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H ow often do we really talk to our partners? About the big stuff, not about childcare arrangements, or what the funny noise coming from the fridge means? According to a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, couples with small children, and who both have careers, talk for just 35 minutes a week, and mainly about errands.
Gottman, the renowned relationships researcher known for his work on divorce predictors, and Julie Schwartz Gottman, a psychologist, have been married for 32 years. They founded the Gottman Institute, which conducts research and trains therapists. They have also written many books, together and separately. Their latest book, which they wrote as a couple, is Eight Dates. It guides couples through eight conversations — to have on dedicated dates — on the big issues such as sex, parenting and how to handle conflict.
It was partly sparked by the rise of online dating and to provide new couples with a roadmap to navigate tricky subjects, but mainly to give long-term couples a project to steer their relationship to a better place. They change. The dates have suggestions of places to go that fit the category — for instance, for the trust and commitment date, choose somewhere that is meaningful to your relationship — though they also have suggestions for meaningful dates at home, and open-ended questions to ask each other.
Amazingly, they report that only one couple had an argument on one of their dates. But might disagreement be a danger for readers of the book? It takes knowing what the alternative is and then practising it, making repairs when you do make a mistake and trying again. I can see the point of all of the dates, but some fill me with horror talking about sex, mainly — I am British, after all.
If somebody is afraid of having a deeper conversation, you could say this is not about being judged. Which are the most important dates? Julie chooses trust and commitment, and dreams and ambitions. Those are things that change and evolve over time. The things that really draw people together, that enhance living, wind up being put on the garbage heap.