a relationship and in love. My son is 17, it might be seed planting for him, but who knows. But how tragic that your work, even your Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that that work is available to us, but it’s not put in front of us in ways that are accessible. It should be in high schools.
BB: It should be in colleges, it should be airlifted and dropped into people’s houses, because this is real, and in my research on shame, the loneliness comes from not having the courage or the grounded confidence to be loved and to love. And to do these things that you’re talking about. This skills building. This is like the equivalent of a basketball, how to shoot a three-pointer. This is everything. And so, I’m super grateful for it.
JG: Brené, one of the saddest studies I ever read was a study of high-priced call girls who are asked what’s the number one fantasy your male customers want? And the answer turned out to be they want me to pretend that I love them.
JG: And that’s what people are paying for.
JSG: God, it’s amazing. And in Japan and South Korea, what call girls are being asked to do is simply cuddle, cuddle, with the client.
JG: There are cuddle cafes in Japan.
JSG: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right. And Brené, I also really want to thank you for your work, your fabulous work on vulnerability which had never been looked at and described before, because only by being vulnerable ourselves, being brave, can we have real love. It’s impossible without being vulnerable, because if you’re not vulnerable with your partner, then it’s just two walls living in the same house across the breakfast table rather than two soft, mushy, messy, gorgeous, beautiful human beings. And the second is much better than the first.
BB: Yeah. Self-protecting into loneliness. Yeah.
BB: Yeah. And I think COVID, so many of the things you address in this book, it’s so timely right now because we need this right now, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t need this right now, so I am just going to say to John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, thank you for the work you’re doing. Thank you for bringing it to us. Thank you for being so real and honest and human, and I love it. And I’m grateful for y’all. So thank you for being on Unlocking Us.
JG: Thank you, Brené.
JSG: We love being with you too, Brené. So…
JG: Right. We both do.
JSG: Thank you, thank you for this opportunity.
BB: I’m telling y’all, this is the real deal. This is like not only what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life, but how far are you going to lean into your partner to understand what they want to do with their one wild and precious life. It’s about love. Thank you for joining us for the podcast. We’ll be back next week. I’ll be back with Ashley and Barrett where we just do a reaction. A little bit about what we learned, what we’re curious about, what we’re going to try, and what we’re scared to try. You can get a copy of The Love Prescription anywhere where you buy books. Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind and talk to you next week.
BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, it’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen 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.
© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.