Q&A with Drs. John Gottman & Julie Schwartz Gottman, authors of EIGHT DATES: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

You have become famous for your ability to predict with 90 percent accuracy if a couple will get a divorce. How is that possible?

Dr. John Gottman: We have systematically observed thousands of couples having conflict and other conversations with one another, with synchronized physiology, and then followed these same couples for as long as 20 years.  We have interviewed couples about their relationship history and philosophy. Our ability to predict has emerged from the extensive data we have collected over the past 46 years of careful research.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: Over the last 46 years we have observed over 3,000 heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples as they discussed a conflict and the events of their day by videotaping them, measuring their physiology, and also interviewing them. Then we’ve repeated these procedures every one to three years, some for over 20 years, while tracking who divorced, who stayed together unhappily and who remained happily married. By analyzing the mountains of data we collected, second by second, we were able to identify specific relationship factors that could predict the future of their relationships.  Eventually we found that based on one lab visit, we could predict a couple’s relationship quality six years down the road with over 90 percent accuracy.

What is the most important thing a couple can do to have a happy, healthy marriage?

Dr. John Gottman:The single most important thing a couple can do to have a happy, healthy relationship is to “attune” to their partner’s emotions when the partner is upset. Attunement requires non-defensive listening and understanding.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: To have a happy healthy relationship, each person needs to non-defensively and compassionately LISTEN to their partner and try their best to empathize with them. We call this special skill “attunement.” Nothing beats empathy.

Why is communication so vital in a relationship?

Dr. John Gottman: With effective communication, a couple builds trust. Trust occurs when both partners are looking out for–and care about the interests–of each other, when they have one another’s back.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: We human beings are pack animals. We survive best when we work together to satisfy each other’s needs. Over millennia we have developed powerful ways of communicating with each other through language, touch, and non-verbal behavior. Communication using these methods allows us to express our needs and to respond to others’ needs. We are also storytellers.  Communicating our life experiences with our partners allows us to share our triumphs, strivings, values, and deeper meanings as we move through time together.

Is it important for a couple to have similar beliefs, upbringing and values for a relationship to be successful?

Dr. John Gottman: No. In selecting a lifelong partner, we aren’t searching for our clone. We’re looking for someone very different from us, but very interesting and engaging.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: No, that’s one of the great myths out there about what creates successful relationships. If we paired up with our clone, we’d rapidly get bored. Genetics and other research have shown that we pair up best with someone different from us.

What is the most interesting thing you have discovered through your work–and how did it lead you to write Eight Dates?

Dr. John Gottman: Research has demonstrated that dating websites are all based on the wrong matching algorithms. Furthermore, these websites pair people and then they’re done. Conversations on early dates tend to be very tense, polite, and superficial. We wanted to guide people to have dates that would help them get to very deep levels with one another. Then they can decide–based on these meaningful conversations–whether to move forward or not. We also discovered that these dates are powerful for existing relationships, probably because in many relationships people don’t really know how to go deep with one another to explore important areas of love.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: The most interesting thing we found in our research was that the big predictors of relationship success are very different than those used to match up partners on dating sites. We had already written about how to have successful relationships, but we still hadn’t addressed how to find the right mate in the first place. That’s what this book is all about. Finding the right partner for a potential lasting romance is about being able to communicate well and understand one another when discussing the big issues, e.g., how we like to handle money, sex, fun, adventure, conflicts and so on.  We’ve found that very few couples have these “big” conversations early on. And if they do, perhaps they can be helped to make better romantic choices. We’ve also seen lots of couples who don’t ever have these conversations, even after years together. These conversations can help spark and deepen their intimacy, too.

What is the Love Lab, and how did you come up with the idea to create it?

Dr. John Gottman: The Gottman Love Lab is set up to collect synchronized video, emotional, and physiological data from a couple. These data are subjected to sophisticated mathematical analyses that allow us to pinpoint a couple’s strengths and challenges. Based on 46 years and thousands of couples, we can now help couples effectively strengthen their relationships.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: John and his colleague Robert Levenson wanted to understand what predicts whether a relationship will succeed or fail. By studying observational methods, physiology, and mathematics, plus creating and testing questionnaires which took decades, they established the workings of the Love Lab. Now, the Love Lab is a place where a couple comes to have their relationship assessed either for a research study or for their own personal knowledge and help.

If you could give one piece of advice for all couples, what would it be?

Dr. John Gottman: We now understand how to help people get the love they need. It’s no longer a mystery.  We can help a couple find peace, intimacy, and joy in their love relationship. There are social skills that can make all the difference, and aren’t very hard to learn, so have hope.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: Listen, listen, and listen. Be sure you understand what your partner is saying and meaning before responding, and when you respond, try to do so with kindness. Treat your partner like they are someone you love.

What prompted you to write Eight Dates?

Dr. John Gottman: We were addressing an unmet need. On dates, people don’t seem to know what to talk about to deepen the conversation and explore important areas of growth in the relationship. We felt that a directed date might be the answer. So we tested various directed dates and discovered eight dates that actually were quite powerful for couples.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman: We’ve seen individuals struggling to find the right mate for years. These days, with internet fostered hookups and matchmaking sites, partners may meet for a date or two, or maybe just 10 minutes.  They end up leaving and feeling alone, sometimes even despairing that they’ll ever find THE ONE.

We believe that the problem lies in partners not knowing what to look for in a potential lifelong mate. Are they attractive? Smart? Sensitive? Maybe. But can you talk with them about deeper issues? Maybe yes, maybe no. That’s what prompted us to write this book. This book guides both new partners and old to have those conversations, with clear questions to discuss and even suggestions for fun and comfortable settings in which to talk. After going on these dates, partners will have a much better portrait of whether this person is right for them. In addition, for stale relationships that have been ongoing for years, these dates can reinvigorate and reignite connection, love and passion.

 Can Eight Datesbe used by couples in long-term relationships?

Dr. John Gottman: These dates are simply magical. Empirically tested on 300 couples (same-sex and heterosexual), they are effective for new relationships and for renewing intimacy in existing relationships. New couples on dates often resort to tense, polite, and superficial chats. During those kinds of dates it’s impossible to tell whether this person is THE ONE, or whether the relationship is doomed. These eight dates help new couples go very deep with one another so they can know whether this relationship has potential–or not. For long-term couples, these dates also have the amazing power to renew understanding, empathy, and emotional intimacy.


This interview is credited to Drs Johns & Julie Gottman, authors of Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love / Workman Publishing (c)  2019.