This article is the seventh 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.’
You accommodate growth and change in a relationship by making it safe for your partner to share the unfamiliar and by being truly curious about the growth they are experiencing. When individuals grow, relationships grow. When individuals transform, relationships transform (Gottman, 2019. p.188).
In chapter seven, the Gottmans explore the topic of growth and spirituality through the lens of creating meaning, both as individuals within the relationship and as a couple. The key idea is that to have a successful relationship, the goal isn’t to make the other person like you, but to learn from them and benefit from your differences. Meaning is created, they say, as you face inevitable struggles together and move and grow through adversity.
It’s often thought that people of different spiritual or religious persuasions can’t build solid relationships – but the data doesn’t support that idea. What builds strength in a relationship is developing shared meaning, shared rituals of connection, and nurturing the belief that the relationship is sacred.
This kind of compatibility is something that grows out of the desire to know your partner well and support them. It’s about creating rituals around daily life – dinner times, departures and arrivals, Saturday mornings, around loss or bad luck, around success or surprise – knowing that your partner is on the same page because of your shared history and interest in each other.
The Gottmans firmly believe that as individuals grow and transform, the relationships they are in grow and transform as well. This growth is not something to be worried about or scared of – it is the most fertile place for things like love and trust to grow. Again and again, when reading this chapter I am drawn to the metaphor of the garden. What a fertile and fecund place, a wonderful way of seeing the ever-changing and creative space of relationship.
The only constant in life is change; if you think you and your partner aren’t going to change, you are limiting the potential of the relationship and the two of you.
The open-ended date questions are personal and eye-opening. The location for your date is not what’s important; indeed, it’s the discussion and sharing that makes the eight-date process worthwhile. In fact, I believe that this process of coming together, connecting, and creating intimacy shouldn’t be restricted to just eight dates. Why stop dating – why not stay and play!
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 the idea of creating meaning and ritual, 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.
Gottman, J., & Gottman, Julie Schwartz. (2019). Eight Dates – To keep your relationship happy, thriving and lasting. Penguin Life, New York.
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