En español | Even a sexpert like me can never learn too much about romance. So when my fiancé, Fred, and I got a chance to attend an intensive couples-therapy session known as a "Gottman weekend," we jumped at the chance.
Led by well-known psychologists John and Julie Gottman, the "relationship-enrichment workshop" taught us a number of new tricks, including how to communicate emotions without creating a defensive posture in a partner; how to share sexual desires; and how to carve out the time required to develop hopes and dreams for the future. Despite the high number of attendees — some 200 couples, plus about 20 therapists trained in Gottman Method Therapy — and the steep cost (approximately $850), Fred and I felt more connected to each other by Sunday evening.
The takeaways were many, but here are three we've consistently put into play since our Gottman Method weekend — see if they work for you!
1. Soft start-ups
How you begin a tough conversation forecasts not only how it will end, but how the two of you will feel about each other as it unfolds. Yet we often broach important personal topics the same way we might bring up agenda items at a business meeting; we are brusque, efficient and, all too frequently, demanding.
This, of course, is all wrong.
Vital subjects deserve a respectful tone: thoughtful rather than authoritative, and as far from accusatory or guilt-provoking as you can get. At the Gottman weekend Fred and I practiced what John and Julie call "soft start-ups": These are gentle explorations of an issue that begin with (and build on) collaboration, not complaints or ultimatums. And you know what? In the few short months since the seminar, we've gotten pretty good at this.
Rather than surfacing an issue with an announcement of impending doom — "We're going to miss our vacation this year!" — we state our feelings: "I'm worried that if we don't plan ahead, we won't be able to get air tickets in time to go away this summer." It's amazing what a simple and vulnerable statement can do to launch two people into mutual solution mode.
2. Sharing dreams and hopes
The seminar reminded us that the human obsession with the proximal — what happened today, what we're doing this weekend — can eclipse our thoughts about the future. We forget to share our hopes or brainstorm our dreams with the one person they will affect the most.
That's too bad, given the fun — and intimacy! — involved in talking about how to make them come true. Most couples also find it stimulating to contemplate change or adventure, or to anticipate some distant (but delicious) event. So now Fred and I make sure we do just that — together — every so often.