Julie And John Gottman Dish A Little Advice From The Love Lab

Feb 10, 2014

Valentine’s Day may be a day filled with flowers, chocolates and a candle-lit dinner, but for relationship experts Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, the lovey-dovey holiday is about reconnecting and showing how you care about your partner.

“The kind of celebration of love that we’re talking about on Valentine’s Day is something that we should do from time to time in our relationship, not just once a year. But with that said, there’s something very special about a ritual of connection,” Julie Gottman said. “Just acknowledging how much your partner means to you and how special that is for you."

Julie Gottman said one of her most special Valentine’s Day celebrations with her husband involved both of them breaking out in tears in middle of dinner. While dining at a nice restaurant, she said her husband pulled out a little piece of paper. On it, he’d written a poem about Julie Gottman’s eyes.

“They’re mediocre eyes. They're not great eyes. They’re OK. They work,” she said modestly.

But John Gottman’s poem was far from mediocre.

“It was the most beautiful poem, and as I heard it, I teared up. As he read it, he teared up,” Julie Gottman said. “So we’re sitting there crying at the table, and people were looking at us. But we were so happy — they were happy tears.”

Even if you’re not into reciting mushy love poems, John Gottman said communication is a great way to reconnect with your significant other.

“Every couple that I see in couples therapy has left one another in pain for a long time and just gone off to their busy lives,” he said. “What people really need to communicate to their partner is that when their partner is uncomfortable, angry, sad, lonely, disappointed, hurt or anxious, you really want to be able to say, ‘Talk to me, baby. I’m listening. The world stops when you’re upset, and I listen.’”

He also said it’s important to be your partner’s ally and support his or her personal goals and growth that are completely independent of the relationship or family. 

To shake up relationships that have settled in complacency, the Gottmans suggested asking each other open-ended questions such as, "How would you like our lives to change in the next three to five years?" or, "What adventures would you like to have that you haven’t had yet?"

“Open-ended questions are questions that have a whole story as an answer,” Julie Gottman said. “Even though our relationship may feel the same over the years, the reality is that each person is evolving and changing over time.”

She said acknowledging how each person is growing and evolving into a broader individual is important. At the same time, relationships aren’t always perfect, and every couple needs to work on their relationship — even the Gottmans.

“John and I are in exactly the same soup as everyone else, which means we have horrible fights, we get critical of each other, and we can even get contemptuous of each other,” she said. “What we have discovered in the research applies to us too. We have to apply those to our own life and remind ourselves of doing that over and over again, just like everyone else.”

As for Valentine’s Day plans, the couple said they’ll write to each other — perhaps another tearjerker poem.

Produced for the Web by Akiko Oda.