This article is the fifth of an eight-part series based on the book Eight Dates by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. The book is a couples guide to the ‘conversations that matter’ – eight topics that couples may try to avoid, but inevitably face as their relationship deepens. Based on 40 years of research data, the goal of the book is to instigate conversations and create mutual knowledge ‘to be able to love your partner more deeply each and every year you’re together.’
The Gottmans define family as ‘wherever and with whomever you feel love, belonging, and a sense of home,’ and mention pets, friends, and extended family as possible components. Whatever form it takes, they are clear: family is what you make it, and family takes work and commitment.
An excerpt from a case study quickly sets the expansive tone: “Everyone knows family is the most important thing – but whether that’s just you and your partner, or your friends are like family [fr-amily], or you have kids – it’s hard to say”. While I’m sure that the Gottman’s intention is not to speak from a hetro-normative perspective, it does come across sometimes as the dominant flavor. This is to be expected, they are after all coming from their lived expression of love and relationship. That said, I believe there is still lots of good pickings for those people reading this article in same-sex and polyamorous relationships.
The main focus of the chapter is the dominant paradigm of parents and children. The desire to have children or not (which is often a deal-breaker) and the impact children have on a relationship in terms of cost, sex, and sleep are the focus, and the Gottmans skillfully weave the framework of ‘family of origin’ into the work to show how important it is to understand not only what your partner thinks about the idea of family, but why they think that way – the back-story to their present state.
This chapter, like all the others, calls for personal responsibility within the constructs of the partnership. It’s really quite fascinating to think about – how much our identity and belief systems are nurtured and impacted by the people we grow up with. And of course, family is no exception. It makes sense that the dominant ideology we have comes from our desire to either replicate or reject our lived experience.
The open-ended date questions are personal and eye-opening – that’s right, the Gottmans want you to show up, dress up, and go out! There are dates for any budget, and they can even be done at home if necessary. It’s not the location that matters, it’s the discussion and sharing that makes this worthwhile.
Relationships are not easy. Relationships take work. The Gottman research makes sense and clearly sets out a course of action for any couple at any stage of their relationship to investigate what money and finances mean to them and how they can strengthen and deepen their connection. This series of writing explores the chapters under the various topics: trust and commitment, conflict, sex and intimacy, work and money, family, fun and adventure, growth and spirituality, and dreams. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates for you in light of your situation or relationship.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Gottman, J., & Gottman, Julie Schwartz. (2019). Eight Dates – To keep your relationship happy, thriving and lasting. Penguin Life, New York.