The 8 Conversations Every Couple Should Have

A new book claims eight exercises could lead to a better relationship. Rosie Mullender gives it a whirl...

The Eight Conversations Every Couple Should Have

by Rosie Mullender |
Updated on

The next eight evenings you spend with your partner could seal your future together. At least, that’s the premise of Eight Dates, a new book by Dr John Gottman and Dr Julie Schwartz Gottman, which claims that all couples, old and new, should set aside the time for eight crucial conversations to cement their relationship.

Don and I have been together for four years. It was a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy asks girl out, girl refuses, then eventually gives in – it took four years of Don sponsoring my office’s fun runs for me to agree to a date, but that date was fantastic. Two years ago, we bought a tiny flat, and have been living shoulder to shoulder ever since. There’s not much we don’t know about each other, so could the Gottmans really improve our relationship? Since they’ve spent 46 years studying over 3,000 couples, I’m willing to give it a try.

Rosie & Don

Date One: Lean On Me

The first date focuses on the bedrock of any relationship: trust and commitment. ‘In a relationship, commitment is a choice we make every single day,’ the Gottmans say – and you show it by everything from keeping a promise, to telling your partner what you cherish about them. Don and I have to ask each other direct questions like, ‘Can I trust you?’ and ‘Will you be faithful to me?’ I’ve not had great experiences with previous partners, but with more dating experience between us, and by being honest about our histories from the start, Don and I have established a really deep trust. We fly through this one feeling pleased with ourselves.

Date Two: Agree To Disagree

How couples manage conflict can be an area of disagreement in itself. The book says we should approach our differences with curiosity rather than trying to correct them, and suggests choosing a handful of differences in our personalities to explore. I pick those that reflect the biggest point of conflict between us – that Don’s an introvert and I’m an extrovert. Fed up with his habit of being on his phone whenever we go out, I now socialise alone. It upsets me that he doesn’t know my friends better, and has probably triggered more arguments than any other issue. But as we talk through Don’s dislike of socialising, I realise I’ve never put myself in his shoes. He explains that going out in groups makes him feel anxious and tired. It’s a great jumping-off point for us to look at ways we can compromise in future.

Date Three: Let’s Get It On

Sex is a tricky topic, but being dissatisfied with it can affect a relationship. ‘Approach this conversation with lightness and honesty,’ the book advises. Although we’re tactile and affectionate, we don’t make it to the bedroom as often as we could. It’s not something that bothers me – but I can’t help worrying that Don wants more. I’d hate for him to feel rejected. The book advises couples to ‘find your normal’ – so I cut straight to the chase and ask if he’s satisfied. ‘I’m happy if you are,’ he says, to my relief. We agree it’s important to be in sync, rather than focused on an idea of what we should be doing. This had been bothering me more than I’d realised.

Date Four: The Cost Of Love

Money, the Gottmans warn, is one of the issues most likely to cause conflict in couples. Although we’ve bought a at together, Don and I have our own bank accounts, and I’m surprised when he tells me he’s been worrying about my finances. I recently swapped a stable income for freelancing. ‘I worry that if you have a bad month, you’ll struggle,’ he says. Initially, I’m insulted. Does he really think I’m crap with money? But I realise that he sees only my Amazon parcels, not my spreadsheets. I explain that I’ve saved a buffer, hired an accountant, and put away money for tax. He didn’t realise I was so organised, and is relieved.

Date Five: Room To Grow

‘The decision to have children or not can be a deal-breaker,’ the book says. I had my heart broken eight years into a relationship because I didn’t want children, then struggled to find dates who felt the same. So I know how crucial it is to agree on this topic – which Don and I, thankfully, do. The Gottmans encourage couples who want children to discuss the family they’re picturing. Instead, we talk about how we plan on creating a sense of family. We’re in agreement on this: one day, we’ll get a dog and call him Mr Wuffles.

Dates Six and Seven: Fun and Spirituality

The next two chapters focus on our shared time. We’re a couple rooted in routine, so I worry that Date Six – about fun – will throw a harsh light on our idea of a good night, which tends to involve a box set and a pizza. The book suggests that laughing together is a form of adventure and we have no problem there – in fact we have a good laugh at the activities the Gottmans suggest. (Could there be anything worse than taking an improv class?)

Date Seven focuses on growth and spirituality, and warns: ‘The only constant in a relationship is change.’ Don and I have faced bereavement and two career changes together, but instead of isolating us from one another, they’ve brought us closer. The Gottmans also say that weaving small rituals into daily life is a sign of closeness – and we’ve got plenty of those, from a Sunday takeaway to private jokes. These small acts create a sense of shared meaning.

Date Eight: A Lifetime Of Love

The final date looks to the future by asking us to share our three dreams in life. Mine are to write a novel, get married and buy a dog. Don can only think of one: to explore his creative side. Initially, this throws me and I panic. Doesn’t he want to get married? ‘It’s not a dream of mine,’ he admits. ‘But my goal has always been to be content, and I am.’ I realise I feel the same – being content is a worthy goal in itself.

At the end of the process, we’ve laughed a lot and feel closer. Some of the issues that arose surprised us, while the conversations I was nervous about – such as our sex life – turned out to be the ones most worth having. It’s now more obvious to me than ever that when it comes to relationships, it’s all about honest communication.

‘Eight Dates: Essential Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love’ by Dr John Gottman and Dr Julie Schwartz Gottman (£18.99, Workman Books) is out now

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