We all want the fairy-tale marriage, the one that lasts from wedding night to 50th anniversary and beyond. The love of a lifetime.
But what does it take to get it?
After 40 years studying precisely that, we think we know. In a Seattle laboratory inevitably known as The Love Lab, we’ve amassed a huge amount of data from observational and self-reported studies involving many thousands of couples, and analysed it using advanced mathematical models.
And now we’ve reached a point where we can tell you, with confidence, what separates a successful marriage from one that’s doomed to fail.
The big secret to creating a love that lasts and grows over time is simple. Make dedicated, non-negotiable time for each other a priority, and never stop being curious about your partner.
Seattle laboratory known as ‘The Love Lab’ has observed the relationships of thousands of couples and analysed it using advanced mathematical models (stock image)
Don’t assume you know who they are today just because you went to bed with them the night before. In short, never stop asking questions. But ask the right kind of questions.
Four decades of research have led us to the eight topics that matter most to relationships — trust and commitment; conflict; sex; money; family; fun and adventure; growth and spirituality; and dreams. If you keep talking together about these eight essential topics, you have the best chance of your own happy ever after.
Now we’ve structured them into eight themed dates for you to go on with your partner — eight conversations for a happier, richer, more fulfilling marriage, complete with questions to ask to get you there.
These dates will help you strengthen your relationship and reduce conflict. They may even help you fall in love all over again, and return to those times when you’d stay up all night talking, fascinated by each other. So get your diaries out and plan them — they’ll transform your marriage.
1. LEAN ON ME
This first date is all about trust and commitment. Wherever you decide to have it, make sure it’s private and quiet enough for you to have an honest conversation. It’s a topic that makes people feel vulnerable, and you want to feel safe enough to share openly.
WHERE TO GO: One partner can coordinate this. You can decide who will be trusted to make the arrangements, or toss a coin. You could even choose to surprise your partner, asking them to ‘trust you’ (if you really want to take it to the next level you could blindfold your partner on the walk or car ride to your chosen location).
Try an elevated location with a great view. It could be a tall building, a bridge or a hill with a comfy bench to sit on.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Ask each other what commitment means to you. Is it just sexual fidelity, or is it cherishing your partner unconditionally and loving every idiosyncrasy and insecurity?
Ask your partner: Can you describe a time where you didn’t feel you trusted me, and what I could have done to fix the situation? What do you need from me for you to trust me more?
After four decades of research Dr John Gottman and Dr Julie Schwartz Gottman have revealed the eight topics that matter most to relationships (stock images)
2. LET’S AGREE ABOUT HOW WE DISAGREE
It MAY seem odd to have a conversation about conflict, but the best time to discuss how you’re going to manage disagreement is not in the middle of a heated argument. The important thing to know is that relationship conflict is normal and natural.
Another key takeaway from our research is that some conflicts aren’t resolvable — they’re what we call perpetual problems, and you have to learn to live with them. But that’s where the greatest opportunities for growth and intimacy lie — when you learn what lies beneath those problems, you uncover something at the core of your partner’s belief system or personality.
WHERE TO GO: The partner that didn’t plan the first date should plan this one. Find a location that’s peaceful, or a place where you’ve had a great time together in the past. Hold hands while talking about something that’s difficult between you, and take turns as both listener and speaker.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Pick the top three things you argue about. It might be punctuality, household chores, money, sex, whatever. But don’t dwell on the issues themselves — discuss how you manage conflict about them when they arise.
Ask your partner: How was conflict handled in your family growing up? How can I best support you when you’re angry? How do you like to make up after a disagreement?
3. IGNITE THE PASSION
This date is all about discussing your sex life, which means you need to be able to talk about sex. Research shows that couples who can talk openly about sex have more sex, and the women in these relationships have more orgasms.
It doesn’t have to be serious, uncomfortable or awkward. Approach the date with lightness and honesty.
WHERE TO GO: Have a candlelit dinner somewhere. Perhaps at your favourite romantic restaurant or a public place where you can be very private — such as a hidden corner of a public garden.
If you’re going out, dress in a way that your partner finds sexy (you may even decide to let the other person pick your clothes for this ‘sex’ date).
If you’re dating at home, arrange to have the place to yourselves and have the date naked, in bed or in the living room. If you have a beautiful garden, have it there (but probably clothed).
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Remember the time you had the best sex together and describe it. Talk about what turns you both on — use whatever language you feel comfortable with, and laugh!
Ask your partner: What’s your favourite way for me to let you know I want to have sex? What time of day or night do you most like to make love and why?
4. TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE COST OF LOVE
Research shows that of all the issues married couples fight about, financial arguments are the single best predictor of divorce.
Money buys pleasure, and it also buys security — balancing the two can be hard for any couple. What’s more, if one of you is working incredibly long hours, and is stressed by career demands, the marriage is likely to suffer. These things need to be discussed.
WHERE TO GO: This date should cost nothing or as little as possible. If you go to a restaurant, make it one you love but where you feel financially comfortable ordering anything on the menu.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Remember this topic isn’t about budgeting, spending or money woes. It’s about understanding what money means to each of you and committing to discussing money and work honestly. Focus on all you have rather than what you don’t have, and don’t dwell on past money mistakes.
Ask your partner: How do you feel about work now? How do you imagine your work changing in the future? How can I help you feel secure when you are worried about money?
These topics include trust and commitment; conflict; sex; money; family; fun and adventure; growth and spirituality; and dreams (stock image)
5. IT REALLY IS A FAMILY AFFAIR
We often have different ideas when it comes to parenting. And we all row about in-laws. Some families are intensely argumentative and difficult, while others welcome us as though we’ve always been a part of them. The key is not to let resentment build: try not to criticise your partner’s family or his parenting style.
WHERE TO GO: Find a location that reminds you of a happy time during childhood — a family restaurant or park you used to visit with your parents. If you have this date at home, make your favourite childhood dish. Be nostalgic. Have beans on toast with Angel Delight for pudding, or perhaps use your mum’s recipe for spag bol.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Discuss the family member you consider closest to you — it could be a friend or a relative. Tell each other what it is you love about them. Talk about the best characteristics your children share with you. Do they get their kindness from you, or their love of adventure or their creativity?
Ask your partner: What do you want to do to deepen our relationship with our family or closest friends? What do you love about being a parent with me?
6. BE ADVENTUROUS
When is the last time you tried something new together? Or just laughed helplessly together? If you can’t remember, you are in need of a play infusion. Couples who play together, stay together. Adventure doesn’t mean climbing mountains; it just means doing something new and getting out of your comfort zone, in a good way.
WHERE TO GO: This date should be all about newness and excitement. Be creative. Be spontaneous. Have the entire date in the bathtub or another body of water. Try having your date at an unusual time for a date — say early morning, when you both should be at work.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Share adventure stories from the past. Imagine an adventure you could have together in a day — and start planning it! Make a list of those you want to have before you die.
Ask your partner: How did you like to play when you were a child? What’s the most fun you’ve had in the past few years, and how can I help recreate that fun again?
7. HOW TO GROW OLD TOGETHER
In every relationship, as in life, the only constant is change. The key is how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner.
WHERE TO GO: For this date go to a place that feels beautiful and sacred to you both. It can be in- or outdoors — a walk through an ancient wood, a visit to an art gallery or a wander in the park.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Complete this questionnaire and then compare answers:
- We share many of the same goals in our life together. True/false
- My partner appreciates my achievements. True/false
- My partner values the personal goals I have that are unrelated to our relationship. True/false
- At the weekend we do things we enjoy and value, both together and separately. True/false
- When I’m ill I feel taken care of and loved by my partner. True/false
- I really look forward to and enjoy our holidays and the travel we do together. True/false
Ask your partner: What carries you through your most difficult times? How do you find a sense of peace in yourself? What decade did you grow the most in and how did you change?
8. LIVE THE DREAM
Dreams are important. Your dreams, your partner’s dreams, and the dreams you have together. Dreaming together, and supporting each other in pursuing individual dreams, is just as critical for your relationship as trust, commitment, and sex.
WHERE TO GO: Find a place that really inspires you. Have your date at dawn or sunset where you can see the horizon, or anywhere with a beautiful view across fields, sea or an exciting urban landscape. At home, you could have the conversation on a blanket under the stars in your garden.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT: Start by asking your partner to describe their dreams for the future.
Don’t contradict or belittle them or say it will never happen. There’s no faster way to make your partner close up than to start discussing practicalities (it may be impractical but don’t say it!). Remember: you can’t know the future or what’s possible.
Ask your partner: How would you feel if this big dream was fulfilled? How can I help you do it? Did you have any dreams for yourself when you were a child? Do you think your parents fulfilled their dreams?
Adapted from Eight Dates by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman with Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, published by Penguin Life on September 5 at £9.99. © Gottman and Abrams 2019. To order a copy for £8 (offer valid until September 2; p&p free on orders over £15), call 0844 571 0640.