Eight Dates - Critical summary review - John M. Gottman

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Eight Dates - critical summary review

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Sex & Relationships

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1523504463

Publisher: Workman Publishing Company

Critical summary review

Every second marriage in the United States – and over 2 out of 3 second marriages – end in divorce. As overwhelming as these numbers might seem at first glance, it’s actually not that difficult to beat the odds: you just need to learn how to properly express your own love and how to receive your partner’s. It’s really as simple as that: master the art of communication and you’ll master the art of love as well. 

And that’s what “Eight Dates” is all about. A collaborative effort by two luckily married couples of relationship experts (John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, and Doug and Rachel Carlton Abrams), the book aims to show you how to “have the conversations that lead to intimacy, to awareness, and to a deep and meaningful understanding of one another.”

So, get ready to learn which are the eight topics that matter the most in a relationship and prepare to become proficient at “the eight essential conversations that will give you the best chance at creating your own happily ever after.”

Love is a never-ending conversation

“The big secret to creating a love that lasts and grows over time is simple,” write the authors of “Eight Dates” early in the book. “Make dedicated, non­negotiable time for each other a priority, and never stop being curious about your partner. 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.”

Of course, these are not just simple, yes-and-no kinds of questions: open-ended by their very nature, these questions are invitations for longer, more intimate conversations that should “make you fall in love, or help you decide to make a long-term commitment, or keep you in love with the person you have chosen to spend your life with.” Unsurprisingly, the most important among these conversations revolve around the following eight topics: trust and commitment, conflict, sex, money, family, fun and adventure, growth and spirituality, and dreams. 

It is not an exaggeration to say that the depth of your love depends directly on discussing each of these topics incessantly – from the early stages of your relationship to your 95th birthday. Why? Well, because we change all the time and, with that, our priorities change as well. Because if you want to spend your life next to someone, you don’t want to stop exploring their commitment to you, their fears and dreams, their hopes and beliefs. Because the evolution of a couple should always be the evolution of a “we” – never the evolution of two “I’s.” And, finally, because – as the authors so poetically note in the very first sentence of this book – “every great love story is a never-ending conversation.” 

Relationships are made of date nights

Hark back to your first few dates with your past or current partner, and you’ll realize what having a conversation actually means. How much did you learn about your significant other during the first week or so from your relationship, and how much have you learned about them since? If we change all the time (as is factually true), does it make sense to stop asking your spouse first-date questions after the wedding ceremony? No, it doesn’t: in fact, not continuously asking them is one of the reasons you might grow apart from them as time mercilessly marches on. As frightening as it might sound, even if you marry a kindred soul, you might wake up one day realizing that you’ve spent the last night next to a stranger.

So, as much as “small words, small gestures, and small acts” matter in a relationship, the plain and simple truth is that relationships are made of date nights. If you do not set aside time once a week to have a planned date night – or date afternoon or morning – with your loved one, then you’re setting yourself for a life of discontent and frustration. 

“OK,” you say, “that all sounds great in theory, but who has the time, the money, and the childcare to allow themselves a date night once a week?” Stop exaggerating: where there is a will, there is always a way. Date nights needn’t be expensive, and you can have them at home with a themed activity or two. Also, if the members of your family can’t watch your kids and you don’t have enough money for a babysitter once a week, always remember that trading childcare with other couples who’d like to enjoy their date nights is possible. And finally, don’t tell us that you don’t have a few hours a week for your partner when you have several times more for binge-watching Netflix shows!

The four skills of intimate conversation

Prearranged date nights are the perfect way to rekindle the flame in your relationship. Not only do they demonstrate that you have time for each other, but also that you’re willing to make space for meaningful and intimate conversations with the person you care about the most. It’s important to go into these conversations with “an open heart and mind, an attentive ear, and a true desire and curiosity to connect.” However, it’s also important to prepare beforehand so that you know how to begin and how to pick up on the intimacy. For the best result, try practicing these four essential skills:

  • Put into words what you’re feeling and talk about why you have these feelings. Use as perfect an adjective as possible: scour the thesaurus and the dictionary if necessary.
  • Ask your partner open-ended questions during an intimate conversation. These include everything from the almost instinctive “what are you feeling?” to the profound “how does this affect your idea of yourself?”
  • Make exploratory statements to help open up your partner’s feelings and needs during an intimate conversation. Even when stuck, intimate conversations burst wide open when you say things such as “help me understand better” or “tell me what you need right now.”
  • Express tolerance, empathy, and understanding toward your partner during an intimate conversation. So, try making empathic statements such as “I understand how you feel” or “I’m on your side.” Don’t let your partner doubt your presence and your compassion at no point.

Since a conversation is a two-way street, in addition to these four skills, you must also try to become a better listener – no matter how good you already are. Open-ended questions require an accepting, special form of listening, which simultaneously encompasses understanding and perceptiveness while lacks even a shred of defensiveness or the desire to rebut. 

