Having a healthy romantic relationship takes understanding, compromise and a willingness to work through the bad and celebrate the good. It is a deep-rooted connection that stands the test of time and stresses the world places on it.
Jay Shetty welcomed world-renowned psychologists Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman to a recent ON Purpose episode. Both are experts on relationships, dating and marriage.
Julie Gottman is the co-founder and president of the Gottman Institute and co-founder of Affective Software Inc. She co-designed the national clinical training program, The Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Highly sought after, Julie is an expert on marriage, PTSD, sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, parenting, and cancer treatment. Julie is the co-author of seven books, her most recent, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.
John Gottman is the co-founder of the Gottman Institute and Affective Software Inc. He has conducted nearly 50 years of research with thousands of couples and is known worldwide for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. His work on marriage and parenting has earned him numerous awards, including the National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientists Award and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Award. John is the co-author of forty books, including the New York Times Bestseller, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.
The Gottmans expanded on how they met, their dating days, and how, through their combined work, they have built an empire of knowledge to help others acquire the skills it takes to develop and maintain strong, healthy, lasting relationships.
Being in his forties and divorced for seven years, John moved to Seattle after living in the college town of Champaign, Illinois. After little success at meeting women his age, John told Jay Shetty that he devised a plan to date as many women as possible. He decided to take some time and see if he could make some friends and find somebody go to movies with, or better yet, someone he wanted to spend more time with.
He went on dates with women he couldn’t hold conversations with and women who didn’t understand his sense of humor. After 60 dates, he still had not met the right person.
Between college and grad school, Julie, who had been divorced for seven years as well, got in her car, said a prayer and began a journey that took her to San Francisco. Things didn’t go well. While she was there, her car was towed and broken into. The Walkman she got to replace the cassette deck that was stolen ended up not working. She told Jay Shetty that she figured San Francisco was not the place for her, so she kept going and landed in Seattle.
Julie admits that she cannot do anything social without coffee, so she stopped at a local coffee shop to feed that need on the way to a party. In that coffee shop sat the man she had been looking for.
John Gottman explained to Jay Shetty that the coffee shop encounter led to an intense conversation that has never stopped. John and Julie talked about rituals Julie had explored with a Native American tribe and a play he had written. When they discovered they were both psychologists, the rest was history.
Julie told Jay Shetty that the clincher for her was when John walked her to her car.
“We walked past John’s car,” Julie explained to Jay Shetty. “I fell in love with that car. It was magnificent. It was such a beautiful, ugly car, and I loved it. It had been voted the ugliest car in the University of Washington faculty parking lot. I knew that he was the guy for me.
John shared with Jay Shetty that Julie was a clear outlier for him. After the 60 dates he had been on, he knew that number 61 was the last person he wanted to be with.
“I had a dream that weekend after I met her,” John told Jay Shetty. “In the dream, Julie was represented by a tiger who is prowling the forest. The tiger markings were the same as the dress she was wearing when I first met her. The tiger made me feel peaceful. To this day, one of my nicknames for Julie is Tiger.”
Common Mistakes Made in Dating
When looking for relationships, people often think that being compatible in as many ways as possible is the key to success. Julie shared with Jay Shetty that although it helps to have similar values and dreams, people can be very different and still have amazing relationships.
Having an equal level of attractiveness does not make a huge difference in your relationship either. According to Julie, pheromones, little tiny chemicals that have to do with what you smell, contribute to most of the sexual attraction people feel.
John agreed that it is not just about having the same interests. He told Jay Shetty that even more important is how you relate to each other when you have common interests, how you communicate and enjoy each other’s company and how open-minded you are with each other.
The Stinky T-Shirt study by Claus Wedekind is one that the Gottmans like to reference.
“Women smell t-shirts that were worn by men for two days,” John explained to Jay Shetty. “They pick the T-shirt that they thought smelled the best, or the least worst. It turned out that they choose men who are genetically most different from them, especially on the immune system’s genes, called the major histocompatibility complex. Heterosexual women are attracted to men who are very different from them. If you try to pair them with somebody who's just like them, they will find them unattractive. When paired with the men they chose from the shirt test, they liked them better.”
Popular dating websites are not generally successful in creating matches that last. The algorithms they use typically do not work. The Gottmans don’t believe they should be a go-to for finding a meaningful relationship.
The Signs to Look for in a Relationship
What are some signs that you should look for when you begin dating someone? The Gottmans give Jay Shetty some of their best answers on what to look for when it comes to looking for love.