So, try to master this art by being attentive and present, by avoiding judgment and asking questions whenever you have trouble understanding something. Don’t skip anything, and don’t ever minimize your partner’s feelings by dismissing them or trying to fix them. Instead, communicate validation and “be there” for them by repeating back, in your own words, their problems and issues. Finally, prepare to be both vulnerable and accepting: after all, you’ll want the same from your partner as well.

The eight dates

Date No. 1: Lean on me – trust and commitment

Trust is one of the bedrocks of a harmonious relationship and, in essence, it consists of everyday commitment. Partners prove it to one another by accepting each other as they are, flaws and all, and by choosing to resist possibilities with other people that might hurt the relationship. Just as well, partners can easily break trust by not making their loved one a priority and not keeping promises. This is why your first date should be reserved for trust and commitment issues. Discuss these topics by asking each other open-ended questions such as – “How important am I to you?” – or – “Will you be there for me if I need you or if I’m hurting?” If possible, do this on an elevated location with a great view.

Date No. 2: Agree to disagree – addressing conflict

It is a myth that, in happy relationships, partners get along all the time: on the contrary, conflict is an inevitable part of all relationships. There are two types of conflict. Solvable problems are situational and quite superficial; perpetual problems, on the other hand, are founded in fundamental differences in your personalities or lifestyle needs. And these are the things to address on your second date. Approach them with inquisitiveness and with a genuine desire to understand them, rather than with a pre-prepared mindset to disprove and correct them. Ask about the stories behind the issues and the deeper purposes or goals that might explain your partner’s position. Commit to accepting your partner completely and strive to embrace each other’s differences. That’s what love is all about.

Date No. 3: Let’s get it on – sex and intimacy

A candlelit dinner in your favorite romantic restaurant is the perfect location for your third date, during which you ought to explore and discuss topics such as romance, sex, and physical intimacy. Prepare to be vulnerable and bring an open mind and a “yes, and…” attitude to the table. Take turns with your partner answering questions such as “What turns you on?” “Where and how you like to be touched?” and “How can I enhance your passion?” End your date by committing to creating romantic rituals of your own for connection, ranging from a 6-second kiss instead of a “goodbye” to passionate meetings outside your bedroom.

Date No. 4: The cost of love – work and money

Money is one of the top 5 issues that cause conflict in couples. However, since “money issues aren’t about dollars and cents” but “about what money means to each partner in a relationship,” they won’t be resolved by stereotyping one half of a couple as the saver and the other as the spender – you need to really discover what money means to both of you. So, discuss your biggest money-related fears, hopes, and dreams with your partner. Commit to working together toward a shared financial goal.

Date No. 5: Room to grow – family

Contrary to common wisdom, 2 out of 3 couples “have a sharp drop in marital satisfaction shortly after a child is born, and this drop gets deeper with each subsequent child.” To avoid this, fathers need to get more involved, and partners need to discuss the family topic as often as possible. Reserve your fifth date to ask each other the following questions: “What does your ideal family look like?” “If you want children, how many children would you like to have?” and “What are the ways in which your parents did or did not appear to maintain their closeness, love, and romance after having children?”

Date No. 6: Play with me – fun and adventure

If you want a successful and joyful relationship, make room for play and adventure. Even though we have been hardwired to like games, we often put play last on our to-do lists. Use the sixth date to discover what adventure and play mean to you and your partner, sharing related stories from the past and asking each other questions such as “How do you think we could have more fun?” Make play a part of your daily lives together going forward.

Date No. 7: Something to believe in – growth and spirituality

“Amazing things happen in relationships when a couple can change and grow and accommodate the growth of the other person,” write the authors of “Eight Dates.” It’s as simple as this: “when you create meaning out of the struggles you face together, you stay together.” Try to achieve this by discussing each other’s growth several times a year, and by creating shared rituals of sacredness. Be humble and curious: whatever your partner’s idea about what growth and spirituality are, you’re there to understand and accept it, and not to prove that your ways are the right ones.

Date No. 8: A lifetime of love – dreams

The secret ingredient to creating love worth for a lifetime is honoring each other’s dreams. And you can’t honor them if you don’t know them. That’s why the last day is all about them: the nature of yours and your partner’s deepest dreams. Don’t question them or belittle them; don’t even jump into practicalities: you can’t know the future or what’s possible. But you do know your present: you’re in love with the person dreaming this dream, and your job is to find ways to support both as much as you can.

Final Notes

Much more than a feeling – love is an action. It requires intention and attention, and these require commitment and preparation.

One way or another, the difference between separation and life-long happiness is measurable in intimate discussions. Well, these are the eight that matter the most.

12min Tip

Be neither judgmental nor dismissive about your loved one’s interests. Instead, be curious and open-minded. And share everything.

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Who wrote the book?

Widely considered one of the most influential therapists of the modern age, John Gottman is an award-winning American psychological researcher with four decades of experience researching marital stability and divorce prediction. He has authored more... (Read more)

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