Julie shared with Jay Shetty some of the questions you should ask yourself and the actions you should watch for when dating someone. Among these were:
- Is your partner someone who is genuinely interested in what you have to say?
- Do they ask you open-ended questions?
- Do they remember what you tell them?
- Are they reliable?
- Can you count on them to do what they say they are going to do?
- Do they play hard to get?
- Do they seem sincere and honest?
- Is that person checking out everyone else in the room, or being sarcastic or critical of you or those around you?
If someone does not take responsibility for their actions and has a pattern of unreliability, walk away. John adds that trustworthiness, kindness, generosity, and a real interest in you are essential aspects to look for in a relationship.
“I also feel it is the ease of being able to be together,” John shared with Jay Shetty. “It should feel good to be together. You should feel a sense of love and affection.”
Julie cautions her clients to watch how their partner treats someone who is serving them. Are they kind to that person, even when there is a problem? Are they patient or courteous to that server, or do they cut them down? The way they respond is the nature of their inner being, and you can tell you a lot about a person’s character from these interactions.
Long Term Relationships and Marriage
For over forty years, John has researched and collected physiological data from couples as they talked with each other about how their day went. He listened to how they dealt with conflicts and issues, as well as positive topics. The multi-year research followed these couples through changes and critical transitions in their life.
“We found that it was quite easy to predict the future of relationships,” John told Jay Shetty. “We found that people whose relationships didn't last had a much higher heart rate. When they talked to each other, their blood was flowing faster. They were sweating more from the palms of their hands. What was making them more physiologically reactive was they were much more hostile to one another. They were angry. They were contemptuous. They were defensive and critical of their partner and put their partner down. It was that escalation of negativity that was related to what was going on in their bodies. They were in fight or flight. That combination of looking at how they talked to each other and what was going on physiologically turned out to be a reliable predictor of how successful their relationship would be.”
The Gottmans have taken their research and applied it to help other couples prevent relationship disasters. They revealed to Jay Shetty that knowing how to discriminate between the masters of relationships and the disasters of relationships helps prevent the disasters at least 80 percent of the time. The Gottmans can apply their knowledge and help couples turn their relationships around.
Five-to-One Positive to Negative Ratio
The five to one ratio is applied when you are discussing a conflict or a problem. This ratio represents how many times you have a positive interaction compared to a negative interaction.
“Successful couples have at least five times as many positive interactions and responses to each other as negative ones,” Julie explained to Jay Shetty. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the cornerstones of negativity. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, totally shutting down and becoming non-responsive, and hostility toward that other person.”
Creating a peaceful and constructive environment involves cultivating a culture of fondness and appreciation for each other. Say thank you a lot, and give each other compliments. Turn toward your partner when interacting – it shows interest or connection. Simple positive interaction can help negate unfavorable exchanges, keeping your relationship positive for you as a couple.
Resolving Conflict in Relationships
Differences in lifestyle and personality often contribute to the 69% of relationship issues that never get solved. People become deeply rooted in their stance on certain issues and are often unwilling to see the other person’s perspective. These issues aren’t unsolvable, however.
“What couples can do is develop their understanding for the other person's position at a deeper level,” Julie explained to Jay Shetty. “Out of that understanding, they can develop compassion and form temporary compromises on the issue.”
When conflict arises, there are questions the Gottmans encourage couples to incorporate into their conversations:
- Are there any ethical values?
- What's the childhood history or background that may be related to this?
- Why is it so important to you?
- What's your ideal dream about this?
- Is there an underlying purpose or life meaning for you?
Through conversation, you can gain respect for each other's differences and reach a compromise.
What areas of compromise are you willing to make in your relationship? Julie explained the big bagel or donut method of finding a compromise to Jay Shetty.
“Take a piece of paper and draw a big bagel or doughnut,” she told him. “In the inner circle, think about your position on the issue, write down what aspects of your position you are not willing to budge on. In the outer circle, write down the things you are more flexible about. People are typically more flexible about when, where, how and what. Then you come together, share what you wrote down in your circles and then discuss overlap, especially in the flexible areas. Where there is overlap, there is a compromise.”
The Gottmans have been working together for the last twenty-five years to help couples connect in more profound and meaningful ways. They give credit to the successful couples they have studied, claiming their successes taught them how to have a good marriage.
Seeing both sides of the process and understanding each side is the foundation for the Gottmans’ therapeutic method. If you are interested in learning more from the Gottmans, grab a copy of their latest book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, or check out www.gottman.com.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “Dating, Finding the Perfect Partner and Maintaining a Healthy Relationship” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.